The single word “Disney” has many different meanings for people. When individuals hear this word they reflect on the movies, merchandise, and theme parks. We were all exposed to Disney culture at a very young age. After all, Walt Disney World is trademarked as a magical place where people go to remember their childhood.
Most of us view Disney as a family friendly company that creates moral filled entertainment for children. Disney appears harmless on the surface, but what if we uncover the true Disney meaning overshadowed by pink and princesses?
Think about the movie “Tangled” which showcases Princess Rapunzel, a young girl who does not leave her tower until a handsome man arrives to protect her and guide her to the lights she has been dreaming about. This storyline makes young girls think they need a man to protect them. Disney movies never highlight the idea of a strong independent woman.
There are only two other female characters in the movie Tangled. One is an evil old witch that stole Rapunzel as a baby and kept her hidden from the outside world. The other female character was Rapunzel’s birth mom, whom remained sad throughout the entire movie until Rapunzel returned. She was portrayed as a mute that never spoke.
Most Disney princesses are seen as beautiful, skinny girls that conquer one hardship to find their prince charming and live happily ever after. In real life this is not how true love is formed between couples. A relationship has many ups and downs, and young girls need to understand that prince charming is not going to appear at their doorstep and sweep them off their feet.
Disney characters (both male and female) have body frames that are humanly impossible to emulate. When is the last time you saw a curvy princess? All of the princesses have tiny waists, a perfect bone structure, and really small feet!
We wonder why more young girls are developing eating disorders and undergoing plastic surgery. They want to look like a princess. They grow up thinking they will never find their prince if they do not look like these Disney characters.
Race is also an issue throughout Disney movies. The company started introducing ethnic minority princesses after receiving criticism from the media years ago. Disney created movies including Pocahontas, Aladdin, Mulan, and Princess and the Frog.
However, the ethnic princesses in these movies are exotic and hyper sexualized. For example, in the movie Aladdin, Princess Jasmine performs a seductive act to distract Jafar while Aladdin tries to steal the magical lamp. This scene influences young girls to think they can use their body to get what they want in life. They need to learn the dangers associated with exploiting their bodies.
The princes in Disney movies are shown as strong, masculine, protectors of all women. They never cry, express feelings, or accept the response: no! Beauty and the Beast is a perfect representation of these factors. The Beast kept Belle prisoner in his mansion and expressed extreme anger when she refused his authority. For example, he demanded she eat dinner with him even when she declined. This portrays male dominance over women as a normalcy.
Belle eventually falls in love with the Beast. She forgives his anger and rage to see the good in him. From a psychology perspective, this represents Stockholm syndrome, which is a phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and positive feeling towards their captors. Many critics have debated over this, but I believe Stockholm syndrome is one of the main themes portrayed in Beauty and the Beast.
Disney has to be aware of the messages they are sending young girls and boys that grow up with Disney products and movies. A few months ago, I asked my younger cousin what she wanted to be when she grows up. I was expecting a response such as teacher, veterinarian, or maybe even police woman. She looked me straight in the face and replied, “I want to be a princess!” I tried to explain that was not a profession, but I am not sure she understood.
Children are immersed in these themes everywhere they go. One female journalist named Peggy Orenstein wrote a book titled Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Orenstein became known after she published an article in the New York Times, “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” It received a lot of positive reviews from hundreds of women and mothers. Orenstein explains, Cinderella Ate My Daughter “offers an exploration of the burgeoning girlie-girl culture and what it could mean for our daughters’ identities and their future.”
I plan to read this novel and uncover what the future holds for young girls. I believe Disney has a huge impact on children’s view of the world and their role in society. Hopefully the next time you sit in the movie theaters with a bucket of popcorn waiting for the latest Disney film to start playing, you will think of these hidden meanings and themes.