Disney holds nothing back when they bring a new movie to the big screen. Tragedies shroud our favorite characters to help propel them on their vast journeys.
From the gut-wrenching death of Mufasa in “The Lion King” to Ana and Elsa losing their parents in “Frozen,” Disney pulls absolutely no punches when they craft their stories.
Bu, are there potentially deeper meanings behind the awesome Disney movies that we love? Are there any unique examples of symbolism in Disney movies that we perhaps miss or take for granted?
Well, in this article, I’m going to examine this exact topic, as I’ll cover what I believe are some of Disney’s best uses of symbolism in their film—both old to new.
Examples of Symbolism in Disney Films
Let’s begin with one of Disney’s most beloved films—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Disney is no stranger when it comes to putting symbolism or hidden messages in their movies. Many of these fairy tales, on the surface, seem to be a simple children’s story.
But if we dig a little deeper, we find that there is much more to the story than what first meets the eyes.
There are many biblical references made throughout this film. First is simply the number seven. In the Bible, the seven number signified completion and perfection.
Dopey, Sneezy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Bashful, and Doc.
Let’s see, carry the one, ah yes. Seven. Seven Dwarfs!
These seven little guys run one of the best attractions in Disney World—Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride.
Moving on to the poisonous apple. Eve of Adam and Eve was offered the fruit they were commanded not to consume. In this scenario, Snow White is Eve and the serpent of the story is the Evil Queen.
Snow White is told many times not to speak with strangers, yet she fails just as Eve did. The Evil Queen brings her sinister plot to fruition by placing the spell on Snow White.
The colors in the movie are obvious nods to a larger meaning. First the “White” in Snow White’s skin, hints at her innocence.
The red on her lips represents strong passion. And her long black hair gives us a glimpse into what her fate will ultimately be.
These colors serve to help the story pop off-screen, but if you look a little closer, you see that they are strategically placed throughout the film.
Speaking of colors, let’s move on to our next film.
The film features a Disney Princess that is based on an actual person. Matoaka was a real person, and her story is worth reading and is far different and more complex than the version Disney gave us.
Nevertheless, while not an accurate historic representation (at all), there’s no doubt that lyrics such as these stick with you:
You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is Earth until
You can paint with all the Colors of the Wind
For many of us, just reading those simple lyrics transports us back in time. Maybe we never truly understood the song, other than it had a killer hook.
But what was she truly trying to say?
Sure, the wind is invisible and doesn’t bear any colors on its own. But it still holds a purpose. The main point of the song is how beautiful the land can be when you stop to appreciate the little things.
If you seek to destroy nature for profit, you’ll miss the colors of the wind. This is what she was saying directly to John Smith.
Beauty and the Beast
This is perhaps one of the most symbolic movies Disney has ever made. And as we’ve seen in the previous movies, Disney loves to use color in various ways.
Color serves to make the films visually appealing on the surface. But looking a little deeper, we can see the true meaning behind the vision.
First, when Belle’s father stumbles onto the Beast’s property, we notice it’s dark and filled with dread. The creepy vibe and lack of color hint at what’s to come inside the castle.
The castle itself is filled with dust and gloom. The lack of vibrancy tells us that the Beast has been living a different life than what he used to know. The lack of natural light from windows throughout adds to the gloom.
As the story progresses, the windows and color are slowly restored with Belle’s presence in the castle. Belle and the Beast are being more open with each other and the first fruits of love are born.
Belle’s famous yellow ball gown can be seen as her falling in love with the Beast. It represents her strength and strong will to overcome whatever obstacles come her way.
A single candle flame is significant of hope. When Belle first leaves the castle, she slams the door and extinguishes Lumiere’s flame. Without Belle, there is no hope for the Beast to reverse the curse.
The mirrors placed in the castle allow the viewer to see themselves for who they are. The Beast shattered the mirror in his room because he despises the way others see him.
The other recurring theme is Belle and the Beast’s common love of books. They are Belle’s escape from the life in the little town she lives in. She wants something more. She knows it’s out there.
For the Beast, they were simply a way his parents used to teach him about things he would need when he was older. Maybe not exactly how they had planned.
I doubt they could have ever imagined it could spark a love connection with someone to help break his wretched curse of being the Beast.
What Other Disney Films are Symbolic?
I would venture to say, no matter what Disney movie you decide to turn on, you will find a deeper meaning behind the simple plot. In fact, we recently broke down various Disney subliminal messages in movies, which you may enjoy checking out.
With that said, here are just a few others of my favorites that come to mind:
The Lion King
The age old battle between light and darkness. When Mufasa is king, the Pride Lands are bustling with plenty to eat and drink. When Scar is king, it is but a dry desert with starving animals.
They use a story arc where Pinnochio finds himself in the “belly of the whale.”
He must figure out how to get out in a creative way.
Peter lives in Neverland, a utopia where he can avoid the fears that many young adults face as they grow older.
The crocodile represents the finite time we have, which is a limiting factor in all of our lives.
The Little Mermaid
The spinning wheel is a reference to the inevitable cycle of life. Aurora is unable to avoid this, just as she is unable to avoid the spell that was cast on her by Maleficent.
The next time you partake in viewing one of these movies for pleasure…Stop a moment. Ask yourself one simple question;
What is the true message Disney trying to tell me?
Symbolism and deeper meaning is all around us, including our favorite forms of entertainment. Hopefully these examples of symbolism in Disney movies helped you think a bit more critically about the movies we all grew up loving. They remain fantastic, and it’s always great to be able to appreciate hidden meanings behind the art we all enjoy.