(Interview with Walt Disney by Gloria Steinem, 1972)
GS: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Mr. Disney.
WD: Thanks for having me. Just go ahead and call me Walt.
GS: Okay. So Walt, the basic premise of this interview is, as you know, many in the feminist movement think that Disney Studios has a bias against women. Have you heard of this critique?
WD: Well, yes I have, Ms. Steinem. It came to my attention a few years back when I heard women libbers complaining about the passive role that Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty took in their respective films. First I was confused. Then somewhat alarmed that people were misinterpreting or completely missing the point in what my family entertainment was trying to get across.
GS: Well, would you like to explain what you’re trying to get across to us women libbers?
WD: (laughs) Sure, sure.
GS: Okay, shoot.
WD: Well, from what I understand, one of the main critiques about the Disney princesses is that they’re passive. Now to simplify this interview, I’m going to stick with my three favorite gals: Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
GS: I was going to also bring up Merida from Brave.
WD: Sounds great, Gloria. But lets focus on these three familiar characters for the time being if that’s okay with you.
GS: Uncle! (laughs)
WD: (laughs good-naturedly) It’s very simple, Gloria. When you watch any of these movies and the criticism is the prince comes in at the last minute and rescues the princess, she can’t do it on her own is the general criticism. But I want you to ask yourself now, and this applies to boys also, have you ever identified with the prince?
GS: Well, not really. No.
WD: Exactly. They’re intentionally written as one-note, one-dimensional bland characters. Sure they’re noble and all that good stuff but they’re not the main focus. Who do you remember from these films? You remember Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. You identify with their plight boy or girl regardless.
And the reason we do that at Disney Studios is that we understand that there is an ancient secret hidden in these characters. In a nutshell Gloria, Sleeping Beauty and the others symbolize the ancient Hindu concept of Kundalini, some call the serpent power.
The idea being, usually through yoga and meditation, that you can awaken at the base of your spine a Divine Feminine Energy that is coiled there sleeping hence, Sleeping Beauty. In fact, when you visit Disneyland you can actually take a picture in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. We thought we were being very obvious with that one. Shows what we know. (chuckles)
GS: Well yes, Walt. To be quite honest with you I think that most children or the majority of the viewing public wouldn’t pick up on that.
WD: Well that’s the thing. When you watch Snow White for the first time you’re just going to enjoy the experience. The characters. But on an unconscious level magic is working inside you. Years later, you may have a flash while sitting under a tree eating a picnic watching the clouds in the sky. You’ll shout out, “Eureka! Snow White has black hair like the nigredo. White skin like the albedo. And red lips like the rubedo.” which are just Latin for the three stages of the Alchemical Great Work.
You’ll also realize that the Seven Dwarves represent the seven metals and the seven planets. And on another note, they also represent the seven chakras. That’s one of the reasons why the dwarves are digging in the mine. There’s an old alchemical saying, “Visit the interior of the Earth and find the hidden stone.”
GS: I…don’t really know what to say. Again, men still come to their rescue.
WD: Oh, I’m sorry. I tend to ramble and I do like eating chili out of a can. If I had some I’d offer you a bite. But anyway, continuing with the idea of Kundalini, this power is sleeping at the base of your spine and must be awoken and rise up to Shiva. Shiva or Prince Charming is nothing without Kundalini or Sleeping Beauty.
But Prince Charming has a great difficulty and many obstacles to vanquish to meet before he can wed the divine mystery that slumbers. And that’s why I specifically have the princes as interesting as wood paste. When you leave that theater you remember Cinderella. Not the guy with the glass slipper.
GS: Well, thank you for being so gracious in your explanation. Another thing I have to bring up is the fact that many of your villains are women or seem flamboyant in a homosexual manner.
WD: Homosexual manner? I’m sorry can you clarify that question?
GS: Well, many people feel that Cruella DeVille is a grotesque, stereotypical homosexual even though she is a woman. Also, the villain in The Little Mermaid, Ursula represents a hideous drag queen.
WD: Hmm. Well, Gloria I’m of the belief that villains come in all shapes and sizes. I tend to favor female villains because so many women are portrayed as weak and I like a strong lady with moxie to go head to head with our heroines. Also, some women are wonderful. And some are unpleasant and truly despicable just like some men are just kings and some men are tyrants.
GS: How do you explain the rather disturbing homophobic villains?
WD: First of all, I like eating chili in a can and I really don’t know what homophobic means. But I can tell you this; all the kids that are unusual or square pegs always tell me that they identify with the villains because they’re interesting and colorful.
You see, one thing we realize at Disney Studios is that the masses are rather simple-minded. And so sometimes the good guy is the villain. And on another note, Ursula from The Little Mermaid was based on a drag queen. I believe his name is Divine. He was in a bunch of John Waters movies. In fact he’s most famous for eating dog poop off the street in a little movie called, “Pink Flamingos”. So if you think Disney is anti-drag queen I just don’t know what to tell you.
GS: Well, thank you so much for this very thought-provoking interview. I have many more questions but I know you’re busy working on a new top-secret project.
WD: Yes I am, but I have time for one more question.
GS: Well let’s get back to that princess from Brave. She was one of the first princesses that was a strong, self-sufficient character who wasn’t pretty in the predictable and traditional way. And so feminists were upset when Disney re-imagined her sexualized, which we feel is toxic and a horrible role model for young girls. Also, they took away her bow and arrow. Not only was I upset but many other feminists were, who finally felt they were seeing some positive changes.
WD: Well, first of all none of the Disney princesses are sexualized. They are at the cusp of becoming women, which most girls aspire to. And the reason we do this is that on a deeper level, the princess represents fertility. Regeneration. Eternal Re-birth.
This also goes back to what the prince symbolizes. When we use royalty we don’t mean that boring royalty we’re familiar with now. We understand it as the higher subtle realms.
But I’ll tell you this much, Gloria. When they took that bow and arrow away from Merida I was fit to be tied. The bow and arrow is such a powerful symbol. Lord Rama comes to mind and I’m a Sagittarius. Not to mention the Huntress Diana. I had to talk to a few people about that one. So yes, sometimes things get a little unbalanced here at the Magic Kingdom. But I’m only one man and there is only so much I can do.
GS: Well, thank you so much, Mr. Disney for this interview.
WD: Call me Walt. And because I like you I’ll tell you what the secret project is that we’re working on.
GS: Okay! I love a good scoop.
WD: Right now we’re working on putting the first Disneyland on the Moon. You see, every time I look at the night sky and see that beautiful silver moon, I think, “That’s a valuable piece of property that is not being utilized to it’s full potential.”
So we’re putting a Disneyland on there and at every Disneyland on Mother Earth, soon you’re going to be able to purchase a ticket in Tomorrowland for a rocket ship ride to the Moon. And Gloria, I can’t think of a more perfect feminine symbol then that.