Saturday, 20 June 2009

Brain-washing Disney-style

We have had one of those weeks when the children have taken it in turns to be ill. Both have been visited by the sick bug and today R5 succumbed to one of her regular ear infections.

One thing it has meant is more telly than usual and, of course, good old Disney. Rosie revisited 'Bedtime Stories' on Monday and since then we've watched 'Sleeping Beauty'. The latter is a visual delight on Blu-ray, all cleaned up and glossy and gorgeous. It's a good old-fashioned princess tale of course. The heroine is slim, pretty, blond and blue-eyed, the kind fairies are tubby and jolly, the evil witch is bony and green-eyed.

I'm sure I remember reading somewhere about some boffin saying such films are "bad" for children. That they give them delusions about life; they're not terribly feminist - the heroine only wants to fall in love and get married. Where's the career, the feistiness, the girls-are-just-as-good-as-if-not-better-than-boys-ness? Not in this tale, that's true. But does it actually do any harm? My two little girls have always adored it. They adored it so when they were really little that they insisted on watching it every single night before bed. They wanted to be woken with a kiss too, but not by any smelly old handsome prince. Mummy and Daddy were good substitutes fortunately. Neither expect to be a princess when they grow up (maybe there was a brief interlude of that, especially with R5 who wore her Sleeping Beauty dress-up dress incessantly).

It's a cute tale, if old-fashioned, but we've just watched it again today and it's still gorgeous. Dare I suggest too that it's a work of art? Hand drawn animation rather than CGI? Rather clever really.

One thing Sleeping Beauty has which you don't get in the current crop of films is that it's only on one simple level. Good triumphs over evil, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Not so Wall-E, a recent offering from the Disney Pixar stable. We managed to miss this one at the cinema (for no good reason) so were delighted when it (like Sleeping Beauty) arrived courtesy of Think Parents.

This time there are many levels. Wall-E is a lovable solar-powered rubbish disposal robot, living alone for hundreds of years on Planet Earth after it has been abandoned as a rubbish dump by humans. Then one day he encounters EVE, a sleek search robot, sent back to the planet to look for signs of life. When she returns to the space station with a plant, Wall-E hitches a lift and the tiny pair find themselves in a battle to save the plant evidence and convince the humans that Earth is worth saving.

I didn't see it in the cinema and I wonder how I would have felt if I had. The humans in the film sit in what look much like cinema seats, wiggling their fat useless limbs, slurping cola from giant-sized drinks cartons, eating popcorn. Like looking in a mirror for some, perhaps.

This is an animated 'Inconvenient Truth'. More palatable perhaps, or more insidious. Do children know they are being brain-washed in this way? But is this a bad thing? My seven and five-year-old know a great deal more about saving the planet than I did at their age, and not by being scared witless by Al Gore, but by gentle preaching courtesy of the likes of Wall-E and the dancing penguins in 'Happy Feet'. Both show the 'little guy' triumphing in the face of massive global ignorance. Both include the message that you may be small, insignificant and gender non-specific, but you can still save the planet. As far as the kids are concerned, Wall-E's cute and his message is 'grow your own greens' and 'tidy up the planet' (to quote H7).

So which is better? Tell little girls that they're going to grow up to be princesses and get married, or tell them they can save the planet? I'd probably say the latter, but I still love a good fairytale.

* The photograph is of today's bargain, a metal patio set from Tesco. Two chairs and a 60cm table for £35 and I didn't even have to build it myself. As I unpacked it I automatically wondered where it had been made, by whom, and what was its cost to the environment. But I still bought it.


  1. My girls loved Disney films too, and - you will be relieved to hear - have grown up completely normal! When children are poorly, they just need to be tucked up on the sofa (in our house, it was beneath the 'poorly quilt'), cwtched and loved, and just have a film or two with simple plots and much-loved characters who they know so well it is like having an extra hug from old friends.

    By the way, you're slipping with that new patio set - where's the bottle of red and the monster bag of Doritos?!

  2. I think those feminists are doing more harm than a Disney film :-) My theory is girls who are allowed to go through the princess phase when small do not have to act like Paris scientific proof just watching people...

  3. I think Ivy's got a point actually... although my girls and I are still hoping to find princess clothes in our wardrobes one day! Bargainous outdoor set, Mags.

  4. Fairy tales are great! I think they allow immagination to flow, and there's absolutley nothing wrong with aiming for a Prince....

  5. An interesting thought about the brainwashing power of Wall E. You're spot on I think.

    As for the social stereotyping aspects of Disney and the like- my experience is that, within reason, most intelligent kids can sort this out for themselves. They quickly get to know the difference between fairy tales and real life - and have a more sophisticated sense of self than we sometimes like to think.

    If I had censored everything my kids watched / read with a politically correct eye, I'm not sure there'd be much entertainment left. So I guess I'm saying, don't worry about it. I care more about all the darn merchandise that comes with the new films - we had Wall E toys before Dylan had even seen the film.

  6. Thanks for reminding me to get Wall-E. Great reviews of both films - I can't see how Sleeping Beauty can do much harm - a great deal less unpleasant than, say Tracy Beaker which I find very off-putting.

  7. BB - Quite right about needing to be cwtched. As for the wine and Doritos, I haven't had time to sit on the darned thing yet, I just admire it as I dash past! (Great to see you both the other say btw.)

    Ivy - I think you've got a point there.

    Chris - I'm still looking for glass slippers in my wardrobe!

    Millennium Housewife - Why not indeed. (Love your avatar btw!)

    Mark - ah yes, merchandise. That's a whole other blog...

    Edward - I've tried to avoid Tracy Beaker. I did have a bit of a Basil Brush moment the other morning. The three girls were dressed in tight leather... no gender stereotyping there then. Boom boom.


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