26 Oct 2014

Disney Movies Promote Veganism

If you lived out your childhood during any period beyond 1923, it's almost undeniable that Disney films have influenced your life in one way or another. Whether it was Dumbo who won over your young heart in the 1940s or Mufasa who taught you about the circle of life in the 1990s, we've all felt Disney's magical charm in some way.

Over the years, Disney movies have consistently touched on the concept of animal rights. They have almost invariably shunned humankind, highlighting our species as the destructive, selfish virus it collectively is. On the other hand, however, Disney has sanctioned the few human beings with love and compassion in their hearts - the few who truly care about animals.

"Disney movies have consistently touched on the concept of animal rights. They have almost invariably shunned humankind, highlighting our species as the destructive, selfish virus it collectively is."

Veganism is the basic expression of support for animal rights. Through veganism, we encourage the idea that non-human animals are sentient beings who experience love, fear, pain, and an expansive range of other complex emotions. They are not mere commodities for humans to use at their disposal. Many would argue that Disney 'anthropomorphises' animals in their films - but I disagree. I see the term 'anthropomorphise' as a fabricated extension of speciesist logic. To me, this term implies that any animal showing signs of emotion or personality must be somewhat human, as if emotion and personality are human-only characteristics. As animal lovers know, this is not the case. Animals express their emotions in different ways to humans, yes - but that does not mean the feelings aren't there at all.

In this post, I will discuss the various important moral lessons I learned through Disney films - lessons that many people, unfortunately, have forgotten with age. Disney taught me to love all life regardless of our differences. I think, as adults, we should all look back to Disney films and remember how we felt as children. Children know intrinsically that animal are friends, not food. That's why so many children love to watch movies and television programmes about animals. I mean, would a little kid want to eat Peppa Pig? Shawn the Sheep? Peter Rabbit? No, of course not! Would they want to hunt Bugs Bunny? Ellie the Elephant? Fantastic Mr. Fox? Again, of course not. Disney knows this. Disney understands children, and accordingly, they understand animals - at least, more than most do. Let's begin.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians
Moral: The fur trade is Cruella and fur-wearers are De Vils

Perhaps one of the most obvious animal-rights-promoting Disney films, One Hundred and One Dalmatians tells the story of an evil woman (Cruella De Vil, by name and by nature) who wants to make a fur coat out of puppies. This is a prime example of Disney's expression of human beings as cruel and selfish, and conversely, of animals as intelligent, compassionate and loving. This film teaches us that wearing fur is all kinds of wrong, and that anyone who does so is indeed a 'Cruel Devil'. The film elaborates strongly on the concept of hell, which is fair in the sense that a fur farm is indeed a living hell for animals. This may all seem rather morbid, but it's the unfortunate truth. As all Disney films tend to do, the horror comes to an end before the film's finale and the pups are fortunately reunited with their families. If only this was the case for the millions of animals who fall victim to the fur trade.

Moral: Hunters are horrid, deforestation is dreadful

This is another fairly obvious one, and the film that has consistently held the greatest moral influence over me ever since my first viewing. I will never forget the impact this film had on me as a child. At six years old, I was a weeping wreck after watching it. This wasn't long after I became vegetarian, and as such, the film tugged strongly at my heartstrings. I was going through the process of realising exactly how humans treat animals, and it was awful. Back to the movie. In Bambi, we enter the beautiful, idyllic world of a nurturing young doe, her newborn son, and a strong-willed father stag. They live surrounded by various flora and fauna, all existing in glorious harmony, where enchanting music forever lingers in the dewy air. Suddenly, horribly, interrupting this beautiful, tranquil wonderland, comes man. Specifically, The Man in the Forest. Without a hint of remorse or compassion, The Man in the Forest murders Bambi's mother with his gun, leaving young Bambi frightened and despondent. Later on in the film, when tranquility has only just returned to the forest - The Man in the Forest returns. This time, he brings his greatest weapon - fire. This is a representation of a heinous act so common in our modern world - deforestation. Once again, what does all of this tell us? Animals are calm, gentle creatures, and humans are cold, callous and bent on destruction. Horrifyingly, this is all too accurate.

Disney movies can help children learn about the importance of protecting nature and animals
The Fox and the Hound
Moral: All life is equal and sacred

Again, this 1981 story touches on the concept of hunting. Lying deeper, however, is the exploration of more complex, under-represented themes like interspecies friendship and speciesism. As in Bambi and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the humans in this film are depicted as cruel, selfish and emotionally detached. Right from the get-go, we witness the callous shooting of a mother fox. As a direct result of evil human interjection, a mother is dead and a child is orphaned. Later in the film, we see a hunter attempting to raise a new hunting dog, Copper. Copper, however, doesn't want to hunt. He wants to play - with Tod, the orphaned fox. This, of course, angers the hunter, who cares only about himself. The idea of the hunter adopting Copper relates to the concept of speciesism - he sees foxes as pests, dogs as workers, and himself as a superior entity. He has assigned different roles to each animal based solely on their species - this is blatant speciesism. The idea of Tod and Copper becoming friends demonstrates that animals can form friendships (despite their differences... if only more humans could do the same) and experience love, fear, happiness and despair. As vegans, we are very much aware of this.

Moral: Animals don't belong in the circus

This film is slightly different to the previous three, but it still explores some core concepts - humans are cruel and selfish, animals experience emotion, and animals deserve respect. Through this film, children see the circus for what it truly is. They are finally allowed to see past the bright lights, flashy costumes and the exciting atmosphere. Behind all of this magical glory are dim, dark, dreary cages... cells... prisons. The elephants are confined against their will and exploited time and time again by humans. We see the spectators at the circus cruelly taunt and mock Dumbo, and as Dumbo's mother attempts to defend him, she is detained and placed in solitary confinement on the grounds of being a 'mad elephant.' Despite the all-too-true horrors this film highlights, the overall concept of Dumbo trying to become a 'circus star' isn't appealing to me. I suppose you can't expect much more from a 1941 film, though. Regardless, we still witness the mocking of Dumbo and his mother's unfair, terrifying confinement - which was enough to turn me off the circus for good as a child.

The Lion King 
Moral: The natural world is our most precious and beautiful gift

Although many non-vegans may see The Lion King as an anti-veganism film (you know, the old 'lions eat meat' argument), I heartily disagree. I think this film highlights the importance of equality for all life, and that the natural world is much more beautiful than anything humans have manufactured. It tells us that life moves on and repeats harmoniously without human interjection. Unfortunately, as we all know, humans have hugely thrown off this balance through the introduction of large-scale farming, habitat destruction, deforestation, over-breeding and mass pollution. Vegans seek to reverse or at least subdue humankind's negative effects upon the natural environment. This film reminds us of how beautifully balanced the world could be without the destructive, selfish interference of humankind. It tells us that no species is more important than another, and that we are all here for our own reasons. Again, this is the basis of veganism.

"[The Lion King] reminds us of how beautifully balanced the world could be without the destructive, selfish interference of humankind. It tells us that no species is more important than another, and that we are all here for our own reasons."

This is not all that Disney has shown us about animal rights. Look towards films such as Brother Bear, The Jungle Book and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs for more. Other children's films, including several made by Pixar and Dreamworks, which I will be writing accompanying posts about, also touch on the same concepts. Many adults could learn from the lessons taught by these Disney films and others made by similar animation companies. We only need to look back at our former selves - our very young selves, when our hearts were pure and untouched by society's dirty hands. Then we will learn how we should really feel. Once, we all loved animals. To anyone who exploits animals now, I ask you - when did you lose your compassion?