Disney has been in the animated film business for a long time, with decades of children’s classics under its belt. Fans tend to categorize these films into different “eras”, 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 mostly of romantic coming-of-age musicals.
Things got a little complicated when Pixar was brought on board, because with its 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 trouble discerning between “Disney” and “Pixar.”
What adds to this confusion is that the two have started following similar trends. There was a period when it felt like every Disney movie deliberately flipped the tropes of past Disney movies, in order to prove to audiences that the studio was beyond its past. There were the famous “surprise” villains that quickly became predictable. Then there were a few years in which a huge lineup of Disney and Pixar movies ended with the main characters of a beloved franchise going their separate ways.
All of these new tropes received a mixed reception from audiences as they popped up more and more frequently. But a new one that has emerged is receiving mostly positive feedback so far.
Pixar’s 2017 hit coconut received rave reviews, especially for its story centering on a Mexican family dealing with generational trauma and learning to understand and listen to each other better. It seems that Disney and Pixar have taken these comments into account because in the past few months two other films have had family generational trauma as their main conflict: Disney’s Encanto and Pixar turn red.
While all of these films feature child or teenage protagonists and are great for kids, including this issue was a great way to help Disney appeal to older audiences. The three aforementioned films have attracted a large following of teenagers and adults, who can relate to the deeper and more nuanced aspects of the trauma they show.
The question now is, will this follow the path of many other Disney movie trends and quickly become obsolete? Honestly, I suspect it might not age as quickly as some of the others. It’s not about novelty compared to something like surprise villains, where the trope quickly lost its shock value, and is simply a relatable arc that can be presented in different ways. Each of the three aforementioned films features a different sized family from a distinct culture in a different time period. Each protagonist embarks on a different personal journey, and while everything turns out well in the end for each of them, that path and endpoint is very different for each of them.
That said, it should be noted that in each of these stories, the family matriarch is treated as the root of the trauma. However, she is never quite evil and is shown to be a victim of circumstance. Still, in order to keep the use of this theme fresh, it might be worth exploring patriarchal family trauma in the future.
Ultimately, generational trauma as a theme made more adults (and kids) connect with Disney’s recent production. Here’s hoping the company continues to incorporate even more topics that audiences of all ages can enjoy and relate to.