The Portrayal of Older Characters in Disney Animated Films

Children often develop negative stereotypes through interaction with the media. Movies and television play a critical role in socializing children and providing them with perceptions that can either change or strengthen stereotypes. As children grow up, they develop negative opinions about adults. Children are exposed to the stereotype from an early stage in life. While Disney movies have acted as icons of childhood for many decades, they have been viewed as promoting the “beautiful is good” stereotype.

The success of The Walt Disney Company is evident in its financial strength. The company’s net income for the fourth quarter of 2013 was $1.4 billion, registering a net income of $6.1 billion during the same year . Films for children generate millions of dollars for the company every year. Disney movies inspire cultural influence and authority for teaching certain ideals and values in the same manner as traditional modes of learning such as the family, formal schooling, or religious institutions.

Disney animated characters have been cited in literature as promoting the “beautiful is good” stereotype. For instance, the films Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs portray the stepsisters and the witch as iniquitous and repulsive while Cinderella and Snow White are portrayed as beautiful and amiable. While it may appear that the prevalence of morally upright characters in these movies are in fact beautiful, and malevolent characters are repellent, no research has empirically assessed if such associations between physical beauty and moral uprightness is accurately depicted.

The propensity to associate physical attractiveness to intellectual ability in Disney films is contrary to popular view by adults, who regard physically attractive individuals as less intellectually capable compared to those who are less good-looking. However, no studies have been able to discern whether the depiction by the films result from deliberate or inadvertent portrayal by filmmakers of good-looking characters as intellectually competent than characters who are not so good-looking.

Animated Disney films have portrayed younger and physically attractive characters as more likely to attain positive life outcomes compared to the older, less physically amiable ones. Therefore, the films appear to uphold and encourage the impression that physically attractive individuals enjoy positive lives compared to those who are less attractive. Research on whether attractive individuals hold a favorable position compared to the less attractive reveals that while they tend to exhibit less social anxiety, they do not experience superior mental health outcomes.