Last week we ran a competition on our blog following the recent conversation about ideology in Disney films. Thanks so much to the people who took the time to write in, your efforts do not go unappreciated! The responses were great and some of them made very strong persuasive cases and counterpoints which is what we were hoping for. We couldn’t choose just one winner so here are the two that really impressed us, and won themselves double passes to today’s screening of Pocahontas at 1.30pm.
Winning entry from Samantha O’Rourke, aka: hellofilmnerd.
I love Disney. I especially love Disney princesses. Let me make no bones about my bias here. I am also a feminist who does not take ideological issues with the characters or stories because I view them outside the scope of our political context. I view them as individuals and characters, as role models for young girls the same way they were for me. While none of them are perfect they all demonstrate qualities which are admirable and worth teaching to young children, including girls. I’d like to focus on two particular targets of anti-Disney activists: Cinderella and Mulan.
I recently watched Doug Walker’s review of Cinderella where he summed up why I don’t take issue with the character perfectly, I will not quote him directly but I will take the essence of what he said, Cinderella is subjugated and treated poorly by here stepfamily and this is shown to be wrong by the film. What isn’t shown to be wrong however is Cinderella herself. She demonstrates kindness a strong work ethic. Although she is not satisfied with her position and does not know how to escape it she has not resigned herself to it and she continues to dream of escaping. This shows her strength of character, she has spent much of her life in servitude but has the will to continue in the hopes of a better life. She does not give up and this, in addition to her other characteristics previously mentioned demonstrate her validity as a character for people to aspire to emulate.
Mulan on the other hand reveals selflessness in her willingness to take on a potentially life threatening challenge to prevent her father from being forced into a position that would almost certainly kill him. She shows her determination when she decides to stay in the army and better herself instead of taking the easy route and leaving. While Disney undoubtedly has issues regarding race, class and gender many of the characters, including all of the princesses in my opinion, create strong and admirable role models for young boys and girls alike. And the films in which they star are often, if not always well crafted pieces of entertainment and all around beautiful films. They are a deservedly part of both the cultural zeitgeist and many people’s lives and in my opinion.
Winning entry from Phill Hall, aka thischristianguy.
When thinking of Disney at its worst we could say too many Caucasians, poor female role models and saccharine schmaltz that can clog arteries faster than a life time of Big Macs. These complaints are not without merit as Disney did go off the rails for a while. However, there are gems that can be found. One of these that deserves attention is Lilo and Stitch.
Lilo and Stitch is more than about a child and her alien dog, because, the alien Stitch is a genetic experiment made to cause havoc on a global scale. Lilo’s parents have drowned in the sea, consequently, she gives the fish god “pudge” an offering of peanut butter sandwiches which is the opening scene. Lilo’s sister Nani is barely twenty and struggling to keep what is left of her family together. This may seem regular disney fare, though, dig a bit deeper and there is a message about family and identity that shines like the sun.
Ohana is the Hawaiian term for family, not just the nuclear family as westerners see, but the extended family or tribe. Similar words exist in Africa (Ubuntu) and in Maori (Whānau. Pronounced fa-nau). Lilo calls Ohana on her sister when Nani threatens to take Stitch back to the pound saying…. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind – or forgotten”.
Though the development of Lilo and Nani in the movie is limited their relationship is distilled in the chaos that Stitch brings. Meanwhile Stitch, a being created without a higher purpose has nothing to give Lilo and Nani but his destructive programming that threatens to destroy their already broken family. Ohana is the glue that keeps families together and creates identity. This is what Stitch gains: identity and self-knowledge through others. Ohana means without them, there is no me.
Stitch is nameless and possibly without a soul in beginning; just a fluffy ball of rage that wants to cause havoc to all around him. For those who treat him in kind he replies in kind. In contrast Lilo gives him a name, a family, an identity and a higher purpose. This is what redeems Stitch as he grows into his soul and gains his (for want of a better word) humanity. For this reason (and a few more) Lilo and Stitch is one of my favourite Disney movies, probably my number one.
Ed’s note: Many thanks to everyone who took the time to enter this competition, it was a pleasure to read your entries. I’m even a little curious about seeing Lilo & Stitch!