After recently watching the new Disney film Wreck-It Ralph, I was looking forward to basking in the familiar warmth that accompanies the neurotically exultant conclusions that are inevitable in Disney/Pixar films. Openly mythic in their construction, these films always conclude with hero banishing (but not killing) the villain, and restoring order to the equilibrium that existed before the quest. Anyone that has studied literature/film/theatre studies for longer than a day knows that this is how narratives function (for those that haven’t try looking here or here), this is uncontroversial stuff.
However, what the hyper-cheesy narrative endings infer can be read from either side of the political spectrum – either as liberal morality tales that imply that everyone is equal and should be accepted for who they are, or as cautionary conservative warnings not to attempt to transcend your socio-economic place in culture and society: the status-quo in society is there for a reason.
Wreck-It Ralph features a video game ‘bad guy’ trying to earn himself a medal (an icon of social mobility) and climb the symbolic ladder from the rubbish heap up to the penthouse. The narrative twists and turns as they always do (see more here), but he ends up satisfied after his ordeal literally left to only look out at the world he craved earlier in the film. He has a fatalistic acceptance of his predicament and says it is the best part about his day.
If you revisit earlier CGI kids films, they all have the same double-layered morality. In all 3 Toy Story films, one of the central characters has an existential crisis and goes on a spiritual journey outside of Andy’s room – only to return with more toys into the enclosure: everyone is equal and welcome, yet also realising that ‘there is no place like home’ and the status quo is restored. The same goes for Shrek, the same goes for Cars, and the same goes for all of the earlier animated Disney films.
I can’t help but wonder whether ‘family-film’ actually just translates to ‘film-that-I-can-bend-my-politics-too’. Of course, happy endings happen in most mainstream films, but it is the intensity of the Disney/Pixar mythic-narrative-machine with its heavy emphasis on the return to stability/equal-rights for all conclusions that are so interesting. No other franchises so heavily permeate into children’s culture than these films; just think of the fast-food tie-ins, merchandise, video games/apps and clothing that children interact with. All of these characters can be classed as heroes of both right-wing and left-wing fundamentals.
For more from Ollie visit his blog Crispy Sharp Film