Kids love fairytale movies for lots of reasons, and we shouldn’t stop them from enjoying them. Picture: Disney Studios
Kids love fairytale movies for lots of reasons, and we shouldn’t stop them from enjoying them. Picture: Disney Studios

Let it go. Disney movies aren’t corrupting your kids

DECONSTRUCTING childhood icons and destroying their joyful innocence has become as much a part of modern parenting as tutors for kindy kids and junior Instagram accounts.

Princesses are now in the firing line, Disney princesses to be exact, having now been deemed lacking the requisite feminist consciousness.

As children, we recognised Cinderella and her ilk as fantasy figures, a bit of escapism in a perfectly drawn cartoon world that was nothing like ours punctuated by scraped knees, overcooked chops and homework. These movies were fun to watch, soothing even.

Not so, say actors Keira Knightley and Kristen Bell, who have now taken out against fairy tales that might get in the way of their raising sufficiently aware modern daughters.

Knightley revealed in an interview on the Ellen show that she had banned her three-year-old daughter from watching both the animated and live Cinderella films.

"(Cinderella) waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don't. Rescue yourself! Obviously," she said.

She also had harsh words for Disney's The Little Mermaid, in which the main character Ariel gives up her voice to change from a mermaid to a human so she can snare the handsome prince.

"This is the one that I'm quite annoyed about because I really like the film. I mean, the songs are great, but do not give your voice up for a man. Hello! … I love The Little Mermaid! That one's a little tricky - but I'm keeping to it," she said.

Social media lit up with claims of hypocrisy after Bell’s comments given that she was the voice of Princess Anna, sister of Elsa, in Frozen. Picture: Disney Studios
Social media lit up with claims of hypocrisy after Bell’s comments given that she was the voice of Princess Anna, sister of Elsa, in Frozen. Picture: Disney Studios

In a separate interview, Kristen Bell said of reading with her two young daughters: "Every time we close Snow White I look at my girls and ask, 'Don't you think it's weird that Snow White didn't ask the old witch why she needed to eat the apple?

"Or where she got that apple?' I say, 'I would never take food from a stranger, would you?' And my kids are like, 'No!' And I'm like, 'Okay, I'm doing something right.'"

Bell also revealed she used the same fairy tale to talk about consent.

"Don't you think that it's weird that the prince kisses Snow White without her permission? Because you cannot kiss someone if they're sleeping!" she said.

Within a matter of hours the knives were out, as social media lit up with claims of hypocrisy - given the fact that Bell was the voice of Princess Anna in the hugely popular Disney movie Frozen.

And there was plenty of criticisms along the lines of one commentator who said, "you made millions by doing voiceover for Frozen. You're (sic) hypocrisy has no bounds! Climb down off of your pedestal and do something constructive."

To be fair to Bell, she was arguing that she was simply using an opportunity to teach a contextual lesson.

And Bell quickly moved to clarify her comments, when the debate morphed into claims she wanted to ban Disney films. The knives got sharper and the comments more damning given her association with Frozen.

She tapped out on Twitter: "Everything IS a message to our children, because they are sponges that soak up everything and are learning how to be adults through what they see. I want my girls to see and practise critical thinking and respectful behaviour."

Sleeping Beauty is only 16 when she is woken by a kiss from her “true love”. Picture: Disney Studios
Sleeping Beauty is only 16 when she is woken by a kiss from her “true love”. Picture: Disney Studios

Bell also added: "I find the outrage annoying and misplaced as well. I'm a mom who wants my girls to possess critical thinking and ask a ton of questions. So that's what we do when we read books."

From my own childhood, I know that the best lessons were learned from life, from making mistakes and owning the consequences and from those that came with context I could relate to.

I have a friend who grew up in a family where corporal punishment was dosed out with rigid regularity. She lost count of the number of times she felt the sting of the leather belt or a backhanded slap across the face.

It was accepted in those days, encouraged even. But what perplexes her is that she cannot remember a single thing that she did to earn the strap.

"I can remember the punishment with great clarity but I cannot remember one thing I did to earn it," she told me.

For her, that punishment clearly had zero benefit in terms of learning a life lesson. "All of my life lessons came from the mistakes I made away from home," she said.

When it comes to young children, lessons with context seem to make absolute sense.

Cinderella is a story about far more than just a poor woman meeting a rich man. Picture: Disney Studios
Cinderella is a story about far more than just a poor woman meeting a rich man. Picture: Disney Studios

But that should not be a green light for everyone to pick apart every fairy tale, analyse and annotate it and have notes at the ready should the moment be right to deliver a lesson in Critical Thinking 101.

If you are engaged with your child, spending quality time, listening and paying attention, these things should come naturally. And as you enter the challenging days of adolescence, you have laid foundations to help keep the lines of communication as open as they can be.

You can be fairly confident that Disney stories won't cut it by then.

As the parent of a teenage boy and preadolescent girl, I know that open communication through these years will be a challenge. And so far there is no magic mirror or crystal ball which I can trot out for my children to see what life looks like in 10 to 20 years time.

We've made parenting harder than it needs to be.

We cannot relax while reading The Hungry Caterpillar out loud, for example, lest we be seen to endorse obesity because an insect got a stomach ache from chewing his way through salami and lollipops.

It reminds me of a cartoon where a mum says to her confused daughter: "Honey, when you grow up, I want you to be assertive, independent and strong-willed. But while you're a kid, I want you to be passive, pliable and obedient."

If you see a moment to make a contextual point make it, but try not to ruin the pure bastions of childhood - including fantasy and fairy tales.

Kids need to learn critical thinking but they also need room to grow. And to just be.