Most of us get nostalgic thinking about Disney cartoons from our childhood. Whether we loved Cinderella, Tarzan, or The Lion King, these adventures and fairy tales sparked our imagination as children. As parents, many Disney-lovers want to share these magical films with their kids, and now, there’s even more reason to do so besides singing “Under the sea” with your toddler.
Research from the University of Houston finds that these animated films are actually beneficial for children’s cognitive and behavioral functions. They analyzed a wide variety of Disney movies, released from 1957 to 2000, and their research shows that these movies can help children with complex dialogue, especially surrounding difficult topics.
Carol Leung, a coauthor of the study, points out the tragic stampede scene from The Lion King as a pivotal moment for helping children understand death and grief: “We can also bring these characters as conversation starters into the therapy session to have children understand these concepts. It’s also a way for the children to connect and build rapport.”
According to the research, 73 percent of the films they analyzed illustrated themes of loving yourself and others, and 27 percent focused on morality and social principles. These topics, presented in the easily digestible format of cinema, teach children enduring lessons about love, friendship, fear, hope, and bravery.
The researchers also note that while some Disney classics, like Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, or Tarzan, contain messages about the importance of racial, ethnic, religious, cultural diversity, more modern films are where Disney really begins to hit its stride on acceptance and social justice. More contemporary films, like Moana, focus on cultural acceptance, Indigenous cultures, and environmental preservation, while stories with non-traditional characters teach children that everyone deserves to be loved and accepted.
Source study: Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal – Absentee Parents in Disney Feature-length Animated Movies: What are Children Watching?