Yesterday I talked about my lunch conversation with a friend in which we mused over the plethora of killing in Disney animations — specifically the frequency with which family members of the protagonist (usually the mother or father or both) are killed, often while our young hero is helplessly looking on.
One thing I didn’t mention is that my friend’s daughter now really loves Disneyland. To her, a trip to southern California means yet another chance to visit the Magic Kingdom. It was this key factoid that put me onto my current train of thought.
This is an animation company that regularly subjects little kids to the most frightening thing imaginable to a small child: The death of a parent — generally right in front of the eyes of the character the child most identifies with.
Now couple this with the fact that Disney’s commercial empire is built upon cross marketing: You see the movie, then you visit the theme park, buy the princess dress and take home the character-themed plush toy. It’s all part and parcel of the same highly interconnected business.
And what is the fundamental appeal of that theme park? I would argue that the allure of Disneyland is deeply connected to the idea that it is the safest place on earth. Little kids love that feeling, and parents like the reassurance that everything is under control.
But wait. On the one hand we have movies that regularly kill off the parents of beloved little animated characters, often in a highly brutal and traumatic way. On the other hand, around these movies are built highly successful theme parks which are all about safety and reassurance. What is going on here?