The Smarmy Charm of Disney


camp rock 2.JPGI’ve found myself on Disney duty lately here at Plugged In. I’ve been buried underneath what seems like a mountain of inoffensive pop tunes, happy endings and Jonas Brothers. My work computer has played so much Disney lately that it now assumes I’m a 12-year-old girl.

In reality, I’m a 41-year-old man who likes films with depth and complexity and, if possible, explosions. I’m the cinema snob who looks for Homeric allusions in romcoms, biblical themes in Will Ferrell flicks and ambiguous, slightly tragic endings. And whenever I’m assigned a project from the Mouse House, I must stifle an audible sob of despair.

So why, then, when I finish watching one of Disney’s saccharine tween-centric shows, do I find myself smiling?

Case in point: Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam. It stars Demi Lovato and the omnipresent Jonas Brothers (I’m expecting to find animatronic figurines of them the next time I sail through the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland). I rolled my eyes when given the assignment, put it off as long as I could and, when the deadline crawled too close to ignore, I popped the video in and watched the thing.

And, just like the kid in the old Life cereal commercials, I liked it. I really liked it.

This is the way it is with me with many Disney projects. I grumble over High School Musical or Jonas L.A. I watch the thing, and find it’s just as nice and innocent and sickeningly sweet as I thought it’d be. And somehow, it wins me over. Which makes me feel a little guilty.

I mean, what is it about me that makes me initially recoil in the face of Disney sweetness? What makes me suspicious of folks who seem just a little too chipper in the early hours of the morning, or makes me grimace at the sight of a Smurf? Why, when life tosses something altogether nice in my lap, must I treat it as if it was a smelly sock? Am I too cynical for my own good? I know I’m not alone in this. And another thing: What is it about these Disney concoctions that somehow hack through my hard-earned curmudgeon-ness?

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  neildown:

@ mmhags & Elvenstar: I don't think the problem is necessarily "romance", it's just the media's interpretation of it - there is a difference between true, pure romance and sexual prelude. I mean, both are necessary for the human race's existence, but one belongs between two chaste, wise Christians while the other belongs in the bedroom [un-televised] when those two chaste Christians are married.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  AndStuff:

I love Disney Channel. I'm 23 and find that a lot of what people my age watch has sex out of marriage, cursing, and gross murder/autopsy scenes. Disney, on the other hand is something I can watch without feeling guilty or grossed out.I can walk away feeling happy and amused.  If there's a little bit over the top romance, I can deal with that over the alternative. It's also a channel I can turn on and enjoy with my 12 year old brother without any worries of the above mentioned problems. I love the High School Musical trilogy and very much enjoy the Camp Rock duo. I can relate with the above commenters though, I have never had a boyfriend (unless the boy I sat next to on the bus and said I was going to marry when I was 5 counts) and I hope that when I do have my first boyfriend, he will be my last because we will get married.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  jhnwsly:

In regards to your cynicism towards Disney believe it or not its not the first time I've seen it in Christianity. As evidenced by some of the comments here, Christians have a very negatvie view of the Mouse. I've found it to mostly be a reaction, to the fact that even though Disney is kid friendly, and family fun, Christians denote it for not going far enough. Compare the reactions to Miley Cyrus' mistakes versus Britney Spears'. Having watched Britney in her prime I can honestly say she never even engaged close to any of the criticism that Miley has even before Can't be Tamed came out. It was almost as if because Britney made no bones about selling her music by selling her body, whereas Cyrus did have some reservations, Cyrus' mistakes were worse in the eyes of critics.

To be honest if Christians weren't cynical of Disney, then you probably wouldn't see the odes of Christian TV programming aimed at "taking back the tween culture", even though Disney programming has virtually nothing wrong with it. Welcome to the ugly side of legalism, where nothing is good enough, even when its good enough.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  mickmeggie:

ClothedinRoses--I love your stance!  I'm a 23-year-old student, and I've made a similar commitment to "date" God for a year (actually, I've made the same pact repeatedly for the last 3 years, heheh).  I struggle to align my focus on Him at times.  When I meditate on romantic themes in popular forms of media--movies or novels, especially, my yearning for God begins a steady decline.  The discussion thread has really confirmed to me that adolescents need to see that God can fulfill them more fully than a boyfriend/girlfriend can!

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  ClothedInRoses:

I second and third the opinion of mmhags and Elvenstar.  For some reason, the majority of the entertainment world (not strictly limited to Disney, although they're definitely a major culprit) believes that all teens are interested in romance, and need romantic relationships to be "normal".  This feeds the already-complex hormones and peer pressure, and pushes us into foolish relationships before we're ready. I'm 18, a college freshman, and the only person I know of in my (Christian) college dorm floor that doesn't date and isn't actively looking for a boyfriend.  I've made a commitment to not date until I feel God's call on me to do so, and would really love it if the media would be as "tolerant" of that choice as they are of certain other romantic lifestyle choices.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Elvenstar:

I'm with you there, mmhags. I dislike our culture's obsession with romance and I especially dislike how it has crept into Christian lit. I think they're seeking a fulfilling relationship that only God can provide, but they don't want to deal with God, so they fall for this so-called 'love' instead. And as for the Christians, they get sucked in because infatuation is what's cool right now.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  mmhags:

While I agree that Disney creates many feel good clean movies that for the most part I feel I can let my kids watch, there is a catch.  As a parent who is trying to encourage my children to guard their hearts and protect themselves against temptation, I am often disappointed in the copeous amounts of boy/girl action going on in these shows.  I realize that it's mostly innocent however it still sends mixed messages to my kids.  I feel I'm constantly counteracting their sentiments at nauseum.  I have encountered this same phenomenon in Christian "tween" and teen literature as well.  Why does everything have to have romance as a central theme?

Anonymous More than 1 year ago

Comment by  Beckster3430:

Occasionally throwing a Disney Channel curve ball into my mainly serious (and more "mature") media diet used to be a sort of hidden guilty pleasure. Not long ago I realized there's nothing to feel guilty about whatsoever! Yes, the plotlines are predictable and part of a Disney formula for success/megabucks, but the shows and music never fly directly in the face of my faith the way nearly all other media options do. I don't watch all the time, but sometimes when you have half an hour to unwind, Disney Channel is nice for a little relaxation time - you don't have to worry about crude language, racy clothing and situations, or anything morbid (which seems to be a prevalent trend right now). In a teen culture where it's seen as cool to be dark/edgy/dangerous (i.e., Twilight and the Vampire Diaries) or depressed/jaded (i.e., the emo scene), Disney shows teen role models who are singing their little hearts out and smiling from (mouse) ear to ear. While it's a shame that there is a bit of an idol-esque feel to some of it and some of the teen stars make some poor personal decisions at times (I'm talking about you, Miley Cyrus!), I think that can be a valuable tool for parents to talk to their children and teens about many issues they face every day. This all being said, I'm one of the adult (late twenties, I admit it) crowd that enjoys occasionally tuning in to Wizards, Sonny, or even the animated Phineas and Ferb. Sometimes a little positive (albeit cheesy) TV goes a long way when trying to undo a little of the damage left behind by darker programming. Plus I don't have to check Plugged In before viewing it to make sure I'm comfortable with all its content!