Animated Enchantment: A Psychoanalytic Exploration of the Enduring Popularity of Disney’s First Feature Films
In this thesis I explore reasons for the widespread and enduring popularity of Disney’s first feature-length films (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942)). While acknowledging the historical, industrial and aesthetic features that have contributed to their success, my argument is that the continuing fascination of these films is in large part attributable to the manner in which they engage the spectator and evoke unconscious concerns about family cohesion, interpersonal conflicts and the death of parents. My investigation begins with an analysis of the films’ prefilmic provenance and narrative characteristics, placing an emphasis on the role of their narrative and extra-narrative components as embodying social, pedagogical and psychological meanings. In order to explore how the films engage with the spectator’s unconscious mind, I employ a number of Freudian and post-Freudian psychoanalytic concepts. The post-Freudian models include that of Jacques Lacan and those based on object-relations theory, particularly as developed by Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott. These conceptual models are used to explore the content of the films, while that of Winnicott is also used to explore the visual fascination of the form Disney gave them. Although these films were designed for family viewing, and many of the more distressing aspects of their original stories were toned down in Disney’s adaptations, the films portray a remarkably dystopic version of family life, of childhood and of growing up. Moreover, psychoanalytic investigation suggests that concealed within the films’ attractive animation, music and humour, there lie recurrent ruminations on anxieties about death caused by germs (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs) and old age (Pinocchio) and about culpability for injury (Dumbo) and death of mothers (Bambi). I conclude that the films reward the spectator by offering her/him the opportunity to engage with, fantasise about and work through the problems encountered by the films’ protagonists.
- Theses