As the eldest sibling in the family, I’m the caregiver when need be. Lately I’ve been helping my father take care of my younger sister. Since she’s six, I’ve had to open my horizons due to what kind of shows she likes to watch. It feels weird to admit, but some of these shows aren’t bad. As I found myself watching these shows week to week, I was rather surprised about what kind of decisions the writers and directors made for them. Sometimes these shows covered mature topics, and not always in a subtle way. They touch on racial issues, supporting female protagonists, and family issues. One day I sat down and re-watched Frozen, and I thought about its flaws and what the movie does right. The more I thought about it, the more I realized these kids’ shows are pushing past tropes better than modern Disney movies are!
More after the jump!
Two of my sister’s favorite shows are Sofia the First and Jake and the Ever Land Pirates. Sofia is a young girl who lived with her mother in a small village. One day her mother marries King Roland the Second, and Sofia has to learn how to be herself and being royalty. Occasionally other Disney princesses are summoned (yes, summoned) with the Amulet of Avalor to help Sofia with any problems she might be facing, from being lost to trying to make up with her friends. Jake and the Never Land Pirates is about a small crew of kids—Jake, Izzy, and Cubby—as they help other islanders and stop Captain Hook from causing trouble.
One thing I greatly appreciate is the diversity both shows have. As you can see, Jake and the Never Land Pirates has a nice cast of main characters. Sofia the First does too, but not to the degree I was hoping. While there are princesses of different ethnicity, Sofia almost became Disney’s first Latina princess! A Disney executive and a spokesperson were quoted saying:
“…Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world. All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures.” (source)
“…Sofia’s mother, Queen Miranda, was born in a fictitious land, Galdiz, a place with Latin influences. Miranda met Sofia’s father, Birk Balthazar, who hailed from the kingdom of Freezenberg, and together they moved to Enchancia, where Sofia was born.” (source)
It’s unfortunate that none of these characters are meant to represent any ethnicities, but the general idea is still there (they do the same thing with Arendelle in Frozen, which is based off of Norway). Characters of different backgrounds are in the show consistently, which is more than what Tangled, Frozen, and even Maleficent have done.
There’s a part in Jake and the Never Land Pirates that I didn’t realize was important until after it happened. In the episode “Treasure of the Tides”, the crew has to stop Captain Hook from stealing a throne from the island mermaids. Izzy is normally in charge of the crews’ supply of pixie dust, but because she is a mermaid in this episode, Jake and Cubby hold onto it for her as they continue on their journey. When they reach Hook, he’s trying to pry the throne off of a giant rock. To my surprise, the show went out of the way to let Izzy do the right thing! Hook almost left with the throne, and even though Jake was closer to Hook (and could use the pixie dust), he tosses the bag of pixie dust towards Izzy so she can stop Hook instead. Rather than doing the practical thing, Jake threw the dust into the ocean to Izzy. It might seem like a small thing, but the idea that the male main character doesn’t always have to save the day, and actually insist that a female character do it instead was rather heart-warming.
I come from a broken family, so I was beyond happy to see Disney tackle a rather serious topic and to do it right. In the episode “Mom’s the Word” of Sofia the First, Sofia wants to spend Mother’s Day with her mother privately. Since she and her mother are related by blood, Sofia believes that she deserves to have more time with her mother than her step-siblings. She sabotages a picnic her family was supposed to go on together to have this time alone with her mother, but the rest of her family eventually join them in the end. Sofia has a talk with her mother, admitting her feelings and apologizing for several other sabotaging shenanigans that happened in the show. Queen Miranda gently explains that she’s a mother to other children now too, and that she has enough love for them all. The episode ends with everyone finally having their picnic and enjoying each others’ company. I really like how the show takes time to go over how it’s not wrong for Sofia to feel the way she does, but still explains why she should express her feelings so the problem can be resolved. There were the moments in Frozen, along with Tangled, where the lack of expressing your emotions (along with other factors) led to emotional abuse. Even if it’s a kid show and “in the end the right thing needs to be done”, these movies were marketed for kids as well, and never really address the issues openly like this show does.
It’s rather fascinating that Disney is taking steps to make their shows more progressive, but discouraging that they aren’t doing this with their films. Why is there such a difference between them? They may be small changes, but they’re the changes people have been waiting for from Disney for years! Even with the time difference in planning and animating between the shows and movies, these steps for equality should be integrated into their films. If the movies need to have a happy ending, why not integrate a better message along with it?