Disney and Politics: An Unlikely (But Welcome) Pairing

Kenya Gonzalez (12th), Zach Rovito (12th), Editor in Chief

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When one thinks of Disney, they usually think first of cheerful princesses, awe inspiring animations, and music as catchy as a plague. What sometimes goes unnoticed is the fact that Disney has been outspoken during a time of worldwide political turmoil.

Art is typically a reflection of the time period. You’ll know who the US’ enemy was during any given period by watching the James Bond movie released at the time. These days, the “bad hombres” are Middle Eastern; not too long ago they were communists. Disney’s recent work is not at all different from these 007 movies.

Take Zootopia for example. The movie follows Judy Hopps, a bunny who is told she’s too small and too “cute” to live out her dream of being a police officer. When Judy does become a cop, she continues to be patronized for being a bunny, only to then join forces with a fox named Nick Wilde who helps her prove her worth by uncovering a government conspiracy to make the public fear predators.

Without going into too much detail, the predators are symbolic of minorities, particularly African-Americans, who are said to be more genetically predisposed to violence.Of course, African-Americans are no more likely to be violent than whites or Mexicans are. They are simply more likely to be perceived as violent.

Judy’s having to break societal norms represents women’s struggles to be seen as more than cute, submissive childbearers and kitchen-cleaners. The fact that Judy initially fears and is untrusting of Nick because he is a predator parallels racial profiling and stereotyping.

Not all of Disney’s works are so obviously allegorical, however. Moana, upon closer inspection, is a fierce feminist film.

Moana is about a village chief’s headstrong daughter, fittingly named Moana. When she learns that the Pacific Islands are cursed, no thanks to demigod Maui, she sails across the Pacific Ocean to force Maui to right his past wrongs and save her island from destruction.

Throughout the movie, there are multiple plot points that are a feminist’s dream. Moana, for example, is likely to be the first female village chief. This can be deducted from a scene where Moana’s father mentions past chiefs, referring to all of them with male pronouns. Yet not one person in the village questions her competence as a leader. On the contrary, they often praise her for how quickly and level-headedly she presents solutions to their problems.

Furthermore, Moana’s lack of a love interest follows in the footsteps of modern princesses like Merida (Brave) and Elsa (Frozen).

Once upon a time, Disney’s formula never failed to included a damsel in distress who was powerless to help herself out of a situation, and was often ditzy enough to have gotten herself in the situation in the first place. Think Snow White taking an apple from a random old lady, not even questioning how the stranger found the dwarves’ secluded cottage.

Sleeping Beauty’s Princess Aurora is another particularly irksome example. Aurora delivers a grand total of 14 lines throughout the entirety of the film, an extreme which is starkly contradicted by Moana and her predecessors. These new princesses lead their respective stories with ambition, wit, and a bravery that every member of the audience can admire.

In a time where minorities are told to stop seeking equality and feminism continues to be a dirty word, Disney has proven to its audience of young children, and anyone else willing to listen, that they are on the side of equality for all people, regardless of race or gender. They have proven that Disney is, indisputably, the happiest place on earth – for all.

-Kenya Gonzalez
“Maui, the Shape Shifter, Demigod of Wind and Sea, Hero of Man… And Woman. Man and woman, both, all… Maui is a hero to all.” – Maui; Moana

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