“Understanding Disney” Chapter 5 Reaction Post (In Which I Do My Best To Defend Disney)

This was the first chapter in this book to really get me riled. Many of the statements, most of them direct quotes from various Disney critics, really bothered me.

First, there was Frances Clarke Sayers’ comment on page 126 that Disney’s films “falsify life” and are “not really related to the great truths of life”. This upset me, because, while true to a certain extent, I don’t see how this is a bad thing. Surely a little escapism is good every now and then? Walt Disney himself is quoted in this same chapter as saying, “I do not make films primarily for children. Call the child innocence. The worst of us is not without innocence… In my work I try to reach and speak to that audience” (118). I think the point of all of the “Classic Disney” films- as well as the later animated films that try to emulate that same formula- is to depict a simpler, happier world; a place where even when bad things happen, there is always the guarantee of a happy ending. And what is so wrong about that? Children are exposed to enough of the harshness in the “real world” that the majority of them are able to tell that the world of a Disney film is make-believe.

Many critics do not give children enough credit; they think that no one under the age of thirteen is able to differentiate between real and the imaginary. But I think that many kids today are smart enough to tell the difference. And as more and more mainstream media becomes soaked with violence, it’s nice that there are still these pretty little animated worlds where everything is alright for audiences to retreat to.

Going along that same topic, the same critic, Sayers, is quoted as saying that the Disney adaptations of classic fairy tales make it so that “there is nothing to make a child think or feel or imagine” (128). Again, when I read this, I audibly groaned. I have distinct memories from my early childhood (around ages six and seven) of that amazing feeling after a Disney movie finished, when I wanted nothing more than to be one (or more) of the characters I had just been watching. For example, I would stroll through my house with my nose stuck in a book, trying to emulate Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”. Disney films provided the basis for so many of my childhood make-believe games. (Even my younger brother would dash around the house in an old fur coat, shouting, “Get those puppies!” a la Cruella DeVille…. But that’s an entirely different story…)

As I said before, critics such as Sayers are not giving children enough credit. While it is certainly true that Disney distills and changes the original fairy tales, I don’t think one is better than the other. The Disney versions are certainly more widely known in today’s society, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. They are simply another version of the Anderson and Grimm stories, but neither is better than the other.

Lastly, there were the few offhand critiques about “The Lion King” made in this chapter. One reviewer apparently found that there are no strong female characters in the movie (133). What about Nala? She goes further than anyone to find some sort of food for the rest of her family and friends. She convinces Simba to go back and take his place as king (or at least gets the wheels turning). Not to mention the fact that even without all of that, she is a lion. There isn’t really a more majestic and powerful creature (even just symbolically) in the world. The other comment made about “The Lion King” was about the apparent racism of having the three main hyena characters be voiced by black and Latino actors. In response to this, I only have to say, Couldn’t it just be because Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin (two of the voices) are popular comedians, and they’re playing hyenas, animals known for the way they sound like they laugh when they bark. This is a classic example of critics looking far too deeply into something, as if they are simply determined to find flaws, no matter what.

I don’t mean to blindly defend Disney, no matter what. There are several points made in this chapter that I couldn’t come up with an argument for, beyond just saying, “But… it’s DISNEY!” Interestingly enough, my NOT being able to adequately defend Disney made me just as upset as the offending criticisms. However, there is no denying that fact that the changes Disney made for their version of “The Little Mermaid” eliminate all of the strong, supportive female characters and replace them with male ones. As  a Creative Writing major, I am constantly asked to examine craft. With this film, the question has to be asked: Those changes were made for a reason. Why were they made? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy for Flounder, Sebastian, or Scuttle to be female sidekicks? Or perhaps she has a mother instead (or as well as) a father? I honestly can’t think of a legitimate reason to eliminate and change the characters so that Ariel is placed in such a male-dominated world.

Similarly, it was interesting to discover that the original story did not have the titular mermaid wanting to become human, but wanting a soul instead. I find this a bit more excusable, though, because of today’s uber-secular, uber-PC world. I don’t think Disney would want to be accused of forcing any one particular religion on their viewers. They get enough criticism as it is…

I feel like I’ve gone on for far too long. I’m not sure how long these blog posts are supposed to be, or even if there is a set length… But these are just my initial reactions to what really stood out to me as I read the chapter.

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