The Disney Effect: Analyzing and Understanding the Disney Brand
Steven Spielberg once said, “Every time I go to a movie, its magic, no matter what the movie’s about” (Maier, 2010, Chapter 4).
The history of film dates back to the late 19th century with the invention of the kinetoscope, which allowed the presence of moving pictures to begin by still frames on a rotating cylinder (Flom, 2006). Movies later evolved into silent films that were featured in black and white. Some films just featured a train running on its track, which really interested people because it was a new feature in the world. During the crucial beginnings of movie theatres, people were drawn to theatres to escape the realties of the Wars and the Great Depression. Films brought forth a sense of relief to get away from the horrifying world outside. Over the past one hundred years, this industry has thrived in the economy with excellent directors from John Hughes to James Cameron.
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There are multiple genres, including independent films, horror films, and animations. In all, they have very diverse surroundings and starting points that intertwine together through actors, writers, directors, and production studios. All great things start from something small progressing into something big. One of the most prominent production studios in the world is Walt Disney Studios.
The company grossed over 48.8 billion dollars last year with a net income of 7.5 billion (DIS Annual Income, 2015). Walt Disney himself started out with no money and just his drawings, which led him into creating a character known as Mortimer Mouse or Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney said, “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.
I love Mickey Mouse more than any women”(Carmody, 2014). It all started with a mouse in Disney’s case. Disney spawned 12 amusement parks, a cruise line with 4 ships, and over 50-feature animated movies from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to Frozen. Disney began to thrive on its well-earned success, becoming a universal company (DIS Annual Income, 2015). Through the years, Disney films have captured and influenced Americans through the character and attitudes of Mickey Mouse versus Donald Duck, the images and stories of Disney princesses, and the role and effect of family dynamics on youth.
First, two of Walt’s most beloved characters are Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, who are polar opposites. People laugh with Mickey, but people laugh at Donald. Mickey always good-naturedly overcomes obstacles no matter what is thrown in his path, while most of Donald’s problems are from his own creation from selfishness. Donald gets into trouble because he makes rash decisions and never listens to Mickey in situations. Donald has an angel and a devil on his shoulder, and he usually listens to the devil before acting. Because of this, he is led into making the wrong choices.
The short cartoons in the early thirties were the beginning of “good versus evil” in the world of Disney (Sammond, 2005, p. 20). The widespread appeal of Mickey is hard to explain. The only person who can even begin to describe this fascination is Walt Disney himself who stated, “This is tough, trying to explain Mickey. Its been done by experts and the best any of us have been able to come up with is the fact Mickey is so simple and uncomplicated, so easy to understand, that you can’t help liking him”(Maltin, 1973, p.
7). Americans have always been connected to the mouse ever since Steam Boat Willie was released in 1928 (Disney, 1928). The short film had to do with the hierarchy of business at the time as Mickey’s boss Pete takes advantage of his position over Mickey. Pete does not dishearten Mickey though because he ends up peeling potatoes and smiling, showing that life is not going to get him down. Mickey conveys the outlook of hope for a better future as he goes along with his day, as though nothing affected him. After this release in New York, many other short films followed with Mickey as the hero, sending families positive messages through hard times during wars and depression.
Today, Mickey still stands as a prominent figure for children and adults alike as he processes the traits of a good role model. Donald Duck is one of Mickey’s closest friends within the Disney family. He showcases the unique character traits of self-centeredness, mischievous spirit, and quick temper. He is the only main character out of Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and Goofy to show these emotions. He always gets in situations that end very badly because of his attitude.
Donald became a very prominent help during war times, specifically in the short film Der Fuehrer’s Face where he is working in Nazi Germany following all the commands of Hitler (Kinney, 1943). Eventually, he suffers a nervous breakdown, which allows him to wake up from his nightmare. From there he realizes his true appreciation for America and the opportunities it brings. Today, Donald is still appreciated by families as being the character as which to relate because everyone has a Donald in their life. Mickey and Donald both came out before World War II giving people something to watch and enjoy with their families during difficult times. Marjane Satrapi stated, “Human beings have a lot of problems identifying themselves with other human beings who don’t resemble them exactly.
But there’s something about drawing that means that anyone can identify to a drawing. I mean, people can identify themselves with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse.” (Hohenadel, 2012) World War II was hard for many families because men had to be deployed over seas, sometimes with little notice. The comedy dynamic that the cartoons possessed with a hero mouse and a grumpy duck gave people another entity on which to focus. These two groundbreaking animal cartoons helped pave the way for future animation into the hearts of America. The next major industry impact of the Disney brand is the Disney princesses.
They have all grown through generations of culture and old stories. Every princess, like every little girl, has a path that they take to obtain their goals. There are three generations of Disney princesses that all find their dreams, love, and happiness in their lives. Starting with the first, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves debuted in 1938 during the Great Depression before War World ll. This has led to the latest “unofficial” princesses in Frozen, Anna and Elsa based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson (Anderson, 1844). Lessons can be learned through any portrayal of films, but it especially affects younger girls who are obsessed with the stories told through Disney’s perspectives.
Every girl starts out the same, but the lessons she learns can change her mindset on life. The first three Disney Princesses all came out before the sixties, such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. These girls had to deal with jealously from older figures such as a stepmother, Maleficent, and the Evil Queen. Snow White deals with a queen who wants her dead because of her beauty (Hand, 1937). Aurora is to be killed because Maleficent is jealous of her families’ life style (Geronimi, 1959). In Cinderella, she deals with her stepmother and stepsisters who constantly belittle her as a servant because she is not related to them (Geronimi, 1950).
The facts were that in the end Snow White had the dwarves, Cinderella had the mice and her godmother, and Aurora had her fairy aunts looking out for her. Friendship and love, no matter what the circumstance, helped these damsels. Even without magical powers the desire to get what they wanted through determination allowed the girls to be happy. These princesses and their prince charming’s all live “happily ever after” in spite of what was against them. The next generations’ princesses are Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan who started the transition from damsel in distress to becoming a heroine.
They came out in the late eighties and all through the nineties as part of the Disney Renaissance (Disney, 1989-1999). Similarly, the first generation princesses had love interests, but in most cases actually fought for what they wanted instead of having all the help in the world. These princesses were all more independent and family oriented acknowledging real stories to admire with strong morals. Second generation Disney princesses showed diversity, heroism, and attitude. This diverse set of women transitions from damsels in distress to women who blossom into characters with more depth and layers than ever before. The first of the group is Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Clements, 1989).
She is very adventurous and curious about human life, even though her father always tells her to stay away. The whole story revolves around getting to meet Prince Eric. In order to meet him, she had to give up her voice, legs, and her family. This proves that she was willing to sacrifice aspects of herself and lifestyle for love. Of course, the villain Ursula makes things harder for the fish out of water, since she had to get kissed within three days or her fins would come back.
After countless tries, Eric never kisses princess Ariel until its too late. From there, Ariel’s father steps in to give her legs in order to be with Eric. This experience showed King Triton, Ariel’s father, that he should listen to his daughters more instead of shutting them out. Ariel is not the first heroine of her own story because Eric changes things, but she started a small cycle of actual character development and led into Beauty and the Beast (Trousdale, 1991). This film features Belle, a stubborn, determined, and loving daughter. The diversity in this film lies in the fact that Belle does not marry the first fellow she meets, Gaston, a rude hunter who longs for her hand in marriage.
Belle showed true bravery by offering herself up to be a slave instead of her father, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. At first Belle is very unhappy, but as time goes on she gets to know the beast for who he really is inside. In the process, she slowly, gradually, and more realistically falls in love with someone who was supposed to be unlovable. Therefore, in the end, the guy changes for the girl to become a better person through kindness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Next, Disney took the biggest step in allowing the first non-Caucasian princesses into the industry with Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. These three girls are fighters who were never looking for love, but found it anyways. Jasmine was meant for an arranged marriage put together by her father the Sultan, but every guy was the same. Thus, when poor, common Aladdin comes into her life and sweeps her off her feet, he opened her eyes to “a whole new world” (Clements, 1992). Then in Pocahontas, natives in America were invaded by European colonization (Gabriel, 1995).
Pocahontas met one of the men who came over on a ship to their new land. She is supposed to hate everything about him, but she shows him her culture, opening his eyes to her world. She is the first princess to not end up marrying her prince charming. Finally, the biggest break came with Mulan, the story of a girl who only wanted to bring honor to her family (Bancroft, 1998). She pretends to be a man and goes into combat for her father so he will not die. Along the way, no one knew that she was a girl and that she fought for China.
Mulan determined her own fate, getting the guy at the end was just a small bonus that she appreciated. These warrior princesses were the first of the Disney kind to have their path set out, but had no assumptions in finding love. These films show family values, leadership, and that it is not all about finding love. Twenty-first century fairy tales revert back to old standards with traditional qualities, including no love interests and how love can be deceitful. After about a ten-year hiatus on princess movies, Disney rebooted with two new films The Princess and the Frog and Tangled (Clements, 2009) (Greno, 2010).
They both are more modern adaptations of Grimm Brothers stories with a Disney twist. Tiana kisses a frog out of love, and Rapunzel falls in love with a criminal. Love is not chosen through beauty or kindness in particular. Tiana ends up with money to start her own cafe and Rapunzel is rescued from her evil mother and returned to her true home. Lessons are learned through challenging experiences and starting new adventures, no matter how scary they are.
Recently, the first films to not feature love interests were in Disney’s Brave and Frozen (Andrews, 2012)(Buck, 2013). Merida’s story focuses on her family and her connection to her royal family without any boys. Anna in Frozen begins following the stereotypical love story by meeting a guy at a party and falling automatically in love with him. She soon learns that love can be deceitful as he leaves her for dead. Then, her sister Elsa constantly isolated herself from the world because she was different.
She did not want to deal with what everyone else, so she decides to leave. In the end, she accepts herself because the people around her accept her, “flaws and all.” Elsa’s story can represent being bullied, “coming out” for the LGBT community, and a myriad of other issues that can relate to “Let it Go”(Frozen, 2013). Independence is strong within these stories, proving that the princesses do not need a man to succeed in life and to be happy. All the princesses have certain traits in common. They are all sweet and caring.
They possess strong wills and are loyal to those they befriend. They have compassion for all living things. Finally, the princesses overcome obstacles in their lives with intelligence, creativity, and industrious natures. For almost eighty years, these ladies have captivated audiences with their journeys and adventures in accomplishing their dreams by turning them into realities. Finally, the Disney brand explores the area of family dynamics, or familial functions as they pertain to everyday life. In the earlier movies, the youth faced evil “witches” and “stepparents”; but as the years progressed, the films showed families that had a communication breakdown.
There was a lack of understanding and a failure to put family problems into real context. Symbolically, the wicked villains in the early movies could be interpreted as being “stand-ins” for one’s parents, siblings, or any other nuclear relationship. Whereas with the later films, the protagonist usually had a conflict that centered on achieving his or her own dream or breaking free and following their own path. The parents, or nuclear relationship therein, had evolved from not being villains, but just possessing a lack of understanding. Their primary problems were not adequately explaining the reasoning behind their intentions, the inability to put things in context, or remembering their own past. A big influence on Walt Disney and the brand was the research and findings of Margaret Mead.
Mead was a world-renowned anthropologist who specialized in child development. ” The solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today” (Sammond p. 258). She studied families around the world, from tribal societies to democracies like America and totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union. Mead believed that children are dynamic individuals that need to be crafted into future adults.
She found that in Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, the government attempted to infiltrate aspects of family life. The families’ role in child rearing was to mold the child into what the government viewed as a member of its “civil society.” In the United States, Mead believed that family roles were to show proper social interactions and spur on individual development (Sammond p. 255). In conclusion, the Disney brand has spanned almost a century and became a worldwide phenomenon.
It can be ascertained that the secret to its success is actually no secret at all. The characters are relatable to people across all walks of life. The stories and adventures strike a common chord with mass audiences, and the insight into family functioning is a mirror to real life issues and situations that many people encounter. Thus, as Walt Disney would say, “It all started with a mouse” and has come to reflect aspects of virtually anyone’s life through imagination (Just Disney, 2005). References Anderson, H.
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