Disney films and the cult of individualism


Who doesn’t love to relax and have fun with their favorite Disney film from childhood? As a firm lover of Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, I enjoy the feel-good fuzzies from these classics anytime. Still, I detect a frustrating trend in Disney films, especially modern ones, of celebrating individual identity ad nauseam.  

Think of Moana, Elsa, Anna, Pocahontas, Mulan, Aladdin, Tiana, Hercules, Ariel, etc. Their ultimate goals are self-expression, finding who they are and achieving their own personal goals. Now, before you think I’m a cruel cynic who believes in crushing children’s dreams, I swear I’m not. I believe the magic of Disney films is in their inspiring stories about reaching for the stars. My concern comes from the natural evolution of these sentiments into adulthood.  

What would happen if we took this determination to define ourselves and reach our goals no matter the cost to an extreme as rational adults? We’d get a lot of what we already have, people who are ultimately self-centered, who see their value as the measure of their success and who lack humility and love. 

In fact, we already tend to see this in Disney films. It’s no secret that most Disney heroes and heroines have to defy their parents in some way to get to what they want. This is really erroneous, because while there comes a time in all young adults’ lives when they have to make their own decisions, most of the time this doesn’t include outright rejection with the cliché, “You just don’t understand me!” 

As important as it is to learn who we are and dream big, as good Christians, we can’t stop there. Christ does want us to find out who we are, but this is because by knowing ourselves, we can better know our fellow man and, ultimately, God. Moreover, the heart of the Christian life is suffering, and that means not always achieving our goals or getting what we want. 

Frankly, what we have to be prepared for is failure.  

That’s why I think, amid all other films, the most profound Disney story is Monsters University. Mike dreams big and fights for what he wants in an extremely relatable struggle for all of us as college students. 

However, in the end, his personal drive and self-definition simply aren’t enough, and here’s where the profoundness comes in: that’s okay. Just because you fail at your dreams doesn’t mean you are a failure of a person. You are more than your dreams, more than your self-expression. 

At the end of the day, I think Disney films teach us great messages about perseverance and fortitude. Even so, as we grow older, we also need to see their philosophical imperfections and where they should not apply to adult life.  

By all means, dream big and fight for what you want, but don’t forget that your self-expression should only be a means by which you grow in love for God and for others. After all, what’s the point of getting what you want if you don’t share it with the world?