Saturday, January 7, 2017

Feels, Disney Style

"This bridge was written to make you feel smitten
With my sad picture of girl getting bitter"

The Dresden Dolls - Coin Operated Boy

Hard to find a lower common denominator than Disney. We've all grown up watching their sappy, simplistic tripe with characters breaking out in psychotically upbeat musical numbers every five minutes. I hate them for indoctrinating generations of impressionable minds into touchy-feely facetious niceness. I hate them even more for buying up Pixar and Ghibli to lend themselves credibility.

The Disney label's made itself synonymous with everything trite and sappy and constipated. At some point the company leadership seems to have adopted Thumper's old line from Bambi: "if you can't say something nice don't say nothin' at all" and they tried shoving that idiocy down kids' throats for decades on end. In the '90s Disney movies allied themselves with the rising tide of facetious social awareness and multiculturalism through ludicrous tripe like Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Everything's good! Everything wonderful! Everything's stupendous!

So like a lot of people I'm pleasantly surprised at Inside Out. Surprised, as most have said, that the flick would dare tell children it's alright to have unpleasant emotions. More surprised that "love" wasn't shoehorned into the core cast somehow. Most surprised of all at how the realization of the usefulness of sadness was portrayed.

Heroine fails at hockey. Is sad.
Parents and friends see her sad, rush to cheer her up, lavish attention on her.
Heroine is happy now.

That middle step is crucial, and I think the movie's writers said more than they intended with it. Displaying emotion is a way of manipulating others. What does your dog do when he wants a treat? He whines. Piteously. You can almost taste the pathos, the victimization, the injustice of it all! Portraying neediness, vulnerability or victimhood is just one more means of getting your way, and sneaking this message (perhaps inadvertently) on screen, even in such a subtle and faded context, is something I would never have expected of a children's movie, much less anything with the Disney label. Sadness (or at least showing sadness to others) can be a tool.

I was equally surprised at the villain in Zootopia, the populist rabblerouser playing off the masses' fear of a designated villainous ethnic minority.

Given the stranglehold Disney maintains on the zeitgeist, I'd like to consider this sort of plot device a favorable sign, a sea change in public attitudes, a willingness to acknowledge within public consciousness at least the existence of social and emotional manipulation. We can pretty safely write off millennials as a wasted generation, utterly obsessed with contests of victimhood, with ascribing social privilege to anything and everything the better to wail and moan for being oppressed for their sexual attraction to marmots or whatever the latest craze might be. But hey, maybe after this entire generation of self-described martyrs, the next one might be willing to admit that playing the victim is a self-serving action.

My little seven year old cousin loved Inside Out. She may not understand it all now, she may not realize the subliminal messages she's imbibing, but she'll remember it the rest of her life, just as I remember the mandrill from The Lion King whacking Simba on the head to get him to face his demons, despite never having analyzed the scene when I was ten.

Now go on, get out of here!

No comments:

Post a Comment