August 20, 2019

Disney's Newly Subversive Take on Love

“Love, in the world of Walt Disney films, has changed. Between Tangled (2010) and Moana (2016), the ideal of heterosexual romance has been dethroned by a new ideal: family love. The happy ending of our most-watched childhood stories is no longer a kiss. Today, Disney films end with two siblings reconciled despite their differences, as in Frozen (2013); or a mother and a daughter making amends, as in Brave (2012) and Inside Out (2015); or a child reunited with long-lost parents, as in Tangled, Finding Dory (2016) and Coco (2011). Love remains the all-important linchpin of these stories: love is supposed to bring us joy, solve our problems, and get us to our happy ending. We are told to love love, for love will always save us in the end. But over the past 10 years, we have been told to love a new kind of love.

The stories of love we find on the silver screen are not just representations of the emotions within us. They also shape our expectations of what love will be like – expectations by which we will want to abide, leading us to shoehorn our feelings into that idealised form. Just a few centuries ago, romance held a much less central position in the cultural imaginary than it does today: love was primarily a question of family allegiances and controlled reproduction. This changed with the advent of modernity, where romantic love acquired the cultural acclaim that it commands today. And if the nature of love has changed before, it can change again. Disney’s depiction of love over the past decade might be a sign of what’s to come. Love is central to the fabric of society, so any change in its ideal will ripple through all sorts of human relations: between workers and bosses, between states and their citizens, between the ideals of modernity and those who are branded as ‘ethnic others’, to name but a few.

Today, Disney no longer expects us to expect a knight in shining armour, but rather to forgive our siblings and make peace with our parents. Consider the gulf that separates Sleeping Beauty (1959) from its remake Maleficent (2014). Both are based on Charles Perrault’s La Belle au bois dormant (1829), but in Maleficent the story has been updated for the times. The princess is still told that only a ‘true love’s kiss’ will end her magic sleep. The prince’s lips, however, have now lost their power. We see him kiss the princess and the music swells – and nothing happens. But when the fairy godmother then realises her mistake in cursing the princess and bends down to kiss her forehead in remorse, she wakes. The story arc is still the same as of old, but the words ‘true love’ now mean something new.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"On Christmas Eve of 1966, Paddy Roy Bates, a retired British army major, drove a small boat with an outboard motor seven miles off the coast of England into the North Sea. He had sneaked out of his house in the middle of the night, inspired..."

"The book that changed lecturer, activist, and current presidential candidate Marianne Williamson’s life, A Course in Miracles, is not available for free online, but its workbook is. You can find it on the website for the Foundation for..."

"Here are two sets of statements from far-distant opposites in the climate change debate. The first is from Naomi Klein, who in her book This Changes Everything paints a bleak picture of a global socioeconomic system gone wrong: “There is a..."

"Voters who trust their government — and each other — are more supportive of ambitious welfare states than those who do not. Across nations, high levels of social trust correlate with high levels of social spending. The relationship between these..."

"With the presidential campaign under way, expect to hear a lot more about a shiny new toy of progressive economic thinking, “modern monetary theory.” It seems to be the only intellectual contortion that might allow candidates to promise..."

"“We don’t want to fight y’all. We’re not trying to go to jail.” That’s what A$AP Rocky, the 30-year-old New York City rapper, can be heard saying in a video of an encounter with strangers in Sweden that has ballooned into an international crisis."

"Israel’s top officials are considering denying Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to their country due to their outspoken, controversial criticism of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians, not to mention their slurs against American Jews as..."

"For most of our lives, we have been conditioned to share a piece of personal information without a moment’s hesitation: our phone number. We punch in our digits at the grocery store to get a member discount or at the pharmacy to pick up..."