Disney’s hags drawn into ageism debate

Telegraph (UK) 31 May 2007
Even the Seven Dwarfs are guilty, well two of them anyway. Grumpy and Dopey are no longer just the loyal friends of Snow White but must now line up with the likes of the Wicked Queen and Cruella de Vil to be accused of fostering negative images of elderly people. According to academics, Walt Disney’s seemingly ageist cartoon depiction of older people as evil or incompetent risks adversely influencing children.A study by American researchers at Brigham Young University, Utah, looked at 93 characters who appeared to be aged 55 or older from 34 Disney films going back 70 years. A majority of older characters, such as Maurice in Beauty and the Beast or Rafiki in The Lion King, were portrayed as wise or kind, like Pinnochio’s father Geppetto. But a significant minority were portrayed as unintelligent, nasty, bad-tempered or useless, giving children a bad impression.Apart from films set in other cultures, such as Hawaii-based Lilo and Stich, the elderly characters are also stereotyped in terms of race and gender. Two thirds of older characters – excluding animals – from films ranging from Dumbo to The Aristocats were male; 83 per cent were white. A quarter were shown as grumpy, 12 per cent evil or sinister, eight per cent helpless, three per cent senile or crazy and two per cent the object of ridicule.

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