Disney films are wonderful. Honestly.
I’m writing this after getting back from seeing Moana earlier today (with our brand new Cineworld cards, no less) and it was a truly beautiful film; I mean that aesthetically and thematically. If you haven’t seen it, I’d go see it now; it’s not out in cinemas for much longer.
As big budget animations, heavily marketed and pushed, Disney films are always going to make some kind of impact; for better or worse. Kids are always going to want to go see the colourful characters, and Disney are always going to hope they latch on just as they did back during the Frozen-phase. This makes these films powerful vehicles.
Now, you can go back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and analyse upwards, there’s probably quite the number of questionable themes within the earlier entries, but if we consider the more recent examples we can clearly see Disney (or, at least their writers) using the weight to tackle some more important issues. Zootopia, which is fantastic again, clearly tackles racism, segregation, phobia, and prejudice. The previously mentioned Frozen, clearly mocks the age old love-at-first-sight cliche of the original Disney titles. Then there’s Moana, featuring a majority Polynesian cast, something I think deserves a mention to begin with, and about owning, not just mistakes, but identity. It’s a beautiful film about self worth in the face of social expectations; it’s about remaining true to yourself. I’m no parent, and hopefully wont be for at least another couple of years or so, but these are the kinds of films I want my children to see; I want to promote these kinds of values.
This makes me ask, as a writer, what is my work conveying? What do my characters represent? Of course, not all stories need a moral message, not all characters represent a theme, but it’s at the very least important to know that you’ve made that distinction on purpose; it’s good to have considered all the bases. By considering the themes of your book, by considering what people could learn from it, you consider whether you’re actually promoting something unintended that maybe you don’t want to show. You also create a far more coherent story! If you feel your book is missing something, that something is a little off or it feels a little shallow, perhaps it’s the lack of a coherent message.
Regardless of what you think about Disney as a company, their story work is clearly well conceived, with strong female (and male!) rolemodels, upholding genuine and important values. What better for the young, and old, to learn from?