One of my former students was commenting on facebook about his efforts to remember a two-parent family in a Disney movie. This reminded me of a post by John Fea (yep, him again) that pointed to this (admittedly dated) article by a sociologist looking at Disney movies. For background, the author was an asian orphan, transracially adopted by white parents in the Midwest. she is now a parent, and in her article cites a bedtime routine with her daughter that centers on the movie Annie for sparking the idea to look at this. Here is the list she comes up with:
• Aladdin (Aladdin) – orphaned and homeless; petty crimes for food and shelter
• Annie (Annie) – orphan adopted by rich single dad
• Ariel (The Little Mermaid) – dead mother, rebellious teen who runs away to be with a man
• Aristocats – Marie, Berlioz and Toulouse – three kittens raised by a single mother
• Bambi (Bambi) – raised by single mother who is murdered, has never met his absent father
• Belle (Beauty and the Beast) – dead mother, raised by single father
• Cinderella (Cinderella) – dead mother, raised by abusive Stepmother and neglectful, absent father
• Dumbo (Dumbo)– raised by a stigmatized, depressed single mother
• Elliot (Pete’s Dragon) – orphaned, runaway from abusive foster parents, adopted by single mother
• Hercules (Hurcules) – son of gods transracially adopted by humans
• Lilo (Lilo and Stitch)– orphaned, raised by older sister
• Mowgli (The Jungle Book)– orphaned, raised by 2-male heads of household (bear and panther)
• Mulan (Mulan) – cross-dressing teen girl with intact, multi-generational family unit
• Nemo (Finding Nemo) – dead mother, raised by single overprotective father
• Oliver (Oliver & Company) – orphaned kitten transracially adopted by rich girl
• Peter Pan (Peter Pan) – orphaned, troublemaker and gang leader of Lost Boys
• Penny (The Rescuers) – orphaned girl kidnapped from orphanage
• Pinocchio (Pinocchio) – wooden toy adopted by aged creator Gepetto
• Pochahontas (Pocahontas) – dead mother, raised by single father
• Quasimoto (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) – physically disabled male adopted by evil church minister Frollo
• Simba (The Lion King) – father murdered by uncle, raised by 2-male heads of household (meerkat and warthog)
• Sleeping Beauty (Sleeping Beauty) – parents transferred custody to 3 fairies
• Snow White (Snow White & the 7 dwarves) – dead mother, raised by abusive Stepmother and neglectful father
• Tarzan (Tarzan)– orphaned, transracially adopted by gorilla family
Her post was from 2007, so she didn’t include the latest princess tale: The Princess and the Frog, which features an African-American heroine who starts out with a two parent family of diligent, working-class folks. After the initial intro where we meet these parents, we jump ahead, and find that her father has died, though we are never really told what happened. Tangled, the Disney version of Rapunzel, is due out this month. This figures to add the “kidnapped and raised by” genre to the above list.
I’m not sure what this means about Disney’s family values. I suspect that it has more to say about the hero/heroine character needing something to overcome, and what hits home more than adversity in the family upbringing? Feel free to share your take in the comments section! (Even if you think this means Disney is evil.) 🙂
Many of those stories date back prior to current US trends. Most of the fairy tales, in fact, are found in Grimm’s which have history in Europe during the dark ages, a time when family units were routinely ripped apart by wars, disease, and extreme poverty.
Additionally, consider this… while the ideal family (or at least, ideal amongst most conservative Christians) is the multi-generational, two-parent extended family that we get a glimpse of in Mulan, in truth, there are many people in this world today who do not have that luxury. So, rather than criticizing Disney for not displaying family values, should we, instead, look at these stories as stories of how the world deals with difficulties to overcome and then speak the story of the Gospel into these, either in praise of those things that we can say “right on!” or in critique and say, “Well, not quite…”
Of course you are right about some of these. It is also possible that in some cases the extra parent wasn’t integral to the story so they are left out (Ariel’s mom is never addressed as far as I know, maybe she just didn’t impact things). Just an interesting trend. I would agree that we can certainly find many things to talk with our kids about to help them learn about how their Christianity should affect their reaction to these things.
I have some more specific thoughts about The Princess and the Frog, given our biracial kids. That will probably be the source of another post though, since there is too much for a comment here.
Actually, I did my own review on it… the link applied to my name on this post alone will take you to that review.
I had to over-ride my spam filter software. Congrats, Rob, you got flagged as spam. Haha! I’ll have to remember to link to and respond to your blog when I do my perspective on the movie. You have pointed out some things I noticed, but there is more … (how is that for a tease?)
Hooray! I’m a spammer! 😉
Actually, check out http://mennonitemovies.blogspot.com/2010/03/has-disney-gone-satanic.html. This is a review I did on my “every now and then updated” movie review blog.