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Are classic Disney films appropriate for children?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno – The Sentry

They are simply works of fiction

Opinion by Amanda Blackman

Classic Disney movies are meant to be a source of entertainment. These stories should be taken for what they are: works of fiction meant to create a feeling of wonder. Instead, they are interpreted as absolute facts.   

Individuals who oppose Disney movies argue that the characters embody passive gender stereotypes. The fairy tales Disney based their stories off, like Cinderella and Snow White, were written in the 1800s.  During the 1800s, women were not viewed to be powerful protagonists, and these social aspects were depicted in these films. The idea that cultural reality can work its way into an era’s media is nothing new. Disney most likely adapted these fairy tales because they were stories children were already aware of. 

My opponent argues that movies like Sleeping Beauty teach children an improper view of consent. However, many of Disney’s first animated features were based off the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. So, if the issue is with the storyline, then the issue is not with Disney—it’s an issue with the classic fairy tales these stories originated from. A young child will most likely not extrapolate an issue of consent. If they do, parents can inform a child that just because the movie implicitly states one thing does not mean that it is true today. 

Today, there is a sense of cultural awareness regarding the “princess myth” and consent, and parents who are showing Disney movies to their children are aware of this fact. Instead of letting their children take it as truth, parents can inform children that these stories reflect a culture at the time of their creation and use these movies as a platform to explain consent or gender roles. 

Even so, modern Disney films like Mulan and Tangled show the characters challenging gender roles. Mulan wants to save her family and fight for her country and does this by disguising herself as a soldier in the Chinese army. Shouldn’t young children have exposure to this?

Trying to find an argument against Disney movies is digging to decide an argument with evidence that does not reflect modern culture. These movies are meant to be awe-inspiring entertainment, just as they have been for years.

They are misguided societal views

Opinion by Alec Witthohn

Disney movies set poor examples for children, teaching them to embody gender stereotypes and false historical mythologies. Over the years, Disney has attempted to make their content more progressive, but they still have a lot of work ahead of them.

Many of these films perpetuate the “princess myth” in which a heroine is expected to present herself as an attractive yet passive and submissive bystander in her own story. The most egregious example of this is in Snow White, which seeks the protagonist’s liberation through a nonconsensual kiss. Still, other movies like Cinderella and The Little Mermaid feature passive heroines. Unable to liberate themselves, these princesses seek the help of a man to lift them from their dismal surroundings.

Even more recent additions like Mulan or Tangled still center around the pursuit of a male character. Despite their strong themes of independence, the androcentrism in Disney’s newer titles holds back their progressive goals.

Race and ethnicity are other contentious issues. From portrayals of Japanese character’s in Commando Duck to Peter Pan’s “What Made the Red Man Red?” Disney boasts a long history of racist imagery. In fact, Walt Disney himself has often espoused bigotry. His granddaughter, Abigail Disney, even told the Hollywood Reporter, “C’mon he made a film (Jungle Book) about how you should stay ‘with your own kind’ at the height of the fight over segregation.”

Chief among these offenses, however, is the infamous Song of the South, which painted slaves as content workers in a happy-go-lucky antebellum utopia. Though Song of the South was pulled from shelves, other movies are still littered with racist imagery,  like the character Jim Crow in Dumbo or the lyrics of Aladdin’s opening number. The since removed lines “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face,” and “It’s barbaric / but hey, it’s home” were criticized by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The work of developmental psychologists shows how entertainment helps shape a child’s worldview. These are not mere movies. Films, books, and toys are tools for children to understand themselves and the world around them. Knowing this, how can one justify showing their children these misguiding movies?

  

      

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