By Nia Stewart
For decades, Disney, a popular entertainment company, has been making and producing films that have had a major impact on their viewers’ lives, especially the younger viewers. However, a majority of Disney films have counteractive messages that negatively impact children and parents. These messages are often missed by the viewers when watching the film.
Disney has been known to make huge historical mistakes when it comes to movies, even with those that are fictional but are set up in a historical context. According to Redbook, The Princess and The Frog, released in 2009, is one of the most popular Disney films to date; however, the film is known to have many historical mistakes. The film takes place in 1926 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the mid-20s’, there were many events that occurred, but in this particular film, only two events that should have been shown throughout the film were practically nonexistent: Prohibition and Segregation. Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. However, the film shows alcoholic beverages being publicly displayed at a ball, on a steamboat, and even at Tiana’s restaurant. It’s like the whole city of New Orleans didn’t get the memo on the non-distribution of alcoholic beverages.
Now, only bits and pieces of segregation were shown throughout the film. A moment that stuck out was the early transition from different neighborhoods, from the polished mansions to the simple slums. Another moment was a comment made by one of the Fenner brothers who stated, “...which is why a little woman, of your background, would’ve had her hands full trying to run a big business like that. You’re better off where you’re at.” The comment was oddly racist, mentioning her background--the codename for skin color--and how she wasn’t going to get any farther from where she already was because of it. Besides that, no other scenes include the act of Prohibition or even show Segregation to depict what was going on in the mid-20s’. The audience does not get the full impact of what Tiana was trying to accomplish by starting her own business as a black woman in New Orleans in the mid-20s’. “Disney is seeking to entertain through action, comedy, and romance rather than explore complex issues,” the article, The Black Atlantic, summarizes the film.“So, if that’s the case, why set these films in eras that problematize race in this way?”
John Wooden, a former American basketball player, states “ Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating.” Disney, whose main audience consists of young children, essentially requires the use of good role models to become an inspiration to their audience. However, a majority of their films consist of terrible role models, not including the characters that have a few tragic flaws. Characters with a few tragic flaws make them more relatable to the audience, and characters whose whole personality is a tragic flaw just makes them unbearable. Peter Pan, from Disney’s 1953 Peter Pan, is one of the most well-liked disastrous role models among children due to one of his relatable flaws, the fear of growing up, which essentially makes up his entire character. Not only does Pan’s unique tragic flaw relate to all demographics, but it also affects other aspects of his character and personality. Although Pan’s flaw is somewhat quirky, his fear has influenced all his decisions; many have not been smart decisions. Due to Pan’s poor decision-making ability, the film’s plot is Pan and his new group of friends, the Darling children, who are constantly trying to solve Pan’s problems throughout their journey.
His decisions alone can be considered childish, unnecessary, and problematic for him and those around him, but that’s not the only true issue with this character. The real issue is that Pan is idolized, not by the audience, but by Disney itself. The film suggests that all of Pan’s previous decisions and his bizarre personality is wonderful and that all children should somewhat look up to this dashing character. By emphasizing Pan’s beliefs, which is to never grow up, to children, it is giving children the idea that growing up is a bad thing, and it will ruin your life if it does happen.
It also influences children to not take responsibility for anything, do selfish things for the fun of it, and respect no one older than you---similar to Pan’s persona. “ When I was younger, seven or nine or so, I gained some weird confidence after watching Pan,” thirteen-year-old Isaiah Stewart reminisced when asked about the effects the movie had on him. “ For two-week, I went on a Pan antic. At the time, I thought I was embracing my wild-side, who I was. In reality, I was destroying plates, tearing up furniture, taking back to my parents, and just not caring much about the consequences of any of it.” Stewart is only one of many students, like you, who have been affected by the tyranny of Peter Pan.
Speaking of terrible lessons, Disney is notorious for choosing lessons that no child should see as inspiring. A variety of Disney’s princess collections harbor the same lesson, which is to marry a man, more specifically a perfect man, who will solve all of your pre-existing problems. Fredericke Stewart, who grew up with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and the other Disney classic princess movies, explains “Growing up watching those movies gave me a false sense of purpose. That having a man in my life will instantly make my life perfect.” However, in some movies, like Princess and The Frog, they begin with the lesson, hard-work is the key to success, but as we approach the end of the film, the hard-work lesson is abandoned and morphs into that well-known lesson, a perfect man will fix your problems. Aladdin, Disney’s 31st animated film to be released, is similar to its predecessors---just having a male as the main character, which is the only thing that truly sets this film apart from the rest. Due to Aladdin being a male, Disney could not have their usual princess closing lesson and had to make a completely new closing lesson for the film, which was that lying isn’t that bad as long as you say “sorry” and that will cleanse all your lies.
Throughout the film, Aladdin lies to everyone he’s introduced to at least twice and shows no remorse in doing so. Sure, there are some other hidden lessons in there but one has to watch the film more than twice to catch them. The only lesson that seems to be shown is the simple fact that saying “sorry” will fix all of the lies one has ever told. Aladdin receives no punishment and ends the story with his second wish to the Genie, which is to become a prince. Although it may not be what Disney intended, Aladdin promotes lying and makes a statement that it’s ok to do so and you won’t get punished if the truth comes out. Not to mention the other concerning lessons that appeared during Aladdin: the age-gap between Aladdin and Jasmine, defying your parents and running away with strangers; and the false sense that toxic people can change their behaviors.
“ It’s weird,” a fifty-year-old accountant, Millie Brown commented when asked about Disney. “ Looking back, I don’t remember any hidden messages in any Disney films.” During quarantine, Brown had been enjoying her days by watching classic TV shows and reminiscing about nostalgic movies, including movies from the Disney franchise. Recently, she started to notice unique details in each Disney movie and soon became obsessed with uncovering more. “ For years, Disney has been like this empowering thing for kids, including myself,” Brown says. “ But as I grew up, it was harder to watch certain movies because I was shoved into the real world. I saw how unrealistic each movie was, and I just couldn’t enjoy it as I used to.” When asked about the men’s role in each princess film, Brown laughed and croaked, “ I didn’t need a man to help me get where I wanted to be! I did that myself!”