Walt Disney Pictures, in the 90’s, presented us with unforgettable films such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, etc. These formidable and successful years for the Walt Disney Co. are also known as Disney’s renaissance years, following many, many years of mediocrity just barely creeping out of the once-vibrant studio.
But the century turned, and the Y2K scare was debunked as a myth. Not so much. The mythical bug seemed to make its home inside the mouse’s kingdom, and sucked all the magic and life off of the studio’s story boards. Thus the studio tried to convince its well-earned masses that movies like Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Home on the Range were just as worthy to be included on the shelf with such greats as Tarzan and Hercules.
Not to mention the overwhelming amount of straight-to-video sequels, in an attempt to remind fans and audiences of the glory days. (A book I would highly recommend on this topic and the reason behind Disney’s temporary downfall is Disney War by James B. Stewart.)
But as great as Disney was back in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’90s, I believe it has never been as on target with their films as they have been for the last several years (or at least since Robert Iger took over as chairman and chief executive officer, and placed Pixar’s John Lasseter as chief creative officer). You see, Disney’s mantra, since Uncle Walt himself breathed life into his creations, had always been to follow your dreams, and you can be anything you want to be. All you have to do is wish on a star, or follow your heart, or sing a merry tune. Follow these three easy steps, and all will be well with your life.
Perhaps due to influences from Pixar Studios, Disney has recently taken up another message to feed its impressionable audiences. And in a most critical time in our self-serving, egotistical, lazy history, to boot.
Nearly everywhere a child turns, he’s bombarded with messages of self-indulgence, take without any give, you’re number 1 for no reason at all… but it seems to me that Disney has been taking a more realistic turn in its messages. Somewhere beneath the storyline of magical princesses and arcade room battles, the messages of Disney have turned from the deflating cushion of fantasy to the hard truths of reality.
I haven’t seen Planes, nor do I know what sort of message the upcoming Frozen will turn out. But if you look at Disney’s recent films, you’ll see that they are promoting hard work, above wishing on a star (The Princess and the Frog), and there are some things about your life you just can’t change and you must learnt to live with (Wreck-it-Ralph).
Even the zany Meet the Robinsons, the first non-Pixar movie Lasseter produced, was filled with the hard-hitting message that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And some mysteries are meant to remain just that – mysteries for us to never know. (This film happens to be a favorite in our house because it surrounds the theme of adoption in a very appropriate, and sombre way, despite the fifty minutes of pure silliness in the middle of the movie.)
Pixar, also, has taken a bold turn in their recent films as well, daring to teach kids lessons that no other animated film has had the guts to do (just watch Monsters University and you’ll see what I mean).
Not everything that comes from Disney is great, but the great things that do come from them far surpass any other entertainment medium out there (with the exception of Pixar films, The Lord of the Rings movies, and maaaaybe Harry Potter – I’m a latecomer to that franchise and brand new convert). But one thing’s for sure: When we finally do get a kid, I’ll have no shame in indoctrinating him (or her) with the latest Disney has to offer.