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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Watching Disney Movies As A Writer

In honor of the trip I’ll be taking to Disneyland this weekend for my anniversary with Supportive Girlfriend to mark our seven year anniversary, I thought I would use this time to talk about the value one can get out of watching Disney movies as a writer.

Wait, Disney movies? Seriously Chris? Are you talking about those movies that are notorious for perpetuating racial stereotypes like the crows in Dumbo, the “hot crustacean band” in The Little Mermaid, the natives in Peter Pan, the Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, pretty much every character in Aladdin, (seriously I could do this all day), and don’t even get me started on The Song of the South. The same Disney where the bad guys are almost always darker skinned than the good guys (even when they’re both supposed to be from the Middle East…or are…ya know…lions)? Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young women that beauty is their prime asset, to be completely submissive in courtship and let the men come to them even if it means waiting around for life to just serve you up by magic that your prince will come, and frankly it’s probably just best if they sleep most of the time anyway, abusive guys have a heart of gold inside if you just tame their beast, and that even if you kill every last motherfucking Hun in China, your big achievement is still if the hot guy likes you—a barrel-chested hot guy because that’s what matters. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young men that they must solve their conflicts with violence, and to be “manly,” they must be a barrel-chested Adonis and fight for your woman—who must be an object of beauty and pleasure because that’s what matters—but that you should always stay your hand in life or death fights because something will end up wasting your enemy pretty much by accident every time. Are you talking about the same Disney that indoctrinates legions of young people into the belief that there is “One True Love” out there, who is identifiable on sight, who you should leave everything you know and love to be with, and is so preposterously repetitive with their “love conquers all” narrative that they white wash over things like North American colonialism? The same Disney movies that has a generation of kids thinking Hercules’s real mom was Hera and the Little Mermaid ends in a wedding instead of foamy?

Yeah. That would be them.

Hold the phone, though. I didn’t say they were good movies. I said that they could be valuable to watch as a writer. Let’s say if you’re one of those people who thinks Disney movies are still so totally enchanting that you let your kids watch them over and over and over and over again and you figure that images bombarding them fifty or sixty times a year when they’re five won’t have the same effect as a meaningful conversation or two about gender roles when they’re teen-agers. Or maybe you think that at least your kid isn’t watching Jersey Shore. Or maybe you just think “Oh my god, this will distract them for 90 minutes while I have a chance to do laundry and have a bowel movement of longer than thirty seconds.”

However, I’ve already received death threats from my fellow barrel-chested white males for threatening to mess up the steady supply of subservient women, and this is usually about where the people who think Disney isn’t so bad start to rise up with pitchforks and torches, and the people who hate Disney for all the reasons above are polishing their Awl Pikes for our next encounter because how dare I derive anything of value from something so patently sexist, racist, and everything-else-ist.

So now that I look like I’m standing in the middle of a scene from Braveheart, except with three sides running at me instead of two, let me just say the following few things: I think Disney movies suffer from being easily accessible and recognizable pop culture icons that everyone has seen and become an easy way to critique the larger culture. If half of us memorized every line from every James Bond movie, we’d probably pick those movies to take to task…and we’d probably have even more to talk about if we did. Anything mainstream media puts out would be just as problematic to essentially put on an auto repeat loop, and we go after Disney because it is such a recognizable icon. For all its faults, Disney tends to at least be conscious of the social progression of our society, and adapt to it. Many of its latest movies have even social progressives saying (well, this last one wasn't SO bad). The problem is many of its classic and iconic movies date back to more problematic times. It is even possible to say that one of the reasons many Disney movies achieve such a popular state is because they twang the cultural chord that many people in our society WANT TO HEAR. The really great exceptions to all this bullshit are usually not the movies every little kid knows by heart. And given the reaction that Disney DOES get from enraged fans about anything that isn’t perfectly sweet and antiseptic for the kiddies, it’s probably a wonder they don’t actually have everyone make up and have hot coco at the end of every movie.

All that said, you might still think I’m insane for suggesting that Disney could be valuable for a writer to examine. Those stories are trite. They are simplistic. They are formulaic. They are almost all the same with only a few cosmetic variations. They are the movie versions of a four chord song.

Yes. Exactly.

Because their greatest weakness is also their greatest strength. And I’ll explain what I mean by that on Friday. [I’ll be breaking my own rule about posting the same post in the same week because 1- I’ll be too busy riding the Dumbo ride to do a whole new subject, and 2- it stays thematically with this week. So I hope y’all forgive me.]

But for fun, I'll leave you with the four chord song explanation for those of you who didn't get that.

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