Disney’s Influence on Young Kids

28 Oct

Initial research of the Disney influence on young girls made it clear that there is no shortage of information or opinions on the topic.  It is certainly a hot topic among parents and educators, despite its seemingly endless popularity.  Parents are aware of the messages being sent to their daughters; messages of powerlessness, the idea that your “Prince Charming” will save you, and body image standards.  The movies portray minorities in stereotypical roles, teaching children from a very young age what to expect of people who look a certain way or have a certain color skin.  Sure, parents are talking about these issues, but why not the viewers, the kids? They’re the ones watching and absorbing the information, but unfortunately, many aren’t consciously aware of the stereotypical and gendered messages being fed to them.

Devan, a mother who blogs on Accustomed Chaos, notes the lack of positive mother figures in Disney movies.  After watching “Chicken Little” one night with her husband and kids, Devan and her husband started thinking about how many movies lacked a mother – they came up with twelve just sitting there brainstorming on their own (1)!  It makes the involved fathers look good, but what does that lack of a mother teach young girls and boys? Perhaps that they can’t depend on their mother – she’ll either die, leave or end up evil?  Maybe the mother is left out of the story to force the main character into independence and maturity, but what’s the rush? It seems like a harsh theme to reoccur so often throughout Disney films.

A video on YouTube called, “Disney: Harmless Entertainment or Stereotype Perpetuators?” very clearly illustrates the racist characters in seven different Disney movies (2).  There’s Aladdin, the supposedly Saudi Arabian boy with white skin and a very non-Middle Eastern accent.  Sebastian, the Jamaican lobster who implies that under the sea is for lazy people who don’t like to work.  And the black crows in “Dumbo” who are experts on things that are “fly” and are led by the head of the group, “Jim Crow.”  Although subtle to young children, and even parents, when the stereotypes are pointed out, one wonders how they could have ever been overlooked.  The video goes on to show other characters created by a racist mindset in “The Jungle Book,” “Chip N’ Dale,” “Fantasia” and “Peter Pan.”

Pro-Disney parents and individuals claim that when you’re young you’re not picking up on these things, so it doesn’t matter that Disney portrays stereotypical and racist ideas in their films.  However, when young kids acknowledge that they’ve never seen an African-American character in a Disney movie, especially not in a positive light (until the most recent, “Princess and the Frog,” of course), there’s a problem.

Kids are proving to be more intuitive than some adults might believe, and Disney is directing them in the wrong direction.  Girls are taught to bat their eyelashes to get what they want; that big blue eyes, a tiny waist and voluptuous hips are standard and that no matter what, they will always live happily ever after.  On the contrary, young boys are taught to be macho, super-strong heroes waiting to rescue girls.  Disney instilling such extreme gender roles in children can assure us that no progress will be made in the future towards equal living for men and women.

Check out this video for a further explanation on racial stereotypes in Disney films.


(1) Devan. (2010, March 18). Disney Movies and Lack of Positive Female Influence. Message posted to http://www.accustomedchaos.com/2010/03/disney- movies-and-lack-of-positive.html

(2) Chapstick82591. (2009, December 7). Disney: Harmless entertainment or stereotype perpetuators? Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuUTdaJ_Obw&NR=1


2 Responses to “Disney’s Influence on Young Kids”

  1. effie724 October 31, 2010 at 10:52 pm #

    It’s weird growing up and realizing what these movies I used to be obsessed with really stand for. I would have never noticed any of it as a child watching these films. I never noticed the lack of a mother-figure until reading this. Is it an extension of the sexism Disney represents? Is it telling us that only males can do good?

    I think this message is very important as it gets carried out aside from the movies. The message is being reinforced to young girls when they see Disney starlets teasing the camera and singing about things that are far too mature.

    • sfishbon November 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

      The first thing that you brought up that caught my attention was that there really is no image of the mother role in Disney movies, she is either absent or killed off. I wonder, do you think that this is impacting the way kids view their parents? I remember watching Bambi and being so upset when the mother was shot, or in Cinderella, I hated the evil step mother. Its ironic as well that in movies such as Snow White and the Little Mermaid, the evil Villian is a woman but the characters are being protected by men. What impact is this having on children’s views of gender roles? Do you think that this is intentional on Disney’s part? They show women as either a princes in need or an evil woman, to me, this is interesting.

      I like that you brought in the idea of masculinity and the Prince. However, I think its important to look at the violence as well in Disney movies such as sword fighting or killing off characters. Is this “wholesome” Disney image teaching boys to be violent?

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