Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Conclusion also known as The Last Post

In conclusion to this research project I have found that I have enjoyed revisiting some of my favourite films of my youth. I find that I still enjoy Disney today just as much as I have for the past twenty four years. Although I have found some questionable material in my research and in revisiting the movies, I think that all in all Disney maintains a great standard for children's entertainment. Each movie, Lady and the Tramp, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast will likely maintain their status as Disney classics regardless of whether the films contain appropriate messages for the youth of today.

Essentially it is up to the parents and the teachers of the youth to ensure that they are receiving and interpreting messages from the media in an appropriate manner and keeping and open and ongoing dialogue about what children are watching on television and the messages that are being sent.

Thanks for the good times Disney, I remain your loyal fan.

Domestic Violence in Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast Poster. Via IMDB
The last movie that I have decided to use to conclude my research project on Disney and it’s effect on society is Beauty and the Beast which was released in 1991. While Disney Princess movies have always remained the most popular, they haven’t always been my favourite. I’ve  chosen to focus on Beauty and the Beast as this movie has missed the mark on what are appropriate lessons to teach today’s children in terms of forming and maintaining healthy relationships.      
    Beauty and the Beast is not an original Walt Disney Production creation. The film is based on the Fairytale of the same name which dates back to 1740 and was written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The Disney version while maintaining some of the original ideas of the fairytale mostly focuses on Belle, and the Beast falling in love.
Belle is more independent than the other Disney princesses; she has little interest in men and prefers to spend her time reading or helping her father.  This is seen in how she treats Gaston, the town’s overly cocky male chauvinist. As Gaston attempts to force Belle to marry him she brushes off his advances and chooses to read books instead which makes the town break out into song about what a “strange” girl she is. As Belle moves into the castle to be with the Beast and exchanges her life for her fathers, her refusal to do what he says and fall at his feet makes the Beast angry. In one scene where Belle is refusing to have dinner with him, Beast tells his servants, Lumiere the Candlestick and Mrs.Potts the teapot that if she does not dine with him, then she will not eat at all.
Belle tries to civilize Beast. Via thislifeinphotos.com
As the movie continues Belle decides that it is up to her to civilize Beast. It is at this point that a clear cycle of abuse becomes evident.  Beast not only takes her away from the only family that she has, but yells at her to try and force her to fall in love with him and stay, both clear signs of abuse according to Helpguide . Laura Beres writes in her article Beauty and the Beast: The Romanticization ofabuse in popular culture that “For a viewer who is living in a violent relationship, who needs to maintain faith in something beyond her immediate situation, this story suggests that if she acts in a loving way towards her abusive partner, he might learn from her how to be loving and might turn into a prince for her” the movie appears to tell us that yes,  you can change someone if you try hard enough. By the conclusion of the movie Beast is civilized and again human, and Belle is in love.
A part that I found especially odd regarding this seeming promotion for domestic violence is that a similar theme is not portrayed in the original story. In the original story the Beast informs Beauty that his castle is now hers and that he is her servant and the two become friends, and while the Beast asks her to marry him constantly she says no, not because she is a captured slave to him, but because they are friends. It is only at the end of the story that Beauty finds she has fallen in love with the Beast, thus turning him back into a price.
Belle and Beast (now handsome prince) dance. via IMDB
Ultimately Beauty and the Beast is a children’s fairytale which appears to be promoting domestic abuse. While there are many forms of abuse, from emotional to physical, the clear indication that abuse does exist within this movie makes it questionable, especially with such a happy ending. Beauty and the Beast may appear to be an innocent Disney movie; however the writers did not appear to think through how this may appear to the greater audience especially to children. As children have a tendency to mirror what they see on television and in the media, it is possible that children who are exposed to films such as Beauty and the Beast will see this relationship as something that is to be obtained as opposed to feared. In conclusion I can’t say that my feeling on this movie remain as positive as they once were and it makes me question what the writers were thinking when they put such a spin on the tale. 

Hunting Racism in The Lion King

courtesy of Wikipedia
The second movie that I chose to look at for my research project on Disney and society was The Lion King, a 1994 Walt Disney Pictures film directed by Rodger Allen and Rob Minkoff It was another of Disney’s movies that portrayed animals with human personalities. Based loosely off of Hamlet the film follows Simba, a Lion cub who is convinced that he is responsible for his father’s death and runs away from home attempting to escape his past. As his pride falls victim to drought he must go back and save his family from termination. The Lion King was one of the most well revered Disney movies of the 1990’s. According to IMDB the film has grossed $945,578,747 since its 1994 release. The movie was re-released in 2011 which contributed to the total gross earnings of the film.
What began as an innocent children’s movie quickly came under fire from critics for portraying other races and cultures in a negative light. One of the main complaints, depicted in the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly were the accents portrayed by the Hyena’s whose voiceovers were done by Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin. In the documentary, a concerned mother tells a story of her son pointing at some African American children who are playing and says “Look mom, the Hyena’s”, as the woman turns her back to the children playing she recognised that the laugh of the Hyena’s in the Disney movie sounded much like the voices of these small children playing. This situation determined for the woman that Disney may have been deliberately trying to insult urban children in the movie The Lion King.
As I watched the movie I took a critical perspective and tried to connect to whether there were racial stereotypes of Latino and African American people. As I tried to find the racial stereotypes that Mickey Mouse Monopoly claims are depicted I had a challenging time proving that beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was racism. First of all, I counted well over five different accents depicted in the movie including the New Yorker accent of Shenzi the Hyena (Whoopi Goldberg)  and the New Jersey accents of Timon and Pumbaa (Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella respectively). There were two different dialects of British accents, mostly American accents and a singular Swahili accent.
Whoopi Goldberg and Cheech Marin as Hyena's
Photos Courtesy of IMDB
Criticism for the voices in the movie came from numerous sources such as Robert Gooding-Williams article Disney in Africa and the inner city: On Race and space in The Lion King where he states “First, [The Lion King] uses Whoopi Goldberg's and Cheech Marin's voices to represent the speech of two of the three prominent hyena characters as black English and Latino slang respectively”.  It should be noted that neither Whoopi Goldberg nor Cheech Marin appeared to disguise their voices to make their accent sound more “Black English” nor “Latino slang” as Gooding-Williams claims.  As Terry Press, a spokesman for Disney told the Globe and Mail on July 26, 1994 "Do you think Whoopi Goldberg would lend her voice to a character that is racist? I don't think so.", Considering Whoopi Goldberg is known to advocate for human rights, and has spent much of her career working with children I agree that the likelihood that she would voice a racially offensive character in a children’s movie is slim
James Earl Jones as Mufasa. via IMDB
Racism has been prevalent in Disney previously as referenced in earlier films such as Dumbo (1941), who’s “Jiving” black crows were a clear racial stereotype portrayal of African American’s in the 1940’s. While this type of racism was common in films of the past it appears that scholars today may be using preconceived notions of Disney when reviewing movies such as “The Lion King” in present day. If a person is to state that the portrayal of Hyena’s in the movie are racist than they need to also consider the strong African American people who voiced other characters in the movie such as James Earl Jones as Mustafa and Madge Sinclair as Simba’s mother Sarabi.
Having always enjoyed The Lion King, I have to admit to feeling a sense of relief after being worried that I would taint another favourite Disney movie of mine. While I feel that Disney has definitely done some injustice to different racial groups I don’t see a clear depiction of this when it comes to the Hyena’s in this movie. If I wasn’t able to clearly define racial prejudice in the movie I fail to see how this could be considered as a poor influence on children as the argument for Disney movies often goes. I believe that the film if anything portrays more violent images, such as the death of Mustafa than it does racist imagery. In this case it seems like it was Disney’s history of being perceived as racist had more affect on parents and scholars than the movie actually did. 

Class Systems in the Film "Lady and the Tramp"

Poster for Lady and the Tramp. via IMDB
The first movie that I chose to look at was a favourite of mine from childhood, Lady and the Tramp. I can’t remember the first time that I watched the movie but I do remember that I watched it over and over again for the majority of my childhood and has continued to be my favourite Disney movie into adulthood. As I took the time to look at the movie with a critical eye, I noticed a few questionable messages in the movie regarding class systems and how the movie portrays the “American Dream”.
The movie Lady and Tramp was produced by the Walt Disney Corporation in 1955. The movie shows through subtle nuance how the class systems in 1950’s America were portrayed. Lady is a 6 month old Cocker Spaniel who lives in ideal, suburban Midwestern America with perfectly manicured lawns, fences, and a license to show that she is owned and cared for by a good, upper class family.  Her friends, Jock a Scottish Terrier and Trusty, a Bloodhound are also both collared and licensed, living their days leisurely strolling around their neighbourhood but never going beyond the fence line to the other side of the train tracks. Daniel Goldmark and Utz McKnight, Authors of “Locating America: Revisiting Disney’s Lady and the Tramp state that “[Lady and the Tramp] was a way for Disney to show his audience what America should be and to teach his audience how to become an American”. These dogs represent upper class Americans who stayed within their communities, are perfectly assimilated into the American culture and essentially living the American dream of the time period.

Tramp living the American Dream. via IMDB
On the other side of the tracks you find Tramp. Tramp is a mutt, or mixed breed dog without an owner who spends his time outwitting humans and stealing or begging for food at the back of restaurants. Tramp lives on the “wrong side of the tracks” just outside of the suburban utopian home of Lady. Tramp’s band of friends consists mainly of immigrants and outcasts. A German Dachshund, a Russian wolfhound, a British Bulldog, an overly sexualized Lhasa Apso and a Mexican Chihuahua. Each dog represents their different cultures through fairly insulting stereotypes which were common during time period during the production of the movie. For example the bulldog’s accent is cockney, and the Chihuahua appears as a lazy, stupid dog. None of these dogs have homes and all live on the streets, attempting to outsmart a dog catcher who wants to put them away and have them euthanized as they do not belong in the American society that has been created by Disney.  
The outcasts. Via IMDB
            The movie clearly shows a divide in how other cultures were to be treated in 1950’s. To live the American dream you must assimilate yourself into their culture, otherwise a person is destined to live “on the wrong side of the tracks”. The movie from Lady’s point of view shows to children that staying within what is safe, and culturally acceptable boundary is the appropriate way of living, and venturing outside of your approved social class you will do little more than cause trouble for yourself and others. As the movie closes  Tramp has managed to assimilate himself into Ladies upper class life, however while her friends are seen greeting them on Christmas morning, Tramp’s friends are no where to be seen, thus the audience is left to assume that they remain impounded and forgotten as Tramp’s world no longer includes them.
            Lady and the Tramp, while it remains a favourite Disney movie of mine has become a little tainted by my research, and I admittedly am beginning to wonder if this research project was not the best of topics for me to explore. While I’m intrigued by what else I’ll find in the other movies I intend to observe, I’m becoming concerned that I’m going to ruin these movies for myself forever. 

The Disney Defect or The Purpose Of This Blog

Photo courtesy of Kwantlen.net

“As a single father of three young boys, I found myself somewhat reluctantly being introduced to the world of Hollywood animated films and in particular , to those produced by Disney” starts the chapter in Henry A. Giroux’s book “The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence”. Giroux has spent much of his career writing about the Walt Disney Corporation and its effects on Society. It was upon reading this book, and spending time with children at the Little Mountain Neighbourhood house, an after school program for low income children where I volunteer that the idea for my term paper began to develop.
I have loved Disney since I can remember. My childhood was encompassed by Disney movies, and all the toys that came along with it. I especially loved any movie that involved animals and would spend days with my friends re-enacting scenes from our favourite films. As an adult my passion for Disney continued and I have spent weekends scouring flea markets for old Disney films and memorabilia and at 19 even took a trip to California to Disneyland. I wouldn't call myself obsessed, but I will admit that I continue to have a keen interest for the children’s fantasy of my youth.
Myself in Disneyland (2007) courtesy of Suzan Aktug
Upon deciding to create this blog I have chosen to take a critical look at three of my favourite Disney movies, TheLady and the Tramp, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast to see if there is something that I have missed. What message is Disney sending to its audience and what stereotypes and negative images does Disney perpetuate? When reading Giroux and other criticism regarding Disney I decided to take off my defensive hat and put on an objective one. I plan to write based on what I’m feeling at the conclusion of research and at the conclusion of each film to ensure that my mind is as fresh on the material as possible. Giroux says that there are a number of issues regarding Disney and its influence on children and culture that require exploration and I intend to do just that, explore these films and discover if there is something underneath the singing, the dancing, and the good old fashioned fun that Disney claims to portray.