Muggle or Magical? Disney decides…

Disney is quick to pick up on the emergent themes shaping culture today – but equally quick to lapse back into its comfort zone of dominant liberal humanism.
In a couple of recent films, Frozen 2 and Encanto, Disney starts to engage with the idea of indigenous culture and magic (keeping up with nascent attempts from the Global North to engage with indigenous voices, particularly from the Amazon).
In Frozen 2, Elsa is repositioned from a typically white Disney princess to a Shaman of a Nordic indigenous tribe called the Northuldra. In Encanto, a Colombian family fleeing civil conflict are given a gift of magic from the jungle.
But what happens in both these films reveals how hard it is for Disney to truly accept and centre these ideas. In Frozen 2, Elsa, as Shaman, must give up her worldly power. She becomes sidelined in the mountains, while her non-magical, Muggle sister Anna takes over the worldly Queendom of Arendelle.
In Encanto, it’s another Muggle, hero Mirabel, who challenges the other characters’ fixation with magic. A non-magical being (lacking the magical gifts of her family), she uses her humanity to heal her relatives from their fetishisation of magic.
The message we take away from Encanto is that ‘you don’t need magic to be a hero’. It’s a powerful theme which has a deep truth in it.
But at the same time, Disney is slipping and sliding all over the place in its treatment of indigenous magic. On the one hand, Disney wants it (just like the Global North generally wants it). On the other hand, it can’t quite give up its deep roots in secular liberal humanism. So the Muggles win and the Magicals eventually get sidelined (or corrected in some way). Power doesn’t fundamentally move.
Watch these two films and you’ll get a sense of how far Disney remains entrenched in secular humanism, dipping a big toe into today’s emergent post-secular waters, but then quickly running back to safer shores.

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