Disney Dives Into A New Age of Stories

     Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle. Visiting the Magic Kingdom, these heroines are revered as if they are sacred, their castles and stories filling the park. After all, they represent the princesses of the past, whose time on the big screen brightened so many lives. Yet, one thing binds each of these extraordinary characters together: tradition. Disney has proudly been producing princess stories about seemingly unexpected love which intertwines the hearts of a helpless princess and her male savior, for decades. 

However, it seems that Disney has refocused their storytelling, signaling the definitive end of the princess-dominated age. The new wave of Disney movies has ushered in more diverse stories like Encanto, Luca, Coco, Soul, Raya and The Last Dragon, and this movement arguably began as early as Pixar’s Brave. These movies have brought to the forefront a new age of storytelling. Now, when Disney introduces a princess like Moana or a character like Raya, she is allowed to choose her own fate, paving the way for complex plot structures which no longer depend entirely upon a damsel in distress. 

     A perfect example of breaking the traditional Disney model is their most recently released movie, Encanto, which presents the story of a magical family. The movie, which follows the family Madrigal, who reside in a magical house, is a musical with catchy songs and big dance scenes, but it also has a much more nuanced plot. The story presents the house growing more complex with each individual who inhabits it, and the family is composed of quirky individuals who each have unique powers which compliment their varying personalities. Mirabel is the only member of the family who lacks a magical gift. Yet, over the course of the movie, she shows that even without magic, she is special. As a girl born into a family of magical individuals, but without her own magical gift, Mirabel forges her own path and becomes the miracle that she has been waiting for her whole life. Even when her home is crumbling and the magic fades, she still fights to hold her family together; and, after years of rejection by her grandmother, chooses to defend her family. In the end, it is only with the help of non-magical townspeople that the Madrigals are able to rebuild their home. While not a princess and certainly not a damsel in distress, Mirabel quickly emerges as the type of character upon which this new era of Disney films can build. Instead of being characterized by her beauty alone, she is a realistically driven, courageous and flawed character. 

     Disney has attempted this inventive storytelling years prior, in movies such as Pixar’s Brave, which addresses a young woman who watches as three arrogant, and weak suitors fight for her hand in marriage. She watches in horror as her life is being decided for her, until she vows to take fate into her own hands and forge her own destiny. At first she is unsuccessful, and with some failed attempts at using a magical potion accidentally transforms her mother into a bear. Merida is ultimately able to face her fear, break free from the expectations that people have for her, and stand up for her beliefs. This complex plot structure is entirely different from anything that had ever come from the marvelous animation studios at Disney and although it may be quite underrated, it is still a pioneer of a new type of animated movie.

     The Disney and Pixar movie Luca is yet another stage in the evolution of Disney stories with a plot filled with as many dangerous pitfalls and hopeful ascensions as a roller coaster. The movie focuses on two young mermen who find themselves with an exhilarating independence as they venture to a nearby town of Italians who are notorious for their hunting of “sea monsters.” The bond between the two boys is undeniable and although at times their friendship is tested, it remains strong throughout the film. The dynamic explored throughout the movie is the extraordinary bond of friendship, not only between the boys but their human friend, Giulia, as well. Along the way, the audience discovers their plan to enter the race hosted every year in the small village and win the money they need to purchase a Vespa. They dream about wild adventures around the world that they might share once they leave their small, isolated community. Throughout the film, the two fight about what they want their life to be like, and at one point, they are divided by a crushing betrayal as in a time of panic they are accidently discovered to be “sea monsters.” This masterpiece is a heartwarming reminder of what Disney does best, storytelling with true creativity and imagination. 

     Honestly, I am thrilled to see the constant evolution that is occuring in the creation of Disney movies. I can not wait to see a new wave of movies with complex plot lines, themes, and character dynamics in upcoming movies, but I am frankly jealous that these changes did not happen sooner. The new generation of children who constitute the main audience for many of these films will undoubtedly grow up with more diverse, representative and relatable characters than the archetypal and stereotypical characters that were so often at the forefront of popular Disney movies from my own childhood. Ultimately, the movies which I have mentioned are barely scratching the surface of the incredible imagination and creativity at the heart of Disney animations.