Does Disney Hate Families?

October 22, 2007

My son, age 4, has became a Disney Channel junkie.  His preference is for the nightly shows, aimed at teens and tweens, with his favorites being,  Cory In The House, The Suite Life of Zac and Cody, and Hannah Montana.  Disney rotates these 3 shows, pretty much exclusively, during it’s nighttime programing.  My son has seen them all, multiple times, and I often watch with him, espically Zac and Cody. 

About a month ago I noticed something about these three shows, which alarmed me.  Zac and Cody are teenage twins being raised by a single mom, in a hotel where she serves as the lounge singer.   Their father rarely visits, and it is rare that he is spoken of.  They can often be found roaming the streets of Boston, or harassing the resident teenage hotel heiress, London.  London’s mother passed on, and father is on a eternal business trip, leaving his high schooler daughter to fend for herself, with no parental figure at home. 

Hannah Montana and Cory (from Cory in the House) are both being raised by their fathers.  Word is that Hannah’s mother is deceased, and I’m unsure about Cory’s lineage.  Never the less, notice the common thread?  One parent, never two.

Upon noticing this trend, I determined that children in single parent families must be in the majority, for Disney to center all of it’s prime-time programing on this demographic.  I did some research, and I was plesantly surprised at the results.  According to my findings, as of 2002 less than 1/3 of all children were being raised in single parent households. 

While researching Disney television shows for this entry, I found an interesting blog entry here, about Disney movies.  I suppose I had never thought about it, but Disney movies are also full of absent parents.  Belle (Beauty and the Beast) and Ariel (The Little Mermaid) are both motherless in their stories, while Nemo and Bambi lose their mothers in the plots.  Dumbo is fatherless, Cinderella an orphan, and these are just the ones that come to mind immediately.  I’m sure if I were to really sit down and think, I could come up with dozens more.     

I understand the divorce and death are a fact of life for many children, and I applaud Disney for producing shows that children in those situations can relate to.  Some people even feel that Disney is responsible for putting shows centered around single-parent households on the map.  I think it is great that they have embraced this demographic, however, I do not understand how they have managed to go to the other extreme.   By focusing on single-parent homes exculsively, Disney has managed to alienate the other 69% of their target audience. 

I did find some hope this weekend.  I watched a new show with the litte tyke entitled, “Wizards of Waverly Place”, which centers around a nuclear family!  Maybe Disney doesn’t hate traditional families after all. 

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34 Responses to “Does Disney Hate Families?”

  1. Brian Says:

    I remember reading about this a long time ago. It seems that Disney uses the death or absence of a parent to make the viewer sympathize more with the main character. I doubt they are intentionally discriminating against the nuclear family, since that is definitely their target audience.

    Don’t forget The Incredibles!

  2. Alyson Says:

    I had wondered if that was the case, or maybe if they just wanted to present the viewer with another point of view, something different from their everyday life. An escape.

  3. Liz Says:

    That is the first reason that came to mind.
    However, I wonder, how much your statics correctly reflect 2007. I am constantly amazed about how many single-parent or single grandparents are raising kids. It seems rare that kids have a two-parent home…two families seems more like it.
    Cory in the House is a spin off of Raven. Raven had two parents, didn’t she? I thought I remember a mother, father & a little brother, who is now big, Cory.

    I can’t remember any Disney animation movie that had two parents except the one Brian mentioned. However, Simba had two for alittle while.

    Interesting observation!!!!

  4. randomyriad Says:

    I would also watch for the diversity of charachters and for stereotypes, Disney is not good at creating real people from my experience.Are a broad range of families, ethnicities, and cultures being shown in a positive light in more than shallow ways?
    Are there strong women and girls who act in control of their lives? If you see behavior that is insensitive or you notice things like the parents are never around notice it out loud and have a conversation about it. I used to have the best conversations about peaceful behavior with my oldest son around Might Morphin Power Rangers.

  5. cowgalutah Says:

    Oh my heck I never really though about that, but the more I do, your right! Strange really…

  6. alyson Says:

    @ Liz: I thought it would be higher too. I did find stats from 2000 that were almost exactly the same as the 2002 ones. The 2000 stats specified that 69% of children were living in one house with both parents, which shocked me. I think I found that on divorcemag.com. I was going to use it in my post, but then I found more recent (2002) stats.
    I don’t know much about the Cory show, but on the website for it there is no mom in the cast listing. But on the other hand, it is not listed on a tv website that I found that had a listing of all the single parent shows, so I don’t know what the story is. I was never into Raven.

    @ randomyriad: Some of the research I found praised Disney for putting these families on the map. One website I found praised the animated show, “The Proud Family” for showing African Americans in a more positive light than what is the norm. Like you, I still feel there is room for improvement. What a great idea to talk about things like that with your kids. I will definitely make it a point to do so. My oldest also loves the Power Rangers.

    @ cowgal: It seems once I noticed it in the tv I realized how prevalent it was. Hope you are enjoying your week at home!

  7. Paul B. Says:

    I grew up on Scooby Doo and Spiderman and never once saw a parent… does that count?

    Brian though is correct.. its a writing technique designed to sublety draw sympthay towards a certain character or story line.

  8. Brian Says:

    This is a very interesting topic. I did a little research this morning, too.

    You’re right that only 1/3 of children are in single-parent households at this particular time. However, I don’t think that statistic takes into account the other types of family units or the fact that 75% of children will spend time in a single-parent household while growing up. It might not even account for the staggering number of grandparents that are sole-providers for their grandchildren.

    Wikipedia has some interesting data about the term “nuclear family” that I thought I’d share:

    In The United States nuclear families now constitute a minority of households with rising prevalence of other family arrangement such as blended families, binuclear families, single-parent families. Today nuclear families constitute roughly 24.1% of households, compared to 40.3% in 1970.[3] Roughly 75% of all children in the United States will spend at least some time in a single-parent household.

  9. alyson Says:

    LOL @ Paul. I just thought it was an interesting observation, espically regarding the live-action shows.

    Brian: I had no idea the # (75%) was that high. I was honestly shcoked when I found the info from 2000 which specified, 69% were being raised in a home with both parents.

    I know there are alot of grandparents raising grandchildren today too. I read a book about it last year that was very interesting.

    It’s amazing how a few Disney shows can get you thinking.

  10. happy Says:

    How many kids, single parented or both, feel alienated by Cinderella? None, I think.

  11. alyson Says:

    Yeah, that was a poor word choice on my part.


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  13. Liz Says:

    I came from a two parent home, but I related to Cinderella. Maybe because my dad was absent most of the time, because of working nights & weekends, and my mom seemed to have a neverending list of chores. lol

    I think it was a very interesting topic.

    I grew up on Scooby Doo. Also, Tom & Jerry (watching reruns now I am amazed @ how much violence it has, although I still find myself laughing, lol)

    Remember when they would have all the great Holiday specials & the excitement we had because cartoons never came on @ night. I have so many pleasant memories of sitting on the hardwood floor with my cousins watching Charlie Brown’s the Great Pumpkin & eating popcorn with koolaid. Those were the good ole days for me. lol

  14. Alyson Says:

    I think our upbringings were very similar.

    I loved watching the animated holiday specials, and still watch them when I can catch them. I know I could just buy the DVD’s, but there’s something about watching them when everyone else does. I was watching the Grinch when they were putting my epidural in when my oldest was born.

  15. Will Says:

    I realize that the Disney Channel is aimed at families. But also remember that real target audience is the young kids. What kid wouldn’t want to have the freedom of Zac, Cody or London…or the fame of Hannah Montana. I think it’s less that there’s only 1 parent and more that it’s the fantasy that kids are more in charge of their world. With both The Suite Life and Hannah Montana, the kids will screw up and Carey or Moseby (Suite Life) or Robby Ray (Hannah Montana) will reinforce the error of their mistake. Miley actually makes fun of it on her show, “I’m a kid. I screw up. It’s what I do!”

    Additionally, Disney Channel did have Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire which had two parents. The Replacements has two sets of parents. So did American Dragon: Jake Long and Kim Possible.

    I think the 1 parent shows are just more of a variety. Again, mostly focusing on the *true* stars of the Disney Channel stars…the young characters…the troubles they get in…and the awesome lives they have (whether they are rich, famous, or have magic!)

    Definitely, a good topic to think about. But I doubt Disney has an ulterior motive since they know families give them TONS of revenue. 😀

  16. Alyson Says:

    I totally see how kids would want the lives of the characters on these shows. Heck, I want their lives. LOL.

    Good point, thanks for commenting!

  17. guppy Says:

    There is definitley a trend of the single parent household on the Disney Channel. As for Corey in the House, his mother went to Europe to Study/practice law when the cast was on That’s so Raven. Apparently, the actress who played Corey’s mother had some problems with her character on the show and she was fired. Instead of killing her off, they moved her away. That is another senario of how television makes it okay and even glamorous for a parent, espcially a mother, to be moved away for their career. That is the last thing that children in this day and age need. I find that televsion shows and commercials make parents, especially the the father, to look like dopes. I don’t like the commercials that always make the woman look smarter than the man. What does that do to the young men growing up in this world?

  18. alyson Says:

    Thanks for that info. I wondered what happened to Corey’s mom.

    TV is very sad now days.

  19. nicole Says:

    Corys mum was present in that so raven however when they made the spin off show ( and I think a few episodes of that so Raven ) the woman who played Cory’s mum wanted to depart from the show so they said that she went to university in a different country to study law , however she’s still married to their dad . Lame , I know but what can you do .

  20. Alyson Says:

    Terribly lame. Thanks for the clarification.

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  22. zaz Says:

    That’s so Raven. In the Disney Channel show That’s so Raven Raven has her Dad her mom + her little brother, Corey. After That’s so Raven ended they made Corey in the house, a show all about Corey. Raven is off on her own & her + his mother is in College. So Corey’s mother, is at college.

  23. celoptra Says:

    Most Disney movies are based upon popular stories that already have dead mom/dead parents.

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  31. maybe Disney wants to portray families as they really are. Not all families have two parents. Not all families have a mom or dad. Not all families are rosy and peachy. Some live in hotels, or their parents travel. Or dare I say have 2 moms or 2 dads. This is today in the now. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that.


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