Lessons Taught to Young Children through Disney Films
From princess to puppy killer and from Prince Charming to ruler of the underworld, Disney films have it all. “The corporation’s tremendous impact on children throughout the world has resulted from its stupendous national and global success since the mid-1930s” (Lee 41). Since the inaugural animated feature film release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Disney has continually provided their viewers with both implicit and explicit lessons that are present throughout. These lessons have perhaps the greatest impact on the young children viewers, who comprise an overwhelming portion of the main audience. Whether little Johnny chooses to walk away from Aladin fantasizing about riding on his magic carpet, or ruling he world like Jafar, all depends on the way Disney presents the characters. This paper will look at how certain lessons are subliminally taught to our youth through the medium of Disney films.
For decades, media has had an immeasurable influence on children’s behavior. Be it a Sunday morning cartoon or a full length animated film in the theatres, moving pictures have captivated the hearts and minds of this generation’s youth. Whilst spending numerous hours planted before a television screen, they’re bound to pick up on some, if not all, of the themes they encounter. “…considerable research demonstrates that children’s exposure to modeled behavior on television and in the movies inﬂuences a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, e.g., aggression [9, 10], victimization and perceptions of reality  and stereotypes [12–15].” (Demonizing, 16). These behaviors translate into the children’s every day lives and may be detrimental to some.
Most Americans perceive Disney films as innocent, family oriented, and educational. Other cultures tend to have a slightly different perspectives. “…Disney urges homogenous global culture by Americanizing it… (and has) ...had an impact not only on local but also on national cultural identities” (Lee 41). So, while a middle-class American family sits on the couch watching Mulan and laughing at Eddie Murphy’s Mu-Shu character, a similar family in China may be horrified and offended at the misrepresentations of their ancient culture being provided to their children. It may also play out the other way, where an American mother refuses to allow her children to watch the film simply because of the violence. There’s then an association between violence and the Chinese culture, not only for the mother, but for the child as well. These types of reactions occur quite often, and that’s essentially before the child’s even watched enough of the film to let anything sink in.
The true psychological components of morality and behavior really take hold the second the credits roll down the screen. Immediately following the conclusion of a film, children put what they’ve seen into action; a classic case of “monkey see, monkey do.” In a study published by Springer Science and Business Media, movies and television shows (the two major media sources used by children) were analyzed and coded for their prevalence of demonization. They coded 34 Disney animated feature films and 41 after school cartoons for the use of “evil” words such as, “monster, devil, demon, and wicked” (Demonizing, cover). The study found that 74 percent of Disney films, and 44 percent of the after-school television cartoons contained demonizing references.
It was further concluded that these reference had three particular impacts on the children exposed to them. Firstly, those exposed to the demonization early on were more likely to use similar words and labels against others, both subsequently following their exposure, and later in life. When parents choose to show these films, which they believe to be morally sound, to their children at young ages, they’re potentially setting them up for racism, classism and sexism all at the...