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Mouse Morality

Annalee R. Ward
Foreword by Clifford G. Christians
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  • Book Info
    Mouse Morality
    Book Description:

    Kids around the world love Disney animated films, and many of their parents trust the Disney corporation to provide wholesome, moral entertainment for their children. Yet frequent protests and even boycotts of Disney products and practices reveal a widespread unease with the sometimes mixed and inconsistent moral values espoused in Disney films as the company attempts to appeal to the largest possible audience.

    In this book, Annalee R. Ward uses a variety of analytical tools based in rhetorical criticism to examine the moral messages taught in five recent Disney animated films-The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules,andMulan.Taking the films on their own terms, she uncovers the many mixed messages they purvey: for example, females can be leaders-but male leadership ought to be the norm; stereotyping is wrong-but black means evil; historical truth is valued-but only tell what one can sell, etc. Adding these messages together, Ward raises important questions about the moral ambiguity of Disney's overall worldview and demonstrates the need for parents to be discerning in letting their children learn moral values and life lessons from Disney films.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79866-3
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Clifford G. Christians

    Our analysis of morality in entertainment is limited and stylized at present. Violence in the media is a major concern, and we research it relentlessly. Pornography in cinema and virtual sex on the Internet are routinely condemned. Blatant consumerism in advertising and commercial entertainment is increasingly offensive. Racial stereotyping and gender typecasting are on everyone’s short list. But our treatments are typically moralistic and academically superficial.Mouse Moralityillustrates a complex, multilayered, and well-informed content analysis that the field needs and will welcome.

    The author’s worldview framework isMouse Morality’s golden strategy. It accomplishes exactly what Professor Ward intends, that...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. ONE Disney, Film, and Morality: A BEGINNING
    (pp. 1-9)

    Storytelling is vital to every society as a way of searching for and sharing truth, but the role of storyteller in culture has changed, affectingwhat is told. Today, popular film has become a central storyteller for contemporary culture. It communicates myths and fairy tales, entertains, and educates the audience for better or worse. One company in particular has had tremendous audience appeal and enjoys brand-name popularity: Disney.¹

    The Walt Disney Company is a powerful economic and cultural phenomenon² known throughout the United States and the world as a provider of family entertainment (Maltin 1, 308).³ Its media and entertainment holdings...

    (pp. 10-32)

    We live, we die. The children live and die—all part of the great “circle of life,” asThe Lion King’s theme song implies. A Disney animated film aimed at children,The Lion Kingfeatures a cast of animals who represent a society in harmony, then in a struggle for survival, and finally in a climactic battle resulting in renewed peace for the lion kingdom. More specifically, the story focuses on the life of lion cub Simba, son of Mufasa, the king. But it is also a story that relies heavily on myths, archetypes, and rituals as rhetorical means to...

    (pp. 33-56)

    High on the edge of a promontory, Pocahontas, her long, glossy hair blowing in the wind, studies the sea-blue horizon. With a body like a Barbie doll, the skin of a high-paid model, the sensitive eyes of an innocent child, and the sculpted features of an artist’s dream, Pocahontas begins and ends her appearance in the 33rd Disney animated film in this statuelike pose, overlooking the audience, the present, and the past.

    Disney’sPocahontasis set in 1607 when the English Virginia Company sent out a group of adventurers who hoped to “kill ourselves an injun or maybe two or...

    (pp. 57-77)

    The first quotation above concludes the tumultuous tragedy ofThe Hunchback of Notre Dame. The second concludesDisney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Disney’s version defines the categories of good and evil by embodying virtues and vices distinctly, in heroes and villains, respectively, all the while embracing a comic interpretive frame against or, in this case, on top of the tragic frame of the original novel.

    One might wonder why Disney, known for its didacticism, chose this story for an animated film. The Disney Company explains: “Perhaps because Quasimodo is the ultimate underdog, trapped between Paris below and heaven above....

    (pp. 78-93)

    What comes to mind when you hear the name Charlton Heston?—Moses, the Ten Commandments, or possibly chariot races? A man of strength and integrity? Charlton Heston is usually associated with some of the great mythic roles he has played. That mythic association, Disney hopes, will occur as Heston begins to tell the story of Disney’sHercules. But Heston’s onerous voice is interrupted by a hip Greek “gospel” chorus of muses. They usurp the role of storyteller, advancing the plot and providing transitions in the story line, all the while emphasizing that their story is a more fun “Gospel truth”...

    (pp. 94-112)

    Smashing stereotypes and crossing cultures,Mulanbreaks out of the Disney mold for recent animated films. Abandoning most of the formula for the romantic animated musical, Disney uses a well-known legend in China, the story of Mulan, which originates about 1,500 years ago as a poem (Seno). The focus of this story is not girl (or boy) needs a boy (or girl) to find true happiness. Although Disney manages to include the romance in the end, the focus is on a story about a loving daughter and loyal subject who is willing to sacrifice herself for her father and for...

  12. SEVEN A Disney Worldview: MIXED MORAL MESSAGES
    (pp. 113-136)

    The Disney animated films have evolved over time, adapting to cultural changes. However, as Hearne observes, the place of Disney films in culture has also changed, so that now Disney is revered as an honored storyteller. Disney animated films, and these five in particular, are a central part of mainstream culture, dominating the box office in animation with 18 of the 20 top-grossing animated films (see Table 7.1) and reaping Oscar awards, critical acclaim, and condemnation. That Disney acts as a moral teacher is not disputed, nor is Disney unaware of its powerful potential to affect children. Kilpatrick cites Linda...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 137-152)
    (pp. 153-172)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 173-182)