Walt Disney and the play of the weird

Giving children the space to develop safely is a key part of a spiritually playful society. In the twentieth and twenty first century films have built on the old myths and legends that were used to teach society life lessons without actually having to actualise the adventures they related, an important method for life learning. The free play of image and the cartoon representation of mythical realities on screen allows children to see in vivid technicolour the horror of the Queen: to face their fear and to see how those fears might be overcome through bravery, goodness and so on. 

As Jonathan Jones pointed out in his article in The Guardian last week, “Hating Disney has become a cliche.”  But as he also points out Disney took the old oral tradition of story-telling and ancient story forms and turned them into a new play system for a celluloid world. Films such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty don’t shy away from the darker sides of fairy story that are the essence of the protagonists’ trials. The Queen in Snow White is sinister even before she turns into a witch, and when she does we simply feel that her true nature is revealed. She is as scary as we always thought she was.

Much of the antipathy to Disney and all it represents comes from the adult understanding of his alleged anti-semitism, politics and the unpleasantness of the man himself, but I would contend there is also an element of reaction against the later films from the Disney studios that have nothing to do with Walt Disney who died 40 years ago. Films like Pocohantas, that change history to suit modern sensibilities, or The Little Mermaid, that turns the sad but appropriate ending of Andersen’s fairy tale into a happy go lucky ridiculousness actually rankles with our more grown-up sensibilities on a different level. We like fairy stories because they are true, when truthes are changed to “protect” little kids we don’t like it.

Sanitisation is part of our society. There is an increasing desire to shield our children from the horror of life but when this occurs at the expense of truth what service are we doing future generations?  

Life is hard, Life is unfair, Life is tough. If we teach kids that life is easy, kind, logical we are not preparing them for adulthood. If we teach them this through films in which things miraculously come right despite we do them even less of a service because we don’t show them that difficulties can be overcome. Through Imaginative play and Frivolity children can explore the role of the play of Fate and Power in their lives. If we skew the rules against those of life then we fail them. Why then are we doing this?

We are a spiritually poor, materially rich society. We believe we can buy ourselves a happy ending and a happy ending for our children,  from the education we purchase them to the toys we buy them to the films we take them to see. We believe that the most important thing is not to engage actively with the world but not to have to engage actively with the world, perhaps our obsession with celebrity which Kane links with our envy of their ability to self-actualise in the extreme is also about the cushioning from reality that such self-actualising play creates. We don’t want things to be nasty and so we think that the best possible life and vision of life is one that

But if we don’t give our children safe experiences of other play forms then we create a society we are already beginning to see where everything is a right, nothing a privellege, no mistakes can be made because they can’t be dealt with by a people hampered by play experiences where no one loses and there are no serious consequences. Experiences of unreality that are far more fictional than the sanitised Disney films we love to hate.


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