My daughter loves Disney movies like Raya and the Last Dragon and Moana, and I think that’s really cool. There was a time when I wanted to get my daughter into stuff like Star Wars and Marvel. But, when I saw that she gravitated more toward the Disney cartoons, most notably the Disney princesses, I said, okay. The heart wants what the heart wants. I’m actually okay when it comes to her watching modern Disney cartoons. When it comes to her watching the older Disney cartoons that I grew up with, though, like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, well, that’s where I kind of draw the line.
Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate that era of Disney. I mean, hello. The Lion King. Mulan. I have no problem with my daughter watching either of those two films. Stuff like Pocahontas, though, or, as I mentioned earlier, The Little Mermaid, I try to steer my daughter away from that content on Disney+. Yes, I have let her watch both of those movies, but only because she asked to see them, and only with me present in the room. She hasn’t watched either of them since, and I’m glad for five major reasons. Maybe you disagree with me, but I think that all parents will agree that it’s best to actually know what your kids are watching. There’s some crazy stuff out there. Stay vigilant.
Oh, and minor spoilers up ahead.
The Female Characters Have A Lot More Agency In Modern Disney Cartoons
You know why I love Raya and the Last Dragon and Moana? It’s because the female characters have so much agency in those two movies. In Raya, our titular character is trying to restore peace to the world by uniting warring factions and bringing dragons back into the world. In Moana, our heroine desires to be out at sea, and she needs to return the heart of the ocean to prevent a scourge that is destroying islands. Both are high stakes stories and both have the women taking charge of their destinies. That’s something I want my daughter to see, so she can subconsciously believe that she, too, can do anything she wants if she puts her mind to it.
Now let’s talk about The Little Mermaid. What does Ariel want? A man. How does she aim to get him? By giving her voice away so that she can have legs, and the guy she wants falls in love with her, even though she can’t even talk. No. Just no. What about Beauty and the Beast? Yes, Belle is the oddball in town because she reads and doesn’t need a man. But then, her character arc relies on her restoring the beast to his human form. So, in both cases, their agency as characters is to serve men. I don’t want my daughter to serve men. I want my daughter to lead men. And, that brings me to my next point.
Romance Isn't At The Heart of Modern Day Disney Cartoons
As I mentioned earlier, my daughter is really into princesses. She adorably blushes when there is any romance on a show, and any hint of a crush gets her smiling at the TV. And, yes, this is my life now. I can only imagine how much more hair I’m going to lose when my daughter is hiding behind her door with a telephone. For now, I’m content with my daughter watching Disney movies that are full of adventure and devoid of any romance. In both Moana and Raya, there isn’t even a hint of romance. These characters have a mission, and they go on said mission.
Not so with most of the Disney movies of my generation. I like Princess Jasmine because she wants to see how the other half lives, and she also doesn’t want to just marry any man, as she only wants to find true love. Not bad, per se, but I really don’t think my 5-year-old daughter needs to see that. Same with The Little Mermaid. Again, I really just don’t like Pocahontas for a number of reasons. One of which is for the male characters, which I’ll get into next.
The Male Characters Depend On The Female Characters In Modern Day Disney Cartoons Rather Than Vice Versa
You want to know another reason why I love Moana? Because Maui needs Moana. Not the other way around. In Raya, we get this big dude named Tong, voiced by Benedict Wong, and he not only listens to Raya, but he also has a sympathetic side. I just love the male characters in modern day Disney cartoons. They help the women, and in turn, the women help them. Even in Tangled or Frozen, which do have romances in them, the male characters work to help the women. Hell, even Wreck-It-Ralph’s most interesting character is a girl with candy in her hair.
Are we supposed to feel good about John Smith in Pocahontas not wanting to butcher the “savages”? That sounds like a white savior storyline to me. And are we supposed to be happy about how Meg is basically slut-shamed by Hades in Hercules and almost groped by a centaur? Like, no. The male characters and female relationships in the older Disney cartoons suck, and I don’t want my daughter seeing that. It’s just awful.
Even The "Villains" Learn A Lesson In Modern Disney Cartoons
In Moana, the “villain,” Te Ka, is pissed off because a man stole her heart, and now she’s a raging volcano. The point is, she’s forgotten who she really is, and Moana’s journey is to remind her that she’s really Te Fiti. In this way, the “villain” had a definite reason to rage. And we, the viewer, learn to be gentle with people’s hearts. In Raya, the “villain,” Namaari, has been misled by her mother to distrust others, and she learns by the end of the film that that’s no way to live, and that she needs to trust others to find peace. Those are good life lessons!
Forget all that in the older Disney cartoons, though. Gaston is a brainless buffoon who ends up falling to his death because he’s being an asshole and he deserved to die. I mean, that’s the lesson we learn from Beauty and the Beast, right? Don’t be an asshole? I mean, that is a good lesson, sure, but Gaston didn’t really learn anything. He just died. Ursula gets impaled because she sucks. I mean, all the villains in the older Disney movies are pretty much just mustache twirlers, and they don’t learn anything. I personally prefer movies where everybody learns a lesson. Even the villains. And, no, the world isn’t like that, but at least my daughter’s movies can be like that.
I Just Find Modern Day Disney Cartoons To Be Better Movies Overall
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think the newer animated Disney films are just better overall movies than the older ones. There’s definitely more diversity, both with the characters and in overall storylines. We never would have gotten a Big Hero 6, or a Wreck-It-Ralph back in the olden days, and I honestly think this current batch of Disney films rivals (and sometimes even surpasses) Pixar’s recent output.
I have a soft spot for movies like Mulan, The Lion King and Disney’s hidden gem, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but if I’m being completely honest, I think I have my nostalgia glasses on when I rewatch those movies. They’re not as dynamic as the more recent films, and a lot of them rely too heavily on the music, which totally turns off my son. Overall, I just feel that character-wise, plot-wise, and thematically, the modern Disney cartoons are just better than the older Disney cartoons.
What do you think? Am I being too hard on the first Disney renaissance? Should I just loosen up a little bit? Sound off in the poll below! And for news on upcoming Disney movies or just 2021 movies in general, make sure to stop by often!
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.
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