Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Many Themes of Disney: An Overanalysis

For over 75 years, Disney has been synonymous with good animation.  And for good reason.  Most people watched a Disney film so far into their childhood they don't even remember it; all they remember is that it was good.  Then as they grow older they start to notice all the political incorrectness, and over-extend metaphors for drugs, and devise drinking games with their college buddies.  Then they grow older still and become parents, realising how effective the morals are and deciding their children could learn a thing or two, and so the circle of life continues.

That being said, everyone has differing views on different films- for instance my personal favourite is Hunchback of Notre Dame despite it receiving comparatively low ratings.  I have given this some thought, and separated groups of films into several recurring themes- if my theory is correct then the most popular films should contain several of these themes, whilst the least popular may only contain one or two.  More may follow in a future update.

The Princesses.
Newest at the front, ethnics at the back.
The theme Disney wants you to believe in.  Children want to be the princesses, young adults want to criticise the 'forgotten' princesses, and adults want good role models for their children (something only recently being addressed by Disney).  For the purposes of this article, I will divide the princesses accordingly.
The 'popular' princess films: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled, and Princess and the Frog.
 Odds are children will want to imitate the heroine from at least one of these films, and if they do then the theory is that they will enjoy the others in this group.  Note that they have been getting progressively 'stronger' as society has progressed to have better female role models.
The latest 'Disney Princess'
The 'other' princess films: Pocahontas, Mulan, Brave, The Black Cauldron, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Princess and the Frog.  These are the princesses that some claim Disney have 'pushed aside' due to being unmarketable, whether due to ethnicity or age.  Note the inclusion of Princess and the Frog, as some consider the film to be too recent for Tiana to be forgotten, but her time is coming due to her ethnicity.  These films are most enjoyed by those that enjoy pointing out Disney's political incorrectness.  Incidentally these are also the strongest female role models.
The 'hipster' princess films: Bambi, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Hercules, Atlantis, and Enchanted.  This category is so named as it is most enjoyed by those that have a smug self-satisfaction when explaining to others how the female leads are 'technically' Disney princesses whilst not being officially considered as such.  These viewers are most likely to call Princess Leia their favourite princess, as she's 'technically' a Disney princess now.

Prominent examples: Aladdin, Robin Hood, Sword and the Stone, Princess and the Frog (special mention to the Little Mermaid, which used snake-like fish).
Just ignore the fact he sounds like Winnie the Pooh.
Snake imagery is used a lot in Disney, occasionally in a hypnotic form (see: Kaa, and Jafar's staff).  Interestingly they are always shown as cowardly- a somewhat unusual characterisation that I don't believe I have seen outside of Disney.  More typically, they are also shown as highly untrustworthy.  They are always a supporting villain (except in Princess and the Frog, which subverted many clichés), to the extent that the majority of appearances happen in the various tv spin-offs.  If you enjoy this Disney-specific archetype, your favourite film is likely to be the Jungle Book.

Most commonly occurring in contemporary films, cats are often inherently evil or at the very least mischievous- rarely are they shown in a positive light.
Never trust a grinning cat.
'Evil' cats: Sword and the Stone, Cinderella, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Emperors New Groove, Pinocchio.  The cats are most commonly manipulative, greedy, or outright evil.  Not unique to Disney, as many consider real-life cats to be inherently evil and vindictive.  If you enjoy evil cats, your favourite film is probably Lady and the Tramp- two evil cats for the price of one, and as you're probably a dog person you get the bonus of the protagonists being dogs.
'Big' cats: Jungle Book, Tarzan, Aladdin.  Interestingly, big cats are wise and friendly- with the exception of Sabor from Tarzan who is a mindless killer.  Naturally, if you enjoy films with big cats then your favourite film is the Lion King.
'Mischievous' cats: Aristocats, Pinocchio, Oliver and Company.  Often these cats are kittens that are yet to learn they're supposed to be evil, however your favourite is probably going to be the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

Alcohol/ Drug references.
Almost every film involves alcohol or other drugs- seriously, keep an eye out next time you watch one.  It may be for brief moments, such as glasses of wine in Aladdin, or the feast of fools in Hunchback, but at other times it's more noticeable- join me as I play 'Drink along with Disney'.
Robin Hood- Sir Hiss gets drunk after being trapped in a barrel of (strangely coloured) ale.
Beauty and the Beast- Copious amounts of drinking with Gaston in the tavern.
Basil The Great Mouse Detective- A drunk mouse finds himself in trouble
Pinocchio- Alcohol and tobacco contribute to Pinocchio 'making an ass of himself'.
Nightmare fuel.
And, of course, the pinnacle is Dumbo- full on Disney Acid Sequence from Dumbo indulging in too much champagne.  This crosses over into the next subcategory: the Disney Acid Sequence, things that must have been conceived whilst under the influence.
The Lion King- 'I Just Can't Wait to be King'.
Winnie the Pooh- Various.
Aladdin- 'Friend Like Me'.
If you like any of the above over any other Disney feature, then odds are your favourite film is either Alice in Wonderland or Fantasia- both are feature-length acid trips, Fantasia getting the edge as it even involves Dionysus the God of Wine.

Fire is the one element that appears in every Disney film, and seems more prominent in the more popular films.  This is probably the theme that attracts me most, and through sheer coincidence the more fire there is, the more I like it.  Here's a run-down of my top 10 Disney films, and the amount of fire involved. (Special mention to Toy Story 3 for the furnace, as I wasn't going to include Pixar).
Hercules- Hades' 'angry' face.
Dumbo- The circus act.
Sword and the Stone- the Wizard's Duel.
Fantasia- A glimpse of the pits of Hell as shown in Night on Bald Mountain.
Robin Hood- Prince John's castle is set alight.
Aladdin- Climactic battle in a ring of fire.
The Lion King- Lightning sets fire to the desolated pride lands.
Jungle Book- Lightning sets the scene for a climactic battle in a ring of fire.
Hunchback of Notre Dame- the whole city of Paris is set alight, and there's a song dedicated to Hellfire.
Treasure Planet- an entire planet goes up in flames.

OK, I take back what I said at the start- Treasure Planet is my favourite Disney film.

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