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Rethinking the Impact of Disney on Childhood Development


Cui Jiayi

When exploring discussions surrounding animated films, most individuals immediately associate them with Disney. Members of our audience may have experienced watching Disney movies.

Certainly, Disney plays a pivotal role in shaping the initial cinematic experiences of many children. Consequently, whenever a new Disney film is released, parents readily take their children to witness it without hesitation. However, beneath this implicit trust lies a crucial consideration: does Disney animation consistently contribute positively to the development of our children? It is wise to carefully examine the potential irrationalities and drawbacks that may be present.

This article aims to explore a different perspective on Disney animation, positing that its impact may not always align with the perceived benefits.

The statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.

Foremost in my thoughts is the term “idealization.”

Primarily, Disney animations often craft story worlds marked by an abundance of idealism, simplicity, and perfection. This depiction may lead children to perceive the real world as uniformly idealized, lacking an acknowledgment of the complexities and challenges inherent in reality.

Consider, for instance, “Beauty and the Beast,” where the storyline illustrates the transformation of the Beast into a gentle character, emphasizing the triumph of kindness and beauty. Yet, in actuality, such a neatly concluded “happy ending” may not consistently unfold.

Secondly, Disney frequently portrays its characters in extreme images, categorizing individuals into stark divisions of good and evil. Take, for instance, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” where the narrative unfolds within a conventional dualistic framework. Here, the protagonist, Snow White, is depicted as exceptionally kind, while the wicked queen is cast as purely evil.

This simplistic representation of the dichotomy between good and evil may give children the impression that the world operates in highly absolute terms. In reality, however, the concepts of good and evil often exist in gray areas rather than being strictly black and white.

Simplistic portrayal of heroes and villains as good and evil characters in Disney movies

Furthermore, Disney movies, to a certain extent, impose constraints on imagination.

This assertion may run counter to prevalent beliefs, as there is a common assumption that Disney movies foster imaginative thinking. Nevertheless, the actuality is that our conception of “unrealistic” imagination appears to be confined to what Disney portrays, even though we perceive this as an extension of creative thinking. Yet, essentially, it can be seen as a subtle form of limitation.

Children universally associate the term “princess” with one of Disney’s princesses. Disney animations create distinct and dominant character images, exemplified by the iconic blue-yellow-toned portrayal of Snow White.

Snow White

These influential character depictions, rather than fostering diversity, tend to be uniform, hindering children from developing varied interpretations. In such circumstances, children’s creativity and imagination face constraints, potentially diminishing their individuality.

Finally, it occasionally imparts misconceptions.

In numerous instances, there exists a recurring scene where a slumbering beauty is awakened by a prince’s kiss. While this might be perceived as romantic in the context of fairy tales, if such scenarios were to unfold in real life, many individuals would view them negatively.

Characters like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty seemingly tolerate this form of intrusion, going as far as marrying their awakeners. Despite being rooted in classic fairy tale motifs, this narrative element has the potential to normalize instances of sexual harassment. It conveys a problematic message, suggesting that inappropriate actions can be romanticized or justified, contradicting the principles of healthy relationships.

While Disney movies are known for their entertainment value, their influence goes much deeper. There’s a tendency for Disney to present idealized worlds. While this can be inspiring, it might also limit a child’s imagination. Additionally, some messages conveyed in these films could be misleading.

Therefore, it’s important to be critical when watching Disney movies, especially with younger viewers. By acknowledging these complexities, we can gain a richer understanding of how Disney animations shape our perspectives, creativity, and even societal norms.

*The author is a student enrolled in the School of Education & Honors College at Shanghai International Studies University, China, currently pursuing a major in Business English.

**The opinions in this article are the author’s own and may not represent the views of The Diplomatic Insight. The organization does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content.

The Diplomatic Insight, Pakistan's premier Public Diplomacy Magazine, has been at the forefront of promoting Peace Through Informed Dialogue since its inception in 2009. With both print and electronic versions, this decade-old media house is offering research, analysis, and public diplomacy outreach to clients in Pakistan and across the globe. TDI is now offering Amazon Kindle Self Publishing Services to diplomats, ambassadors, political leaders, academicians, and other civil society leaders to be the next best-seller authors. With access to 11 global markets and the option to translate your work into 11 languages, you can reach up to 300 million readers worldwide and unlock your personal and country branding.

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