Is ‘Disneyfication’ all that bad?

With the announcement of a Frozen sequel, and the upcoming Cinderella released in cinemas shortly, it seems that Disney is everywhere. And with the constant cultural presence of this influential multi-billion dollar company comes the age-old statements questioning how healthy an impression Disney creates in our culture. Often Disney is criticised for its socially askew representations of relationships, stereotypes and frankly life itself. We are always reminded of the corrupting effect Disney has on the children who are brought up on its values, yet I am going to play devil’s advocate. As a twenty-something male, I am perhaps not the most obvious demographic Disney aim for, nevertheless I’ll have to admit my bias here: I am a big fan of Disney (see, there’s me looking like a dork). diss

Since a young age, my brothers and I have all grown up on Disney films, shows, music, you name it. Admittedly, we weren’t avidly appreciative then, but I cannot dismiss my nostalgia for a Sunday-afternoon Disney VHS. However, where my brothers are no longer Lost Boys and have appropriately grown up, I have found myself becoming infatuated with Disney culture in recent years, and I firmly believe this is down to Disney’s progressively modern approach to its art.

Without a doubt Disney have had a bad rap in the past. The poor representation of gender and relationships found in the Disney princess films such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty is rightly inappropriate.  The racially dubious aspects of Peter Pan are frankly offensive. The easy tropes and stereotypes relied on in the early films are, to put in blankly, dated. But here is my point, these early experiments into animation by the innovationist Walt Disney are products of a less socially aware and culturally educated time. That’s certainly no excuse, but Disney’s drive has always primarily been to promote Walt’s own mantra: ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. Every film from the studio promotes this as its sole message—from Hercules to The Princess and the Frog. So, though the earlier films stumble when it comes to stereotyping and misrepresentation, the heart of their tales is timelessly prevalent. I mean, kids still watch these things today, just as my parents watched Pinocchio before me.

disYou only have to look at the films since the Disney Renaissance (which arguably started with The Little Mermaid) to see Disney’s strive for a more progressive attitude as a company. See Frozen: a film about sisterhood that actively ridicules the Disney attitudes of old—‘you can’t marry a man you just met’. Or take a look at Tangled, which promotes breaking free of your confines and limits whilst also advocating being true to yourself—Flynn who are you kidding? You’re no machismo rogue, you’re just dorky Eugene, and that’s cool with us. (Thinking about it, I probably relate to that for reasons I’d rather not go into!)

Anyway, I suppose the intention of this long drawl is that I think we should reconsider Disney’s cultural influence in recent times. Especially since the acquisition of Pixar, Disney has proven themselves as a company capable of serious artistic talent, deserving of serious artistic merit. It takes a lot for a corporation (whose fundamental aim is to make money after all) to admit the mistakes of their past and progressively move forward, taking creative risks along the way. When it comes to art, no one is perfect, and of course people are always going to find faults in the work of Disney. But with their new found attitude, they are, now more than ever, advocating their visionary’s original claim that ‘if you can dream it, you can do it’. For me, that’s the sort of positive cultural message that I think everyone needs right now in a world that throws so much depressingly scary, intimidating shit at us.

By Jordan Watson