Education in Animated Film: the History of Fairy Tales

Films like Pixar’s recent "Inside Out" explore mature themes about depression, emotional complexity, and the importance of negative experiences. "Frozen" explores female autonomy, an echo of the Disney Classic, "Mulan". "Big Hero 6" addresses loss. Many animated films produced by Pixar and Disney over the last few decades dig deep, bending the conventional and time-proven classic plots to have socially and developmentally positive impact on the minds of our youth.

This strategy is old news. Orally transmitted folk tales, including modernly referenced fairy tales, have historically utilized fanciful worlds, characters and adventures to convey a sense of morality a younger generation. The message is new: left-leaning, modern and relatable stories for 21st century children.

  • I think if you look at Studio Ghibli you'll find your answer. They've been tackling emotionally complex issues through animation for years, and they're not the only ones... It's just that Pixar is finally catching on. Compare Spirited Away to say Cinderella. In Spirited Away our character is a snotty, privileged little girl that faces a tough world that doesn't put up with it. In the end she doesn't come away with riches, just a richer perspective and humility. Disney Princess-cize that and the girl runs off with a perfect man, wealth, and cute talking animal friends. The converse for boys is that they come away a respected Hero with a beautiful woman. In Pixar/Disney films the fantasy is fed, in Ghibli, the fantasies are used to reflect something of the character. I think Pixar is getting there, but it's a complexity animation has dealt with for years. – A.E Hunt 8 years ago
  • Ooooh! Miyazaki films are a whole different world - in a great way. Maybe this topic would be better as a comparison in the advancement of educational animation, between eastern and western culture? Aside from the occasional Ghibli release, I know very little about the history or oral culture of Japan. – Derek Jackson 8 years ago
  • I think an interesting way of looking at it, is that kids accept what they consume. Immediately, perhaps unquestionably. When I watched old Disney Cartoons as a kid for instance, I never knew which way I was being pulled or even that I was. It's simply accepted, and it stays there and becomes unconsciously normative. So I think what we allow children to consume is important... Whether it's family friendly ghibli, disney, Pixar, or even an orally passed story, the rules and ideals of those things just kind of embed themselves. I can't say I know very much about the history or oral culture of Japan either. I imagine it's quite different. – A.E Hunt 8 years ago
  • A good look at the evolution of Disney, especially since the "Renaissance" period it went through in the 90s. Could go broad with all sorts of modern animation, or focus on Disney, either way a great topic! – smartstooge 8 years ago
  • I actually took a class last year specifically on the original fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen, Grimms, Charles Perrault, etc). I have collections of the original fairy tales as well, and part of understanding the animated adaptations comes from comparing them to the original tales they're based on. I think it could be fascinating to really look at the details changed and how that changes the ultimate story. For example, in the original Little Mermaid (Andersen), mermaids don't have souls and the little mermaid's main goal is to earn a soul. One way she can do that, according to the not antagonistic sea witch, is to marry a man on land. When she saves the prince (yes, that happens), she has already made the decision to become human. She gives up her voice, gets legs which feel like knives stabbing into her with every step, and meets the prince. He treats her as a sort of pet, or lap dog, or something similar (she sleeps on a cushion outside of his room), and he ultimately marries some other princess (not the sea witch in disguise). Her sisters, learning her plight, all trade their long hair for a special knife from the witch. If the little mermaid kills the prince and his wife (oh, she joined them on the boat for the wedding, bizarrely) and lets their blood stain her feet, she will have a soul and be human. She considers this option but rejects it and jumps out of the boat. Rather than turn to sea foam as expected, though, she is chosen to be a spirit of the air, which travels the world doing good deeds to earn a soul. Not very much like Disney's version, is it? The things that are changed make a tremendous difference. Yes, Ariel likes humanity initially but her turning point isn't a soul - it's the prince. We see few negative side effects of her legs - she doesn't seem to have any pain - and she's treated fairly well by the prince. There's a happy ending in Disney, too, but not one as deep as Andersen's. Other stories - Cinderella, The Swan Princess, The Frog Prince, and others - all have major differences from their original stories. However, when one looks at these differences, they don't necessarily feel more modern or more relatable. They almost feel 'dumbed-down', and maybe that's to cater to a young audience, but those fairy tales catered to children, too. A long article or a series comparing some animated movies to their original stories would be an enlightening read for many animation fans (especially over at Disney). – KajsaRain 8 years ago

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