A few weeks ago I was babysitting my niece. The Bean loves music, and she loves to dance. YouTube music videos and clips are the best for the Bean’s attention span, so babysitting usually finds us dancing to Swan Lake, “What Does The Fox Say?,” Disney musical numbers, and Hillsong:
I was hesitant to show the Bean Disney. There seems to be two camps about Walt Disney’s legacy: those who love it and those who abhor it. While I don’t think I could personally support the Disney Princess franchise, I do love Disney films. I love fairy tales, and my childhood introduction to most of them was through Disney.
I worry that Disney and other media powerhouses aimed at children will have a negative effect on the Bean’s self-esteem and life expectations. I want her to be excited about more than just a “happy ever after” romance.
As the Bean’s awesome, cool, single aunt, I hope she will be a self-aware, independent, and ambitious woman of God, who understands that her identity is found in her Savior and not in her appearance or marital status. I pray that her parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncle will be able to speak truth and not fiction to her. That we will be able to give her a strong foundation in her childhood so that her adulthood will be one full of optimism and hope, but also guided by discernment, wisdom, and empathy.
But that’s on us. That’s our responsibility. It’s not the responsibility of Disney, or PBS, or Barbie.
And it’s not Disney’s fault if we fail.
Earlier this year, I saw Saving Mr. Banks, a film retelling the story of how Walt Disney convinced author P.L. Travers to let him make the movie Mary Poppins. Watching Banks was a little difficult because it was an obviously Disney-approved and biased version of the story. Propaganda.
And yet, I was struck by a theme of the movie: stories may be written and created by authors, but they are rebirthed in the imagination of readers. In Banks, the story that Travers wrote was different from the story that Walt Disney read. Both had a strong and personal claim to Mary Poppins, Travers as her creator and Disney as her Reader.
Stories reveal who we are to ourselves. When we identify with a story, a character, a quotation—a fandom—we are discovering who we are, what we like, and what we believe.
“The writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.”
One night as the Bean and I surfed YouTube, we happened across one special Disney song. I hesitated in playing it, as the song is a slow ballad, and the Bean likes a song with a good beat to which she can head bang.
But we had just danced along with The Jungle Book’s “I Wanna Be Like You,” (with the Bean giving a fantastic impression of a monkey), and this auntie needed a quiet moment to catch her breath.
So I pressed play, and the Bean and I watched this clip from Disney’s Tangled:
Tangled: “I See The Light” by Mandy Moore & Zachary Levi
The transformation in the Bean was astounding. She stood still, her mouth slightly opened, completely focused on the clip. I was terrified.
When the song was over, the Bean looked at me and simply said, “Peas?” (Please?)
I can’t refuse her, so I played it again.
The Bean loves this song. It’s fascinating to watch her when the clip plays because you can tell that she thinks it’s absolutely beautiful. Grace said that since the Bean discovered “I See The Light” she’s learned the word “dar!” (“star”). If she sees a “dar,” she always points it out to us, whether it’s the lanterns from Tangled or the illustrations in Goodnight Moon.
And when we listen to “I See The Light” and she is so obviously inspired and appreciative of its beauty, I get goosebumps. I want her to find beauty in the world, even if it’s through Disney.
Last week, Grace and I decided to go on an adventure and take the Bean to the movie theatre to see Disney’s Frozen. (Verdict: the Bean is not ready for movie theatres as she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time.) Just before we went, we stopped for some lunch. While the Bean crawled around on the restaurant’s playground, another little girl stared at my sister and I before walking over to us and excitedly telling us all about her dolls “Elsa” and “Anna” and the movie Frozen. Almost everything she said was in Spanish, a language I don’t know. I could only catch a few words: names I would later discover were of characters in the film; technical terms like “DVD,” “Blue-Ray,” and “tears” (“theatres”); and, “Let it go!”, which the child did not speak but sang as loud as she could.
Like the Bean with “I See The Light,” I found this girl’s love for Elsa and Anna mesmerizing. Not because of what Frozen is, but because of what Frozen, Tangled, and other Disney films do: they introduce children to creativity, story, and beauty.
The Bean hasn’t seen all of Tangled, and when she’s older, she might not even like it. That’s okay. I’m just thankful that I get to see her discover the power of imagination.
Fairy tales are important, whether they are Disney or Grimm.