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Life lessons learned as an adult watching Disney

By Lauren Olson, November 7 2019 —

My cousin and I, when we lived in the same city, used to have weekly “Disney and wine” nights. She would put her kids to bed early — which was completely unnecessarily, as we were watching kid-friendly movies — and I would come over with wine and snacks. We would sift through our impressive, combined collection of DVDs — we’re both over 30, don’t laugh — and choose a movie. We would laugh, cry, sing along with the characters and marvel at how we remembered all the words.

It always stood out to me how well I remembered everything. Song lyrics, dialogue, intonation — everything. I literally grew up on Disney. My aunty used to mail my sister and I the latest VHS as soon as it came out. I remember the delight when that distinctly shaped package would arrive in the mailbox, knowing which movie would be concealed behind the wrapping. Pocahontas, The Aristocats, The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame… We watched them religiously, bought the corresponding Barbie dolls and played for hours, recreating worlds with those limitless characters. I’m sure I’ve come by it honestly when, today, as a 30-year-old woman, people comment on my cartoon-like characteristics and animated tendencies.

But enough about me. Beyond the obvious and wonderful rush of nostalgia that watching your old favourite Disney movies offer, there are other benefits worth a nod. With all the re-engineering and remaking of Disney movies with real actors and Disney+ rolling out in just a couple of weeks, it seems appropriate to remind my fellow grown-ups of all the greatness of Disney and why building a nest on the couch, making some tea and bingeing on all your old favourites is one of the most positive things you can do for yourself.

There are good lessons to be learned:

Yes, I know there are lots of problems with Disney, and many people are up in arms about the political and social correctness of Walt Disney. But please get past this for a moment and see that there is a lot of good here too. I think we can all use a reminder to treat everyone with the same respect. Todd and Copper didn’t even see their differences and became best friends. Jane attempted to understand the strange ape-like man in a loincloth rather than rejecting him based on fear and judgement. Belle accepted the Beast for who he was — as well as hardly missing a beat at meeting a bunch of talking appliances. I could go on, but basically every Disney movie has a concrete example of learning to treat others nicely and respectfully.

You get to laugh at all the adult humour you missed as a kid:

It’s endless. We all know it. From certain words “hidden” in the stars, Anna remarking that “foot size doesn’t matter” in Frozen, to Gaston letting viewers know that every last inch of him is covered with hair — insert wink — we’re only scratching the surface of adult-only comments inserted by Disney. Maybe not as inappropriate as some, but a personal favourite of mine is when Ariel exclaims to her father, “I’m 16 years old, I’m not a child!” Um… honey, you are a baby. A baby throwing a tantrum.

You may unnervingly relate to the villains on a personal level:

Ah, the villains of Disney. They’ve all been wounded in some way as a child and are acting out their pain by inflicting pain on others. It seems to me they all really just want to be heard. Yzma has been the advisor to the prince forever, it seems reasonable that she’d want a promotion. Scar has felt smaller and outshone by his brother Mufasa for his whole life, it checks out that he’d be insecure and resort to bullying as a coping mechanism. Ursula is… well, she’s just plain terrifying. But, she too, was cast away and lived in a cave with two eels. I’d probably want revenge too. Maybe it’s the psychology major in me who gets all the kicks out of psychoanalyzing these guys, but I think any adult with some life experience can at least see where these villains are coming from and share a nod of sympathy.

You’ll be reminded to appreciate your family and friends:

Nearly every Disney movie has a strong theme about the strong bonds of family and friends. Timon and Pumbaa saving Simba from the desert and returning to Pride Rock to fight for the kingdom, Pacha selflessly helping Kuzco get back to the castle, even though it meant losing his village and in doing so warming the heart of the spoiled llama. Mulan standing up for her country and saving her family — shit gets really real, guys. Unless you have no heart, I can’t imagine there isn’t a Disney movie that can’t tug at your heartstrings, even just a little bit.

There are strong social commentaries on serious issues:

Rewatch A Bug’s Life and look at the issue of tyranny — the grasshoppers control the ants with threats and intimidation, basically authoritarianism at its finest. Racism and colonialism are taken on in Pocahontas while The Hunchback of Notre Dame highlights the dangers of warped religious ideals and radicalism. A more recent example is Zootopia, a clear demonstration of how prejudice and sexism occur even in seemingly all-inclusive societies. There are many more, but for the sake of the length of this article, I’ll leave it at that.

The part of you who craves to believe in magic, happy endings and fairy tales will get some TLC:

For me, this is really what it comes down to. We live in a stressful world full of things that just don’t work. There’s often a sense of helplessness or powerlessness and, let’s face it, Disney is the best at serving up a really great, happy ending. Sure, it’s not real and a lot of people say it’s problematic to show impressionable kids movies that depict neatly-tied up solutions because “that’s not how the world works.” But I would like to take the opportunity to offer the possibility that having that little sense of magic and a fairy tale ending isn’t such a bad thing. Believing in the good lends itself to acting for the good. If nothing else, popping on a Disney movie and letting yourself be drawn into those heartfelt musicals is a little 90-minute escape to Never Land.

So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the adultness of life — change it up. I am not saying that your favourite Sitcom shouldn’t be used as a visual valium during the end-of-semester crunch time. But it may be worthwhile to check out the “Kids” section in your Netflix account. Find out what The Little Mermaid has to offer your soul.

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