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Grown-ups don’t need a Disney hero

Terrified of Trump’s return, liberals are finding refuge in children’s fantasies.

Darragh McManus

Topics Culture Politics

Finally, I understand ‘Poe’s Law’ – the online theory that, unless explicitly delineated, genuinely wackadoodle opinions are indistinguishable from parody.

This occurred to me last week when I came across a truly mind-boggling screed in the Guardian (where else?). ‘Moana is the hero we need in the age of Trump and Musk’, reads the thrusting headline, ‘so thank the demigods she’s back’.

In theory, this article could easily be satire, poking fun at that peculiar subset of adult society that takes children’s entertainment way too seriously. But I fear not. This stuff is sincere, with a capital S.

Author Ben Child (a hilarious example of nominative determinism) seems to genuinely consider Moana – the animated Disney movie about an ancient Polynesian princess who embarks on a magic-filled quest – to be a piece of deeply significant cinema. When Moana was released in 2016, he explains, it was a cultural corrective to the election of Donald Trump and all the ‘knuckle-headed, white supremacist, women-hating conservatism’ that, apparently, came along with it. Child now hopes that the recently announced Moana 2 will act as another antidote to what will likely be a second Trump presidency.

According to Child, the Western world is devolving ‘into a Handmaid’s Tale-like fascist authoritarian dystopia in which Trump and his progeny have restored society to a 1950s-like state of rigid, conservative stereotyping’. In this alleged near-future, ‘everyone on screen is white and Christian, and there is probably no place at all for a young woman of colour’.

Blimey. That sounds worrying. Perhaps even more alarming is that, as far as I can tell, Child sees Moana 2 as the only thing that could possibly stop this from happening. Although I’m not 100 per cent clear on the details.

The first Moana is certainly a passable kids’ movie. I took my five-year-old daughter to see it when it came out. It was a reasonably fun story about a courageous girl, a hyperactive man-god and a googly eyed chicken. My daughter’s take was that it was ‘a bit too long’ but ‘yeah, pretty good’. Which doesn’t fill me with confidence if Moana 2 really is all that’s standing between us and a fascist dystopia.

Now you see what I mean about Poe’s Law. That Guardian article could literally have been churned out by an AI with its piss-take settings turned up to maximum.

In fairness to this particular journo, his is but one of countless articles, videos and social-media posts that read far, far too much into kiddie entertainments. Article after article tells us that Pixar provides life lessons, Disney offers moral instruction and Marvel changes society for the better. And apparently Star Wars subverts the dominant paradigm.

This kind of mentality has even infected proper, grown-up writers. The usually sensible Hadley Freeman wrote a few years ago of Pixar:

‘These films are the closest the modern age has to religious texts. They teach us how to live, how to feel; they reflect the best of us back to ourselves.’

They teach us how to live? Good God. It’s simultaneously horrifying and hilarious.

The makers of children’s entertainment are now acutely aware of this growing audience of adults. Indeed, the irony is that the more adults obsess over kiddie flicks, the more these products become infested with adult concerns. Media companies can no longer simply make a cartoon about a doughty heroine triumphing over the bad guy. Instead, every property now must give a moral lecture about period-shaming or inherited collective guilt, or whatever the new obsession is among the laptop-tapping homunculi.

Needless to say, children are hardly big fans of all this moralising. They’re bored of being lectured. They get enough of that at school and home and everywhere else. They just want to have fun when they’re watching the gogglebox.

Can’t we just leave kids’ entertainment to the kids? Basic underlying themes of ‘good vs evil’ or ‘stand by your pals’ or ‘don’t kick the dog’ are plenty good enough. Often no moral message is even necessary. Just tell a good story and forget the sermonising.

Meanwhile, adults who want to be guided through life by on-screen entertainment have millions of titles made for their own age group. Literally millions. Humans have been churning this stuff out for over a century now.

If you’re a grown adult who feels the need for a hero from a story aimed at tweenies to save you, then I’ve got some bad news. You might be beyond saving.

Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Culture Politics

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