Death and the Mouse III

So why is it, continuing from yesterday, that Disney animations often subject their young viewers to the violent and traumatic death of the parents of beloved animated characters, and yet a trip to Disneyland comes to be seen by kids (and their parents) as the most wonderful and safe of vacation options?

I would argue that there is a deliberate and brilliant strategy at work here on the part of the Walt Disney Company. And it is clearly a strategy that goes all the way back to Walt himself, when you think back on such classic Disney films as “Pinocchio” and “Bambi”, both of which contained some truly terrifying moments.

When you go through a traumatic experience with somebody — say a war, or the loss of a loved one — and have seen it through together, such an experience can draw you closer. I think Disney is deliberately tapping into this principle, by carefully constructing stories that will subject little kids to the most horrific emotional trauma, and then guiding them through that trauma to the conclusion: “Everything turns out ok in the end.”

Question: After you have experienced such terror as seeing your mother being shot to death, or your father betrayed and murdered by his own brother, or your entire family wiped out by vicious killers, who can you trust? Answer: Whoever it was that guided you through this horror and saw you safely through to the other side.

In other words, inducing terror in small children is Disney’s very stock and trade. Kids love visiting Disneyland precisely because they have learned by watching Disney films that the world can be a horrible, cruel and unfair place, where bad things happen to good people. But also that there is one little corner of the world where you can escape this ever-present existential terror.


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