Death and Disney


We came out of the movie darkness and into the light. My kids were both bawling and the tears didn’t stop, not even after we wandered into the mall for an Aunt Annie’s pretzel and a couple of strawberry slushies. My daughter summed up the situation quite succinctly in a letter she wrote a day later to Robert Igor, CEO of Walt Disney:

I do not like The Princess and the Frog. I will never see another Disney movie in my ENTIRE LIFE. I do not like it because the firefly dies.

She signed her letter “Not love.” Because if you can’t sign a letter with love, what’s left?

Look, I know that Raymond the Firefly turned into a star and all, and yeah, there’s something beautiful about that. But my kids wanted him in his corporal (firefloral?) form. The star was bright, and he was next to another star, the one he loved, but for my kids that wasn’t enough. Plus, the dad was already dead, so when Ray got stepped on, we thought we had our final body count. We thought we were safe.

“Why,” my son asked “did they have to KILL him?”

He asked the same thing about Fred Weasley and Dobby in Harry Potter, although he didn’t ask about Dumbledore.

“I don’t know,” I said. I hadn’t done any better by Fred Weasley.

Would the ending of The Princess and the Frog have been just as effective if Raymond’s light dimmed, but then blinked on again, just when we thought he was a goner? My kids thought it would have been and personally, I agreed with them. I suppose the writer didn’t. And then I thought: Wait a minute. I have a manuscript where someone dies, too. He’s not as lovable as Ray, but still. I made my confession right there in the food court.

You killed him?” my son asked. And then the inevitable: “Why?”

I second guessed myself. Why did I kill him again? And then I asked myself the follow up: Would the manuscript be as strong if the character lived? Fortunately, I was able to answer that question (no) and I was able to answer the why part, too. I could explain this to a kid if I had to — mine or somebody else’s. I’m not going to explain it here because I’m too superstitious and proprietary to give away an unpublished plot. But the important thing isn’t the specific answer, anyway; it’s that I was able to answer at all. Because if my characters are going to be real to a kid, than the deaths are going to be real, too. To which some of you will say, “duh.” To which I should probably be saying “duh,” too. But my story wasn’t on a movie screen; it was still on my computer screen. I hadn’t been thinking of how it would play out in front of an audience. I’d just been thinking about how to finish the darn thing. So this was the perfect way to get me to remember that some day I might have to look at a letter that was signed “not love.” And if I ever do get a letter like that, I’ll know that I did what I did for a reason, a real reason that goes beyond pushing the buttons of a little girl’s pink sweater. If I kill someone, even with words, I still need to be able to live with myself.

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6 Responses to Death and Disney

  1. vanessa says:

    “Not Love” is such a great way to sign an angry letter–I will have to remember that. So sorry to hear the firefly dies…I haven’t seen it yet, but I hope to soon.

  2. Julie J says:

    Found you from Bloggiesta!

    I have been wanting to see this movie with my kids. Based on this post, I don’t think we’ll be going now. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. admin says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, Alison. I’m not sure I’d skip it based on Ray’s demise — I know plenty of kids who survived that portion of the story and maybe even got what the writer/film crew was trying to do. It’s just that my kids were casualties.. =)

  4. Death is part of the Disney movie formula. I don’t always agree with it either, especially if it’s at the end of the movie. I can understand why it might be at the beginning — we’re not attached to said character yet, and it usually allows the main character to use that loss as a springboard to his/her independence, self-discovery, and responsibility. Did you see Astroboy?!? That poor kid dies not once, but twice! And he IS the main character!

    Death is a part of life, and sometimes the Disney movie gives children a gentler version of death before they might have to experience it in real life. Maybe?

    I haven’t seen Prince and the Frog yet, and after your review, I think we’ll skip it.


  5. carrie says:

    Almost every Disney story has a dead parent (or two), and almost all of them have fairly frightening “magic” going on, if not something more sinister (we re-investigated Pinocchio after reading a review which talked about the special island the boys were lured to… given the context of today’s society, that sounded REALLY bad). I kind of like that they don’t sugar-coat everything too much. My four year old niece cried when Raymond died, too, but he got to be with his friend, so I think that made sense to her: everyone else got paired off happily ever after (Prince and Chef/Princess; Prince and Estranged Family; Giant Alligator and his band) I think she might have been more sad if Raymond had no one. And since he had fallen hard for a star….

  6. My daughter was not at all happy to see the firefly die, either. Personally, I’m never happy when a character dies. I’d rather live in some sort of happily ever after fairy tale world I suppose, at least when it comes to Disney Princess movies. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with all the evil voodoo magic the movie contained…thought that could have been toned down a little. We did very much enjoy all the musical selections.

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