I am not writing about a very original thought today, but this one has been nagging at my brain lately and I can’t get it out of my head. We have a large collection of Disney DVD’s in our house, with favourites ranging from classics like Snow White to eighties and nineties hits like The Little Mermaid to more recent blockbusters like Frozen. These movies have been viewed hundreds of times in our home and in some cases I probably could silently mouth the whole script.
In recent weeks, as most people dive deeper into the digital age and watch movies online or download from iTunes, we have revitalized our Blue Ray and DVD player and pulled out our collection of films. The first up was Aladdin. This movie, about the “street rat” turned prince thanks to a loveable genie, is classic Disney, and even though I’d seen it dozens of times I happily joined the family to watch it once more.
I forgot how utterly terrifying this movie is! Oh my gosh. So it all starts with the cute and entertaining narrator sequence. But soon we see Jafar, the sultan’s most trusted advisor but also an evil sorcerer, who is scheming about how he will take over Agrabah. Jump forward a few minutes to the Cave of Wonders when an innocent no-name character is swallowed up by a pile of sand that has seemingly come alive as a giant talking monster. Then our hero, Aladdin, is introduced, as he sings about living life on the street and stealing in order to eat. He’s definitely likeable and sweet, but he is called a street rat. That’s not so sweet.
Aladdin has all the Disney fairytale flare: one poor or unlucky person who dreams of having it all, and he (or she) falls in love with the one who does, in this case, a princess. They change it up a bit each time, but definitely this movie sticks to the formula. I smiled and enjoyed the magic carpet ride and every line that came out of the genie’s mouth. But between the people-eating sand-monster cave and Jafar’s antics near the end as he went from sorcerer to sultan to sorcerer to genie, that may give me nightmares, never mind my children.
And yet this movie, like all other Disney movies, is intoxicating. You want to watch it again and again, even though there are some scary parts that could put a horror movie to shame. My two-year-old wanted to watch Aladdin over and over again last week, and I always knew that a scary part was on the screen when I felt a little person tugging at my legs. It was too much for her.
You will find a number of terrifying sequences in basically every Disney movie. Bambi’s mother is killed. Snow White takes an apple (and eats it!) from that horrifying looking old lady who is really the queen. The Sea Witch in Little Mermaid? Anytime she is on the screen I cringe. Mustafa unceremoniously lets go of his brother’s hand. The Lion King falls down a cliff and dies following a stampede of antelope. How revolting.
But how can any of us resist those oh so cute sequences in those same Disney movies, like meeting the seven dwarfs or the ceremonial introduction of a new lion cub? And the songs. I can’t get “Never had a Friend Like you” or “Part of Your World” out of my head.
Besides the scary scenes and sequences of scenes, as I alluded to already, there are some mighty scary characters. Is a movie (or even a TV show) ever complete without a good villain? I will give Disney credit that it’s subtle in Frozen. But it’s rather obvious in early films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Jungle Book. I’d argue that it goes beyond Disney and that it’s not too hard to find what may be considered an evil character in almost every children’s show.
My two-year-old loves to watch Dora the Explorer, but again, there she is, clinging onto my leg every time Swiper the fox dances onto the screen. Supposedly my own husband was terrified of Sesame Street’s character, The Count. The character is a take-off on Dracula, so I can see how this seemingly cute Muppet was a source of agonizing fear for a three-year-old. David was obsessed with Sesame Street and didn’t miss an episode each day. But my mother-in-law recalls how in fewer than five seconds her little boy would tiptoe towards her, with that sheepish look on his face of, “Mommy, I’m scared,” every time the crazy character appeared on the screen and started to yell, “1, 2, 3….”
So what’s the verdict? Cute? Terrifying? Something in between? No matter what, I will keep watching those Disney movies, over and over again, with my kids, or I will admit, even on my own.