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Important life lessons learned from Disney's animated characters

Disney cartoons and their animated characters have been childhood companions for most young people these days. In addition to the entertaining values, there are several lessons to learn from these familiar animated movies.

1. How do Disney’s movies shape the way you see the world?

When it comes to Disney’s animated movies, we must mention to their animation series of Disney princesses. It is not an exaggeration that most children have grown up with a favorite Disney princess as a role model. Hence, Disney’s animated characters probably have an enormous impact on shaping their early perceptions of the world.

animated characters - How do Disney’s movies shape the way you see the world?
Disney’s animated characters (source: Pinterest)

Gender Stereotype

Disney animation has a significant influence on their personality development and perception of the world. These young audiences would subconsciously perceive animated characters as the standard and role models to judge themselves and others.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the stereotypes portrayed in films have affected the way girls admit themselves. Particularly, girls start to avoid learning experiences that are not perceived as feminine or believe their opportunities and positions in life are different from men.

These misled perceptions are the results of early Disney’s portrayal of their princesses with feminine traits like sensitivity, passivity, and dependence. For example, the first Disney princess - Snow White is represented as a passive character, who could do nothing but wait for a prince to come and save her.

Besides, female characters were also created as self-sacrificing, sensitive, and weak, such as Ariel the mermaid. Ariel gave up on her family, talent, and even herself in exchange for a chance to stay by the prince’s side.

animated characters - Gender Stereotype
Ariel sacrifices to become human (source: Pinterest)

These stereotypes of ‘feminity’ and gender roles in Disney’s depiction of their characters would affect the perceptions of both girls and boys.

Body esteem

Disney’s princesses always appear as the most beautiful girl in their own stories. It is observable that the female protagonists have a thin body, long and slim neck, thin waist, and narrow wrists, which reflects the stereotypical standards of beauty.

Every princess character is created with an ‘attractive’ appearance that can make their princes fall in love at first sight. This depiction limits the character within “looking pretty”, and the female characters are just “things to be looked at”. In that way, the patriarchal society has refused to recognize women as human beings with personalities and values.

animated characters - Body esteem
Disney’s standard beauty (source: Pinterest)

Such stereotypical representations of female protagonists have set a role model for young girls around the world. Many young girls are identified with fairy-tale princesses, who are always exceedingly beautiful. Therefore, girls tend to perceive these standards as ideal representations of beauty, thus trapping themselves in such stereotypes. It may lead to long-term problems like discriminated behaviors or body-esteem issues. According to a study on a set of almost 200 pre-school children, girls with body-esteem issues have more engagement with the Disney Princesses over time.

Family portrayals & romanticization in Disney animated films

Audiences may create unrealistic expectations of family, love, and marriage that are “socially harmful to women” through the repetitive consumption of Disney princess films.

Particularly, women characters in early Disney animation show as housewives, homemakers, child-bearers, and usually established within domestic settings. Take Cinderella and Snow White as examples. In most scenes, these two characters did housework like cleaning, washing dishes, and taking care of others.

animated characters - Family portrayals & romanticization in Disney animated films
Disney’s princesses do housework (source: Pinterest)

Additionally, Disney’s animated movies, specifically those produced early, focus on heterosexual love and portray it as the only source of happiness. The typical example is Aurora, the sleeping beauty, who touches the spindle and falls into the curse of sleeping. Throughout the story, Aurora does nothing but harming herself, sleeping, and waiting for the “true love kiss” from a strange prince to bring her back to life.

These stereotypical gendered depictions of Disney’s characters may significantly influence and mislead the early perceptions of young audiences. Particularly, young girls may limit themselves with the belief that women should stay domesticated and rely on ‘true love. Meanwhile, young boys could also fall into the ideology of male chauvinism, leading to their resistance to modern gender quality.

2. The positive changes in Disney’s characters building

However, Disney’s character developments are under the impact of social changes. That is to say that each movie would reflect the period in which they are produced.

In the early days, Disney’s female protagonists are depicted as domestic and submissive, in correspondence with the social norms at that time. Over the years, Disney princesses’ concepts have been revolutionized less stereotypically. The later female characters become more empowered and appear to gain a stronger voice in their narrative, simultaneously followed by the gradual reduction of masculine power.

animated characters - The positive changes in Disney’s characters building
Pocahontas chose her people over personal love (source: Pinterest)

This transition period of Disney’s movies can be seen through the characters of Pocahontas and Mulan. These Disney characters are represented with their talent, independence, and the priority of their own path over traditional heterosexual love with a prince. Prince’s role in these two movies is also less overwhelmed, partly resigning their activeness to the heroine female protagonists.

For example, Pocahontas was the one who drove the narrative forward, and she even gave up on heterosexual love for the benefit of her people. On the other hand, Mulan broke out of the gender role and her ‘domestic fate’ to protect her family and country. As a great warrior, the character of Mulan represents the change in Disney’s characterization of princesses from helpless to self-helped women who do not need any prince to protect them.

animated characters - The positive changes in Disney’s characters building
Mulan as a warrior (source: Pinterest)

Such mentioned changes in Disney’s princess representations can be explained by the second wave of the feminist movement, which led to Disney’s redefining their princesses with rebellion and dreams. Additionally, the death of Walt Disney, whose viewpoint is immensely patriarchal following the 1940s’ cultural beliefs, has somehow caused the stereotypical representations to fade away gradually.

animated characters - The positive changes in Disney’s characters building
Mulan still needs Li’s support (source: Pinterest)

Since the 1990s, with the drastic change of social perception and cultural representation of women over time, Disney has once again adjusted the ways of conceptualizing their princesses with their recent characters named Brave, Moana, and Frozen. These adjustments have marked the dawn of a new era, which set a new standard for female protagonists as modern women having full control of her life rather than depending either on a man or his protection.

Considering Brave - a true “hero” that takes action rather than only rebelling against stereotypes - as the turning point, the societal norms have been refused by Disney ever since. Animated characters in the recent period are the true “heroic” female protagonists, whose power comes from the characters themselves rather than from the assistance of male defenders. Moreover, Disney also made a shift in the portrayal of love. The traditional romanticized heterosexual love is weakened by familial love and self-love in this period.

animated characters - The positive changes in Disney’s characters building
No more focus on traditional love (source: Pinterest)

Throughout a long development history, Disney's characters, especially female protagonists, are not limited to pure gendered characters but are more varied with an embodiment of the complexity of personality. They have their self-control, self-love, and become independent from any social norms. That is to say, Disney has changed and innovated to create more incredible animated characters. They are aware of their huge impact on young generations, thus always working for a boundless, beautiful world for kids and adults.

3. Life lesson from Disney’s animated characters

Although there are remaining controversies around Disney’s animated characters and their negative impacts, it is undeniable that Disney keeps improving to bring up great values. Therefore, there are many precious life lessons to learn from these movies.

True beauty is on inside - Beauty and the Beast

Belle, a bright and beautiful young woman agrees to be imprisoned by a beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. Despite being fearful, she befriends the enchanted staff in the castle and looks beyond the beast's hideous appearance to recognize the kind heart and soul of the prince that hides inside.

animated characters - True beauty is on inside - Beauty and the Beast
Look beyond the appearance (source: Pinterest)

Beauty and the Beast taught us to never judge someone’s character solely on an outward appearance. She saw the inner beauty of the Beast, and she grew to love him despite his ghastly appearance.

Women can fully control their destinies - Frozen

The story follows fearless Anna, who finds her sister and breaks the icy curse, saving her kingdom. Frozen focuses on self-love, friendship, and sisterhood instead of the romanticized traditional heterosexual love of protagonists.

animated characters - Women can fully control their destinies - Frozen
Women can fully control their life (source: Pinterest)

Women can be the owner of their life without needing any assistance or protection from men. Frozen also spreads the message that romantic love is not the only source of happiness but also other relationships.

Stop wishing, start doing - The Princess and the Frog

Tiana is a hard-working and ambitious young woman. She spends most of her time working as a waitress with the ambition of having her own finest restaurant. Tiana met frog Prince Naveen, who mistakes her for a princess and asks for a kiss to break the curse. Finally, Tiana decided to halt her dream to go on a journey with the prince.

animated characters - Stop wishing, start doing - The Princess and the Frog
Start doing (source: Pinterest)

We can have anything we want, but it won’t happen magically. Tiana can’t turn into a princess just by kissing the frog, and we can’t achieve our dream just by wishing. Therefore, stop daydreaming, start doing and working hard.

Stay positive and good things will come - Cinderella

Cinderella is the story of a young girl, who lives under the evil control of her stepmother. Despite the cruel fates, Cinderella remained positive and kind. Through all of the mistreatment without complaining, she finally becomes the princess with the help of a fairy mother.

animated characters - Stay positive and good things will come - Cinderella
Stay positive and good things will come (source: Pinterest)

This film emphasized that good things will finally arrive if you stay hopeful. Also, be kind and optimistic because one good turn deserves another.

Don’t stay inside your comfort zone - Tangled

Rapunzel is the only child of a royal family. A witch abducted, then raised her and limited her within a tower. If Rapunzel did not leave the tower due to her curiosity, she would never have chance to experiences several exciting things nor explore the truth.

animated characters - Don’t stay inside your comfort zone - Tangled
Be courageous (source Pinterest)

Be open to new experiences and step outside of your comfort zone to learn and grow up. Also, things may not always be as you see, and people who appear to be kind may turn out to be your enemy, so embrace the unknown and be courageous to discover.

Conclusion

animated characters - Conclusion

Disney has proved itself as one of the companies with an impact on kids and adults. Disney keeps changing and making revolutions to bring tremendous values and precious lessons. Inspired by wonderful ‘seniors’ like Disney, DeeDee Animation Studio never stops learning, improving, changing, and adapting to come up with animation projects that are not only interesting but also inspiring and valuable. Contact us today to create lasting values together!


References:

Novakdjokovicfoundation.org, 5 life lessons from Disney movies

Insidethemagic.net, 10 lessons learned from Disney animated movies

Researchgate.net, The happiest film on Earth: A Textual and Contextual Analysis of Walt Disney's Cinderella and The Little Mermaid