Are Disney Movies Still Problematic?

Darcy Reeder
Feb 12 · 4 min read

Why did I wait so long to watch Frozen with my family?

Cinderella’s Castle, Disney, Photo by Park Troopers on Unsplash

We limit screen time for our 4-year-old. A lot. And Disney movies?

Oh no, our tastes are far too discerning for Disney. All those princesses just waiting for princes to save them? No thanks.

The last Disney movie I saw was Toy Story — the first one — which my junior high school teachers put on when they just couldn’t handle our hormones one more second.

Clearly I’ve been out of the Disney loop for a while. Over 20 years?

I’ve lovingly bawled through many Pixar movies — which maybe kind of count as Disney movies?

but my husband, a visual artist, assumes they must be terrible, because he doesn’t care for the Pixar art style. So even those we kept from our kid.

Until… Coco was playing in the theater: an award-winning children’s movie set in Mexico!? Yes, please.

Coco inspired her to play guitar, to be “just like Miguel.” We all learned some Spanish by listening (and relistening…) to the Coco soundtrack en Español:

COCO — SOUNDTRACK (ESPAÑOL LATINO) (CD COMPLETO 2017) on YouTube

Hmmm… maybe Disney’s not so bad.

Our favorite movies to watch as a family

are the G-rated Studio Ghibli animations, directed by Hayao Miyazaki: Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and My Neighbor Totoro.

Wait, WHAT? Disney released the English-dubbed versions of all three of these Japanese films?

Why was I trying (poorly, it turns out) to avoid anything Disney touched?

The Disney movies I binged as a child — The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty — were about silent women and the princes who save them. Sure, the songs were catchy — “Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun… ”— but the stories are so problematic.

I never stopped to ask, have they gotten better?

It’s a fine line between legitimately putting off problematic storylines until your kid’s old enough to engage about it, and unnecessary pretentiousness (guilty). Either way, my kid’s 4-and-half and ready to engage.

So, since we’re currently snowed in, it felt like the right time to finally give Frozen a try.

Similar to how many parents choose to have their kid’s first experience with alcohol happen under their own roof, my husband and I agreed it was better that she watch Disney movies with us first, so we’d be there to answer questions and guide her understanding of problematic themes.

Flowers Frozen in Ice Photo (Rotated) by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

But — surprise, surprise (to no one but me) — Frozen’s not even problematic.

It’s lovely.

Inspiring.

Heart-rending.

Yet funny.

A tale of strength. Of love. Of perseverance.

Of how powerful we are when we stop hiding who we are, when we finally let it go and embrace our true selves:

Disney’s Frozen “Let It Go” Sequence Performed by Idina Menzel on YouTube

It’s a story of Pride.

My husband and I both read Frozen as a tale about Elsa being LGBTQ. Her parents react badly early on, telling her to hide in the closet, even from her sister.

So the song Let it Go, where embracing her truth comes off as beautiful and powerful, choked both of us up. (Okay, I bawled.)

Of course, Elsa’s plight is relatable to anyone. We all have parts of us that the world tells us to hide, doubts that grow into shame, until we choose to let it go, to be who we are.

Not everyone will treat us kindly when we do, but we can rely on our inner strength, and we can know that we won’t be alone. When Elsa’s sister Anna learns the truth, she loves her just as much.

Screenshot from Frozen (Elsa and Anna) From Oh My Disney

We went to multiple Frozen-themed 1st Birthday Parties

So you other parents are like, Ummm, yeah, we know. We’ve known for — literally — years.

Still, I’m glad we waited. This is one of the first stories my daughter’s seen — outside of flip-the-script books like The Paper Bag Princess — that portray the situation of a girl looking for a husband (how old, exactly, are Elsa and Anna supposed to be?)

But each time my husband and I braced ourselves for something problematic, Frozen turned it on its head. It was so self-aware.

The worst line of the whole movie is when they imply that only men pick their noses. I told my daughter nose-picking is just like peeing in the pool: Everybody does it, but nobody talks about it.

Disney, I no longer fear you. Next up: Moana!


Darcy Reeder

Written by

Empathy for the win! Top Writer in 10 tags — Essays on Feminism, Culture, Relationships, Sexuality, Veganism, and Parenting. ko-fi.com/darcyreeder She/her.