Commonalities In Disney Movies Over the Decades

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Disney has been making full-length motion pictures for almost 80 years, and they have an amazing catalogue of classic fairytales and stories that have entertained and inspired generations. These stories range in scope from princesses and damsels in distress to futuristic robots falling in love in a post-apocalyptic world. In spite of the differences in story, characters, and even decade they were released in, there are several commonalities that can be found in many Disney films. Granted, some of these films are merely Disney adaptations of classic age-old fairy tales, but it’s interesting to note the similarities that existing between these films and original Disney stories, nevertheless. Many of these commonalities might be mere coincidence, but many of them have become a formula for successful storytelling and entertainment. Some of these formulas were created and perfected by Disney, and some of them are as old as the fairytales themselves and reflect the innate desires of human beings. One thing is for sure, though, they all seem very familiar to us fans of both classic and modern Disney films.

Sidekicks and Henchmen

The sidekicks to the heroes/heroines and the henchmen to the villains has become an expected and usually highly anticipated piece of the formula used in Disney films for decades. Some sidekicks are remembered as much as, if not more, than the main characters. We’ve seen amazing sidekicks over the years like Sebastian, Olaf, Mushu, Zazu, Tinkerbelle, Timothy, Gus & Jaq, and of course, the iconic Jiminy Cricket. The sidekick provides moral support to the main character and, from time to time, even has to help keep them in line.

The henchmen are the exact opposites of the sidekicks. While the sidekick typically will assist and sometimes even be the one to save the day for our hero/heroine, the henchmen are usually the dim-witted, goofy characters who can’t seem to get anything right; sometimes to the point where you begin to wonder why such an evil villain would keep them around. Characters like the hyenas Bonzai, Shenzi, & Ed, LeFou, Kronk, Horace and Jasper, and Mr. Smee seem to amaze you when they finally do get something right. Perhaps it’s these one-in-a-blue-moon moments that keeps them in good graces with their more serious and sinister villain bosses. Still, others like Iago, Lucifer, Flotsam and Jetsam, and the Magic Mirror from Snow White leave you feeling like they could very well be next in the line of villainous succession.

The Urge To Escape

This is actually the commonality that really kicked off this topic for me and jump-started my thinking about this topic. Many Disney movies feature one of the main characters longing for something more than their current life and wanting to escape the world they currently live in. We see Jasmine in Aladdin describe her life of being a Princess living in a royal palace completely surrounded by servants and royalty as being “trapped”. While, on the other hand, Aladdin wishes to become a Prince in order to be able to marry Jasmine. In The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel give up her entire world and family for a shot at becoming a human and becoming part of their world. Jane and Michael Banks are tantalized by the antics of Mary Poppins and begin to long for a home that isn’t so serious and strict all the time. Rapunzel longs for nothing more than to leave her castle, in which she’s being held captive, and see the annual release of the floating lanterns. And in Beauty and the Beast, Belle opines for much more than her “provincial life”.

Transformation

This is actually the commonality that really kicked off this topic for me and jump-started my thinking about this topic. Many Disney movies feature one of the main characters longing for something more than their current life and wanting to escape the world they currently live in. We see Jasmine in Aladdin describe her life of being a Princess living in a royal palace completely surrounded by servants and royalty as being “trapped”. While, on the other hand, Aladdin wishes to become a Prince in order to be able to marry Jasmine. In The Little Mermaid, we see Ariel give up her entire world and family for a shot at becoming a human and becoming part of their world. Jane and Michael Banks are tantalized by the antics of Mary Poppins and begin to long for a home that isn’t so serious and strict all the time. Rapunzel longs for nothing more than to leave her castle, in which she’s being held captive, and see the annual release of the floating lanterns. And in Beauty and the Beast, Belle opines for much more than her “provincial life”.

Sacrifice

Nothing proves a character’s love in Disney movies like self-sacrifice. Belle demonstrates her love for her father by offering herself as the Beast’s prisoner in the place of Maurice. Mufasa gives up his life to save Simba from a stampede of wildebeests. Wreck-it Ralph risks his life to save his friends from the Cy-bugs. Even the carefree Baloo puts his life at risk to save Mowgli from Sher Khan. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or a true love, sacrifice is the ultimate way to demonstrate that love, and this has been evident in many Disney films that have been made over the decades.

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover

Disney really enjoys teaching audiences the lesson of not judging a book by its cover. Perhaps the film that this is the most obvious with is Beauty and the Beast. The prince misjudges the woman who comes to his castle looking for shelter as an old haggard woman, when in fact, she is a beautiful enchantress. Belle, who is an avid bookworm knows all too well this lesson of not judging a book by its cover, and she allows herself to fall in love with a hideous beast, who turns out to be a handsome prince. This lesson, however, is evident in other Disney films as well. Aladdin is a living diamond in the rough whose value, like the lamp, is worth more than what he seems. Nemo eventually shows his father that, despite his small size and underdeveloped fin, he can do the things his father insists he can’t do. Even as far back as Cinderella, this lesson is demonstrated as Cinderella is transformed from a peasant in rags to a beautiful woman worthy of becoming a princess. The only thing that has really changed with Cinderella is her appearance; or her cover. The content inside is the same as it was before. This is a life lesson that certainly did not originate with Disney and has been used in stories for centuries, but Disney certainly enjoys using it in their films.

Many of the elements of the stories that Disney has told for nearly 80 years are familiar to us. Many have been around in storytelling since long before Walt Disney started making movies. The interesting thing is, he and his animators came along and mastered the art of storytelling using these common elements. Whether they are life lessons, visually appealing transformations, memorable supporting characters, or demonstrations of love that tug our heart strings and leave is with misty eyes, they are part of what makes these films classics and unforgettable.

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