This past weekend my sister, Shannon, pointed to a sign displayed in a store window. It read, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.” We both laughed at how perfect the saying was for us, and those of you who know us might chuckle as well. It’s true Shannon and I love fairy tales, which subsequently leads to a fondness of Walt Disney movies. We both enjoyed watching “Disney princess” movies while growing up, continue to watch them as adults, and if we have families someday, hope to watch them with our children.
In the past few years I have read more than one article by Christian authors who view the classic Walt Disney movies with cynicism, thinking them to be impractical and even harmful. Though I wish to respect those who do not allow their children to view Disney movies because of personal conviction, I believe many of the Disney movies can not only be enjoyable, but also beneficial, for children and families. Below I have delved into three reasons for this belief. Though I enjoy many Disney movies based on these reasons, I will specifically reference Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, as I think these stories to be of particular value.
Watching a Walt Disney movie is similar to admiring a beautiful painting. These four animated features are well-crafted in every area. The animation, music, and story line intertwine perfectly to create a pleasurable viewing experience. It is notable that all of these movies received Oscar nominations and wins from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including awards for best musical score, best song, best sound, and best picture. The Walt Disney company holds to high standards of excellence, and this is definitely on display in these pictures.
As Shannon once put it, “Why wouldn’t I want my daughter to be like the princesses?!” Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Belle all exemplify well-mannered and gracious women. They have self-respect and dignity. They are kind, polite, and sit up straight. They respect authority, don’t complain, and are faithful in love. They are known for their singing, and it is notable that many of their songs take place during hardship, displaying a perseverance in spite of suffering. They are modest and not overly concerned with their appearances, in fact, many of them wear rags or “peasant” clothes for the majority of the story. Though they all desire true love to come their ways, they seem content in waiting for the right moment, and in the meantime foster the relationships at hand: Snow White with the dwarves, Cinderella with her animal friends, Aurora with the three fairies, and Belle with her father. Through these simple stories young girls are given role models worthy of imitation. It is for this reason I would hope girls who watch and read these fairy tales as children will, as young women, come to be inspired by more three-dimensional heroines in classic literature such as Elizabeth Bennett, Jo March, and Jane Eyre.
For believers in Christ, these four Disney movies open the door to a balcony overlooking the spiritual realm. Though none of these movies are a direct allegory of the biblical narrative, the nature of these fictional stories reflect the true story of which we are all parts.
Take Cinderella, for example: Cinderella experiences the grief of her parents’ death at an early age and grows up under the bondage of her stepmother. She yearns to go to the castle for the ball, but no matter how much she dreams or how hard she works, there is no way to get there. Only supernatural help allows her to go, and though she has hope after meeting the prince, she must continue to endure living with her stepfamily. In the end the prince must come for her, must return in his own timing, and only then will Cinderella’s deepest longings be fulfilled in a royal wedding. This is a beautiful, simple representation of those who find salvation in Christ, live in hope of Christ’s return, and await His grand marriage to the Church.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty follow a similar story line, though these women physically perish before they see the return of their prince! Only after a time of suffering and death will these princesses receive their “happily ever after,” similar to a Christian’s period of suffering and death before our relationship with Christ is consummated. Beauty and the Beast takes it a step further when Belle actually chooses to give up her life and dreams for the sake of her father. She leaves her home, family, and hope of adventure for a life of isolation with the Beast. Throughout the story both the Beast and Belle learn the power of love, which breaks the spell and brings about a magical transformation, mirroring the transformation every believer in Christ will someday undergo.
Though I have obviously given thought to the reasons I believe these Disney movies are valuable, I need to point out that they are not something I gave consideration to as a child. I never thought to myself, “Now Anna, what spiritual implications does Cinderella have?” or “What admirable qualities do I find in Belle?”, and I don’t remember my parents asking me these questions, either. I believe this is because I didn’t “grow up on Disney,” instead my parents decided their children would grow up on the truth of Christ. The gospel message is what I remember hearing about over and over again, not the stories of Cinderella and Snow White. By God’s grace I was saved at an early age, and because of this the Disney movies I occasionally watched spoke for themselves and subconsciously enhanced a faith the Lord was already growing inside of me. I have God and my parents to thank for that, and if I ever have a family of my own I certainly desire my children to love Christ first and foremost and hope that Disney movies, literature, and stories in general will only point to Him in order to increase that love.