Tag Archives: Disney

Finding LDS Truths in Disney Films

By Toni Yee

Members of the LDS Church patronize Disney movies because they’re wholesome family entertainment promoting purity and hope; they capture the sweet magic of children. Most importantly, they teach lessons related to the teachings of the Church.

In Gordon B. Hinckley’s talk, he shared the story of a man who related Joseph Smith’s story to Disney. “Every time I would tell the bishop that Joseph Smith’s story was more Disney than Disney, he would tell me, “Maybe so, but it’s all true.” Members not only find happily ever afters in Disney movies, but also, in gospel truths of the Church.

The teachings of the Church is mostly emphasized on the importance of family. Elder Tom L. Perry, said “One of the great messages of the gospel is the doctrine of the eternal disneyandfriendsnature of the family unit. We declare to the world the value and importance of family life, but much of the confusion and difficulty we find existing in the world today is being traced to the deterioration of the family. Home experiences where children are taught and trained by loving parents are diminishing.” One Disney movie that strongly emphasizes family is Lilo and Stitch. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” This line was made famous by Stitch who was adopted by Lilo’s family.

Goal setting is an essential part of every individual in order to attain the desired outcome and success. It is always good to have dreams in order to stay motivated. Just like Cinderella, she dreamt of attending the ball with her step sisters, but they did not want her to. Cinderella’s friends knew about her desire to go and because of her kind heart, they helped her. “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.” Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “Set goals that are well balanced—not too many nor too few, and not too high nor too low. Write down your attainable goals and work on them according to their importance. Pray for divine guidance in your goal setting.”

Past experiences are meant to be overcome. Whether we choose to disclose these experiences, like Simba has in the Lion King movie, is up to us as individuals and our personal relationships. There are some aspects of the past that hurt tremendously but Rafiki offers a sound advice. “The past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” We can either take our past experiences and use those as learning tools or we can pretend that they never happened and run, risking making mistakes as a result of the pain we are trying to avoid.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.” The pain of tackling the past might be overwhelming and hard, but in the end, we become the best version of ourselves.


Audiences React to “Moana”

by Ho Lam Leung

Disney’s “Moana” received abundant pre-release attention – not surprising given the Disney brand.  It’s stirring debate about insensitivity and culture appropriation regarding Pacific Islanders. What do actual viewers think of the film?  It earned $2.6 million at the box office among preview audiences, according to <forbes.com>, doubling that of Disney’s “Frozen”which earned $1.2 million in 2012.

We turned to social media for audience reaction.  Dominant themes were gleaned from 57 interviews at a theater in Laie, Hawaii.  More than half of the opinions came from  Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander (53.6%). The rest are from Caucasians (21.4%), Asians (16.1%), and (8.9%) from other groups.

The majority of statements (91.3%) hqdefaultexpressed overall satisfaction toward the movie, praising “spectacular” animation and “vibrant color.” Audience members liked the “innovative” story. Others expressed pride in Polynesian traditions: “Well, I figured out why the ocean didn’t just get the heart over to Te Fiti (the goddess of islands)? The answer to that is simple … it was necessary for both Moana and Maui to grow from the journey. Life is about growth. Our ancestors and the elements know this too.” A “personal growth” message was grasped by several audience members.

The character, Maui, was depicted as a “buffoon“, “selfish idiot“, “scared“, “arrogant” and “hideous,” according to several interviewees. The Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater Comedymajority, however, liked Disney’s depiction, arguing his accomplishments were conveyed. The “lighthearted portray” fit well with Maui’s trickster role. In fact, several Islanders agreed that a “built” and “big” appearance was an appropriate description of Maui. One said, “Maui has multiple descriptions throughout Polynesia and even within a Polynesian group. History was maintained orally and has not preserved a single detailed Maui description.” Few said Disney fabricated the Maui story. Musker and Celements depict a combination of South Pacific cultures in “Moana”, instead of just one (as seen in “Lilo and Stitch”).  Fijian, Samoan, Tahitian, and other Oceanic cultures are synthesized. How do the audiences thought about such mingling of cultures in the movie?

In order to understand the Pacific spirit, the directors and production team made  visits to the Pacific, engaging an Oceanic consulting team. Did their efforts pay off? Several seem to think so: “I felt that it was portrayed pretty accurately as I felt like I could relate to a number of characters as they reminded me of people I know or knew in my life.” Citing the moment Moana fights through the reef with her canoe said, “(it) brought lots of memories.

The integration of different island cultures was both praised and criticized.  On one side, Real People Audience: Group Diverse Watching Movie Theater ComedyDisney’s inclusion of “all the islands” was lauded. A Pacific Islander said, “It’s difficult to tell the different cultures,” while several participants found the mixing “all too jumbled,” making it hard to follow the story. Several were surprised to find a “strong Samoan influence.”  Perhaps this is because Samoa is one of the few islands allowing women to have the chiefly title. One viewer recognized the “twist of legends and customs” compared to their own island versions. Knowing the Moana role in her island, one responded, “Women don’t take the responsibility of providing and protecting in Polynesia, but maybe Moana is based on some Tahitian myth or legend.” Some sensed favoritism in the choice of culture. “I don’t like how (the movie) was only Samoan and Tahitian-based. Maui is a Polynesian demigod, but the movie only displayed him as only a few.

At another level, music and dance played a big role.  The song, “We Know The Way,” was sung in Tokelauan. One participant said, “It was like being back on the island.” However, several noted a lack of Polynesian sound: Some songs “didn’t really fit.” Some argued that the soundtracks are more “Polynesian-inspired” than “authentic.

In summary, the audience clearly enjoyed the film, yet were assertive in their cultural critique. Those unfamiliar with Island cultures are likely to miss the nuances, but feel entertained nevertheless.   But to Oceanic peoples, we are speaking of heroes and Gods.  They live in the heart of those that preserve their heritage. They make Pacific Islanders unique from other nations of the world. Did Disney introduce these traditions to the world in Moana? Perhaps not, but new interest may be kindled.


The Real Beauty and the Beast: Documentary Uncovers Disney’s Uneven Legacy

By Dan Stout

No childhood memories are as magical as classic Disney films. At the Saturday matinee with my friends, the barn scene in 101 Dalmatians offered pleasant escape and brief security during troubled times at home. Similarly, the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp was a first hint at the excitation of romance on the horizon. As for Mary Poppins, I recall preteens crying as they filed out of the theater; they didn’t want it to end. Despite Disney’s international reputation for quality child entertainment, it has drawn sharp criticism. The Smithsonian’s recent documentary, The Real Beauty and the Beast” uncovers the dark side of Disney in its meticulously researched origins of the child classic. Unfortunately, the animated movie and subsequent Broadway musical cheats us, muting the moral impacts of the fable. With nearly automatic praise of Disney products by Mormons, it may be time to revisit the Disney legacy that is being called into question by literary and film critics.

beauty-and-the-beast-disneyThe ending of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has always baffled me. If inner beauty trumps outer appearance, why is the beast turned back into a handsome prince at the end? Earlier versions contain no such transformation; we love the complete person, and grasp the virtue of character over charisma. In a time when bullying is prevalent in schools, the story remains relevant. The tale chides the superficialities of fashion, glamour, and possessions, challenging us to stress character over cosmetics. However, Beauty falls victim to the sanitation tendency of many fairy tale versions. Sanitized Disney films are abundant.

Cinderella supports this argument as well. In the Grimm fairy tale, she is neither delicate nor beautiful, but in Disney films, most heroines are glamorous, implying that beauty defines success. In the Grimm tale, the stepsisters are punished for their behavior: not in the Disney versions, however. In search of large audiences, nuance is stripped from the narrative, either diluting or eliminating some moral messages all together. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid is another victim of Disney’s sanitation, primarily unwillingness to depict consequences of abandoning moral principle. In both Disney and ancient versions of Mermaid, she makes a deal with the witch by forfeiting her female voice. But, Disney returns her voice while the latter keeps the punishment in tact, leaving us to ponder the price of yielding one’s right to free expression.

The moral-message flattening of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is hard to top, however. The Smithsonian documentary fills in rich details, resulting in a thought-provoking work that, while speaking to all ages, provides a fuller narrative that parents can pass on to children during story time.

The beauty-and-the-beast fable exists in some form on all continents. Smithsonian historians trace the popularized Disney version to a painting of a wolfman-like hairy man, Petra Gonzalez, found in a castle in the Austrian alps in 1547. Born with hypertrychosis, a disease of excessive hair growth throughout the body, Petra is shunned initially, and thrown into French dungeons. To the surprise of medical experts, he’s intelligent, a good learner–and kind. Subsequently, a place in the King’s court is eventually earned, and Petra’s marriage lasts 40 years. Little information about his death exists nor has his grave been located.

In an era when the physically-challenged endured inhumane treatment if not extermination, Petra is afforded dignity despite his deformity. The painting itself, an artifact reserved for royalty and officials of prestige, supports this claim. And, unlike Disney’s version, there’s no transformation into a handsome prince, an eradication of the moral; Petra is loved for character, inspiring us at a level that the diluted Disney narrative never fully attains.

The Smithsonian film doesn’t stop there; it relates the beauty-and-the-beast story of Larry Gomez, an actor living in Los Angeles with comparable adversities. One of 50 victims of hyoertrychosis in the world, he abandons a life in freak shows and circuses. Determined, he cultivates a life theme of celebrating uniqueness maintaining a positive outlook, despite derision, divorce, and an unwanted estrangement from his son. Again, no “handsome prince” conversion; only the weathered joy of a life fought optimistically, and a circle of friends drawn to his heart of gold.

Unfortunately, Disney’s glossed-over history, and historical inaccuracy extends to other movies. The Middle Ages depicted in Aladdin is an adventure-oriented distortion. Islam is presented unclearly if at all; specific beliefs are not evident, leaving an uncivilized picture of Middle Easterners. Britain’s evolution is more civilized and advanced in Disney works, despite precious gifts of art, science, and medicine by historical Egypt and other Middle Eastern regions.

In all fairness to Walt Disney, good feelings and enchantment elicited by artful animation and good writing are unequaled contributions. Children, he believed, deserve magic moments; they shouldn’t be frightened out of their wits, nor should cartoons be expected to substitute for history classes. The art of animation was his gift. To his credit, moral messages are conveyed, if not didactically.

3899_4Dumbo and Bambi are two examples. Regrettably, the protectionist approach yields sanitized fables bereft of key elements of the world’s cherished tales. Unlike the Grimm’s version of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, where the red-cloaked girl learns of the dangers of entering the forest, (perhaps the point of the story), she and her grandmother are rescued with no problems, narrowing the range of interpretation much like a Rockwell painting where life is good and happiness easily restored to any situation.

No doubt Disney will continue to find safe haven in the Mormon milieu of child entertainment, and deservedly so. From a media literacy perspective, how do we teach children critical skills to view such movies? Such skills are helpful in comparisons of Disney, Dr. Seuss, and Veggie Tales, among others.

Disney also makes movies for adults. How prepared are we to elucidate their moral messages? It depends on our knowledge structure regarding fairy tales and fables. Perhaps in the Disney Age, we’ve forgotten the power of these stories to help us think through moral dilemmas.