3 of Disney’s best philosophy lessons

I’ve always loved watching Disney movies as a kid and re-watching them as an adult made me realize how many morals and lessons are hidden behind the stories and songs.  

I also recently read a book written by a French philosophy teacher, called: They lived as philosophers and made a lot of people happy.
In her book, Marianne Chaillan, compares Disney’s animated movies to the most famous philosophical thoughts and philosophers.

Here are three important Disney’s philosophy lessons:  

1. The Lion King: Hakuna Matata

“It means no worries.” 

When Simba meets Timon and Pumbaa, he is in despair. They teach him their doctrine, now worldwide famous, “Hakuna Matata” or “no worries”. Well, the song Hakuna Matata could have been written by Marcus Aurelius, a famous representative of the stoicism philosophy. For him, you need to work on the sight you put on things that surrounds your life in order to reach happiness and make the place you live, your oasis.  
Timon and Pumbaa teach Simba to reject several circles to go forward in his life.

  • First the circle of others: what the other lions will think of what Simba did should not worry him.
  • Then, the circle of the past and the future: Neither the past nor the future is in our power. Only the present depends on us. So there’s no need to dwell on Mufasa’s death, it is in the past.
  • The circle of emotions: Simba has to try to interpret turn of events in a neutral way and not assign them unjustified emotions. Mufasa’s death is a natural phenomenon, it is part of the circle of life.
  • Finally, the circle of destiny: If Simba is able to understand fate doesn’t depend on him, he will be able to understand that he is not responsible for the death of his father, he is not the master of fate.
Image Credits: © Disney, All Rights Reserved, Disney Entertainment

2. Beauty and the Beast: don’t rely on appearances 

“For who could ever learn to love… a Beast?”  

Beauty and the Beast asks the question of what value we should give to physical appearance and whether we should rely on appearances themselves. Does appearance give us access to the reality of things or is it just a shadow that hides what really matters?  

Plato qualifies appearances as our sensible understanding of the world. They’re not the true reality but only pale copies of the intelligible realities. The sensible world is perceived by the senses; the intelligible world is perceived by reason. 

Having chosen to surrender herself as a prisoner of the Beast instead of her father, Belle learns to know who the Beast really is, hidden beneath its terrifying appearance. The eyes of Belle are the eyes of her soul and not simply her physical eyes. She sees beyond appearances. 

Image Credits: © Disney, All Rights Reserved, Disney Entertainment

3. Frozen: Desire and crystallization

“Love is an open door.”

Frozen offers us a true reflection on the value of desire. Is the desire for love an open door, a gift, as young Anna sings, or is it a terrible disease to be guarded against? Queen Elsa advises her sister to beware of passion and to run away from it, because it is nothing but a delusion. Deep down, the object of desire, Hans Prince of the South Islands, is not seen for what he really is. Stendhal calls “crystallization” the process of embellishing the person we love with thousands of illusory qualities. But this crystallization lasts only a time: sooner or later, the real will recall to Anna and she will discover with horror the true reality of Hans.  

And if, deep down, the power of Elsa, which is creating snow crystals, was also the power of mastering her own desires? Elsa is the one who creates the crystallization and not the one who undergoes it. She is not, like her sister, a victim of the disease of desire. She remains master of her life. Elsa, in Frozen, is the very incarnation of Stendhal.  

Image Credits: © Disney, All Rights Reserved, Disney Entertainment

I could also have talked about the question of life and death in Tangled, the border between dream and reality in Peter Pan, the notion of sacrifice in Sleeping Beauty or the one of honor in Mulan.  

I could have compared Baloo in the Jungle Book to Epicure or Ariel, the little mermaid, to Emma Bovary, but I keep these precious lessons for a future article.  

What is your favorite Disney movie and what did it taught you?

Featured image: Benjamin Suter on Unsplash

7 Comments Add yours

  1. sramir09nyitedu says:

    I believe Disney always has stories that ignite something, the stories are inclusive and in the latest trends in the productions, I notice that they want to cover a completely global market using characters from all over the world. For example, I saw in a post on their social networks that they are producing an animated film developed in Colombia.
    Here is the trailer

    Also, I think they based their plots on the theory of the mythological structure. I mention this based on the book the hero of a thousand faces by Josep Cambell which is an interesting book. I recommended it to you!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hero_with_a_Thousand_Faces

    1. FlavieBth says:

      I totally agree with you! Disney movies and lessons are always inspired by society’s current matters. Thank you very much for your suggestions, I will pay attention to Encanto’s release and will most certainly read Cambell’s book.

  2. orlanelebas says:

    Thank you so much for this article, it is true that the Disney cartoons, we rocked during our childhood. It is very interesting to look at them now with an adult look in order to understand all the subliminal messages hidden in, linking them to philosophy. They are only cartoons to which everyone can refer but life lessons.

    1. FlavieBth says:

      Yes, I definitely agree that you don’t perceive Disney movies the same way as a child and as an adult. I personally always learn a new thing or two by rewatching them time after time and by talking about these lessons with other people.

  3. QueenO says:

    What an interesting analysis of the Disney movies that rocked our childhood! I especially loved the part on the “crystallization” process with reference to Stendhal. Frozen has been analyzed in numerous article as a new kind of Disney with less stereotypes and its significant song “Let it go” but I guess this approach is definitely new. Can’t wait to read you next articles!

    1. FlavieBth says:

      Thank you for your comment! I agree with you Frozen has many things to teach us, especially regarding women’s empowerment.

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