Friday, May 7, 2010

Disney Movies: Not Just Kids’ Stuff Anymore


I wrote this piece when some jokers acted like they were going to hire me and asked me to create a new piece for them. Then a half hour later they told me the position had been filled. But it seems a shame to waste perfectly good content, so here it is.


When you think about Disney movies, does your mind (like mine) immediately go to the old-school animated fairy tales that built the Disney empire? Movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast are all classics in their own right, but their common theme of “couple meet, overcome obstacles, fall in love, girl becomes a princess” are kind of juvenile (not to mention a little sexist). But if you take a look at the movies by Disney-Pixar—who has been hitting home runs since the first Toy Story movie in 1995—there are some decidedly more adult and darker themes being presented.

Toy Story: Woody the cowboy doll (or is it action figure?) has a massive anxiety attack when Buzz Lightyear shows up and threatens to usurp his role of “Andy’s Favorite Toy.” He irrationally lashes out, leading him to alienate all of his other toy friends, who sympathize with Buzz. Naturally, Woody comes to his senses in the end and learns to share Andy’s affection with Buzz, but that’s nothing compared to what comes next…

Toy Story 2: In the sequel, we meet Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, who was abandoned by her owner when she outgrew playing with dolls, leaving poor Jessie to mistrust kids and their fickle ways. So a doll has abandonment issues and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder…this definitely isn’t your grandmother’s Disney movie.

The Incredibles: This one is filled with so many different themes, but just to name a few there’s longing to return to the past, delusions of grandeur, being let down by your idol, questions of infidelity, and protecting the ones you love. And unlike other Disney movies, when youngsters get a free pass from being harmed, the bad guys here go after the Incredible children full-tilt. The Incredibles don’t pull any punches, both literally and figuratively.

WALL-E: In case it wasn’t already clear, adorable roving trash compactor WALL-E would like to remind us all that we’re destroying the Earth and are doomed to become fat, lazy, immobile blob people if we don’t get our acts together. If any movie can get people to plant a tree and join a gym, WALL-E can

Up: The first 10 minutes of Up play like a separate movie from the film as a whole. In those opening sequences we get to see young love, financial struggles, infertility problems, triumphing over adversity, and how everyday life can get in the way of achieving your big dreams. Then later on, there’s mistreatment of the elderly to deal with. And a talking dog! OK, so maybe the talking dog isn’t exactly and “adult theme,” but you can’t talk about this movie without mentioning him.

Toy Story 3: Obviously I haven’t seen this one yet, as it doesn’t open in theaters until June 18, but the trailer shows a grown-up Andy heading off to college and leaving all his toy pals behind, much to their dismay. Then when he comes home to find his mother donated them to a day care center, he’s devastated. So in the few scenes we’ve been shown we already have more abandonment issues, growing up and leaving home, and the struggle to leave childhood behind. With hard-hitting stories like these, it’s a good thing there are movies like Avatar and The Blind Side to keep things light.

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