Discovering the magic: Readings, interpretations and analyses of the wonderful worlds of Disney

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Julia Loughlin


Walt Disney Corporation, Animated films, Inequality

Subject Categories

American Film Studies | Inequality and Stratification | Sociology of Culture


Over the past decade, researchers have increasingly begun to take a critical look at Disney, as a corporation as well as the products it produces. While many researchers examine various Disney sites, films, theme parks, consumer products, and comic books, few involve the actual audiences that are consuming these products in the research. Drawing upon the works of Real (1977) and Wasko et al. (2001), this project not only examines the ideological messages contained in Disney animated films, but also explores the ways in which a particular Disney audience understands and interprets these messages.

The data for this project are derived from four sources: a student questionnaire, three student focus groups, my own readings of the films, and outside sources such as newspapers, film reviews, and histories of the Disney Corporation. Based upon the answers given in the questionnaire portion of the research, the five films that were identified as favorites by the participants, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, were explored further in the focus group meetings and formed the basis of the research.

Analysis of the data collected using the student questionnaires and focus groups revealed three themes, love and romance, marriage and family, and lessons and morality, as elements that should always be included in Disney animated films. In exploring these themes, it was found that hierarchies surrounding race, class gender, and sexuality are communicated to the audiences in the films. However, the participants in the study rarely recognized the ways in which inequality was structured in the films. As a result it was concluded that these stories of love and romance, marriage and family, and lessons and morality serve to mask the ways in which systems of inequality operate in the films. Finally, this paper makes links between the ideologies and inequalities present in the films and social policies operating in U.S. society.


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