Disney Fantasy Critiques
1937 Snow White cleans, cooks, entertains, and provides emotional support for seven immature adults. She cares for the men as if they were family and patiently waits for an adult male, her prince, to liberate her from her life of drudgery. In today's world she is more like a run away, befriended by cult members or a pimp. She survives by being used until a carrying, powerful, and responsible male adult comes along, ala Pretty Woman, style to rescue her.
The voice for Snow White worked on the picture for three years. She was paid $975. She received no royalties or residuals. Walt Disney would not even hire her for another voice because he thought someone might recognize the voice as Snow White.
1950 Cinderella, is a classic story of a girl who is unable to take charge of her life and change it. She is an abused child who is helpless to change the conditions in which she lives. She can do little more than huddle in a corner and cry. Her rescue is initiated by forces external to her. She does not have enough assertiveness when the Prince seeks the foot to match the slipper to step forward and show that it fits. Her rescue is a result of magic and a powerful male figure.
1989 The Little Mermaid, Ariel, is more assertive and independent than Cinderella or Snow White. However, in the end her choice to give up her fishtail and underwater home suggests that women must make larger sacrifices than males to achieve happiness. Ariel's not only sacrificed her identity, but she left the world that she was born and grew to love. This might also be interpreted as a cultural bias for the world in which she lived. In A Fish Called Wanda, The male leaves to enter the females world.
1991 Beauty and the Beast, Belle, tough, smart, and independent refuses to marry the towns handsome prince because he is a boorish man. Instead she chooses adventure and her prized books. When Belle meets Beast, she chooses to ignore his bad behavior and does not attempt to change it. This enables Beast to change himself. After which she falls in love with him. Another person might have tried to change the behavior and developed a co-dependent behavior. Belle was a very stubborn person. An other important message is Belle did not wait for a man to save her. Children have a fantasy of being taken care of and receiving unconditional love. In reality they need to learn that to become an adult you have to take care of yourself. In fact she saves her father from danger. Their relationship was more like finding a match or balance with a partner. She was not aggressive and strong, but feisty.
Boys might also learn from Beauty and the Beast that they have the power to change themselves for the better. Lyricist Howard Ashman tried to make Belle a modern women. Belle exclaims, "He asked me to marry him!" And her statements about Gaston, "The wife of that boorish, brainless... Can you imagine? Madame Gaston? His little wife!" Then she says what she wants. "I want more than this provincial life. I want adventure in the great wide somewhere. I want it more than I can tell."
1992 Aladdin, Jasmine wants to see the world and indeed explores the world. She refuses to marry the man her father has selected and instead chooses a street urchin, Aladdin.
Stereotype of Arabs range from half-clad belly dancers, to polygamous masters with harems, to bearded terrorists, and to oil-rich sheiks. Alladin did not have these traits in its main characters. Jasmine made her own wedding plans, the sultan complied with her desires, and Aladdin had eyes for only one wife. What image of the Arab culture remained? The opening lyric of "Arabian Nights"
"Oh I come from a land,
From a faraway place,
Where the caravan camels roam.
Where they cut off your ear
If they don't like your face.
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home.
The setting was in a fictitious city Agrabah. Jasmine and Aladdin were residents of Baghdad, Iraq. This change does not allow viewers to associate admirable characters (Aladdin and Jasmine) with a city widely accepted as a center for Arab culture and civilization. This might be construed as encouraging negative stereotypes.
Are the main characters, Jasmine, Aladdin, and the Genie, really cast as Arabs? All the other characters have foreign accents. These three have Anglo-American accents. Aladdin and Jasmines cultural values are presented as "American". Freedom of choice, innocence, subversion of social tradition, and courage. The values represented with the foreign accent, or Arab, are mainly conspirators, thieves, violent guards or street people. This difference is not required for the story.
We might sum it up with a quote by the Genie, "Wake up and smell the hummus."
Pocahontas contains distorted images of a living people and their culture. The film contains historical inaccuracies and prejudicial lyrics.
The historical truth is that Pocahontas was no more than ten years old and John Smith was at least 22 years old when they met. Some accounts state he was 42 and others that he was in his sixties. An entry in Smiths later memoirs suggests he may have forced himself upon her. If there was any romance between John Smith and Pocahontas, he would be considered a child molester today. Also, the movie doesnt mention the fact that Pocahontas was later taken prisoner by the English and held for ransom.
The movie contains scenes and lyrics that promote racist and sexist stereotypes. The most disturbing of these are the following lyrics, from the song, "Savages": "What can you expect from filthy little heathens? Their whole disgusting race is like a curse. Their skins a hellish red. Theyre only good when they are dead!"
Regardless of the context of these lyrics, they are offensive. Imagine a child learning and reciting these lyrics. Or imagine all the children who want to be like Pocahontas, a non-Indian featured Barbie doll wearing barely any clothes.
Pocahontas - source Nat Chat Internet-based Mailing List for Native and non-Native people interested in issues pertaining to the worlds aboriginal peoples.
Most children see these films as fantasy and unless these images are reinforced in their daily life they will unlikely affect their later relationships with men - hopefully.
Still a ways to go? Every major Disney character marries at the end of the movie. Most are flat static characters, instead of creating or developing their own identity.
Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©