Disney has been an influential part of American culture for years. To a large extent, the ideal proportions, features, and traits based on gender roles all have had a significant impact on Disney movies. Critics must remember, however, that Walt Disney and his corporation were products of their time. Snow White, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and other films are commonly accused of strengthening gender roles. Even though racism and sexism are common accusations against many of the movies, facts and evidence to support them are circumstantial at best.
It is not so much that people believe Disney movies specifically are written with an agenda, but there is something enticing and mysterious about many of their origins. These films are no stranger to criticisms stemming from racism to fascism. It appears Walt Disney not only hated every social group alive, he also had time to secretly advance his hate-filled agenda through children’s movies. To those who believe in conspiracies, it sounds perfect. Many other critics simply assert the traditional culture that exists within Disney: female roles appear to be passive, while male roles come off as outgoing.
Hercules is a man of rock hard features, a notorious ladies man, and the son of Zeus. His character is without a doubt the typeset for masculinity within our society, and Disney’s movie only served to enforce that. While it is obvious that statement is true, to assert the existence of conservative interests playing a detrimental role in the film’s production is quite ludacris. Film producers, Disney included, desire profits. That is why they are in the film business. Making money and increasing the Disney stock value is the animation studio’s number one priority.
Although it might appear to average adult consumers that movies like Hercules are promoting masculine propoganda, we must realize the audience the films are intended for. The average Disney product consumer is no older than 12 years, which gives you an idea of the mindset that goes into the process of making these little beauties. Directors, animators, and producers are attempting to create attractive, strong lead characters that appeal to children. Gaston, Hercules, Simba, Krunk (from the Emperor’s New Groove) and Prince charming are all good examples of these attractive archetypes.
However, the arguement is not based soley on muscles; there are skinny, yet dominant, Disney characters that are cited as promoting gender roles to kids. These include Woody, Kusco, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Gaspetto. These characters, though seemingly average in appearance, are loud, outgoing, and in charge. Perhaps that may be true, but these so-called “masculine” features are also features of any attractive lead character. Stories usually center on those who are different from the rest, and that applies even to Disney.
The feminine roles, as well are accused of displaying subtle, submissive, and traditional behavior. This argument, unlike that for masculinity, has more basis. One cannot deny that sexism exists within Disney movies: the beautiful (and she absolutely must be beautiful) princess is always saved from the villian. These princesses, girlfriends, and central female characters are not as boistrous or obnoxious as their male counterparts. Perhaps an appeal to middle, conservative America is made by this. However, does anybody remember the part in Aladdin where Jasmine claims she is not a prize to be won? That seems rather progressive to many. Perhaps Disney is not an evil, masochist corporation but rather a company interested in profits and appealing to key demographics.
In the end, it becomes not a question of whether Disney is promoting masculinity, but whether it is doing its part to help women lose their societal oppression. In that key moral area, these movies are not doing their part. If both leads were to display outgoing, friendly, and bold features, many critics would ease off of their tirades against the company. Lead female roles do not have to be submissive or shy, rather they too could be bold and full of life. If both genders are brought to the same level in Disney movies, many progressive parents would feel at ease with the message being taught to their children.
– The Straight Dope, Was Disney a Fascist?