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Disney’s Loss of Innocence: language, race and gender in children’s animated movies

Interesting findings.

Cultural Life

1024px-Disney_Orlando_castle_at_night Disney Orlando castle at night. By Veryhuman (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most of my peers grew up with Disney animated movies. They watched the classics — The Lion KingPocahontasBeauty and the Beast… I didn’t. To this day, I’ve seen a grand total of two Disney animations: Dumbo and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Yes, yes, I know. I haven’t seen The Lion King, or Bambi, which is sometimes marked out as an oddity if it comes up in conversations with friends, as though I’m confessing an eccentric habit.

Disney’s movies are a fond presence in millions of childhoods throughout the world, and beyond (last year, a friend asked me if I wanted to go and see Cinderella with her. I suggested Far from the Madding Crowd instead). But these movies aren’t as child-friendly and full of innocent wonder…

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17 thoughts on “Disney’s Loss of Innocence: language, race and gender in children’s animated movies”

  1. It’s a lot of food for thought Cynthia – Disney should look back on their progress or lack thereof throughout the last decade.

  2. Really interesting post and discussions in the comments section of the original Cynthia. One of the commenters suggested lots of family time and discussions, I agree with that.

  3. I almost wish I hadn’t read that–it left me all worked up. The new research confirms earlier research on the ways Disney portrays traditionally-underrepresented groups and the narrow ways women are depicted. Ai yi–it got me all worked up!

  4. That was really interesting reading. It also suggests that social and gender groups in the US might be more polarised now than they were in the 50s and 60s… otherwise, you’d have equal dialogue all the way through, right? It’s so easily done though, that imbalance. I even see it in my own books, the male shopkeepers/guards etc, I try to make sure I have a 50:50 split with characters between male and female where I can… although in the last book, I just quiched and wrote about an alien species which had only one gender.

    Definite food for thought there, though.



  5. I saw many of the Disney movies growing up, including the educational ones. They were often shown in the schools in the afternoon after school let out for the day. Of interest was an old one from 1959 I watched recently, just because I hadn’t seen it way back when. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959) starting Janet Munro and Sean Connery – yes, Sean Connery. 007 got an early start in Disney films!

      1. Better known for his role in “The Prisoner”, another actor with an early start in Disney films was Patrick McGoohan, who starred in “The Three Lives of Thomasina”, and “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh”.

  6. No doubt that Disney was one of the prime sources for the ugly ridiculing image of Native Americans – a change from the earlier romanticized “Noble Savage”. So many sports/high school character mascots trace right back to Disney images. Not too good with that. We can do better – use a positive representation instead.
    When reviewing older films and books it is important to remember to see them through the eyes of the era. Museum pieces in context of the times.
    Nothing wrong with good story telling, but a parent needs to provide discussion and balance.

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