Are Disney and Pixar Films Politicising Children?

Wreck-It Ralph

After recently watching the new Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, I was looking forward to basking in the familiar warmth that accompanies the neurotically exultant conclusions that are inevitable in Disney/Pixar films.  Openly mythic in their construction, these films always conclude with hero banishing (but not killing) the villain, and restoring order to the equilibrium that existed before the quest.  Anyone that has studied literature/film/theatre studies for longer than a day knows that this is how narratives function (for those that haven’t try looking here or here), this is uncontroversial stuff.

However, what the hyper-cheesy narrative endings infer can be read from either side of the political spectrum – either as liberal morality tales that imply that everyone is equal and should be accepted for who they are, or as cautionary conservative warnings not to attempt to transcend your socio-economic place in culture and society: the status-quo in society is there for a reason.

Wreck-It Ralph features a video game ‘bad guy’ trying to earn himself a medal (an icon of social mobility) and climb the symbolic ladder from the rubbish heap up to the penthouse.  The narrative twists and turns as they always do (see more here), but he ends up satisfied after his ordeal literally left to only look out at the world he craved earlier in the film.  He has a fatalistic acceptance of his predicament and says it is the best part about his day.

If you revisit earlier CGI kids films, they all have the same double-layered morality.  In all 3 Toy Story films, one of the central characters has an existential crisis and goes on a spiritual journey outside of Andy’s room – only to return with more toys into the enclosure:  everyone is equal and welcome, yet also realising that ‘there is no place like home’ and the status quo is restored.  The same goes for Shrek, the same goes for Cars, and the same goes for all of the earlier animated Disney films.

I can’t help but wonder whether ‘family-film’ actually just translates to ‘film-that-I-can-bend-my-politics-too’.  Of course, happy endings happen in most mainstream films, but it is the intensity of the Disney/Pixar mythic-narrative-machine with its heavy emphasis on the return to stability/equal-rights for all conclusions that are so interesting.  No other franchises so heavily permeate into children’s culture than these films; just think of the fast-food tie-ins, merchandise, video games/apps and clothing that children interact with.  All of these characters can be classed as heroes of both right-wing and left-wing fundamentals.

For more from Ollie visit his blog Crispy Sharp Film

Out Now – 8th February 2013

Wreck-It Graham 4

Wreck-It Ralph
Featuring characters from arcade games ranging from Sonic and Mario to Pacman this animated adventure follows one villains quest to become a hero. Oscar nomination count: 1

Warm Bodies
A romantic comedy in which one of the romantic leads actually is a zombie? A film about flesh-eating and love conquering all; the perfect Valentine’s film.

I Give It a Year
A UK comedy set after the point at which most romantic comedies end; when the unlikely couple get together. Here we see the newlyweds struggle through their first year of marriage with all the hilarity that involves. The trailer makes me laugh so I have hope.

Hitchcock
Following Hitchcock during the making of Psycho this biopic gives a more balanced view than the BBC drama The Girl but features an inferior Hitchcock. Oscar nomination count: 1 (But only for makeup so let’s not get too excited)

No (limited release)
My knowledge of Chilean politics in 1988 is non-existent at best but thanks to Google I can proudly state that the plot can be summarised by saying that “ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum” without having a clue who Pinochet is. Oscar nomination count: 1

I Wish (limited release)
“12-year-old Koichi, who has been separated from his brother Ryunosuke due to his parents’ divorce, begins to believe that the new bullet train service will create a miracle when the first trains pass each other at top speed.”

A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman (limited release)
A mind melding animation covering the falsified life story of Graham Chapman. A must for any fan of Monty Python and great fun for the rest of us. I liked it, what more do you need?

The Fall of the Essex Boys
British gangster film. Sex, violence, drugs, and all the swears. ‘Citing.