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Happily Never After: A. Waller Hastings’ Thoughts on Disney

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Krista Buzolich

Professor Underwood

RWS 200 Section #83

21 February 2017

Happily Never After: A. Waller Hastings’ Thoughts On Disney

        In recent discussions of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, a controversial issue has been whether it creates a more simplistic mindset by taking creativity away from children.  On the one hand, some argue that this film is not harmful.  From this perspective, Disney’s The Little Mermaid is seen as a happy and cute children’s film.  On the other hand, however, others argue that this film is harmful to children, because it will make them unable to handle the moral complexities that come with adult life.  In the words of A. Waller Hastings, who claims that Disney is harmful, “the Disney version accentuates the most sentimental and romantic aspects of the story at the expense of its moral and psychological complexity.”  According to this view, the Disney version of The Little Mermaid eliminates the consequences of a character’s actions and uses simplicity to create an entertaining and successful children’s film.  In sum, then the issue is whether we should feel threatened by Disney’s The Little Mermaid or just let children enjoy their childhood.  Numerous critics have written about this controversial topic and have shared their stance on their matter.  In this essay I will be analyzing the argument of A. Waller Hastings and the extent to which he uses evidence to persuade his academic audience.

        In his article, “Moral Simplification in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Hastings argues that the simplicity in Disney films takes creativity away from children, which in turn, results in adolescents not understanding the complexities of adult life.  He uses an immense amount of logos to appeal to his academic readers.  He does this by citing many critics and reusing the term “Disneyfication.”  To persuade his audience to his main claim, Hastings uses outside sources that give him the credibility of being trustworthy.  In the first opening sentences, Hastings quotes a critic named Sayer.  From doing this, he grabs his audience’s attention by hinting at what is going to come later in his paper.  When Hastings cites Sayer’s complaint of how Disney has a tendency to “dummy down” their material, Hastings presents an idea to his readers, making them question if Sayer’s statement is true or not.  Having his audience be concerned and curious allows for them to stay interested in his paper.  Moreover, Hastings brings up the term “Disneyfication”, a term that was recognized by a critic named Schickel.  Hastings never specifically says the true definition of “Disneyfication”, but he does discuss numerous instances and stories where this term is present.  By bringing in Walt Disney, Hastings discusses how “the filmmaker admitted that he sought out simple stories and simplified them to further create ‘nice’ children’s films”(Hastings 85).  It is not until we keep reading that we start to better understand Hastings main claim and begin to see that “Disneyfication” plays an active role in all Disney films.  Accentuating the fact that all Disney films are centered around good and evil, with the good always winning and the evil always losing, it is obvious that the ideas presented in Hastings paper are quite accurate.  There are no moral choices in Disney movies, and Hastings use of critics and “Disneyfication” prove that idea.

        Equally important, Hastings also brings up the idea of living in a “Manichean” world.  By incorporating this idea into his paper, Hastings explains the effect Disney may have on people.  He explains this idea by describing one party in a conflict as “good” and the other one as “bad”, there is no in between.  By shedding light to this topic, it is obvious that Disney does follow this “Manichean” idea.  Hastings also claims there is no reason for diplomacy in the “Disneyfied” world because “the proper way to deal with an Ursula is to destroy her, not to negotiate”(90).  His use of the term “negotiate” shows his readers how Disney tales compare to the real-world.  By doing this, Hastings emphasizes how in the real-world we would “negotiate” with the person we are having problems with and talk things out.  In Disney, the evil one must be destroyed for the good ones to live happily ever after.  If children think with this mindset, there happily ever after will be jail.  Hastings does not think it would ever be this severe, but his statement does show his audience the idea he is trying to get across.

        Additionally, Hastings compares Disney’s The Little Mermaid to the original story written by Hans Christian Andersen’s, in order to persuade his audience to his main argument.  A main theme seen in the original story that was written out of the Disney version is pain.  For example, in the Disney version Ariel feels no pain during her transformation, whereas in the original story the sea hag tells the little mermaid that “It will hurt; it will feel as if a sword were going through your body. . .”(86).  Another moment where pain is seen in the original and not the Disney version, is when the mermaid falls victim of her own desires.  By pointing out the moral complexities in the original story, Hastings’ audience is now able to see what the Disney version of The Little Mermaid lacks, and how this contributes to the simplistic mindset in Disney films.  Disney characters never have inner conflict, and without inner conflict present, human fallibility is not incorporated into Disney films.  Also, by explaining Andersen’s tale in great depth, Hastings is reaching out to his readers that may not be so familiar with the original tale.  He assumes that mostly everyone has either watched or heard of Disney’s version, so by focusing more of his paper on Andersen’s, he is able to make that connection between the two works.  This connection allows his readers to remain interested and focused on the argument
Hastings has yet to make.

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