The impact Walt Disney films had on me during the 90s

I have always been a huge Walt Disney fan. I probably will carry on watching them forever. Since my dad took me and my sister to watch Lady and the Tramp in the very beginning of our lives in Geneva, I fell in love. My mum sensed how much we loved Walt Disney films and it has now become a tradition to watch every new Walt Disney films each year. I still do so even today!

My introduction to Walt Disney films happened during the 80s. During the late 80s and during the 90s, Walt Disney produced iconic films and that era has been known as the Disney Renaissance. Renaissance in French means rebirth. My introduction to Walt Disney films coincided with this iconic era where films revolved mainly around famous fairytales, myths and legends. As an avid reader of fairytales and other genres in general, this was such a perfect timing for me as a Walt Disney fan. The one pattern I discovered in almost every Walt Disney films is how the main protagonist either stood out, is an outcast and always goes on a personal journey of discovery.

Watching Walt Disney films has become a legacy since it was my father who introduced it to us. He introduced us many things such as Tintin, Asterix and other comic books. I think the reason I enjoy Walt Disney films so much is how I can identify myself with the main protagonist and also the antagonist.

That era, which defined Walt Disney, the Walt Disney Renaissance, was so successful as every film released that decade, was a box office success and was a hit with audience as well as critics alike. The Walt Disney Renaissance started off with the Little Mermaid (1989) and ended with Tarzan (1999). During that period, I even became a teenager, and instead of outgrowing Walt Disney movies, I always came back for more. I couldn’t care less what people thought because it was a legacy my dad left us.

During that era of Walt Disney films, 3 films for me stood out the most and I can instantly identify with the characters for each films. Also, they were my favorite films during that era. The films that made a huge impact on me are: Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994) and Mulan (1998).

Starting off with Beauty and the Beast, so much I can say about why I love that film deeply and especially the story, the characters, the setting. I will need to write a whole book because that film is pure excellence. Despite the magical world that film offers and the unforgettable songs, it comes down to a simple message: beauty lies inside a person and not outside. When the film first came out, it created so much buzz that I was so eager to watch it. The buzz was even bigger than when the Little Mermaid came out couple of year earlier. I was 9 when the film came out. The poster is not as colourful as it is today but quite mysterious. In a reddish background, you have a beast holding hands with a woman, they seemed to be dancing. The beast and the woman are quite dark and it seemed like it was their shadows we were looking at. The poster alone was so intriguing that we were compelled to want to know more. The opening of the film also invited you to the story by getting closer and closer to the castle. The voice over explained briefly the beginning. As viewers, we felt as if the narrator was talking directly to us and instead of simply being viewers we were voyeurs or witnesses. I identify with Belle so much because of her love for reading and for how independent she is. For me, she is the main hero of the story, not the typical princess who needs to be rescued. In fact she saved Beast numerous times and was the reason for his transformation. If you look closely, Belle stands out for being the only one in the village to wear blue clothing. Also, everyone in the village sort of live together and form a strong community. Belle and her father live slightly outside the village and seems to be onlookers. In the song ‘Belle’ she realizes and even accepts that she is odd so in other words an outcast. As the story moves along, she becomes more confident as well as never stopping her love for reading. She even teaches the Beast to read when he offers her a whole library. I love the fact that she is not aware of her own beauty and has so much humility. The Beast is actually a prince who has been punished for his arrogance and selfishness. A fairy casted a spell on him and everyone in the castle. Despite his frightening demeanour, the Beast thanks to Belle, becomes friendly. He does have a bad temper. What struck me is the Beast and Gaston, the main antagonist, are like mirrors: Gaston looks handsome from the outside, but ugly from the inside because he is arrogant, selfish and not very clever. Gaston is so unlikeable and turns evil that you forget that he is handsome. The Beast is the opposite, ugly from the outside and has a very good heart as the story progresses. You almost forget that he is a beast as well as ugly because he is so kind as the story progresses. The changes in the Beast is thanks to Belle who he falls in love with. I enjoy how we see the Beast’s transformation and transition from bad to good. I identify myself with the Beast also because at first I look frightening as I used to frown a lot, with my temper and strong stubborn character too which didn’t help. However, the more you get to know me, you find that I am sensitive and friendly.

The next film I have enjoyed so much was the Lion King. The film itself was based in Africa which I can identify with due to my African origins. The buzz created by this film was the legendary cast of many famous actors who voiced the main characters. The story is based on the works of Shakespeare ‘Hamlet’. During the Renaissance era, the Lion King, despite being mainly based on ‘Hamlet’ was an original story about 2 brothers.

Although the film focuses primarly on Simba’s long journey to become the future king, Scar who is the main antagonist, takes center stage. Scar is upset and jealous of his brother Mufasa (the current king of Pride land or Pride rock) and Simba. He simply wants the throne and orchestrated his own brother’s death as well as blame Simba so that he can become king. The reason why I identify with Scar so much was my own jealousy I had for my sister. My sister was like Mufasa, an example for others, a righteous person and possesses a good heart. Scar was so jealous of his own brother that he killed him so he can become king.  Scar, not only is an outcast but he was so mischievous in getting his way. I am the same, I would do anything to get my way, obviously I wouldn’t kill to do that. If you look at the animal kingdom in the Lion King, they all live in harmony. Scar doesn’t and he is the leader of the hyenas who are also outcasts. There are so many lessons to take away from the Lion King; in the perspective of Simba, it is to accept responsibility and knowing as well as accepting who you are. In terms of Scar’s perspective, it is to simply accept his brother as king. He did everything to become a king. When he became the king of Pride land, the kingdom fell apart even the hyenas complained that things were much better when Mufasa was king. Also, to add why I identify myself with Scar, I was just like Scar; I was the outcast of my family for I was so trouble and terrible just like he was.

Finally, the last film I identify so much with is Mulan. Mulan stood out from all the other women in the village for being different. Mulan is set during the era when the Huns invaded China. Mulan was pushed to be like every other woman with the aim to marry and bore children, in other words to become a housewife. Mulan is full of life and longs for being just herself. Things change drastically when her father, the only man in the household of Mulan, is required to go to war and fight the Huns. Mulan, who possesses a strong character, furiously opposes for her father to go to war. Her father reminds Mulan that women need to know their places. Mulan takes her father’s place because her dad is elderly and disabled. Just like Belle, Mulan is different to the other women and is the film’s hero as well. She not only rescued her village but the whole country. I identify with her because of her courage and to stand up for herself as well. The fact she has to disguise herself like a man, I am reminded how I used to be a tomboy when I was younger. The message I love about the film is there shouldn’t be barriers and women and men should be regarded as equal. Even the emperor realised it. The film is set in an unidentified era of Imperial China (221 BCE – 1912 CE). I love Mulan’s heart because she could have gone to war for selfish reasons such as bringing honours to her family and even for herself, but she deeply cares about her father and went to war in his place because her disabled father could have been killed during the war. Mulan has the same spirit as me, full of energy and full of life. She wants to be accepted the way she was and at the end she does.

After the Renaissance era, Walt Disney films were still popular, but not as popular as during the 1990s. The next era of Walt Disney popularity will come during the end of the 2000s and especially during 2010s when Walt Disney partnered with Pixar. Also, as I became older, my interest in Walt Disney waned, due to pressures of life, but I would purchase the DVDs to the point I collected the Walt Disney films. To my pure delight, as recently as 2020, I have subscribed to Disney + which showcase a repertoire of Walt Disney films as well as series.

I firmly believe Walt Disney films are not made just for children but for all ages. Looking from an adult perspective, there are jokes children will not get. What I am most thankful for is that Walt Disney films represent an escape and I enjoyed watching the films especially during my worst moments following my father’s brutal departure. Today, with my children and even with my wonderful partner, we all watch the Walt Disney films together like I once did with my father and then my mother. Each Walt Disney films provide a life lesson, a message and also the opportunity to follow any character’s journey (protagonists and antagonists). As I watched all the Walt Disney films Renaissance era in Geneva, I was so happy that despite the hardship of my life there, I was able to escape my everyday life with the movies. I was able to also realise I was on my own journey and I am always learning through my many experiences. I was also the protagonist and the antagonist in my own daily storylines of my everyday life whether at school or at home.

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