Sexism and Racism in Disney Movies

Timeline

Early 20’s:Walt Disney Origins

Walt Disney was born on 5th December 1901 in Chicago but grew up in Missouri. The history starts with the Silent Era. Walt started making Laugh –o-Grams in Missouri. He started making Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was the first segment on Alice’s Comedies. In 1923, he moved to California with his brother Roy Disney to set up the Disney Brother’s Studio. He continued making Alice’s Comedies but after its decline, he made his first original cartoon Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and produced 26 shorts, while Charles Mintz who by 1928 took over Winkler production, which company helped Walt to make Oswald. So now as Mintz took over Winkler so Oswald was no longer Walt Disney’s which made Walt bankrupt.

The Silent Era(1923–1928)

The Silent Era in Hollywood marked a way for Disney’s history. This era was between the Great Depression and World War II, where society poked fun at the people in power. It helped people relax and enjoy slapstick comedy, where the cartoons were made to poke fun at the powerful tyrants and despots

The political situation

The Silent Era in Hollywood paved the way for Disney’s history. This was a period when the society poked fun at society during America’s hard times. Happening between the World War and the Great Depression, these films helped people to sit back and relax and enjoy slapstick comedy. Slapstick comedy made fun of higher authority, absorbing the audience. It was a way of making entertainment for audience in terms of satire.

Pre- Golden Age(1928–1937)

In this period Walt made a recovery from Oswald, so he created Mickey Mouse which was his great success. Mickey Mouse made his first appearance in a test screening called Plane Crazy which failed miserably due to lack of distributors. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon was called Steamboat Willie and also the first cartoon to feature sound. After the success of Steamboat Willie, Walt created other characters like Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy.

The political Situation

During this period, the world wanted more sound cartoons, and Mickey Mouse became more popular.

Walt Disney was quickly becoming the mastermind and one of the world’s greatest animators of that time.

The Golden Era (1938–1942)

During this time, Walt created Snow White, the first full-length animation movie ever made and the first cartoon in color. It was a great risk at that time when believed in short animated cartoons. Walt’s own brother and wife mocked him saying that people never watch a 10 minute short, let alone a film. But he proved everyone wrong. The film was a massive success and won an Academy Award for Best Original Score.

The political situation

Walt Disney made a huge risk by investing millions of dollars on making Snow White. Critics even call it a creative folly in the history of animation. But the risk paid off and Snow White became very popular and even won 8 Oscars

Films In the Golden Era

Snow White(1937)

Pinocchio(1940)

Fantasia(1940)

Dumbo(1941)

Bambi(1942)

The Composers- Frank Churchill and Larry Morey

The music was composed by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey. Larry Morey(the one on the right) was a lyricist best known to collaborate with Frank Churchill for Disney in the Golden Age.

Frank Churchill is best known for composing music for early Disney’s animated classics. He was hired by Walt Disney in the 30’s and he beagan composing for the Silly Symphony shorts. He composed music for The Three Little Pigs animated short in 1933. But his major breakthrough was in 1938 when he collaborated with Larry Morey for Snow White and the other films in the Golden Age.

Sexism in Snow White

Young women are seen as boy crazy, dim-witted, doing household chores and boy-crazy. Snow White is no exception to this. First of all, she is 14 years old and the youngest Disney princess.

Second, she is seen as a beautiful maiden who is shown only as a person who good in household chores like cooking and knitting. Third, the prince saves her by kissing her and living happily ever after.

Wartime or Package Film Era (1942–49)

In 1942, it was time for World War II. Disney had to put his several projects on hold. He started making several films about the war to promote war propaganda. The war generated huge losses for the company. So making animated films became expensive. So the company made several short films called package films to promote the war. Even when the war was over, they continued making package films because they had to recover from the losses of the war.

Der Fuhrer’s Face(1943)

During the war, Disney made films on Latin America so that they join U.S.A in the war. During the war there were several caricatures made to the enemies especially Germany and Adolf Hitler. So Disney and his staff came up with an idea to make a cartoon where American Donald Duck is having a nightmare living in Germany with the Nazis. It was named “Donald Duck in Nutsyland”. But after the hit song by Oliver Wallace the title changed to “Der Fuhrer’s face.” Der Fuhrer’s face directed by Jack Kinney won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject in 1943. In this film, Donald Duck wakes up in a world controlled by Nazis. He is given stale bread to eat as there was shortage of food during the war. He is so angst with the world and cannot handle the pressure of being a good Nazi. He wakes up and he realizes that it was just a bad dream. He pledges that he will always be a good American citizen.

Films in the Wartime Era

Saludos Amigos(1942)

The Three Caballeros(1944)

Make Mine Music(1946)

Fun and Fancy Free(1947)

Melody Time(1948)

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad(1949)

The Silver or Restoration Era(1950–59)

Walt Disney only resumed his projects in the early 50’s. The first film in the series was Cinderella in 1950. Walt also started looking for new musicians.

At that time, Tim Pan Alley were amongst the largest group of music publishers at that time.

Films in the Silver Era

Cinderella(1950)

Alice in Wonderland(1951)

Lady and the Tramp(1955)

Sleeping Beauty(1959)

Peter Pan(1953)

Sword in the Stone(1963)

101 Dalmations (1961)

The Composers-Tin Pan Alley

The composers were part of a company called the Tin Pan Alley- one of the largest music producers in the whole of United States.

Walt Disney was on a train when we met the trio of Al Hoffman, Mack David and Jerry Livingston. He asked them to compose music for his films and they reluctantly agreed. The release of Cinderella marked a milestone for the decade.

Analysis of Lyrics

Cinderella

A dream is a wish your heart makes

When you’re fast asleep

In dreams you will lose your heartaches

Whatever you wish for you keep

Have faith in your dreams and someday

Your rainbow will come smiling through

No matter how your heart is grieving

If you keep on believing

The dreams that you wish will come true

Dreams are a recurring theme in Disney songs and movies. Some examples are When you wish upon a star in Pinocchio (1940) and Once upon a Dream in Sleeping Beauty (1959). In this song, Cinderella expresses dreams metaphorically as our wishes and unconscious desires. According to famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, he expresses that dreams are our “Royal road to our unconscious desires and dreams. So the song is expressing that how our dreams are a fantasy to cope with our real world problems and our hopes that it will one day come true.

Lady and the Tramp

For this is the night

It’s a beautiful night

And we call it Bella Notte

Look at the skies

They got sparks on their eyes

On this lovely Bella Notte

This song is called Bella Notte from Disney’s 1955 Lady and the Tramp. Bella Notte means A beautiful night in Italian. The song describes the love between the beautiful Cockier Spaniel named Lady and the street dog Tramp. Lady represents a conventional Disney Princess and she is portrayed as beautiful and well groomed. She is swept off by a free- spirited street dog Tramp. He is not your conventional hero and helps the poor damsel-in-distress.

Sexism in Cinderella

With Cinderella we see a perfect rag to riches story. She is demeaned and humiliated and forced to perform household chores. She sets an example for many young girls who are forced to perform household chores. When she is abused by her stepmother and stepsisters during the prince’s ball, she is left helpless and miserable and does not stand up for her rights. When the fairy godmother comes to her rescue, she is turned into a beautiful damsel who sweeps the prince off her feet. The idea of a girl transforming for a man continues even today.

Lady and the Tramp:

In this story, the cockier spaniel Lady is the typical perfection of a beauty and grace. She is saved by our unconventional hero a street dog named Tramp. The famous spaghetti kiss is shown in the song Bella Notte.

60’s Decline and the Death of Walt Disney(1960–1967)

During the 60’s, there was a decline in the Restoration era and in 1966, it was followed by the death of Walt Disney.

The music was composed by Richard and Robert Sherman a.k.a The Sherman Brothers. They got an Academy Award for the song Chim Cherie.

The Political Situation

The Civil Rights Movement

When the 60’s began, two main groups, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) and Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC) were working on the rights of African- AmericansThis was the time when Luther’s famous speech I have a dream was first made.

Racial discrimination laws were tightened in 1968, making it illegal to refuse housing, employment or public services to people due to their ethnic background.

The Berlin wall

On August 13 1961, the German Democratic Republic built a barbed wire wall between East and West Berlin. The purpose behind the German Wall was to keep Western fascists from entering East Germany and undermining the socialist state.

Analysis of lyrics

101 Dalmatians

Cruella De Vil

Cruella De Vil

If she doesn’t scare you

No evil thing will

To see her is to take a sudden chill

Cruella Cruella

She’s like a spider waiting for her kill

Look out for Cruella De Vil

Cruella is the head of fashion house called House De Vil. She is one of the best fashion designers and Anita Dearly is her finest customer and friend. She learns that Anita’s Dalmatian Perdita had given birth to 15 Dalmation puppies and bribes the family a huge sum of money in exchange for the puppies. Anita and her husband Roger decline, though very tempting as they were a family of lower middle class. Cruella tries to kidnap the puppies by hiring a group of men to kill the puppies and sell them their fur for her designs. They fail miserably, and Cruella and her henchman are arrested for their crimes.

The Jungle Book

Now I’m the king of the swingers, the jungle V.I.P I reached the top and had to stop

And that’s what bothering me

I want to be a man, man-cub, and stroll right into town and be just like those other men

I’m tired of monkeying around

This lyric is from The Jungle Book’s I wanna be like you

The monkeys and the orangutan in this song represents racially black people. The song features King Louie singing who represents the Jazz Singer Louis Armstrong.

Racism in Jungle Book

The monkeys are represented as black stereotypes. The monkeys swing through the forests and kidnap Mowgli. Baloo fights them even calls them “Why you flat-nosed, little- eyed flaky creeps!” He points out their physical features to shame them. Baloo represents a brown bear, a species native to North America. Therefore he goes to a whiter side of animals. He points out the Monkeys

Technology

Xerography

The Dark Age brought a revolutionary change in the studio. It was used for the animation to cut budgets and make it cheaper. The concept behind it was instead of tracing your drawings into a cell, they used recycled material from earlier films.

The Dark or Bronze Age(1967–1989)

70s and 80s: The Dark Age or Bronze Age(1970–88)

After the death of Walt, there came a period of Dark Age. The studio was struggling to hold the reins of Walt’s imagination. Contrary to the films of the Golden and Silver Age whose films were based on fairy tales, The Bronze Age took to more dark and secular stories. The films in this period lacked zeal prior to the time Walt was alive. With the exception of the Great Mouse Detective, which was both critically and commercially successful, the films lacked the exuberance and gained very little success and The Black Cauldron becoming a flop. But the most criticised acclaim of this period was the use of xerography i.e printing the drawing directly into cells. As a result, this period was also called Scratchy films. The use of xerography saved a lot of time and money. But even if these films did not do will in the initial years, they ended up becoming classics. There was also very little music influences in this era. Also, the Dark Age set a pinnacle for future Disney Animation.

Films

  1. The Aristocats-1970
  2. Robin Hood-1971
  3. The many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh-1977
  4. The Rescuers-1977
  5. The Fox and the Hound-1981
  6. The Black Cauldron-1985
  7. The Great Mouse Detective-1986
  8. Oliver and the Company- 198

The Political Situation

Vietnam War: The Vietnam War was a long war between the communist government of North Vietnam and South Vietnam with it’s ally. It was intensified during the Cold War between US and USSR

Roots of the war

Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia, on the eastern side of the Indo- Chinese peninsula, had been French colonial rule since the 19th century.

90’s or the Renaissance

Late 80s and Early 90s: The Renaissance Era(1989–1999)

This period saw the comeback of musical fairytales shown in the Golden and Silver Era. It also gave an era of expanding themes and techniques which was introduced in the Bronze Age. This was also the period when lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken worked on these movies which led to a lot of success in the music industry. These films carried important messages, like Beauty and the Beast and Hunchback of Notre Dame taught us that we should not judge people by their appearances, Mulan and Hercules taught us that sacrifices should be made when it comes to protecting our loved ones, Aladdin taught us that our birth does not define who we choose to be.

Early 2000’s: Post Renaissance Era (2000–09)

Also known as the Second Dark Age, the Post Renaissance Era was unique in its ways. This was because Disney tried new techniques and more mature themes than fairytales which gave the audience a fresh new perspective. These movies also explored new story telling techniques in which kids of the Renaissance that have now grown into new adults. While Lilo and Stitch have grown to be a commercial success, the other films were moderately successful. This was because huge movies competition from The Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings became successful. This was also a period of time when Disney still made hand -drawn animation while CG animation was becoming popular. Dinosaur was the first Disney film that used CGI animation, which would become a popular element of this era’s successor.

Features

Features
(1) Musical Style: Cultural, pop, rock and roll
(2) Films: Fantasia 2000–2000
Emperor’s New Groove- 2000
Atlantis: The Lost Empire-2001
Treasure Planet-2002
Lilo and Stitch-2002
Brother Bear-2003
Home on the Range-2004
Chicken Little-2005
Meet the Robinsons- 2007
Bolt-2008

(3) Message: Family, love, women empowerment

Revival(2010-Present)

Like the First Renaissance followed the first Disney Dark Age, a Second Disney Renaissance followed this Second Dark Age. Also known as the Revival Era, this era marked a return to the fairy-tale storytelling seen in the Gold and Silver Ages as well as the first Disney Renaissance. During this time, Disney bought the rights to Marvel and Lucasfilm, meaning they no longer had to worry about trying to market their films toward older audiences since the MCU and Star Wars did that for them Like the first Disney Renaissance, the Second Disney Renaissance built off several things introduced by its predecessor. Tangled, for example, used the CGI techniques first used by Dinosaur. Most of the films of this era have been met with great popularity, with Frozen being the highest grossing animated film of all time and Big Hero 6 being the highest audience-rated film of this time period.

References

https://historyplex.com/political-events-of-1950s

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/nine-eras-disney-animation

https://www.skywaytowonderland.com/tag/the-package-films-era/

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=sexism+in+disney+animation+documentary&view=detail&mid=3AC6AA6097D5437B674F3AC6AA6097D5437B674F&FORM=VIRE

https://filmschoolrejects.com/the-evolution-of-disney-is-the-evolution-of-animation-594c0c8b205e/

https://fairytalestoday.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/snow-white-from-sexist-tale-to-feminist-film/

https://www.skywaytowonderland.com/saludos-amigos/

https://madisonmyersblog1.wordpress.com/song-lyric-analysis/

https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall

https://www.slideshare.net/morottialice/political-issues-in-the-60s

https://www.ukessays.com/essays/psychology/psychology-study-fictional-character-9327.php

https://sites.williams.edu/f18-engl117-01/uncategorized/i-wanna-be-like-you-racial-coding-in-disneys-the-jungle-book/

https://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war/vietnam-war-history

Thank You

I am Akshinta Das a poet,singer-songwriter and performer