Disney films portray many dark themes throughout the years, from Snow White to Frozen and Zootopia. Peter Pan captures and kidnaps children to “Neverland”. Neverland being a stand in for heaven, as the true story of Peter Pan is that he is an angel that guides deceased children to their Nirvana. However, Disney can’t put something quite so morbid into their movies! Can they?
The Little Mermaid tells girls to change for men in order to get them to love you, and selling your soul is okay, because it’s for love. But she’s just 16 years old, people! In the original tale, Ariel tries to kill the prince in order to regain her mermaid tail. But she is unable to kill him and dies, dissolving into sea foam in the process.
Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful representation of Stockholm syndrome (falling in love with a captor). It also forces the idea for the need for beauty at a young age, rather than beauty is in the “eye of the beholder”. Yes, Belle falls for the Beast despite his appearance, however the lesson backfires in the end because he turns back into a beautiful prince anyways. This Listverse article explains this further.
The “beauty takes all” theme is prevalent throughout not only Beauty and the Beast, but many other Disney tales as well. Take Quasimodo and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He is in love with Esmerelda, yet still does not get the girl because he is not in the image of Disney’s “beauty”. To add to the Hunchback story, there is the disgusting character of Frodo, who dedicates a whole song (Hell Fire) to lusting after Esmeralda. Disney isn’t looking so innocent now, is it?
Why is Disney portraying these dark themes? To stay edgy? To Teach children lessons? Or is it to keep the parents entertained as well?
These questions are a bit controversial. While Disney has never come out and explained the answers, we can assume it is a mix of all three, with the answers depending on the particular movie itself. Commentators on Disney from all over the world seem to be unable to agree to the answer.
Perhaps in an effort to stay fresh and edgy, Disney feels the need to push the limits with every movie they produce. There is also the idea of lessons. Alice in Wonderland taught us not to eat random food we find places (more importantly, don’t do drugs, kids!). Peter Pan taught us to never grow up; an idea Walt truly idolized. Bambi, The Lion King, and Big Hero 6 taught us that life goes on after death (There is an in-depth analysis of these ideas found here). The fluffy-good feeling lessons are endless, even though they may be bursting with sadness as well, which this article articulates.
Lastly, there is the proposed idea that Disney is edgy to keep parents entertained, because really, how many kids really understood Hans’s foot-size joke in Frozen? Surely, that was thrown in for the parents.
Is Disney changing to lighter themes? Or are they simply getting better at hiding the themes?
To be fair, one would think Disney seems to be on the rise for the lighter side. What with the masterpiece that was Frozen, perhaps they have risen above their darker phase? Not quite. While Frozen portrays a strong sense of girl power, they still manage to keep it a little edgy (See Hans’s foot-size joke above).
Inside Out, Zootopia and Big Hero 6 seem less edgy, however they push the lessons to a more serious side. Props to Disney & Pixar for being brazen enough to cover topics like Depression, Social Classes/Racism, and Death/Grieving respectively. Perhaps this is a new era in which the fluff is over, and we start getting serious about educating our children about real problems.
If Disney is changing, why are they changing? Are they trying to stay at the top of the game? Or could it be due to a new helicopter-esque style of parenting, making Disney nervous to push its limits? Could it be as simple as to teach children different lessons? What do you think?