The Disney Family Model

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What would you describe as the typical Disney family model? Jae Ran Kim points out how frequently the main character of Disney movies has either an absent or dead parent (or two absent or dead parents), among other unusual anomalies that should be surprising for a line of children's entertainment. I think the only one in her pretty long list to have both parents raise her ends up a cross-dresser.

This isn't necessarily a criticism. This particular story device often simply makes for a good story. But doesn't it seem excessive for Disney to be so overwhelmingly like this? Or is this more common in children's stories in general than we notice? Since we generally don't notice it with Disney, maybe that's so. But why don't we notice it, if we don't?

10 Comments

i don't think it's really all that uncommon; it's certainly a very american construction. when everything is about the emergence of the child from the shadow of the parent, then the parent must be done away with in some way or another. so rather than intimate that there are no just parents, the just parents tend to be done away with, leaving the wicked stepparent.

or else, the other archetype is that of the "ugly duckling," which is, of course, to use JRK's construction, an "orphaned, transracially adopted swan."

I am not sure about children's stories in general, but I once read that Shirley Temple rarely (or maybe never) had two living parents in her movies. Apparently, this was done to make people more sympathetic to her character.

Disney apparently uses movies(Children movies)to conduct test on humans. I remember a few years ago when the "Disney Spy" leaked information concerning Disney's subtle messages in movies like Aladin, and The Lion King that were sexual in content. Not to mention the penis on the cover of The Little Mermaid. The scary part is the characters that are of the same sex raising a child. Hmmmmm....

B.J., is there evidence that this is some conspiracy of coordinated activity? Without clear evidence of something like that, I'd be much more inclined to think that this was just a few independent people in each case seeking to have a little fun that they never expected anyone to find out about.

Or is this more common in children's stories in general than we notice? Since we generally don't notice it with Disney, maybe that's so. But why don't we notice it, if we don't?

I suspect we don't notice it precisely because it's so common. It goes back a lot further than 20th century American entertainment; Disney fairy tales are following the convention of fairy tales in general, at least European ones. I imagine we get used to it pretty early on in our lives.

For that matter, I suppose, this makes sense in light of premodern history. Households with two long-lived parents were not all that common until the last couple of centuries.

I'll mostly echo Jonathan, but it's hard to lay the family structure in most of these stories at Disney's feet since almost all of these stories have simply been adapted to the screen by Disney. The convention isn't even a European phenomena since for many folk-tales the same characters and motifs crop up in many different cultures. This cross cultural similarity is actually one of the puzzling things that folklorists have struggled to account for. However, contrary to Jonathan's closing supposition, I suspect this is simply literary convention. Not having parents frees the children from family obligations, which allows for more adventure and overcoming of adversity. Jae Ran Kim might as well have made a list of books like the Boxcar Children, the Harry Potter series, Huckleberry Finn, etc.

I remember a few years ago when the "Disney Spy" leaked information concerning Disney's subtle messages in movies like Aladin, and The Lion King that were sexual in content.

http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/films.asp

Yes, that's what B.J. was referring to. As the snopes entry indicates, many of these aren't real or are so subjective that it's hard to tell, but it's pretty clear that these are cases of artists having fun, as I said to B.J., as opposed to some Disney plot to send subliminal messages to children.

Hi, good site, I've been aware of this matter since a couple of weeks ago and I've been looking for information since then. for the people who think that this is some kind of joke, or they are just coincidences,films are made by lots and lots of people and every detail is examined carefully. With animated movies the dedication is exactly the same and even bigger, every detail counts, and things like these don't happen because of a mistake. The poster of the Little Mermaid in which a penis appears, is it a coincidene? the naked girl in the film about the mice flying in a little airplane was a coincidence? In The Lion King'scene,when Simba is thinking deeply in a slope, the stars show clearly the word "sex" is a coincidence? The answer is NOOOO!!! So parents, don't let your children watch Disney movies, They are making our children think about sex all the time and we don't even notice it. Please be carefull with what your children watch, it's about the security of the new generations.

Gabriel, did you read the Snopes.com post? It gives enough information to show that you're drastically overreacting. Of course it's not a coincidence. It's a bunch of bored artists throwing something in as a joke that Disney didn't find out about until it was too late. It's certainly not a good reason to boycott anything. It's also certainly not anything kids will pick up on unless they're watching one frame at a time for the entire movie. They are not "making our children think about sex all the time". There are enough people (how about MTV?) doing that that it's a waste of time to worry about Disney.

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