The Lessons I Could Have Learned: What Disney Could Have Taught Me but Didn’t

Growing up, I didn’t just love Disney princesses – I basically was one, or at least I thought I was. I had the long blonde hair, a closet full of fancy dresses, and singing was my favorite pastime. Name a Disney princess song, and I most likely performed it in a recital by the age of 12. I was the adorable 8 year old belting Part of Your World on the beach, the 10 year old dreaming Someday My Prince Will Come, and the 13 year old climbing a mountain singing Colors of the Wind. My childhood was pretty magical.

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As I grew older those princess-esque qualities seemed to linger. I was a daydreamer, a romantic, an optimist. Back when they had an interactive American Idol Show at Disney World, I auditioned once. I didn’t make it, but not for the reason you might think. The audition manager loved my voice but she said I sounded too much like a Disney princess and not enough like a pop star! I took that as both one of the greatest compliments and best rejections I’ve ever received.

Are You a Conscience or Mindless Consumer?

I was a Disney kid through and through. And left in the hands of Disney alone, I’m sure I could have been pretty messed up. But Disney wasn’t the only thing that shaped my childhood. My parents first and foremost loved God before any devotion to Disney. They thought Disney was great, but they didn’t love Disney blindly. They were conscientious.

When watching Disney films, they looked for the good. They looked for the bad. And then they looked for what could be learned from both. We’d watch a film and then we’d talk about it; what we liked, what we didn’t, who were our favorite characters and why. And most importantly, we’d talk about lessons in the film. How was Belle selfless? Was it wrong for Aladdin to steal that loaf of bread? Should Simba have felt guilty for his father’s death? In doing this, they trained me to be a conscience consumer, searching for lessons and their proper applications. Their noblest applications.

I think the danger in the negative lessons of Disney, fairy tales, and of media in general isn’t the fact that they exist, but it’s the fact lots of people don’t look for them. Some people take the good with the bad and, like mindless consumers, don’t flesh out what’s valuable and what’s not. People don’t take the time with their kids or on their own to talk or think about what was noble and pure and worthy and what wasn’t.

When we don’t look for the lessons, we aren’t only at risk of being affected by the bad. We’re also at risk of completely missing the application of the good!

The Lessons I Could Have Learned

Disney princesses could have taught me unrealistic beauty standards. But what I learned is that beauty is only enviable when accompanied by strong character. All the princess were beautiful women who were also brave, honorable, and kind. Growing up, I wanted to be beautiful and noble.

Disney could have given me a fairy tale romance complex, but what I saw were couples who had to work for their happy endings. None of them had happiness delivered on a silver platter. Snow White showed kindness to a stranger and had to be rescued from death. Prince Philip had to slay a dragon and get the approval of 3 fairy guardians before making his move. Aladdin and Jasmine had to defy socio-economic barriers. Ariel and Eric brought two worlds together for the first time ever. Cinderella survived years of abuse but still chose kindness and attracted the heart of a prince. All of them had to sacrifice or endure something in their quest for love, and it wasn’t easy.

Ariel was always my favorite princess because I loved her sense of adventure, her music, and I was always fascinated by the sea. (Although, now I realize Sebastian was actually my favorite part of the movie). She could have taught me to be selfish, and that it’s okay to disobey your parents if it’s for love. But what I saw was a girl who made a really bad choice and suffered a lot of consequences before she was able to make things right. I wanted her voice and Sebastian for a sidekick, but I didn’t want to imitate her choices.

I could have learned that my dreams were the most important thing, but characters like Mulan and Belle showed me the power of personal sacrifice for family even when if gets in the way of what you want to pursue.

I’m not saying all the lessons Disney teaches are great. I know they aren’t, but even the not so great lessons can either be interpreted through a different lens (rather than focusing on happily ever after focusing on what it took to get there) or seen for exactly what they are – not so great (like Ariel’s poor choices). The key is that we need to be looking for those lessons.

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Don’t Be Lazy, Look for the Lessons

In today’s culture where we can have instant information with the click of a mouse and where search engines (or Siri or Alexa) spit back a response to a question in seconds, it can be challenging to do the detective work yourself and seek out the lessons in a movie, book, or TV show. It’s easier to just enjoy the art for what it is and turn off your brain. But laziness never benefits us.

Proverbs 13:4 says, “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”

When we just consume media, and don’t take time to dissect what we are consuming, we gain nothing of value. If we want to gain anything of positive impact we need to be diligent in looking for it.

How do we get the most out of the stories we watch or read? How can we wisely seek out the lessons? We must look at every story through the lens of scripture. Only then will we be able to avoid the bad and be able to treasure up the good.

The Bible tells us that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) This doesn’t only apply to Bible studies and Sunday school. The Bible can be used to help us see what is good about a story. What we should take away and maybe even allow to impact our behavior. The Bible also can show us what is not good. What lessons we can learn from and avoid repeating ourselves, or what lies the story might be getting us to believe. Let’s stop acting like we are victims of the lies. Rather, let’s take the responsibility of being diligent in identifying them and helping those younger than us do the same. We have the necessary tool. We need to use it.

I’m a Disney girl, and I’m proud of it. A lot of my favorite Disney characters exhibited great Christian qualities that as a child I wanted to imitate. A lot of them also made poor human choices that I knew I didn’t want to repeat. I’m thankful I was trained to identify the good from the bad and learn from both appropriately.  You can do the same. 

Through out the month, we are going to open the chapters of our favorite childhood fairy tales to uncover the biblical realities behind our wildest fantasies. Follow along for the series: Fantasies & Fairy tales!

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