Tag Archives: Deconstructing Disney

Choose Your Own Adventure Video Project: Deconstructing Disney Princess Films

Do you remember the choose your own adventure books when you were back in elementary school? The reader gets to choose what will happen next.  The CYOA video project is the same idea, the viewer gets to choose what he or she would like to view next by clicking on a link embedded on the video.

In my media literacy elective, Media Savvy Kids, I have my students watch Disney animated films to learn and understand critical theories of gender, race, class, and age.  As a culminating project I decided to have my students create a Choose Your Own Adventure video project to highlight their understanding of critical theory by applying one of the critical theories to Disney’s princess films.  The idea of a Choose Your Own Adventure Project was inspired by  Greg Kulowiec’s high school social studies CYOA video project  that was shared with me at a recent ed tech conference.

First, we watched Tangled in class. Afterwards, I presented my reading of the movie introducing and applying each critical theory to the film.  I defined the critical theories for my students and showed examples how the critical theories can be applied to the movie.  The following week, we watched Brave together in class.  The idea behind these two movies was that they are the most recent Disney princess films and are suppose to present a more updated and feminist princess.  But is she really?  That was one of the guiding questions for this unit of study.  Students had to apply the critical theories and pull put specific examples in the movie Brave.  For the assessment project I selected the student partnerships and each group chose the critical theory they would present in the video.  Students were required to offer three to four specific examples from the movie to support their claim and critical reading of the movies.  Students were also allowed to bring in additional examples from other Disney princess films.  Students collaborated writing their scripts and then we went into production filming the videos.

Here is what the project looked like on paper in the planning stage:


Here is the rubric I created for the project:

Here is the final project:


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Same Old Story

In November of 1989 Disney hit gold with The Little Mermaid, a coming of age princess story about a teenaged (mermaid) girl who is miserable living at home with an overbearing and controlling father, absent mother, a desire to see the “whole wide world” and what it has to offer, contrary to what she had been told.  So, she sneaks out of the house and explores her surrounds, stumbles upon a handsome prince, falls in love, and only the boyfriend can help make the blow to her father that she is leaving home a little easier, but not really.  In the end, the girl is independent from her father who comes to accept this and she is transferred over to a new man, younger man, who she is madly in love with. Of course, they live happily ever after.

Formula straight forward, right?  

Disney tapped into this formula for many of their princess movies that followed: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Mulan.  At the same time, these girls/princesses were shown as readers, warriors, care givers, independent, and wise.  Hey, it was the 20th Century, post-1970s to be exact, so why not offer a pinch of women’s rights into the story-line mix.

Here we are 2013.  I now have two little kids and probably see more kids movies than adult movies.  Sitting in the theater yesterday, it hit me as we were watching Dreamwork’s The Croods: this is the same old story.  Set in pre-historic times, we have a family with a teenage daughter who feels trapped and confined by her father and his beliefs.  All she wants to do is “leave the cave.”  So, late one night she sneaks out of the cave, drawn by some light — which happens to be controlled by some guy (his name is Guy).  She follows and develops feelings for Guy and her father is angry, upset, and even jealous at times. Yes, she is strong (physically stronger than Guy), independent, adventurous, and angry at her father throughout the movie. BUT, it’s a guy who she develops feelings for who helps her to see the new world.  In the end, everyone loves Guy and they all live happily ever after on a tropical beach.

As I sat in the dark movie theater I thought, “Hey, I’ve seen this before.” It’s not only The Croods that has tapped into the old Disney princess story formula.  Last year’s Hotel Transylvania produced by Sony Pictures also borrowed the same story line using vampires, ghosts, and goblins.  Even Disney Pixar’s Brave used the age-old princess formula to tell the story of an Irish princess, Merida, who rebels when her parents tell her it’s time for her to get married. Yes, there are more parts to the story that I am leaving out but when we strip it down to its bare bones, it’s the same formula.

The girls in the current movies are sassy, independent, and roll their eyes at their father constantly.  I sit in the theater thinking, is this a ode to daughters saying go out into the world with your boyfriend and be happy. We trust you (and your new guy) in the end. OR is this the same confining message to girls to go out into the world, explore, and find your way but the fact of the matter is you still need a man with you, behind you, supporting you?

In my Media Literacy class I have a unit on deconstructing Disney.  We study the critical lens of race, class, age and gender.  Some of my students say, we are reading too much into the movies and others offer many examples or racism, sexism, ageism, and classism throughout the movie.  One of the objectives of this unit is to teach critical thinking skills.  I want my students to understand that there are multiple messages in the media that we consume and we need to be active viewers of media to understand the complexity of these texts.

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