Disney animated movies are my guilty pleasure. I bet you didn’t see this coming, considering how sarcastic and analytical and… great I am. But Disney movies, particularly the ones in the so-called Disney Renaissance (1989-1998) were one of the main sources of escapism during my tween and teen years.
There, I said it! Yes, I know. They are sexist. And racist. And formulaic. And everything. I know. I am not trying to deny it, nor am I trying to ignore these aspects because “it’s just a movie for kids, no big deal, hahaha”.
But they are an integral part of my childhood- and adolescence, so pretending it isn’t so would be hypocritical. Luckily, my interpretation of said movies was such that I was immune to most of the bad messages. I think. I hope.
For example, I never interpreted Disney heroines to be passive. Oh, sure, the old ones, Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, they were passive (and annoying). But “my” heroines (Ariel, Belle, etc.) weren’t, or at least I never interpreted them to be so. Same goes for other bad messages I can clearly see today.
And while I’m unable to enjoy Disney today, be it because of said messages or extreme romanticism/sugarcoating, and while I might be a embarrassed for liking these films so much (now that I understand what they are: Pocahontas, for example), I can’t forget what they meant to me.
I still remember the first time I watched The Little Mermaid, on an illegal copy on my cousin’s VHS. In my mind, I was 7, but it couldn’t be, because it was released when I was 8. The copy was horrible, with grayish, washed out colours, but I still remember I was completely smitten by that film. You see, I love the sea; I always loved it. My first memory is from the family holiday in Dalmatia when I was 15 months old. And this film, this beautiful film, was about a girl who lived in the ocean! And who saves the guy! And they sing! And she’s a mermaid!!!! I got so obsessed I watched that film whenever I could. I even begged my mother to buy a VCR so I could watch The Little Mermaid. First English words I’ve learned were from the Little Mermaid. And when we went on a holiday that summer, I swear I heard Ariel’s song one evening. This film will always have a special place in my heart.
Forward a few years. Difficult time, both personal and general. My father dies. My country dies. Beauty and the Beast was one of the rare beautiful things in my life back then. I loved Belle, and I still do; I consider her the most intelligent Disney heroine (you see, the message I got is that she’s pretty because she’s smart), and the film is also the best in their canon, imo. I begun to draw people Disney-style, and I still can’t draw people, especially females, any differently.
I don’t remember being that obsessed with Aladdin, but I loved Jasmine. What I didn’t like is that there’s so little of her in the story. I was never that obsessed with the Lion King either, no matter how good it was, because there were no humans in it, but when Pocahontas was released… I can’t describe how much I liked that film.
It makes me feel even more ashamed, because it’s a racist film with harmful messages. I didn’t understand any of it back then. I liked the film. I loved Pocahontas and her bravery and her hair. I hated the fact she chose Josh Smith over Kocoum (no sane woman would do that), but other than that, I liked the film. And I liked the forests, very much.
Then, when I was 15, Disney released the last animated movie I was obsessed with, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This underrated film is arguably one of their best, and it certainly has the best soundtrack of all Disney movies. I really loved this film, but whenever I think of it, I remember how sad I was back then. It was the first year of middle school (“high school” as called in the US), and, well, the mere fact I was still interested in Disney movies speaks volumes. I really don’t want to remember how my best friend and I felt back then. It wasn’t fun, that’s for sure.
It got better after that. But after the Hunchback, I stopped liking Disney movies that much. Some would say I simply grew up, but no: the movies were the ones that got worse. I didn’t like Hercules at all, and Mulan had its moments, but something was lacking. It was the time when 2D animation died. It can never be like it was before, as proved with (relative) failure of the Princess and the Frog.
Now that I look back at Disney movies I love, I realize that the films grew up with me: starting from colourful Little Mermaid, to more and more mature subjects, culminating with dark and quite serious Hunchback. So whenever I watch one of these films, I always think about my life back then. So I guess I just have to accept they are an integral part of my childhood and adolescence.