Disney has been in the animated movie business for a long time, with decades of children’s classics under its belt. Fans tend to categorize these films into different “epochs,” each marked by a certain art style and/or other common elements, such as certain types of storytelling. For example, the Disney Renaissance, which spanned from 1989 to 1999, consisted primarily of romantic coming-of-age musicals.
Things got a little more complicated when Pixar was brought in, as with his addition, Disney had two animation studios producing feature films, even more so when Walt Disney Animated Pictures started producing 3D animated films. These days, much of the general public has a hard time distinguishing between “Disney” and “Pixar.”
What adds to this confusion is that the two have begun to follow similar trends. There was a period of time when it seemed like every Disney movie was deliberately subverting the tropes of past Disney movies, as a way of proving to the audience that the studio had outgrown its past. There were the notorious “surprise” villains who quickly became predictable. Then there were a couple of years where a slew of Disney and Pixar movies ended with the main characters of a beloved franchise going their separate ways.
All of these new tropes received mixed audience reception as they appeared more and more frequently. But a new one that has surfaced is receiving mostly positive feedback so far.
Pixar’s success in 2017 Coconut received an enthusiastic reception, especially for its story centered on a Mexican family dealing with generational trauma and learning to understand and listen to each other better. It seems that Disney and Pixar took that feedback and followed it because in the last few months two more movies have had family generational trauma as the main conflict: Disney’s Charm and from Pixar turning red.
While all of these movies feature child or teen leads, and are great for kids, the inclusion of this theme has been a great way to help Disney attract older audiences. All three of the aforementioned films have garnered a huge following of teens and adults, who can relate to the deeper, more nuanced aspects of trauma depicted in them.
The question now is: will it go the way of many other Disney movie trends and quickly become stale? Honestly, I suspect he might not age as quickly as some of the others. It’s not reliant on novelty compared to something like surprise villains where the trope soon lost its surprise value and is simply a relatable arc that can be presented in different ways. Each of the three films mentioned above features a different sized family from a different culture in a different time period. Each protagonist embarks on a different personal journey, and although everything works out in the end for each of them, that path and end point look very different for each of them.
That said, it is striking that in each of these stories, the family matriarch is treated as the root of the trauma. However, she never fully plays the villain and is shown to be a victim of circumstance. Still, to keep the use of this topic fresh, it might be interesting to explore patriarchal family trauma in the future.
Ultimately, generational trauma as a theme has allowed more adults (and kids) to connect with recent Disney production. We look forward to the company continuing to incorporate even more themes that audiences of all ages can enjoy and relate to.