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HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

What is the Magnitude of The Disney Corporations Impact on Society and How Has It
Influenced Individuals Views?

Adrea Gladney
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

Background and Introduction


The Disney Corporation has maintained tremendous success over the years and continues
to grow. It all started with a mouse and a dream and has now become one of the biggest brands in
the world. People come from all over to visit their parks, and their theatrical shows and films are
like no other. Their newest films, like The Princess and the Frog and Brave, are breaking barriers
and introducing diversity to a new generation of children. Other films such as The Lion King
have not only withstood the test of times, bringing enjoyment to many generations, but have also
continued to evolve and generate new revenue. This film and many others are considered
timeless.
Released in 1994 as Disneys 32nd animated feature film, the original film depicts a
lions journey to find his place in the circle of life. The Lion King was directed by Rodger Allers
and Rob Minkoff and produced by Don Hahn. It was the first Disney animated film to be an
original story, but it was influenced by biblical stories, Shakespeare, and the experience of the
many writers who contributed. The film was the highest grossing movie worldwide in 1994 and
its popularity has been unwavering, appearing still on television channels, movie screens, and
Broadway stages worldwide.
In this paper I will be my researching Disneys impact on individuals through film.
Topics of discussion will concern the unwavering popularity and different paths of success
Disney movies have taken, using The Lion King as an example. It will also discuss criticism of
Disneys process, intentions, and the corporate side behind the magic. Disney is a major brand.
Its films, networks, and other attractions are largely popular and their messages reach a very

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

large and diverse population. I will examine and discuss the use of stereotypes in Disney films,
their impact, and the reason for their lasting presence over the years.
It is important to note any potential biases I may hold concerning my topic. I have loved
both Disney and The Lion King since I was young. In fact The Lion King is one of my favorite
movies to date. This may cause me to be more lenient in my response to the criticism of the
Disney Corporation.
Literature Review
Now the question is raised what makes a film timeless? What is it about a work that
allows it to remain popular for decades and how can one be sure that it will remain that way for
many more to come? Much of the film industry suggests there are key factors which contribute
to the staying power of a particular film. These factors include strong directors, audience
affection, and gripping stories, but many other things also influence making a movie (Weeks,
2014). In this case writing, animation, directing, production, casting, and music among others are
all important aspects that contributed The Lion Kings success and longevity. The Lion King had
two directors and 29 credited writers which could have been detrimental and caused the film to
move in a boring, less kid friendly direction, but that was a risk worth taking (Barfield, 2013).
The many different writer perspectives reflect a careful and thoughtful process for developing a
gripping story that audiences could connect with. As for having multiple directors there is
probable concern for why that could be problematic. Directors are at the helm of it all and the
good ones usually have a strong point of view, which is crucial to creating a work that will
endure (Weeks, 2014). Having two directors with strong opinions could cause conflict if they did
not agree but it could also bring about thoughtful collaboration which is what must have took

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

place to bring about the work that exists today. Steven Spielberg (2012) says what makes a film
timeless is audience affection. Simply put, determining the success of a movie is dependent upon
a combination of ratings and box office numbers which are determined by audiences. A film has
the ability to make an impact; how great that impact is determines if it remains in one's
memories. If you absolutely love something, you'll want to have it forever. Youll also want share
it with others that you love. Its great to be able to share what you love with your children. This
movie has also become one of my childrens favorite movies and thats awesome says Vincent
(2016). The Lion Kings continuing impact on many people through its story and music has
allowed it to remain.
The popularity of The Lion King has also took center stage with the award winning
Broadway adaption, and like the film its popularity seems to be unwavering. Since opening in
1997 it has become one of the most successful. It even broke the record for top-earning title in
box-office history, surpassing the record previously held by The Phantom of the Opera. Julie
Taymor (2011) credits her success to the creativity of herself and her team. She explains that in
order to portray a story one must find the one thing that captures the essence of it all, and for The
Lion King it was the circle, referencing the life, which she incorporated in every detail possible
from props to costumes and set design.
With the success of everything inevitably comes criticism; the probing and picking apart
of a process. You would never think that there would be anything bad to say about a company
whose motto is where dreams come true but, over the years, criticism of the Disney
corporations has grown. More reproach of Disney and its movies center around the portrayal
women and men in archetypical roles, which makes for a good story but teaches children that

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

that is the norm. Take Disneys princesses for example, they all fit the damsel in distress
archetype, and Disneys heroes are all good looking, fair skinned, and lean. The images we see
shape our opinions and views on society and its roles. As Disney has continued to evolve, there
is no doubt that their new movies aim to break stereotypes of the typical fairytale. Movies like
Brave teach girls that they dont need to wait for a Prince Charming to come and rescue them,
but instead they have the power and courage inside themselves to write their own destiny. The
Princess and the Frog depicts Disneys first African American princess, a strong and determined
young lady who is also beautiful and a figure of inspiration to many young Africa America girls.
This movie had the potential to definitely spark controversy and inspiration among many
people says Rankin (2016) who was encouraged by seeing an African American princess as a
lead heroine in Disney film, being a young African America girl herself. Movies such as these
are examples of how Disney can have a positive impact through its message.
Other critics attack Disneys use of realism and naturalism in their animation, arguing
that by doing so they abandoned animations essence by conforming to culture (Jenkins, 2013).
However, Jenkins (2013) argues that classic Disney movies create a unique form of time image
that allows audiences to feel something and connect it to the meaning of life by showing the
becoming life of the cartoon. Others critique Disney for its methods behind all the magic. They
attack Disney saying that it utilizes a capitalist approach to entertainment by appealing to people
with a utopian fantasy (Shortsleeve, 2004). Disney promotes this fantasy not only in movies,
where every ending is a good one and it all turns out great, but also in Disneys parks where they
sell this fantasy in the form of a two-day park hopper. In regards to The Lion King it has been
argued that it too is all a part of the corporate circle of life (Lapin, 2011). The Lion King II was
relevant, The Lion King 1 was also relevant by putting a twist on the original and telling it

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

from a different perspective, but then Disney began to release the original Lion King in theaters
and in IMAX for people to relive the original release, Then the movie came out in 3-D. Lapin
(2011) argues that the 3-D release was nothing more than another opportunity to make money
and that it in fact takes away from the quality of the classic.
Entering the Conversation
Disney is representative of innocence, magic, imagination, and amusement for
children and adults alike. However, there are major corporate workings behind the scenes that
many never give much thought to. Its corporate holdings include television networks, Hollywood
cinema, radio stations, sports teams, publishing companies, amusement parks, and retail stores
among others (Tavin, 2003). All of these outlets enable Disney to have a great deal of power and
influence as it relates to the media and the images and ideas it promotes. Popular culture and the
media play a significant role in ones learning and perception of oneself and the world around
them, especially for children and young adults. As one of the largest media companies in the
world, whose full-length animated films have been a popular form of entertainment for more
than 60 years, there is no doubt that there messages and ideals have had an impression on the
ideals and views of people. Children learn about principles of society including gender and race
through a number of different sources, but media holds substantial influence and are powerful
sources of learning (Towbin, 2004). I am proposing a study that will examine Disney media,
more specifically its animated-feature films, for the prevalence of stereotypes and gender roles
through characters and animation and asses its effect on the impressions of children.
My proposed study will consist of watching four Disney animated films over the course
of a week, completing a series of surveys after each, and finally a questionnaire. I have selected

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

Cinderella, Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Princess and the Frog as the films for this study
because they are assumed to be the most commercially popular and would therefore reach a large
audience. I also wanted to include a diverse batch of Disney movies to hopefully prove that
similar stereotypical messages are portrayed despite the plot and character differences in each
film. A total of 30 boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 10 will be selected for this study and
divided into two groups according to their interest in Disney film. The ideal number was 20,
having 10 boys and 10 girls represented, however to account for participants that may drop out I
have decided to add 5 more people to each gender category. One group will consist of boys and
girls that are fans of Disney animated film and the other of those who are not fans. The
separation of the participants into two groups serves to eliminate bias and asses the overall
impact these films have on the impressions of children. In order to examine possible differences
in impact of the films, and subsequently responses the following ethic groups will be represents
equally: African American, Caucasian, Asian, and Latino/Latina.
The two groups will watch one of the four Disney movies each day, in a controlled
setting, and complete an online survey after each. The survey will consist of an overall rating of
the movie and an assessment of the main characters based on the qualities of physical
attractiveness, intellect, goodness, independence, strength, bravery, and heroicness. They will
also be asked their favorite character from the film and why, and to share what lessons they
learned from the movie. Participants will be required to provide their age, gender, and ethnicity.
Before starting the survey the instructions will be explained aloud to the group. There will be
proctors assigned to each group according to the number of children under the age of 6. These
individuals will assist the children by reading the survey questions to them assuming they may
not be able to read at that age.

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

Sample Survey (For the film Cinderella)

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

https://www.survey
monkey.com/r/VZWDKJT

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

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**N
ote that this is a sample survey for the film Cinderella. To view the full survey click the link

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

11

provided above. The survey will look the same for all 4 films with the exception of the main
characters.

On the last day after all the movies have been watched each group will answer a final written
questionnaire. Before beginning the proctor will state the instructions and like the last there will
be individuals to assist the children ages 6 and under. The following questionnaire is designed to
provide insight and make connections between what the children were exposed to and how that
affected their schemas. The participants will be required to provide their age, gender, and
ethnicity.
1. Which of all the movies is your favorite and why?
2. Which of any (not limited to the ones in the films you were required to watch) of the
Disney princesses do you think is the prettiest? (select one)
o Cinderella
o Snow white
o Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
o Ariel (The Little Mermaid)
o Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
o Jasmine (Aladdin)
o Pocahontas
o Mulan
o Tiana
o Rapunzel (Tangled)
o Merida (Brave)
o Anna (Frozen)
o Elsa (Frozen)
3. What qualities/characteristics make someone beautiful?
4. What qualities/characteristics make a princess?
5. Which princess/prince would you consider your hero?
6. Do girls need to be protected or can they defend themselves all alone? (select one)
o Yes
o No
7. What jobs should a woman have?
8. What jobs should a man have?
9. Is it important for girls to care about their outer appearance and make sure they look
pretty? (select one)
o Yes

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

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o No
10. Should boys be strong? (select one)
o Yes
o No
o Yes, but its okay if theyre not
11. Should girls be strong? (Select one)
o Yes
o No
o Yes, but its okay if theyre not

My hope is that the data collected will show the prevalence of stereotypes in Disney
animated film and show what if any impact it has on children's views. Furthermore, I would like
to observe what stereotypes are recognized the most and whether there is a trend across the
Disney movies. It will also be interesting to see how the results vary from one group to the next.
I wonder if my data will prove that those who enjoy Disney films are more susceptible to
influence as opposed to those who are not fans, or if it is about the same. Once the data is
collected it can be graphed and charted according to the different categories outlined in my study.
For example, to allow me to analyze the prevalence of stereotypical gender roles in Disney film I
can put the responses from the first survey in a graph and observe the differences between
characteristics credited to female main characters and those given to male main characters. I will
examine the other responses according to age, gender and ethnicity to analyze and compare the
influence of these factors on what messages are absorbed by members of these categories.
Ultimately I hope to share the results in scholarly journals to shed light on the topic and to also
spark inquiry for other related research. Many of the Disney films have animated animal
characters as the focus in which case stereotypes about animal characters that then generalize to
human characters can be examined. The question is raised as to why it has taken 60plus years for

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

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Disney to break away from the portrayal of these stereotypes and introduce more diverse
characters with less traditional roles?
Conclusion
Throughout this paper I have researched the impact that the Disney Corporation has on
individuals through film. I have examined how a film can remain largely popular and found that
it has more to do with audience affection than the process of making the movie. Ultimately the
success of a movie depends on the response from consumers that then opens the door for further
promotion of films and new paths of success. Criticism of the Disney process ranges from
feelings that Disney creates productions and merchandises for the sole purpose of making
money, to investigating the consistent portrayal of stereotypes and gender roles through
characters and animation. Many feel that Disney has lost its genuine appeal, but it is a
corporation and without substantial revenue could not be able to accomplish and produce all the
things that it does. Furthermore, Disneys target audience is children, and for adults, the child
somewhere in them, and children do not think about the corporate world or the money. They
simply enjoy the moments and memories and they believe in the magic. In that right Disney has
done its job.
Popular culture and the media play a significant role in one's learning and perception of
oneself and the world around them, especially for children and young adults. As Disney movies
continue to be a popular part of childhood, stereotypes continue to be portrayed. Non-dominant
groups are often portrayed negatively, marginalized, or not portrayed at all. It took Disney more
than 30 years to make a movie with a black Disney princess. Even with the push toward rejection
of traditional gender roles in society it took them until 2012 to make Brave, the first Disney

HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

14

princess to be her own hero. Lastly In many films, both human and animal female characters are
portrayed as overly sexual and beautiful which can have a major impact young girls selfconcept. I proposed a study to analyze the accuracy of these claims and the prevalence of these
stereotypes in Disney film. My proposed study was designed to analyze popular animated Disney
films according to principles of society including gender and race and how that impacts
childrens impressions and views of societal norms. My focus specifically centered on the
portrayal of gender roles and the importance of physical appearance, and its possible connection
with an induvials character in Disney film. The study consisted of a series of surveys that were
taken by elementary aged boys and girls after watching four popular Disney animated-feature
films. The results are predicted to severe as evidence that stereotypes in Disney film are
predominant and indeed have an impact childrens developing schemas.
Areas for potential research beyond my work included why it has taken Disney so long to
begin to break away from the stereotypical portrayals and embrace the direction that the general
collective society is going in. I feel that it is largely due to individuals unwavering affection for
these films. It is possible that people figure the good outweighs the bad, or maybe individuals are
unaware of the depth of these portrayals, but this is definitely something work exploring. An
assessment of whether stereotypes about animal charters generalized to human characters would
be equally intriguing, being that many animal characters are the focus of many Disney animated
films.

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HOW DOES DISNEY FILM


IMAPCT SOCIETY TODAY?

References
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Jenkins, E. (2013). Seeing Life in Disney's Mutual Affection-Images. Quarterly Review Of Film
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Lapin, A. (2011). 'The Lion King' In 3-D: All Part Of The Corporate Circle Of
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