What Exactly is Disney Trying to Say?

So all of this started last Thursday in my first Psychology of Women course when the professor told us she would be posting it online, but our “assignment” for next week was to think about what our favourite fairy tale was and why. She clarified that if this was hard, think about what Disney movie was our favourite, since let’s face it, few of us know most fairy tales outside of their Disney productions and maybe if you watched the old MGM classics – Thumbelina.

Seems simple, no?

I grew up on the old school Disney. You know Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Alladin, Little Mermaid, Lion King, often either BEFORE they went into the vault, or at the very least the first time out. Back when they were on VHS tapes that you somehow ALWAYS forgot to rewind. To this day I still know most of the lyrics to most of the songs in those movies. I have avoided the new Disney and Pixar films such as Frozen (which I hear is fantastic) and Brave, sounds odd but the animation looks weird to me, and as far as I’m concerned they’ll never hold a candle to the classics.

I know this look so well. To all the servers who have ever had to deal with me - I am sorry.

I know this look so well. To all the servers who have ever had to deal with me – I am sorry.

The problem with the professor’s deceptively simple question, is that I can’t pick. Seriously. I am the WORST for making a decision. It took me 20 minutes to pick an outfit for my Build-a-Bear for Christmas and I ended up having to exchange it. Going to a restaurant I have everyone order before me and then usually just randomly pick an item last minute as the server looks at me expectantly. So asking me to pick between the movies that formed my childhood is essentially like in the Bible when Solomon decides to split the baby so each of the women can have half the baby (except that came to a solution, I still have no idea how to pick a movie or a meal).

Added to the pressure is the fact that as an afterthought she declared that “apparently your answer says something about your personality!” So no pressure. Prof might think I’m nuts or brilliant depending on my answer. Next thing you know I’m on Google trying to figure out which movie to pick to present myself in the most positive light.

Oh yeah. No pressure.

Oh yeah. No pressure.

Then I sat back and thought about it a little more rationally. I have always loved The Little Mermaid, I thought it was because of the music and the whole finding Prince Charming (Eric) situation (looking like crap and unable to speak to boot! Girl got game.), but then my psych major self jumps in and says, “Well maybe it’s because you’re looking to escape into a new world and being someone totally different from who you are? Maybe you like the idea of totally rebelling against your parents? Or picking people who are totally wrong for you and require you to hugely change who you are?Little Mermaid

So then I thought about how I have always loved the Lion King, but that’s not really a fairy tale. So I moved onto Pocahontas, again I really just loved the whole love and music thing going on, and again my psych major self came in and said “Hey! Maybe it’s because you’re confused about where you’re going in life and you feel like you’re making difficult decisions and trying to pick a life course!” Thanks self. I needed to think about that tonight. ‘Presh.Pocahontas

Maybe Snow White then? Great. Now I appear to be a thoroughly domesticated housewife with questionable morals who also enjoys talking to the animals. Which is sort of true on the first and last. I am a total suburban housewife – when I get stressed I bake, and I have actually refused an offering for a social gathering on account of “I have to clean the house today! It’s a mess!” (It was one time.) So I’m not sure that’s what I want to put out there for my prof.Snow White clean

I like books, don’t always listen to the rules, and go for personality over appearances – so maybe I’ll say Beauty and the Beast? But hell no. I am not up for that kind of man changing project; my father is quirky, but not full on crazy; and while I enjoy breaking the rules from time to time breaking and entering isn’t really my thing no matter how cold and wet I am. So scratch that.Beauty and the Beast

See. It’s complicated.

Or I make it complicated. It’s my specialty.

So I abandoned that mission for the night, but then I thought about it more the next morning and realized (not for the first time) that hey wait a second – THERE ARE NO ACTUAL MOTHERS! Every main character in the movie is either an orphan or has a single father (except The Lion King, where the mother survives and the father dies (owing to it’s ties to Hamlet) and Peter Pan, but the parents are so negligent, leaving the kids in the care of a DOG that they really don’t count). And then I asked myself just what is it that Disney is trying to tell me about the key to happiness and success?

So I thought, I should look into Walt Disney’s life, see what he’s got against mothers. Run a good ol’ fashioned psychoanalysis on the man that made my childhood. I then realized that the bulk of the movies, particularly my favourites, the ones largely regarded as the classics, are based on other authors’ works including The Little Mermaid by Hans Christen Anderson, Snow White is based on a German Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm, and Cinderella is based on a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault; even Pocahontas was at least loosely based on a real person (albeit the details in the movie versus her life (which is more legend than fact to begin with) were so radically different that it’s hard to say that the movie was based on any actual person). So clearly Walt wasn’t the one with a mother vendetta, it was apparently a bit of a thing back then.

I still was no closer at this point to figuring out who my favourite character was, but I realized Disney had taught me some questionable lessons over the years:

  1. The key to success and fame is to ditch at least your mother. Bonus points if your father is either totally absent or excessively controlling – Prince Charming loves daddy issues and hates your family.
  2. If your parents tell you not to do something, do it anyways, it’s the key to your success, might get you into worse trouble than you expected, but someone will come bail your ass out and it’ll be even better in the end!
  3. Women shouldn’t work, just be pretty and you’ll be fine. Pretty means thin with great hair by the way.
  4. Your life is set when you’ve found a man. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be happy forever! No fights, no money troubles, no divorces! Just happiness all the time!

    link to the full video here. Because Jenna Marbles gets me.

    Link to the full video here. Because Jenna Marbles gets me.

  5. Fall in love with the wrong guy, he’ll eventually turn out to be the right guy.
  6. If you don’t want to pick guys, pass out, Prince Charming will come find you, kiss you awake and you’ll love him for not wasting precious time on consent.kiss
  7. Education? What education? It’s for the birds. No literally, if you can find some woodland creatures or mythical creatures to teach you things you’re good.

  8. Friends are over-rated. Keep them non-human and you’re good. Seriously, none of the Disney Princesses have any human friends, I’m not sure if they’re trying to say you should be a loner, like the fairy tale version of the Crazy Cat Lady, or if they are hinting that your friends will interfere with the precious man hunt. Either way, I’m not sure promoting only non-human friends + boyfriends is entirely appropriate.

  9. Running away is a perfectly acceptable solution to life’s issues. If you can avoid growing up that’s probably your best option.

    Also, running away is a metaphor. When possible, fly away.

    Also, running away is a metaphor. When possible, fly away.

  10. When something REALLY disappointing happens, collapse in a heap crying dramatically.

    Every time.

    Every time.

So do I know my favourite Disney movie? No. I’m still just as confused about that one. Story of my life. I did kind of enjoy the trip down memory lane, reflecting on why my childhood was so awesome, even if it was filled with a few questionable lessons.

But tell me – what lessons have you learned from Disney? Were they good/bad? Am I the only one who finds it physically impossible to pick just one?



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