Classic Disney Movies, Terrible Lessons

Since 1937, Disney’s colorful characters and catchy songs have captured the imagination of children around the world. But what lessons are these movies teaching our youth?

Some Disney movie lessons are positive. Toy Story shows Woody putting aside his jealousy to save Buzz and become his friend. Lady and the Tramp shows us that love can cross class boundaries.

But what about the other, less than positive messages?

Take a look at five examples of terrible lessons taught in classic Disney movies:

5. Mothers are expendable, stepmothers are evil.

Mothers in Disney movies get a bad rap. If mothers don't die on-screen, there's a good chance they are already dead or just won't be mentioned at all. If a stepmother is introduced she will likely be the jealous villain of the movie.

Missing mothers may gain sympathy for main characters, but time and time again Disney movies show that an absent mother is an easily surmountable obstacle. (If she is mentioned at all.) Fathers, on the other hand, are often shown in vital, supportive roles.

It appears that, in Disney’s worlds, both mothers and stepmothers need to disappear for the hero to gain independence and live happily ever after.

4. A woman's life purpose is to find her prince charming.

Every Disney princess is matched to her ideal prince. The quest for true love is a common theme for many films and even more so for classic Disney movies where the prince is often seen rescuing his princess.

The earliest Disney movie princesses--Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora--were the classic damsels in distress. They were in danger and needed a prince to come to their rescue. Later Disney princesses--Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine--had definite ideas about who they would or would not marry. Yet in the end: Prince Eric defeated Ursula, the Beast defeated Gaston, and Aladdin defeated Jafaar. The princesses may have helped, but it was the princes who saved the day.

While Disney has been making an effort to create stronger female characters, many of their classic movies do a good job of teaching little girls how to become perfect damsels in distress.

3. Deals with the devil pay off in the end.

If you can't get what you want on your own, make a bargain with an evil sea-witch. In the Little Mermaid, Ariel dreams of leaving her underwater world to live on land with the humans, particularly with Prince Eric.

Instead of understanding the inherent problems of a mermaid/human union, Ariel trades her own voice for a chance to become human for three days and win Eric's "kiss of true love." It all leads to an epic battle, with both King Triton and Prince Eric stepping in to save Ariel. Yet, after Ursula’s defeat, King Triton uses his own magic to make Ariel human.

Apparently, if you want something bad enough to make a deal with the devil, and almost get yourself and your loved ones killed, you must deserve to have it.

2. Physical beauty equals good; unattractiveness equals bad.

Beauty and the Beast's Gaston may be the villain, but his attractiveness has gained him the respect of the village, unlike his bumbling, short, fat sidekick. Cinderella is beautiful; her evil stepsisters are awkward and unattractive. Even in The Lion King, Simba's evil uncle is named for the scar on his face.

Disney females are all drawn to the impossible standards of tiny waists, attractive figures, and beautiful faces. Their princely companions all have trim, muscular physiques, and striking good looks. In keeping with this tradition, villains are typically old, ugly, fat, scarred, or otherwise unattractive. The Queen is initially beautiful, but she becomes an ugly, old crone when she decides to kill Snow White.

In the Hunchback of Notre Dame, one might argue that the unattractive Quasimodo is the hero, but does he get the girl in the end?

And, finally...

1. An abusive man just needs a good woman to tame him.

The message in the original Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is that you should not judge someone by their appearance. However, the Disney version of the story makes an important change that shifts the entire meaning of the story.

In the fairy tale, the Beast is kind to his captive, despite his monstrous appearance. In the Disney movie, the Beast treats Belle (and everyone else) horribly. He roars at her, intimidates her, and there is a clear threat of physical violence. When he attempts to restrain his violent temper it is only as a self-serving means to seduce Belle into breaking the curse.

The message is clear in the Disney narrative: It is the woman's role to look past a man's abuse and bring out the prince within. And that is the same message that traps women in abusive relationships.


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