Happily, After All: According to a recent blogger, Nenad Smikic, there are five suggested main life-lessons portrayed within Disney films that we as an uneducated audience should revisit (Smikic, “5 Life Lessons from Disney Movies. “). These lessons vary from not talking to strangers to seeing beauty on the inside rather than on the outside. Another recent blogger, Sompong Yusoontorn, agrees with many of these lessons and he even gives additional lessons given from these films.
Yusoontorn believes that, “When thinking about what I have learned in life, I need not look any farther than the shelf of Disney videos that have accumulated in my home,” (“10 Life Lessons From Disney Movies” n. p. ). Many young viewers would agree with both claims. Henry Giroux, a well-renowned writer, agrees with this statement by writing, “… one of the most persuasive is the role they [animated films] play as the new “teaching machines,” as producers of culture” (Giroux, Are Disney movies good for your kids? , 53). Disney creates its films for an entire family to enjoy so, appealing to younger audiences is key.
Although, more adult audiences also view these films with their children and have found issues within them. Giroux states that Disney does portray kid-friendly messages within their films, however, he goes on to say that, “I became aware of how necessary it was to move beyond treating these films as transparent entertainment in order to question the messages behind them” (Giroux, Are Disney movies good for your kids? , 54). In other words, Giroux believes that Disney has structured their films so meticulously that general audiences look over the political issues within them and only see the overall messages.
These “five life-lessons” aren’t the only messages seen within Disney movies, rather, there are deeper messages found within the films that take a more mature eye to notice. Henry Giroux claims that, “One of the most controversial messages that weave in and out of Disney’s animated films concerns the portrayal of girls and women” (Giroux, Are Disney movies good for your kids? , 58). Giroux believes that even though these “life-lessons” are seen on the outer shell of each film, there are more controversial issues lying beneath this layer of “joy and adventure” (Giroux, Are Disney movies good for your kids? 57).
This balance is seen even in the most conservative films that Disney creates. I would agree with Giroux, in that many of the Disney princess films are very demeaning to the female characters seen within them, however, I would argue that these films balance this. In this paper, I am going to counter Giroux’s argument and claim that women are not treated poorly by using the two films Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) and Tangled (2010) and how he ignores the historical context the films were created in.
In the film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), a young, beautiful girl must run away from her jealous step mother, The Queen. Snow White flees to the forest where she befriends seven short miners. The film takes place in a fantasy world, however, there are common aspects that are borrowed from the real world. The film was debuted in 1937 and some of the social aspects of that time are seen within the film. Within the film, Snow White takes refuge at the dwarf’s house and she cooks and cleans for them. Many current viewers would argue that this is considered discrimination.
During the 1930s, this was a common practice for the women to arrive home from a long day at work and they were expected to make dinner and also clean the house (“Gender Roles of the 1930’s”). Within this time period was the Great Depression, which required much more of the females of the household. The men during this time period were either working all day or searching for a new one. This put a lot of weight on the women who stayed home. The women were encouraged to stay home and look after the children because they were ridiculed if they attempted to acquire employment.
The men were expected to work and, with the Great Depression, the job market grew more competitive. With the men working, the women would stay at home and keep the rest of the family in high spirits. This actually gave the women a higher feeling of authority and therefore enhanced their roles in the home. Now, although the film does not talk about the dwarfs going through a “Great Depression”, they did not have the capability of looking after themselves. Many would argue that it was not fair to make Snow White cook and clean for the dwarfs, but no one was making her.
It was her choice to tidy things up. Overall, I believe Snow White’s decision made her more of an inspirational figure rather than a mindless princess. Snow White’s ability to make her own decisions shows kids to do the same. This interpretation challenges the statements made by critics, like Giroux, who have long assumed that these films are not suitable for children because they support the discrimination of female characters. With the age range being fairly young for these films, these mature thoughts will not even strike the young minds of the children watching.
They are enjoying the film for the humor and entertaining aspects. Without the proper background knowledge of the time period the film was released in, many current viewers have seen Snow White as a film that depicts women as helpless, mindless humans who cannot think for themselves, In the film Tangled (2010), a young girl, named Rapunzel, is lost at a young age and found by an older lady. The lady soon discovers that the young girl possesses a power that when she sings her hair glows and has the ability to promote youth.
She then takes the girl to live with her, however, she makes sure that Rapunzel never leaves the castle so that she can be the only person to possess this youthful power. One day, an outlaw named Flynn Rider is running away from authorities and wanders into Rapunzel’s castle and she holds him captive. She wants to see the world and she uses Flynn Rider as her personal tour guide. Rapunzel eventually grows very fond of Flynn and they eventually get married. Near the end of the film there is a celebration occurring in the town because Rapunzel is brought back to her family.
There is one scene near the end of the film where the town is celebrating the return of Rapunzel. Flynn is teasing Rapunzel by holding her tiara just out of her reach and she knocks him over to get it. While they are falling, Rapunzel springs into action and catches the tiara and Flynn himself. The shot focuses heavily on the fact that Rapunzel has caught Flynn Rider. He gives her a snide grin and she then lifts him to his feet. Flynn’s grin could be nodding at the reality of the situation. In a traditional marriage, the man would be carrying all the weight s shoulders and would not ask for help.
However, this scene suggests that the opposite could be quite possible. This shows that while Rapunzel still needs guidance in the world, so does Flynn Rider. This is a more direct way of showing the importance of the female population in society. Much like during the Great Depression that was described earlier, women are held just as accountable as men are. Both Snow White and Rapunzel are held accountable and have very important roles in the lives of those who surround them. Disney’s main components of family values and honesty are overseen when a more critical audience views their films.
Critics will look past the fluffy stuff that the kids will notice, and see the more in-depth messages that are lurking behind. Giroux has found examples of these “hidden” messages behind some of the most famous films from Disney. Specifically, Giroux analyzes The Little Mermaid and other films on how Disney portrays the female characters within each film. He states, “All of the women in these films are ultimately subordinate to men and define their sense of power and desire almost exclusively in terms of dominant male narratives.
In The Little Mermaid, Ariel will give anything she has just to be with the handsome prince she has seen on shore. The uneducated eye would see this as a romantic gesture because they are hypnotized by the stereotypical princess ideal that they need a man to become successful. A lifestyle writer, Lena Almeida, claims that, “Finding your own voice means listening to your heart. ” This is very important, however, Ariel’s heart lied with the handsome prince and because of this she went to the extent of changing her appearance just to follow her heart.
This teaches our younger generation to listen to what their heart is telling them, however, it is also saying that this is ok if your heart says you need to change your appearance just to meet society’s standards. Amy M. Davis, author of Good Girls and Wicked Witches writes: “Yet the undersea world is, in the Disney interpretation of the story, given many elements which link it with disenfranchised groups in American society: women, non-white ethnic groups, and third world nations.
The human world, by contrast, is shown as being thoroughly white, well-ordered, and predominantly male. (“Davis, Amy M. Good Girls and Wicked Witches: Women in Disney’s Feature Animation. “) With this statement, Davis shows that Ariel also has been drawn by the power of conformity. Ariel’s conformity is reflected through the nature of the “human world”, which is that men see women as objects of beauty and not for their personality. Ariel responds to this by changing her appearance and making herself similar to whom she desires. So, according to Davis, the overall message is not “follow your heart”, but it is to follow your desires.
Adding to the discrimination of gender in Disney films, Giroux also points out that there lacks a strong mother figure in many of the movies. Giroux states, “Given Disney’s purposed obsession with family values, especially as a consumer unit, it is curious as to why there are no mothers in these films. ” This is seen in films such as Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast. All of these princesses have very dominant father figures who try to control them and to keep their head’s out of the clouds and their feet on the ground.
What Giroux is concluding is that the overpowering male figures in these films reveal to kids that their parents are not willing to let them follow their dreams. However, in many of Giroux’s examples, the parent figures, whether they are a single parent or a couple, manage to come around to the imagination that comes from their kids. In a story, their must be some figures that try and stop the main character from fulfilling their quest. This is in a traditional story technique called the “Hero’s journey” (“INTRODUCTION”). These figures are called “threshold guardians” which are a driving force that stops the hero from continuing their quest.
So, not only does Giroux ignore historical context, he also passes over traditional story-telling structures. An argument made by Jeff Guo of the Washington Post, suggests that the discrimination of women in Disney films is found within the number of roles cast. By using statistics provided by a Carmen Fought and Karen Eisenhauer, Guo proves his argument. He argues that in the past, princess films had less roles and more gender equality, but the more modern films have grown more lopsided and gives the males more speaking roles.
Using the two films Snow White (1950) and Tangled (2010), the statistics show that this is quite true. In Snow White (1950), there are only about 13 to 15 speaking roles. 10 of them are male, leaving only 3 to 5 roles for the women. This relates back to the argument I posed before, stating that these journalists ignore the historical context in which these films were made. Women were not considered prominent figures in the working force or in the entertainment industry (“Gender Roles of the 1930’s”). However, this is a convincing argument made by Guo considering he has the proper statistics to back his point up.
Although, when dealing with societal matters, using statistics to predict a solution cannot always be the answer. We are dealing with humans, who are constantly changing. There are not two humans who are identical on this earth. Each one is unique and cannot be represented as a constant in a social matter. Instead of trying to fix how humane society works, why not embrace it. Why would a male be concerned with how female characters are portrayed in Disney films? Giroux seemed pretty concerned with the problem and he is definitely a male.
If his argument is plausible, then it is perfectly acceptable for males to be informed of this argument just as much as females. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, whether it be in a film or in real life, each member must understand the importance of the other in the relationship. The men in these films are portrayed as selfish, objectifying, and powerful. Since we can say that not all women are to act like the princesses in these films, then the men should follow that quota as well. All men do not reflect the qualities portrayed by the princes in Disney films.
This is why men should watch these films, in order to oppose the behavior of the princes in these films. The films are sending a message to their younger male viewers. In order to represent poor behavior seen by the males in these films, Disney creates their physical appearance less appealing or an obscure flaw that makes them seem villainous. This image is kept in the younger viewer’s minds. They now associate this bad behavior with villains or evil. Disney is indirectly teaching their younger viewers that acting out in this poor behavior results in consequences.
I remember watching the Disney classic, The Lion King (1994), as a kid and seeing Scar for the first time. The gash over his eye made him adventurous, yet it gave a dark aura about him. This led me to be afraid of him and I also learned to not act in such behavior that Scar portrays in the films. Disney is not trying to misrepresent the men or women in their films, however, they are showing their younger viewers to stand up for themselves, be your own person, and also to follow you dreams regardless of how far-fetched they may seem. How’s that for a happy ending?