Friday, April 30, 2010

Eras of Disney

Disney can be quite controversial. Some people love Disney and everything about Disney-others despise it/him. Since Disney has made many many movies over almost a hundred years, and the characteristics of the movies are very different depending on when they're from, let's distinguish within Disney itself. For the sake of simplification, I'm only discussing Disney Princess movies.
Walt Disney himself died in 1966. Before he died, he had created 3 complete Princess movies- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1957.) Disney had been a leader and innovator in the world of animation. It's these three Princesses that are often accused of having the most negative female stereotypes-evil female villains and helpless heroines. Yet I have to say, these movies adhere the closest to the plots on which they are based. And some people have attacked Cinderella for being made more helpless than the Grimm version, but Disney didn't base his Cinderella off of Grimm, but on Perrault's (and either way, whether Cinderella got help from talking mice and a fairy godmother, or a dead mother's spirit, she always has help in SOME form.)
There was a long break from Princess movies. Then Disney had another golden age in the late 1980s- early 90s, with The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), and Aladdin (1992). Feminism had spread and filmmakers were more conscious of how they presented females. Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine definitely have more spunk and sense of adventure than their predecessors (although, as I've pointed out before, Ariel is reeeeally desperate to marry a guy she's never actually met. Interesting that the next two heroines on the scene are anything but anxious to marry just for the sake of marrying or for looks), but the plots of the stories differ more greatly from their sources. Interestingly, none of the movies created during this time were based on Grimm stories. And yes, Pocahontas and Mulan are in there somewhere, but they were never as popular. I say, Pocahontas is a travesty because they completely alter a true, historical story, which is different than altering a version of a fairy tale that isn't exactly authoritative on its own. Mulan should probably be more popular, but there's just only so many Princesses you can fit onto a t-shirt, you know?
Then there's Tiana from Princess and the Frog, and supposedly Rapunzel's coming. In the grand scheme of things they should probably be lumped together with the second batch of Princesses, except that Michael Eisner is no longer CEO of Disney. You could say that they've continued and expanded the trend of taking creative liberties, since Princess and the Frog hardly even pretends to be a retelling of The Frog Prince. And I think of the older movies differently in my mind because I was very young when the above came out, and not so young any more. Plus, so much has changed about Disney since then too. The Disney channel has just regressed so far. The popular shows and movies may sport good messages, in theory, but the scripts and acting are just TERRIBLE. Everybody knows that, since the second Golden Age of Disney, Pixar became the new Disney, and they have stayed away from Princessy fairy tales or anything that centers too much around romance. So they might suffer a little in the 4-6 year old girl department, who will forever request birthday presents from the Disney store, but overall their reputation spikes. (Not to bash the Disney store. I should open a museum for all the Belle products I own. Including a lamp in the shape of Belle, in addition to a glow-in-the-dark Beauty and the Beast lampshade. Why light your room with anything neutral when Disney products are available? I kid, but only sort of.)

So the next time someone bashes Disney, ask them to define which part of Disney they mean. And you could point out that taking creative liberties is exactly what the brothers Grimm and other major fairy tale collectors did too. But then you can criticize the particular creative liberties they took, and their reasons for them. But to classify all of Disney as one large entity is almost like lumping all fairy tales together. Well, bad example-people do that, but they're misinformed.

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