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Deconstructing Disney

Seven engaging activities promote reflection and dialogue about Disney culture

Deconstructing Disney

This fun, intergenerational workshop explores what we love and hate about Disney films, characters and brands from the past and present. If you’re a kid, teen, parent, educator or anyone who works with youth, you will learn how people’s knowledge, beliefs and attitudes can be harnessed and expanded for deeper learning through simple instructional strategies. Discovering how talk about popular culture provides a great opportunity to spark and activate critical thinking, creativity and social action. This curriculum features seven activities appropriate for all ages and a list of additional resources.

  • Room set-up needs: Projection screen, projector & laptop tech, seats in semi-circle with ability to move into groups in four corners of the room and stand in a line for the Walk the Line activity.
  • Materials needed: Access videos, PPT slides and print handouts for this session are below
  • Target Audiences: youth, parents, teachers/librarians and after-school youth providers and children age 7 and up
  • Themes: media literacy; Disney films; nostalgia; storytelling archetypes & stereotypes; conflict & story arc; Disney empire; Disney merchandising;¬†identity and consumer culture


MATERIALS NEEDED: Click here to access digital resources 

  • A Tribute to Disney's Animated Classics
  • Disney Animation Film Eras Explained
  • "For the First Time in Forever" song from Frozen
  • "Glued" Disney Short flm
  • Deconstructing Disney Workshop PPT Slides



All participants will:

  • recognize that fairy tales are continually being revised for modern audiences and are relevant because they speak to the challenges of life
  • recognize archetypes, story arcs and stereotypes
  • reflect on their attitudes towards Disney including the pleasures of childhood nostalgia
  • recognize Disney films have positive and negative values messages embedded in entertainment
  • recognize Disney designs entertainment content to align with merchandising goals and that this has implications for personal identity and cultural values

Teachers and librarians will:

  • increase their confidence in exploring the topic of Disney with learners
  • recognize that children have a lot of knowledge and complex attitudes about
  • value the function of high-engagement dialogue about media that promotes literacy, critical thinking and socio-emotional learning
  • understand how critical questions can be used to promote learning



Set the stage by playing a montage of Disney films to activate prior knowledge. Then use one or more of the following activities to stimulate discussion and dialogue.


Who is your favorite character? Describe the character and explain why it’s your favorite. Take-away message: People interpret media messages differently and identification with characters is a key pleasure of the viewing experience.

2. THE DISNEY EMPIRE (lecture-discussion)

Review slides and then discuss: Should we be concerned about the scope of the Disney empire? Why or why not?   Take-away message: As the 2nd largest media company in the world, the Disney empire shapes people’s experience of childhood, a profound power that comes with great social responsibility.


How many of us own something branded with a logo from the Disney empire? What kinds of feelings might be activating by owning and using Disney-branded products?

Take-away message: People buy branded merchandise for the pleasurable feelings, not the products themselves.

 4. CLOSE ANALYSIS (viewing & discussion)

Select a Disney clip to analyze and use five questions to critically analyze the content and format:

  • Who is the author and what is the purpose of this film?
  • What techniques are used to attract and hold attention?
  • What lifestyles, values and points of view are presented?
  • How might different people interpret this message?
  • What cultural knowledge is needed to support the interpretation of this message?

Take-away message: Critically analyzing entertainment media helps reveal its values.

5. FOUR CORNERS WITH CHARACTER CARDS (character card activity)

Each participant receives a character card and tries to explain the character to someone else. Trade cards with someone if you’re not familiar with the character. Then identify four corners of the room with the categories: hero, villain, helper and victim. Participants move to the corner and explain why they’ve selected this category, noting similarities and differences between the characters.Take-away message: Stereotypes are part of storytelling and may also influence how we see people in the real world.

6. QUESTION, CONFLICT or MEME? (pair-share)

Using the character cards, describe the essential conflict of a Disney film to someone else. What is the primary question or conflict that the character faces? Alternate activity: compose a fun way to communicate your opinions of the conflict in the form of meme. Take-away message: Conflict is an essential element of storytelling and people may perceive narrative conflicts and themes differently.

7. WALK THE LINE (activity)

Participants stand up and are shown an imaginary line that ranges from ‚Äústrongly agree‚ÄĚ to ‚Äúno opinion‚ÄĚ to ‚Äústrongly disagree.‚ÄĚ They move to a point on the line that represents their opinion each statement below is read aloud.

  • ¬†Childhood would not be childhood without Disney films
  • Disney is common culture - something we can all talk about and relate to
  • Disney never strays from a simplistic formula
  • Stereotypes never hurt anyone - they‚Äôve always been part of storytelling
  • The Disney empire is dangerous because they‚Äôre too dominant in our culture
  • Disney, Inc. exploits the relationship between parents and children

Take-away message: People’s attitudes about Disney are based on a number of complex factors and it is important to respect and understand the wide range of attitudes that people have about this important part of our culture.



Select from the following resources to complement the workshop and inspire further discussion or programming:


  • Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. This portrait of the visionary shows how his desire for escape and his obsessive determination and perfectionism transformed animation from a novelty into an art form.
  • Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy by Janet Wasko. This critical analysis of the entertainment corporation reveals how the empire was built and how its products are received by audiences around the world.
  • Disney Culture by John Wills. A cultural history of Disney shows how it has adapted and changed in response to American culture.
  • Handsome Heroes and Vile Villains by Amy Davis. This book examines the masculine gender stereotypes in Disney films.



  • Mickey Mouse Monopoly (2001). Directed by Chyng Sun, this film takes a critical look at Disney films and the stories they tell about race, gender and class, examining the values propagated under the guise of innocence and fun.
  • Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009). Directed by Don Hahn using archival interviews and film shot by employees, this documentary explores the Disney Animation studio from 1984 to 1994.
  • The Boys (2010).This film, created by the sons of the songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, shows the power of creative conflict in the creation of some of the most memorable songs from the 1960s Disney classic films.



Children’s Literature: Deconstructing Disney (Unit 4) by Carolyn Fortuna. This digital resource designed for college students and teachers provides a deep exploration of the cultural myths that Disney films embody.



35 Disney Sidekicks by Lindsay Kupner. Downloadable gifs of the characters can be used for the Question, Conflict or Meme activity


DVD EXTRAS. The Extra/Bonus Features available on DVD Disney films contain treasures for film and media literacy education. They include: 

  • Audio Commentary: Great "in the moment" discussion (often two or more filmmakers, actors, directors, etc) about the making of the film in which interesting unscripted details emerge
  • Deleted Scenes: These provide insights into decisions about which scenes were cut and why
  • Music: Music videos, interviews with the music director help viewers appreciate how sound shapes emotional response
  • Shorts: The "making of" video and more¬†



Guardian (2018, January 5) Death wears Mickey Mouse ears: How Disney is doing parents a favour

Vanity Fair (2017, November 23) The year Disney started to take diversity seriously               


--Created by Pam Steager and Renee Hobbs