As much as I enjoyed “Beauty and the Beast”, I was honestly a little disappointed that with all of the changes and adaptations they made, they still included the scenes of slobbering wolves chasing our main characters through the woods. Seriously? Aren’t we all over this by now?
Disney has a fairly terrible track record with how they have treated wolves over the decades. From standard Big Bad Wolf tropes, to anthropomorphic villains, to feral pack like the one mentioned above; Disney simply doesn’t represent wolves well. The lone exception is both versions of “The Jungle Book”. Mowgli is raised by wolves and they do attempt to protect him from Shere Khan. The writers were somewhat bound by the original source material with that one. I’m honestly not sure that is a plot line they would have come to on their own.
I think the movie that bothered me the most was “Frozen”. There was no reason to misrepresent wolves in 2013. Not only are most people aware at this point that wolves tend to avoid humans. It made no sense that ‘starving’ wolves would chase our heroine through the woods after snow had been on the ground for a few hours. It’s actually quite lazy story telling. Especially considering how that exact plot device has been used before.
It’s always easier to rely on a trope or a stereotype to tell a story. Whether that stereotype is animal or human, using it cuts down on exposition time. However real strength comes from telling a story that is larger than the stereotype. Wreck it Ralph is a villain who longs to be a hero. Merida is a princess who doesn’t want to fall in love and settle down. Hans is a handsome prince who is a power hungry villain. Modern Disney films are full of these kinds of trope breaking stories. These stories are not only more interesting to us, they are more realistic. They tell us more about the complexities of the human condition than any stereotype ever could. We would do well to remember that in every day life as well.
We are living in a culture that enjoys lumping people into categories then labeling those categories as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We buy into these stereotypes because it make life simpler. We don’t have to actually get to know someone, we can read their label and know who we’re dealing with. It doesn’t matter that our stereotype is out of date or just plain wrong. Like Disney and their wolves, its just easier to rely on old ideas.
We are better than that. We can overcome our laziness and work harder to learn about people. We can leave stereotypes behind and look at people for who they are, not what label they wear. We can learn to respond to people with curiosity, not fear. We can stop dividing ourselves into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and become ‘we’ together.