Analysis of Disney Movies Teaching Children about Complex Subjects (i.e. Mental Illness)

Children can learn at a young age about mental illnesses and still be engaged. Disney movies allow for their young audience to get insight into what mental disorders really are and how people with the disorders act. Acknowledging that mental disorders exist can help to prevent future stigmas. Showing children what mental illnesses are will help them to better understand it and prevent them from questioning the existence of mental illness in the future.

The Disney brand accepts its role of having a huge impact on how Western society children view the world. They do their best to take real life circumstances, social norms and psychology and arrange them in a way so that their young audiences can understand and gain knowledge from. Disney has a tendency to make their main characters animals or include fantasy situations that arise. Regardless of whether they are human or not, the characters have enough personality so that children can associate the character’s behaviors with their own.  The struggles that Disney’s main characters go through are more often than not relatable to children. While also teaching them about issues that might not affect them personally, but occur around the world.

Disney movies also open up children’s minds to multiple things. Disney and other movies made for children have been found to help children come to terms with what mental illness really is. Also helping to decrease the chance of more stigmas against disorders in general. Giving children the opportunity to see a variety of view points decreases the likelihood of their own perspective becoming narrow.

The Little Mermaid’s Ariel shows signs of having OCD disorder. OCD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder, where a person has uncontrollable thoughts or feels the need to do things a certain way and allows it to become habitual. Her obsession with collecting human objects and encountering human interaction is over the top. Ariel collects human objects that she stores away in a cave only to be seen by her and her friend Flounder. In her head she identifies her cave as being organized, but throughout the movie you can see that the cave is actually quite messy and dysfunctional.

Disney movies are made to be entertaining for children. These movies are aesthetically pleasing and do their best to broaden children’s horizons. The cinematography explores multiple colors, various locations and even plays with characters other than just humans. The goal is not to produce movies that super realistic. They would rather explore wild characters and fantisical scenarios. This adds the benefit of having room to explain what mental illness really is and maintain hold of children’s attention. Children grow easily tiresome of things that remain static and long for diversity. Incorporating big themes, such as mental illness, into Disney and other children’s movies works to spark a conversation around them.

One Disney movie that has been noted to explore characters with mental illness is Alice in Wonderland. Throughout the movie, Alice’s characteristics point toward her as being schizophrenic. Schizophrenia disorder is described as a person who suffers from a disconnection with their own feelings and they lack concentration. Schizophrenics usually have various hallucinations. They also lack the ability to relate to most people and as a consequence, avoid social events. The character Alice engages in conversations with herself and tries to will herself into accepting what she views to be reality. Alice essentially is stuck in her own dream. Which could be argued is what is deterring her from accepting reality. In the beginning we can also see that Alice struggles to relate and communicate with her own mother. Which inevitably causes her mother to negate everything she says and question her thoughts.

Another children’s character that exhibits a mental disorder is Tigger. Winnie The Pooh’s Tigger has qualities that suggest he has ADHD. ADHD or Attention-Deficit Disorder includes people that have difficulties paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. This disorder is normally found during the adolescent years of children and follow them through adulthood. Tigger is without a doubt social and extremely outgoing. He is always willing to try new things. But his impulsivity comes with a cost, he allows himself to cross into unknown territory and risks harming others in the process. Roo, the youngest member of the bunch, idolizes him and Tigger takes advantage of that. Tigger always means well, but sometimes he just lacks the knowledge of when to say no.

Many children’s movies are based in fantasy worlds with situations that seem impossible and would lead most people to believe that they would add further to the confusion. However, children seem to have the opposite reaction and often are better able to understand the complexities of mental illnesses. Disney is a great contributor to this process. Disney has implemented ways for children to learn about themselves, other cultures and complex issues. Disney movies in specific, has advanced the ways in which children can visually see and hear about mental illness. The greatest thing that they can and do offer is multiple perspectives, so that children are not misled or susceptible to engaging in stigmas. Disney movies have changed the way in which children learn and can react toward mental illnesses. At the same time they are able to keep their young audience visually stimulated.

Published by pausolivia

I am a student journalist at Columbia College of Chicago. Over the years I have become interested in psychology and the way that characters are written in movies and TV shows. Combining both of these passions, I will be honing in on writing about characters inarguably with personality disorders and characters that resemble characteristics of people with personality disorders. In my blog I will include a section that is strictly factual and gives a definition for each personality disorder that will be discussed. I will also include a section that describes characters that have a personality disorder written into their role as the character and give evidence of their disorder. I will also include a section where I will give characters a diagnosis of my own and provide evidence to back up my claims. This section will be viewed more as a discussion and viewers reading my blog can add to my diagnosis and either agree with or dispute my claims. I will also encourage my viewers to research characters that they think have personality disorders and share their reasoning behind them. I will focus only on personality disorders, but I will make it known that mental illness is a very serious topic and should not be seen as otherwise.

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