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It should be no surprise that many children’s movies contain references that are aimed toward an older audience despite the major target market. However, many people believe that this is acceptable given that the younger audience will not process these subtleties and anything inappropriate will go over their heads. But at what point does it become excessive? It is very possible that we do not give enough credit to the power of the young mind to draw conclusions based off of what they see on television.
Since 1923 Disney has been creating movies and shows that are directed majorly at a 4-12 year old audience. Their films have been incredibly successful and many of the messages that are portrayed are positive. On the other hand, there are also many messages that are questionable. Both cultural and gender stereotypes are made commonplace through movies such as “Aladdin,” “Snow White,” and “Cinderella.” The following video clip highlights the stereotypes associated with gender within this multimillion dollar company.
Of course it may not be anything new to you that these basic stereotypes exist in these films, but what may be surprising is how much of an influence Disney movies really have on their audience. Brynne Turville, a former cast member for Disney Entertainment stated “After seeing children’s reactions to princesses, it is very real to them, and as cheesy as it sounds, it is like complete magic to them. They believe in that character and what that character stands for”
This picture of young girls dressed up as Disney princesses is just one of the visible examples of the effects that Disney movies have on children; there are underlying effects as well.
What Does All of this Mean? During a time of crucial brain development, children are watching television more often than doing any other activity. Although Disney is not the only culprit in subliminal and direct stereotyping, it is a good example because of its intended viewers.
In this chart you can see two periods of increased in brain growth. This is significant because out of any age group (other than newborns) children between the ages of three and twelve are the most susceptible to the lessons that they are taught through the media. It is not a coincidence that this age range is almost identical to that of Disney’s target market. As little girls jump out of their seats to play dress up, they aspire to be like the princesses. This goes for boys too, but in a different way of course. Both young girls and young boys look up to the characters that they can identify with in the movies that they watch. If a little boy sees a male character portrayed as a hero, he will typically want to be just like him. Do not get me wrong, being a hero is great but maybe not when the only thing that makes you a hero is your ability to charm an occasionally witty (but mostly submissive) princess.
Although there are stereotyping issues within the films produced by them, Disney is a highly reputable and successful enterprise that has done positive things for society. It is not a matter of having a negative outlook on Disney, but more of understanding that these generalizations affect children. From there it is possible to balance out the roles that are portrayed in these movies.The following podcast is addressed to parents of children that watch Disney movies.