I’m a massive fan of Disney. You only have to spend a few minutes with me to realise this. I don’t class myself as a "die-hard" because I haven’t seen every Disney movie (just most), I don’t have to go to a Disney resort every year (but I’ve probably been more than the average person, not through any fault of my own) and I don’t know the words to every Disney song (just nearly). But I do love Disney. If I need to have a good cry, I’ll put on a Disney movie. If I need to have a good laugh, I’ll put on a Disney movie. If I need to be reminded that there is good in the world, I’ll put on a Disney movie. There's just something about Disney that reminds you of how special life it. It's that Disney magic.
I was recently at Disney World Florida with my family with high expectations considering this place is supposed to be the "happiest place on earth". Aside from all the crying children, I could see how this could be true. One big flaw, the number of gift shops all over the place, especially the at the end of every ride. I understand that Disney needs to make a buck but our experience would have been greatly improved if we didn’t have to tell my niece and nephews that they couldn’t buy yet another new toy every twenty minutes.
But aside from the crying, there was the magic and wonder children’s faces as they met their favourite film characters and walked through worlds they knew from the movies. My niece begged all day to meet Elsa and stared in wonder as she appeared mere feet away from her. My too-cool-for-school seven-year-old nephew couldn’t stop laughing at the antics of Winne-the-Pooh and Tigger when they stole his hat and played games with one another as he waited to have his picture taken. My three-year-old nephew was speechless when he met his favourite character of all time, Woody from Toy Story.
And the customer service is on another level. Whatever school of customer service the workers at Disney train at needs to train every single person that has to interact with the public ever. In the three days we spent there there wasn’t one employee whom I suspected of having a bad day; the same cannot be said of the employees of Universal Studios in the one day we spent there.
But in my time at the resort something became glaringly obvious to me. I love Disney movies but I only really love the Disney movies from about Beauty and the Beast onwards. My reason, because if the old movies weren’t a little sexist, then they were definitely a little racist.
Granted, I haven’t seen all of Disney’s back catalogue. There’s like over a hundred movies in that thing. But I went through a stage of watching and sometimes rewatching some of the old stuff and I eventually had to stop. Maybe I’m a child of my generation because Ariel giving up her family, her voice, her life at sixteen all for a hot guy does not sit well with me and I’ve never been a fan of the whole “Cinderella” story, at least not the Disney-fied version, but those movies don’t even make my worst list. Let’s not forget the racist crows in Dumbo or Songs of the South in its entirety (just because there’s a black man in it, doesn’t make it inclusive). And even as a young girl the idea of Snow White being beautiful because her skin is “as white as snow” never sat right with me. Even now I’m still wary of any portrayal of Snow White, even the strong, independent, motherly version in Once Upon a Time.
Maybe I’ve always been an overthinker and maybe I overthought it all but I’m glad I did. I’m glad that at a young age I realised that I was not represented in the Disney franchise. There was never a Disney Princess I could dress up as for fancy dress and there was never a Disney Princess I related to. Until Belle. Belle is white but Belle likes to read and I like to read. It’s Belle that saves the Beast not the other way round and Belle is the only one who is different in a small town where everybody is exactly the same. I wonder why I related to her so much.
Disney has done better since those old days. It gave me The Lion King, still my all time favourite animated movie, they tried with Pocahantas to give me a brown princess but Disney-fying that story is still questionable in its appropriateness, and they gave me The Frog Princess. I'm a fan of Tiana. She is a hard-working, independent woman from a loving family. Sure she's a frog for most of the story but at least she's not a slave.
Then there’s the other flying elephant in the room.
As my younger sister and I were taking a selfie with the Walt Disney bust at Hollywood Studios park she turns to me and says, “didn’t Disney hate Jews?”
Walt Disney has been accused (and his grandniece pretty much confirmed it http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/walt-disney-s-grandniece-backs-up-meryl-streep-s-racism-claims-anti-semite-check-misogynist-of-9064138.html) of being a misogynist and Anti-Semitic, and prejudice against any race in my opinion is pretty much synonymous with prejudice against all races, which pretty much confirms all my misgivings about the earlier work from the studio and makes watching Saving Mr Banks a completely different viewing experience.
But for all Disney was in the past, I believe, and can see from their more recent work, that they are about so much more. All you have to do is look at the The Princess Frog, A Bug’s Life that encourages standing up against your oppressors and Zoopolis, a film about breaking racial stereotypes, to see that the studio is about so much more now.
Maybe Walt Disney is rolling in his grave to know that his studio is producing the type of work that has helped to empower this little black girl to believe in her dreams. But he was the one who chose the theme:
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.
So he can't be mad that his studio is finally living up to it.
p.s. I'm excited for my Maori brothers and sisters to get in on the action too in the new Disney movie Moana http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3521164/