Monday, February 23, 2009

Traumatized By Disney

Many friends of mine have worked for the Disney corporation at one time or another ... and the company's reputation for being mean, cheap, and generally awful to its employees seemed well-deserved. But one of those same friends changed her tune about Disney after she became a parent. She was, she confessed, grateful to Disney. Their movies, TV shows, TV channel, theme parks, and toys kept her child entertained time and time again, and a good deal of the product was quality -- maybe not the toys from China, but certainly, say, the music from MARY POPPINS.

The thing about Disney movies,though, is that they're a double-edged sword.
 Take, for example, SLEEPING BEAUTY. I somehow got suckered into buying the fiftieth anniversary deluxe bells and whistles DVD of this for my daughter. It has something to do with her already knowing the name of the princess in SLEEPING BEAUTY, "Aurora," thanks to Aurora's image on clothing and backpacks and plates and in coloring books and other various and sundry products at our local mall's Disney Store. Once she put together that Aurora was some kind of princess, she kept asking me to buy her "Aurora movie." The movie I wanted to get her was CINDERELLA, but Disney has yanked that off the market so they can bring it back in a few years after demand for it has sufficiently pent up. That movie has three fairy godmothers, cute mice, and that sing-able "Bippity, Boppity Boo" tune. SLEEPING BEAUTY, on the other hand, I could barely remember.

So I succumbed to my daughter's pleas and got her "Aurora movie." Then I let her and her brother watch it with our babysitter, without having screened it with her myself. Though the babysitter, god bless her, skipped some of the scary parts, apparently not enough was skipped, because weeks later, my poor little girl is still asking me, "Why did you buy that scary movie for me?" This is usually followed by, "Why does Maleficent live in fire?" There are more questions, pertaining to Maleficent turning into a dragon, and what the prince does to aforementioned dragon.

For a couple of nights, there were even SLEEPING BEAUTY-inspired nightmares that woke her up. This is a kid who sleeps so hard she can barely be awakened in the morning. Though the nightmares were thankfully short lived, now it seems we have been visited by the Question Fairy, because she now asks about every evil character in any story or movie or TV show. "Why are they bad?" she always wants to know.

Now that I think about it, SLEEPING BEAUTY wasn't even her FIRST Disney trauma. That was a shark who happened to be in THE LITTLE MERMAID, a movie I hadn't seen for about ten years before I showed it to my daughter. I'd forgotten all about said shark. Now my daughter refuses to watch THE LITTLE MERMAID, even if I promise to do "Scene Selection" and only play her the fun songs.

The kid hasn't even seen BAMBI. I shudder to think of the trauma the rest of her Disney movie-watching life is going to bring.

So though I suppose I, like my friend, am grateful to Disney for some things -- MARY POPPINS, for instance, doesn't have ANY scary parts, and it's charming, delightful, whimsical, and fun through repeated viewings -- I could have done without the trauma. Sure, I know you need villains for conflict -- I work in the movie industry, after all (though not for Disney). But when it comes to being a preschooler parent, I'd rather not have to talk my daughter off the ledge, as it were, after a single viewing of SLEEPING BEAUTY.


William V. Madison said...

You're right to blame the "Princesses" marketing that Disney has pushed so hard in its stores the past few years; in a real sense, they're trying to sell toys and accessories, not the movies themselves. The idea that cartoons are appropriate for very small children is a fairly recent one, and it gained its near-universal acceptance only after the VHS revolution, when we were deluged with Care Bears and Little Ponies and other cartoons with all the danger,dark colors and interest omitted.

Most older Disney pictures weren't meant for kids younger than 6 or 8; Pinocchio, for example, is in many ways a grownup picture, with several scary scenes. Though I didn't see the film until I was about 7, Lampwick's transformation into a donkey haunted my dreams for many years. (That didn't prevent me from turning into him, as an adult.) Cinderella, on the other hand, posed no problem at all when I first saw it, at age 3.

I defer to no one in my love for Mary Poppins; I even used to dress up like her and dance around the yard with an umbrella. (Never mind how I traumatized my parents and neighbors by doing so.) But there IS a sequence that scared the bejeezus out of me: when Jane and Michael flee the bank, they dive into the dark alleys of London, where they're menaced by a creepy crone and a big dog. Oh, I had problems with that scene, and of course those were the days before fast-forwarding or scene-selection.

So, yes, by all means, pre-screen -- or ask Uncle Bill.

(The three fairy godmothers are in Sleeping Beauty, by the way; Cinderella has only the one.)

Late Blooming Mom said...

I must defer to your Disney expertise, at least on the stuff that was around for our childhoods. I think my kids rarely make it all the way to that sequence in MARY POPPINS before getting restless and asking to jump to "FLY A KITE," as they call it. I wish I could see a photo of your childhood performance as MARY POPPINS. The kids keep asking me why we don't have magic when we clean up the room.

Fortress Guy said...

Sleeping Beauty is a marvelous tour de force. However, it is not for preschoolers. Maleficent is one of the most evil villains ever.

I do not blame Sleeping Beauty. Preschoolers need carefully tailored media. If you find yourself having to skip scenes, it probably is not appropriate.

Here is my take on Sleeping Beauty with pics: