Instead of doing the usual Tuesday Trope today, I’m going to instead do a general writing post. This topic was supposed to be done last Thursday, but due to the death of my great grandfather, I was in no state to write it. So in order to stay on track, I’ll be doing this post today.
Anyone who’s seen pretty much any Disney movie knows what I’m talking about here. Disney has a habit of taking really dark, macabre stories and turning them into cheerful, empowering tales about friendship and love. These movies are still entertaining, sometimes more so than the stories off of which they’re based, but some would say that there’s something deeply wrong with the worlds that Disney presents.
Merriam-Webster defines the word as:
the transformation (as of something real or unsettling) into carefully controlled and safe entertainment or an environment with similar qualities
So while this is often used to talk about societal aspects, we’re going to talk about how we as writers tend to do it to our own works.
The list of Disneyfied stories is a long one: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Adventures of Huck Finn, The Jungle Book, Hercules… The list is really freaking long. Sometimes the process can be good (Burrough’s Tarzan of the Apes was SUPER racist and sexist), but sometimes it can completely strip a story of its morals (spoiler alert: The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not about how love will always save the day). But how do we (inadvertently) bring this into the stories we’re crafting on our own?
When we Disneyfy, it’s typically because we either: one, don’t want to be offensive; or two, can’t bring ourselves to leave our characters hanging out to dry.
Avoidance of the Offensive: If I had a dollar for every time I saw some forum post about someone being afraid their character was too offensive, I would be debt-free and living on St. John. While we realize on some level that one of our characters being offensive does not equal the story itself being offensive, it can be hard for us to follow through. This becomes especially messy when the character who does or says some of these truly awful things isn’t purely good or evil, because there probably will be some people who say that you’re somehow glorifying this or that by not having a character struck down for his or her offensiveness. Hell, Django: Unchained got flak because Leonardo Dicaprio’s despicable character – a slave owner who forces black slaves to kill each other for sport – says the word “nigger.” If there’s anything the newest adaptation does, it’s not promoting slavery or racism, at least not through Mr. Candie.
When we see people react so strongly to simple things like this, it makes us hyper-aware of our own characters and plot, which in turn leads us to Disneyfy. We make the story softer, we take away the rough edges, and we don’t risk stepping on anyone’s toes. However, this can ruin it, because you’re no longer writing the story you want to write, you’re writing what you think will be least offensive, which is no way to do things. Characters are free to be as offensive and vulgar as you want. It’s the story and the themes that you need to watch out for.
Just Let Them Be Happy!: We’ve already done so much to our characters. Can’t we just let them be happy in the end? Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a perfect example of this. In the original novel, Phoebus is a huge douchenozzle who lets Esmerelda die to save his own skin, and Quasimodo carries Esmerelda’s dead body to a graveyard and dies beside her. By taking away a lot of the not-child-appropriate points, Disney takes away a lot of the themes of determinism and social justice. There’s even some exchange in the themes of feminism between the book and the Disney adaptation. This all leads back to Disney needing the story to have a happy end – you know, for the kids.
As much as we love beating the crap out of our characters, we often want them to be happy in the end, too. So when we’re wrapping up the plot and all signs have pointed to our main character dying… we just can’t do it. For all the crap we’ve already put them through, we just want them to be happy, and is that so wrong? Well, no, but when we change major decisions like that, it can also completely ruin a theme we had been hoping to get across, or at least dampen it. Esmerelda’s death is supposed to embody the inevitability of fate, but we completely lose that in Disney’s version. Don’t get me wrong, I think Disney did an excellent job in crafting a beautiful movie, but it’s not true to what the book was about.
What do you guys think? Do you ever fall prey to Disneyfying your story? Tell me about it in the comments!
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