If this title immediately made “…little April shower” go through your head, then welcome to my childhood.
Disney movies get a lot of flack don’t they? Maybe not where you live, but where I live people can be pretty hard on Disney. Mainly because it can be “dark” and teach kids bad things about life.
Personally, I look around at what the Public schools are doing, and I think is Disney really the first place to lay blame?
But I digress. In my last post I talked about making things too dark in fiction and movies. But I ran out of time before I could explain what I meant by dark.
Well, the title song of this post is from Bambi, famously the saddest Disney movie ever. And that’s the first point of contention about this subject.
Does Sad = Dark?
Typically, the complaint is that the main protagonists loses one or both parents early on or at some point during the movie.
As I understand it, dark means that there is a lot of angst, anger, hate, or depressing ideas expressed in the material in question.
Sadness is just sad, but it is by no means unhealthy if it’s in the proper amounts. Sadness attached to losing a parent is perfectly all right, and it there wasn’t any, it would seem disrespectful.
Also, loss does not equal dark.
Can we just be real with ourselves and our kids? Up until the past 70–1oo years, losing your mother at a young age was fairly common, and losing your father could be just as common. In many countries it still is. The kids who went through this did not turn out monsters, or depressed and antisocial. They learned to accept grief and move on. If a movie tries to walk a child through this at a level they can understand, that does not make it dark. Let’s hope it teaches the child sympathy. I’m pretty sure Bambi was the first movie character I ever sympathized with, and that was a good thing.
Losing things does not make a movie dark. Unless it is one of the two things I’m about to discuss.
- Losing yourself.
This can make a movie dark, and that is perhaps why Frozen is accused of being dark, because Elsa goes through some major struggles with finding out who she is.
But Elsa is not, despite what some people will say, rebelling or pouring on the hate toward her past. She is trying, in her own words, to “Let it go.” And though she is a bit naïve about how easy it will be, in the end she is able to do just that, while retaining the most important things in her life. That includes her kingdom, which she is a better ruler to after she stops worrying about it so much. Elsa, if anything, gets a better happy ending than any other Disney Character, because her happy ending includes finding healing. To me that is a very good message and the opposite of dark.
But here are movies and books that depict people who are slowly unraveling themselves. A good example would be “The Devil Wears Prada.” In that movie, Andy starts to lost track of who she is and what is really important to her, she is snapped back to her senses at the end, but not until after doing some things that she will have to live with for a long time. But that movie is not particularly messed up.
A sadder example is Harlequin from the DC comic universe. There are variations of her story, but they all involve her slowly losing her grasp of morality, reality, and ultimately her sanity.
That brings me to my second thing
2. Loss of morality.
In my opinion, this is the only thing that is always dark. Someone can lose track of who they are and bounce back, so long as they never lose this one thing: Truth.
The most infuriating thing to encounter in fiction is a bad conclusion. The kind where the author shocks you by telling a compelling story and then ending it completely wrong. It may even be a happy ending, but it’s happy for the wrong reason. No one really changed, no one really learned their lesson. But when the ending is unhappy, then it is not just bad, it is dark.
See, a bent story is a story where good is evil, and evil is good, and evil wins. Every bent story is inherently dark. It is because the author themselves did not understand good and evil, or worse, they did, but they liked evil better.
Some stories are broken, good is good, evil is evil, but evil wins. These stories can be dark if it is stressed that evil won because there just wasn’t enough good to overcome it.
The main components that make up a dark story are these:
- A lack of light. The main character has no truth and they either find some by the end, or they get crushed because the weight of what happened to them is too great.
- Endless suffering. This can happen either to noble or ignoble protagonists. But the noble ones tend to survive it, but no unscathed, and you feel so bad for them that you walk away depressed about life. Or, they are ignoble, and the suffering corrupts them until they ruin their own lives by making bad choices. Sometimes they start off noble and are made ignoble by what happens.
- No hero. Perhaps the worst kind, there is no real protagonists, there are just villains doing horrible things to all the decent people. Or there are no villains, and bad things just happen inexplicably.
The third one is rare I’ll admit, but it is not as rare as it used to be, lots of Young adult fiction books, and horror movies feature this kind of story. There is not a worse thing to waste your time on.
To go back to my title, little April showers do come. There is thunder and lightning, people do get scared. Darkness is scary to most of us until we learn how to face it. But a sad story can teach us that, a happy story can often teach us it better. A bent or broken story cannot usually teach us that. At best, they spur us on to not accept the ending as our ending. True healing and acceptance will never come through a broken or bent story. It just won’t. You can do better than that.
Until next time–Natasha.