Last week, Disney announced release dates for two classic reboots: Pete’s Dragon and The Jungle Book —both slated for April of 2016. This is huge news if you’re a longtime Disney fan, especially if you grew up with the originals. It will be seriously interesting to see if the stories — and their messages — stand the test of time.
I’ve loved Disney for as long as I can remember. So many of their movies shaped my childhood, and taught me valuable lessons about self-confidence, about family, about breaking into song whenever the opportunity presents itself — even if I didn’t recognize that these lessons were settling in at the time. Of course, all the lessons from these movies weren’t positive and many of the older Disney movies sent dated, even offensive PSAs to we young and impressionable viewers. But should we ditch those films for that reason? Nothing comes of tossing the baby out with the bath water — there’s good stuff here! We just need to properly weigh the pros and cons of the Disney lessons our impressionable minds learned.
So what are the good and bad sides to the morals of Disney? Here are a few uplifting takeaways from the classics, paired with some not-so-uplifting ones from the same movies. I guess there really are pros and cons to every story.
1. The Little Mermaid
The good: Parents have to let you live your life
King Triton, Ariel’s father, did everything in his power to keep his daughter under his watchful eye. He refused to see her mature, and it nearly cost him their relationship. He was only trying to protect her from the outside world, and from getting her heart broken, but what life can be led by being trapped under the sea (or under your parent’s wing)? With the help of his servant (and royal court composer), Sebastian, Triton soon learns that he has to let Ariel be who she is. It’s sad, but liberating for both of them and speaks to a much larger truth about growing up. Our parents only want what’s best for us, but but we need to realize that after a certain point, it’s time break free and do our own thing.
The Bad: You can’t fall in love and keep your family (What the what?)
Ariel eventually gets her wish to stay with Prince Eric on land, but it means having to say goodbye to her sea family. Sure, she couldn’t see her family again without risking the humans finding out about the existence of merfolk, but how else would kids interpret this? Fall in love and be removed from your family forever? This isn’t the first time Disney has implied romance trumps family life, but it was one of the saddest moments basically ever.
The Good: Don’t rely on love at first sight, love takes time
Something I love about Enchanted was that it took the majority of Disney clichés and totally turned them inside out. Our would-be princess, Giselle, starts off with dreams of a prince charming she hasn’t even really met yet, but after finding herself in real world NYC, she falls for a modest businessman, — a romance that evolves over time and is based on mutual respect. It knocks the love-at-first-sight cliché out the window and shows the younger generation that you don’t need a white horse to be a real hero. Actually you don’t even need a hero at all; you can be your own hero.
The Bad: Happily ever after still means finding a prince
Despite the movie’s refreshing view on romance and self-preservation, Enchanted still fails to show kids that the world isn’t a fairytale. I get that it’s a family film created to make people smile, but for a movie that wanted to back-hand some clichés and stereotypes it actually heartily embraced some of them too. Giselle still ends up with a pseudo prince, who she relies on for shelter and support. Sure, she’s the one who saves the day, and learns a lot along the way, but it would have been way cooler if she’d done it all on her own.
The Good: Self-confidence will take you far
The main message I take from this classic tale is how Cinderella’s confidence leads her to salvation. When her evil step-mother and step-sisters try to convince her she’s dull, un-interesting, and undesirable, she just goes out and proves them wrong. Self-respect can get you far in life, and our Cinderella slowly discovers just how powerful self-love can be.
The Bad: All you need is magic (and a fancy dress)
Again, I can’t be too hard on this message as magic is an integral plot point of Cinderella, but considering Cinderella probably wouldn’t have been able to break free of her step-relatives without convenient magical help, then it doesn’t send out too good of a message. Her dreams and confidence were worth way more than any big night her fairy godmother created for her, plus, how much importance are we placing on fancy clothing here? A lot. Do we really need a dress to make us worthy of love? Of course not.
4. The Lion King
The Good: Hakuna Matata!
It means no worries, for the rest of your days, and the song is right up there with the best musical Disney offerings (alongside When You Wish Upon a Star and Bear Necessities). Hakuna Matata is essentially a mantra, one you can use to get through some tough times, particularly when you don’t have that much control over the situation.
The Bad: Hakuna Matata
How can the same message be both good and bad, you ask? Well, Timon and Pumbaa’s hedonistic lifestyle can really be taken either way. It may be good for chilling out, or getting through hard times, but it also encourages you to run away from the tough stuff. To suggest that all instances in life require no worries, actually is a little damaging and using Hakuna Matata as an all-encompassing life-hack just doesn’t work. We all need to worry less in life, but sometimes we need a little worry to get us through and give us the push we need to fix certain situations. I suppose Hakuna Matata really “means no worries, for now until you need to get back to reality and deal with the situation head on and then you can do a little worrying.” But that just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
5. Snow White
The Good: Be very wary about with whom you share your kindness and trust
Snow White is one of the sweetest most selfless Disney princesses out there, and her kindness changed people’s lives. But, in one instance, that same kindness actually nearly cost her her own. When the evil queen comes to her in the form of an old woman, Snow White is very wary and nearly doesn’t take the apple offered to her. If she weren’t so worried about making everyone feel good all of the time then she’d have walked free and stuck to her guns but alas she took a bite. The message learned here is this: we can’t possibly please everyone in this world, so if someone comes to you with a metaphorical poisoned apple, and you’re sure of it, you don’t have to hurt yourself in order to help them.
The Bad: You need to be saved
Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, all have one not-so-great thing in common: they’re all perpetrators of that nasty and totally unnecessary damsel-in-distress trope. Being the first full color and full-length Disney movie, Snow White set the stage for this kind of male hero-centric ending; we follow the female protagonist the whole way, only for the glory to really go to the guy. That doesn’t seem fair does it? Sure, Snow White couldn’t exactly click her fingers and wake up from her magic coma, but what if she saved her prince? What if they battled the evil queen together? The motion picture reboot Snow White and the Huntsman kept the poison apple and true love’s kiss trope, but it was probably a better example of the female hero being just that; the hero. Luckily Disney, over the years, began to adopt this idea more and more.
6. Sleeping Beauty
The Good: Love can conquer all
And that’s all kinds of love; romantic, familial, friend love, and even the love a kingdom has for their princess. Prince Phillip’s love for Aurora kept him going through Maleficent’s torturous maze of thorns, and it was strong enough for him to risk his life fighting a demonic dragon. Now that’s commitment! Then there are Aurora’s parents, so selfless that they actually gave their child away to live peacefully in the woods, even though that means being away from her. There’s something just beautifully heartbreaking about that. But that’s also mildly redeemed by the good fairies and the love and loyalty they have for their princess and their kingdom. They effectively give up their freedom to take care of baby Aurora, raising her as their own. That’s all love.
The Bad: It’s possible to love someone you barely know
The whole point of the song “Once Upon a Dream” was that Aurora and Phillip knew each other, but the fact that they couldn’t put their finger on where and when was probably a sign that they should get to know each other properly before they promised each other forever. Love-at-first sight is a Disney staple, it’s entertaining and sweet, but it also happens to set up some pretty weird IRL expectations.
After a while, Disney ditched this plot-device, or at least toned it down, giving us growing relationships such as Frozen’s Anna and Kristoff and Tangled’s Rapunzel and Eugene. They’ve finally caught onto the idea that romances bloom slowly. The words “I love you” aren’t even mentioned in some of the newer Disney romances (the most we got out of Anna and Kristoff was an awkward kiss). Now that’s a change we’re on board with.