Have you ever noticed that death is mentioned in almost every Disney movie? A deceased parent, a hero’s tragic end, or a villain’s demise are just a few examples of what children are exposed to in Disney movies.
Why is this? Does it help children work through their grief? What lessons can we learn from these Disney movies?
This week, we welcome back Julia Ellifritt from Cornerstone of Hope to dissect the ever-evolving portrayal of loss in Disney's magical narratives, with a particular focus on the classic, Lion King.
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realmente. Hello everyone, welcome back to CC Airwaves. My name is Paige Mattillo and I'm here with my co-host, joel Hansel, and our guest Julia Elefrit. So I'll start with Julia how are you doing today?Speaker 2:
I'm doing well, thanks. In spite of the rain and dreary weather, I'm doing really well today.Speaker 1:
Doing good again. Yeah, I'm glad you're back on the podcast with us, so thank you again for giving us. It's great to be back. Yeah, and then, joel, how are you doing?Speaker 3:
I'm doing fine for a Monday.Speaker 1:
Oh yes, for a Monday, especially a rainy Monday. Well, for our viewers. Today, as you can probably tell by the title of this episode, we are going to be discussing the Lion King and grief. So, to start off, why don't we all just share one of our favorite Disney movies? So one of mine is Peter Pan. Julia, what's yours?Speaker 2:
Oh gosh. Toy Story, the original one.Speaker 1:
You know, okay, that's a good choice. I really like that. Yeah, toy Story 2 is one of my favorites, though, so I don't know about the first one.Speaker 2:
I know Well and see then there's loss in that too, because even though there's necessarily depth, he goes off to college. And yeah, that definitely explores the themes of loss for sure.Speaker 1:
And then, joel, do you have a favorite Disney movie?Speaker 3:
That's a good pick.Speaker 1:
That is a solid pick. I like that one too. Joel, did you ever have to watch Disney movies with your son growing up, or was that his?Speaker 3:
favorite. His favorite was? Well, he had two favorites. The first we ever showed him, I believe, was Toy Story, and I don't think the kid blinked for 90 minutes. And the other that he watched over and, over, and, over and over again was the Aristocats.Speaker 2:
Oh, I love that one too, but yeah, that's an old one.Speaker 3:
And he just, he loves cats, so that was, and it made him laugh, so that was. He seemed like he was always watching that one or Toy Story.Speaker 1:
One of those two. Okay, I'll watch it. I have a baby cousins now, so I can watch those movies with them.Speaker 2:
Like you need an excuse, you could just watch.Speaker 1:
Yeah, that's true, I could just watch it myself, it's always fun to watch those things with kids, yeah, but actually, speaking of them that's kind of how this whole this whole series got started was I was sitting with them one day and we were watching the Lion King and the whole scene with Mufasa happened and I was just sitting there and I thought, wow, this is so dark for a children's movie. I don't remember this being this dark when I was a kid. But then, you know, my baby cousins are sitting there and they're laughing, they're singing. They did not even notice. So I thought it would be interesting to talk about, and so that's is the reason that our first movie we're going to be discussing is the Lion King. So, julia, I do have a question for you what experience do you have discussing media and grief?Speaker 2:
You know we did. We actually wrote some curriculum on this, probably probably been close to 10 years ago now. We actually had a movie group here at Cornerstone of Hope, because there's some people that can identify with the character in a story emotionally better than they can identify with their own emotions. So like in the Mighty Ducks you remember the Mighty Ducks when the kid has to hit the hockey puck at the end and the and everybody's you know the parents you're on your edge of your seat. You're hoping he makes you feel for him. You know, if he doesn't make it like so, that emotion that we all engage in sometimes we can do it better with a movie. And so we created a book probably 20 movies, adult movies, not Disney movies, but adult movies like PSI, love you and about Schmitt, movies where there's death. And so we actually did a group where you'd come once a week for 10 weeks and we'd watch a full length Hollywood movie and we made popcorn and then we talked about the characters and how they experienced loss and even the movie Premonition with Sandra Bollock. I don't know if you ever saw that one great movie and you don't know, through the whole movie is she having an acute grief, reaction and panicking. Is she dreaming this? Is she making it up? Is she having a break with the reality that you really die? It's a fascinating movie, but again it touches something in all of us about grief and loss and so, absolutely, we're all about the movies, all about the movies.Speaker 1:
Yeah, well, that's one thing that everyone can agree on, I believe, is that we all like to watch movies. We all like to watch these stories unfold. They all touch our hearts and they all have these messages that kind of resonate with all of us. And so that's the big thing with Disney movies is that you know everyone enjoys them. People go to Disney World, people love the characters and you know they bring these. Sorry, I lost a thought there, but we can edit that.Speaker 2:
Yeah, but I think even with, like the Princess movies like you think you're going to see this great story of the princess and meeting the prince charm and whichever, whether it's Cinderella or Snow White and so whatever there's always loss. Like they've always lost their mom, you know, the mom died. Now they're with the horrible stepmother being raised because the mom died, and so they weave in these themes of loss, even if it's just a hey, this is a great romantic story about the woman you know living in the in the woods with the dwarves, and she meets her prince. Like it's the happy ending we want, but it all starts with loss. It all starts with loss.Speaker 1:
And I don't think I ever noticed how many Disney movies explore grief and loss until I was old enough to kind of understand and feel that loss myself. So yeah, okay.Speaker 2:
So I have a daughter that has issues on the. Well, we'll just say she has some issues, some attachment issues. She was adopted and when we would try and go to see movies, I think we walked out of so many movies because, like Lilo and Stitch, the social worker comes and takes the, the little girl, away from the only parent that she knows, or it was her sister, the only sister she knows. And so my daughter's screaming in the theater stop, don't take her, don't take her. You know why would you take her when you walk out of that movie. Then we watched the movie I took her to see, the one where the zebra is raised by the horses. I can't remember what the name of it's, a Disney movie Bearing, no, no, it wasn't that it's like. So you see, it's rainy and dark and a circus train breaks down, and so they bring a truck or a new train to put all the in. They load all the animals on, except the baby zebra gets left behind, and so you see the train pulling away, the mother zebra being pulled away and watching, you know, and my daughter screaming. Why would you leave her baby? Well, who forgets their baby, didn't you? I don't walk out of that movie, like in the rest of the movie, his I think I've seen half of every Disney movie was probably really good about the horse, you know, I'm sorry, the zebra being raised by horses and just inclusion, all those kind of great themes, but it started with laws. It's so common. Was it racing stripes? Yes, I think that's it. I think that was it. Did you see that? I remember watching that movie too.Speaker 1:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So the Disney movie that we're going to be talking about today is Lion King and for those who are not familiar with the plot, it follows the adventures of the young lion Simba, the heir of his father, mufasa, but Simba's wicked uncle, scar. He plots to you serve Mufasa's throne by luring his father and the son into a stampede of wildebeest. But Simba escapes and only Mufasa is killed. But Simba returns years later as an adult to take back his homeland from scar With the help of his friends Timon and Pumba. So I'm sure, julia, you've seen the Lion King, and I'm sure Joel has seen it as well. Yep, seen it it is probably one of the most popular Disney movies and Best music, best music. And it really does go into those themes of loss, with Mufasa's death and Simba's loss to himself for grief, and I was wondering, julia, do you have any Perspective on this, how it could help normalize death for children and even adults?Speaker 2:
Well, I think it shows a lot of emotions, like you see anger, you see. You see the young Simba, like questioning his identity, who we use, I think, a lot of times. You see that when kids lose a parent, okay, who, in my mind, I do have to be the man of the house. Now, if I'm a little boy, who way I'm with my parents, kind of thing. I think you see Denial, like nope, this isn't really gonna happen to me, kind of thing. You see anger in A scar. Is that his name? Yes, I mean, clearly he's angry about everything that's going on. You see depression, you see some, but some point like I'm just gonna go leave with, I'm just gonna be on my own, I don't want to deal with that, I can't be king. You see the name Having is it Nala, the girlfriend's name? Yes, the little cut. Yeah, like then developing a friendship with her and she really, I think, helps him to see who he is and who he's meant to be. So I think you should a whole gamut of emotions in that movie.Speaker 1:
Mm-hmm. And we also see kind of coping mechanisms. So when Mufasa dies, simba runs away and that was his way of handling the grief and the loss of his father. He doesn't want to handle that reality. So he is really open to that lifestyle with Timon and Pumba about Hakuna Matata, which is living with no worries, mm-hmm.Speaker 2:
Yep, is that what he does? I think at some point though at the end, you know, and I think I don't know how the animal life expected he's not like an adult. But At some point maybe he reaches a little bit of maturity level and realizes that no, he needs to go back and and be who he was called to be and who he was created to be, and to take over the pride in that kind of thing. And so I think sometimes it takes us a while. You think you're out. Okay, who are we called to be? What does God have for us? In the light of losing a parent, losing a child, losing a spouse, whoever it is? I think there's some confusion and Identity. And, okay, what's my life If I lost my only child? Am I still a mom? You know, if I, if, if I lost my, my spouse I've been caring for for years with MS, like I don't know what to do now because I was a caregiver. So I think all those identity issues come up for adults as well as kids, I think especially kids, and I don't know that we always give enough credit For what kids experience because we just think, oh well, they're gone. No, they're kids of resilience. You know they'll get through it and they are on some level. But just like with Simba, I mean it grief affects yeah, really does in a lot of ways.Speaker 1:
And from the Catholic perspective, it kind of reminds us that you can lose your faith when you lose a loved one. So it's kind of like how Simba turned away from everything that he knew, everything that he loved, but he found his way back. And it's similar to the way that we can find our way back if we turn back to God, because he has the power to heal us.Speaker 2:
Exactly. God calls us back, and I think God called Simba back and he used Nala to be that person, that friend that came alongside, that loved him just right where he was at and cared for him, but also nudged him along like a gay. You really are meant to be king and you're walking away from your calling. So she was able to befriend him and accept him where he's at but at the right time, say okay. Now basically she doesn't say these words, but it's time to stop feeling sorry for yourself and go back to what God called him to do. Sure.Speaker 1:
Sure. And then Julia, do you think that there it's a good thing that these children are being exposed to these movies that have themes of death and grief so early on in their lives?Speaker 2:
I think it's always good that kids understand loss, because we're raising this generation of adults that don't want to believe the losses that were going to happen to them, that they can just be what they want and do what they want. And on some level I guess we can. But death and loss. Not even just death, but divorce. How many kids you know are going, the parents are getting divorced or they move across country because dad's job changed and now they've left their little friends, their 13 year old friends, and they said they're a group of friends that they've lost. We all experienced loss and we don't start talking about it with our kids when they're younger. I mean, loss happens. If you ever tried to ween a two, you said you have nieces and nephews. Do you ever try to ween a two year old from a pacifier? Are they happy about that? No, that's loss, that's a huge loss for them. We all experienced loss but we don't want to talk about it because it's not a fun subject. But if we don't talk about losses, a part of life is the hardest part of life is the worst part of life. Nobody wants it, but it's a part of life. And if we don't, then when they are cut from their high school basketball team. Kids don't have any emotional resources to process that because we didn't teach them. Here's how you handle loss. Or when they're 12 and the love of their life breaks up with them, they think the world is over and they have no emotional resources to process that kind of loss because we didn't teach them. And so if you ever see like a little three-year-old with a balloon from Applebee's and the balloon burst and the kid starts crying, what does mom typically do? Stop crying, we'll go get you another balloon. And when the family dog dies, stop crying, we'll go get a new puppy. We're constantly teaching children every loss is replaceable. But guess what? Ramp is not replaceable, right? Mom's not replaceable. So movies like this this is a very covert way of kind of getting in those themes of grief and loss. I don't know that they're always obvious to kids when they watch. I think, like you said you need to like they're singing along the koonama tide and all that. They're not really thinking about the loss as much. But I think these are great conversations for parents. It's a great way to have a conversation about loss, to say hey, how do you think that Simba felt when his dad died, how do you think you know he was doing XYZ? Why do you think he was behaving this way? If we can use things like this, because you can't sit with a six-year-old and say how are you going to feel when grandpa like you can't do that, but you can, man. That's like we talked about the movies. You can say, hey, I wonder, what do you think Simba felt like with XYZ? So these are great conversation starters, even movies like 13 Reasons why, which I think was a percent in care for that series. It started a conversation about suicide loss. So there's just so much power in media. If we could harness that and teach kids and adults really about grief and loss, that's a win-win.Speaker 1:
And I read a study from Kelly Tenzick from the University of Buffalo. She said that it was really good for children to see these deaths in the cartoons because it allowed parents to talk to them about realistic and real-life deaths. So something for fiction or real life, the difference if someone came back, or if someone fell off a cliff, like the case of Lion King. It opened up that conversation as well, right?Speaker 2:
As long as it's not the kind like the road runner, like I used to watch when I was little, where they died and the next thing they're back alive again, because that teaches kids that death is not permanent. So I can distinguish between that. Yeah, sure, that's good.Speaker 1:
Joel. Any thoughts on the Lion King grief movies?Speaker 3:
I think the thing that struck me is you referenced the study from the University of Buffalo. The thing that really resonated with me was that they looked at 57 different Disney or Pixar movies and they came up with 71 character deaths. I mean, you're almost talking, you know well. I mean it's more than one death per movie practically, which is really kind of surprising and shocking when you actually stop and think about it. I think Julia's right. A lot of times these are covert. You're not even aware that, especially young kids, and a lot of times in some of these movies the death doesn't even occur in the movie, like Julia again referenced, again with some of these Princess movies where they're, or even like in the case of Aladdin, you know he's, he's just he's the street kid, he doesn't have his, he doesn't have so he already had his loss. So yeah, and it's off screen, but it's, it's used almost to give these characters a disadvantage going into the movie and so throughout the movie that when they do triumph it has more, more impact.Speaker 2:
That's a good way of looking at it. Yeah, I think too, when I I'm I'm very old, that when I was, like before for TV was invented, the first movie that I really saw was Bambi, and I think that was one of the early Disney movies and this was before. Like there was a fun Hakuna Matata songs and singing and dancing. It was this dark script of you know, and it's raining and dark and and and Bambi's the baby dear and he's looking for his mom, he's calling out mom up and you hear this gunshot, like you hear the shot, and then the father comes in, says your mother's dead son, or something like really blatant, like that. And I think and that's how we started Thank goodness we've moved the needle a little bit on that that we can at least sing Hakuna Matata and have some fun with it. The death is implied and sometimes the death is shown, but like, like he was saying, like with Joel was saying with Aladdin and stuff, he, the death is implied, he was an orphan, but you don't see it, you don't see the graphic in this. But so thank goodness that that that has changed, because Bambi was a rough he was rough.Speaker 1:
They still include elements of loss in the Disney movies. Now I've recently watched Moana, big hero six in Kanto, and in Moana the grandmother passes away. In big hero six the brother passes away. Oh, it's the other one I mentioned. In Kanto it happened a very long time ago, but the grandfather passed away and while it doesn't show it, it is implied. So they're still doing those elements of loss, but not in the same direct way that they did maybe with Bambi.Speaker 2:
So do you think it's intentional on Disney's part? Are they thinking, gosh, let's put some great stories out there that include loss, or is it just?Speaker 1:
happenstance? That's what I've been wondering, because it seems like I mean Joel even said it out of 57 movies, there were 71 character deaths. So at a certain point, is it an accident, or are they doing it on purpose to make sure that these children can relate to these feelings when they experience loss themselves? Yeah, yeah, I don't know.Speaker 2:
We don't have to ask for this. One thing I would say is that I guess they're leaving it up to the parents to discuss, which is good if it happens. I think in other kinds of movies I just lost my trans life, where there's been deaths, like they explain it, but in the Disney movies it's, like we said, implied or isn't really talked about. So hopefully parents do take that opportunity again just to talk about loss being a part of life for all of us, especially, I think sometimes it's Christians. It's hard because we think nothing bad will ever happen to us because we love God and God loves us and everything's good. But loss is just a part of life for all of us. So if we can help kids understand that, that's a good thing and this is a great way of doing it. Oh, I was going to say Mr Rogers' Neighborhood. There was a few episodes where they talked about loss, but they actually talked about and explained it and it was more of a theoretical lecture. I think how Disney does it with song and dance makes it a little bit more palatable. I think that that's a good thing because again it starts the conversations that we need to have with kids.Speaker 1:
I agree, and in that study that we mentioned, as you had said, julia, it is a good thing that it's left up to the parents, because then if the parents have a specific religious view so for example, if they're Catholic, they're able to apply that to the situation in the movie and say you know, mufasa went to heaven. Everyone who passes away goes to heaven. It allows them to get their child more well-appointed with their beliefs.Speaker 2:
Absolutely, and as well as culture too. You can say, like in Quentino and some of them that have different cultures Hawaiian culture or Mexican culture they're able to be very specific with loss in that culture. I think that's really important. All right, we're such a diverse country. It's really important.Speaker 1:
I agree. Well, does anyone else have anything to add about Disney and grief before we finish off today?Speaker 2:
But I think we should start talking about a lot of these movies. We'll have to do this again.Speaker 1:
I know I'm hoping we do, and if any of our viewers have any movies that they would like us to discuss or bring up during a podcast episode, you can email us at podcast at CLECEM, or you can message us on social media. So thank you so much again, Julia, for joining us. I hope that you'll be able to join us again and we can do another movie and make it a series.Speaker 2:
Yep, that sounds like a plan. Thank you, paige and Joel, both for appreciating being on the show.Speaker 1:
No problem, and to our viewers. Thank you so much for listening.