Disney - Through The Ages

Disney movies have been a large part of most childhoods, irrespective of location or culture. It's amazing how, aside from all the magic, their stories have also managed to reflect and adapt to evolving world sentiments. 

The first Disney movie, released in 1937, was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It promoted the power of kindness and true love, but some of the criticisms thrown at its characters make me wonder if highlighting those issues wasn't intentional as well. By ridiculing Snow White for being naïve in trusting a con-woman, we learned how one should keep their guards up in unknown environments. Snow may have been duped by the evil queen repeatedly, but not only does she manage to not get killed, but also finds seven protectors and a prince charming. Not too bad for a young princess out in the world for the first time. 

1930s was the decade of the Great Depression - an age of fear and uncertainty, with unions fighting for their rights and workers struggling to find jobs. Snow's unanticipated crash from a luxurious to a harsh, volatile world, and the dwarves' unwavering commitment to work seem to address the issues of the time; the former a reflection, the latter an antidote. 

The next big hits in Disney filmography were Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Released post-WWII, the movies celebrated the madness, not innocence, of childhood. While Peter and the lost boys refused to grow up, Wonderlanders symbolised the fun in accepting the mad, chaotic world with a pinch of salt. Interestingly, these movies glorifying childhood also released during the era of the baby boomers. 

With each new movie, Disney continued to subtly address prevailing global trends; the overarching theme being the term "global". Snow learned to survive on her own in cruel environments, while Cinderella dreamed of and eventually gained access to the world Snow escaped from. Ariel, Belle and Jasmine dreamt of swimming, flying and reading their way into far off places; and eventually chose men who gave them exactly that. Even Simba fled from the comfort of Pride Rock and befriended animal equivalents of exploring gypsies. Released through years  reigned over by the advent of global communication, be it friendly or hostile, Disney movies mirrored underlying issues of the day with a sprinkle of magic and a whole lot of dancing. It may have gone unnoticed, but I believe it's how Disney made intelligent audiences out of its dreamy-eyed followers. 

Globalisation is no longer the hot-topic of the day. Having successfully connected with distant corners of the world, we're now more focused on what's inside. From Buzzfeed informercials to op-ed pieces in renowned magazines, media is busy figuring out how things work internally – be it in households and relationships, or the human psyche. Enter movies like Brave and Frozen that highlight how even royals have messy family dynamics, and that true love comes in other forms than a romantic kiss. The modern-day Rapunzel in Tangled already has an in-built edge for survival, she just has to figure out how to use it to get back to her roots.

Cross-cultural communication is a given in the latest Disney movies. It isn't highlighted or glorified, but forms part of the context behind the storyline. That's the kind of world we live in today. Kids already know what cultures across the world look like through social media and video games. Movies like Inside Out, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia attempt to teach them how to maneuver in such an interconnected world, both in and outside of their minds. 

Their content has always been deep, but the packaging is light enough to make the learning fun. I'm excited to continue learning from Disney even as I enter my mid-twenties. I can't imagine a day when I won't be.

Sarah Anjum Bari is a ravisher of caffeine and prose, with a heart that lives in Parisian cafes. Reality checks to be sent in at s.anjumbari@gmail.com


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