Huffpost Parents
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Karen Salmansohn Headshot

Why Are Mean People Mean? 6 Lessons Disney Movies Teach Us

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Brrrrrr. It's cold outside. You know what that means? It's an opportunity to wear my favorite oversized fluffy wool sweater! Plus, an excuse to drink yummy hot chocolate with teeny-tiny marshmallows! And the perfect time to stay home with family and catch up on Disney flicks!

Our family watched a few of them in a row over the course of last weekend: The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea and Tangled. My 3-year-old son, Ari, asked lots of questions during these films. In particular, Ari was very curious and concerned about the evil characters.

Ari's #1 big question?

"Why is that person (or octopus or witch) being sooooo mean,
wanting to hurt people?"

Yep. Ari was very intrigued about what makes someone act badly and be just plain ol' mean spirited.

I gotta say... it was an interesting challenge trying to give a simple reply to this very complicated question, and in a clear-cut way that a 3-year-old could understand.

While trying to find a way to best explain why bad people/octopuses/witches act badly, I became very aware of how all three movies shared the same philosophical themes.

You know how a taco, burrito and enchilada all have the same ingredients, they're just laid out in different ways? Well... The Little Mermaid, The Little Mermaid 2 and Tangled all share the same basic ingredients for story lines about good versus evil -- just played out in different ways.

I became keenly aware of this because ALL my answers to Ari's singular question were sorta the same for all three movies. Below are some of my answers I shared with my son. I wound up not only teaching him; I figured out some new things about love versus power myself.

6 Life Lessons From Disney (Which Apply To Real Non-Technicolor Life)

• When you feel bad on the inside, you wind up wanting to do things to make others feel bad. In contrast, when you feel happy on the inside, you want to do things to make others feel happy. This is why it's so important to make sure you feel good on the inside! Basically, however you feel on the inside, you wind up acting upon -- and you then want to make others feel that way, too. So, if you're angry on the inside, you'll act out in anger and wind up making others feel angry. If you feel loving on the inside, you'll want to do loving actions and make others feel loved. Meaning? If there's someone who's mean to you -- a bully -- you should know it's because they feel bad inside themselves, angry inside themselves.

• All those characters who are mean in Disney movies don't have a lot of love in their lives. They choose seeking power to try to make up for lack of love. Whenever you choose power over love, you will never find true happiness. In every scenario where a mean Disney character is being mean, it's always because they overvalue POWER and devalue LOVE. Even with their so-called "friends," the mean characters are all mean to those they hang out with -- to show off their POWER -- rather than loving towards them. As a result, their so-called "friends" don't love them back either. Plus, these mean characters don't love themselves very much. They all talk about not loving who they are, as they are. Because they don't feel happy from love, they pursue power to try to fill themselves up inside. However, power is like junk food for the spirit. Love is like healthy food for the spirit. Power might feel tasty and good in the moment, but it will never be satisfying, never fill you up. Yep, no matter how much power you get, you will always feel empty. You just keep wanting more and more power. Plus, because power is like junk food, the more you get, the sicker you feel inside -- not happier. In contrast, the good characters seek love, not power. The more love these good characters get -- the more loving friends they enjoy and loving acts they do -- the happier and more self-fulfilled they feel. Love is the ultimate super power. Teamwork is another super power. When you join loving forces with those you love, you can accomplish lots - like all the good characters in Disney movies get to enjoy.

• All the bad characters in Disney movies are always jealous of something that someone else has. They are overly-focused on what others have to offer, never thinking about what they themselves might have to offer. The evil characters never take time to find out what their "true inner power" might be ( their "true inner passion"). Because these bad characters feel as if they don't have a "true inner power," they try to take power from others. They particularly like to take power from those who are "in their true power" -- the good characters who have some special inner power (aka: a passion for singing, a passion for a special love connection, a passion for swimming, the ability to grow magical hair.) In contrast, the good characters take time to fully step into their own true power, so they have no desire to take power from others. The good characters are focused on following their heart's calling (singing, swimming, spending loving time with soul mates and soul friends, going towards the light in a distant village) And when these good characters take the time to pursue their own "true inner power" (their heart's calling), they ironically wind up tapping into an increased sense of " inner power," thereby increasing self-love and happiness. Meaning? When you follow your heart's calling, you wind up becoming your most powerful self. You don't need to take power from others if you can tap into your own inner power.

• Power's OK to want too -- as long as you are loving in your use of it. As Spiderman admits, "with great power comes great responsibility." All the good people in these movies feel happy and loving on the inside, so they want to use their power in a happy and loving way -- to help others. Their loving super-deeds only increase the happiness they feel inside themselves. But when an unhappy character gets their hands on power (a bad character who doesn't value love), they want to use their power to make others unhappy. This misuse of power winds up not making anybody happy.

• It's good to keep your eyes open to watch people's actions to find out if they're good or bad. Don't just listen to what others tell you, watch their actions. One big clue to help you figure out if someone's bad: look at how they treat those around them. If they're mean to their so-called "friends," that's a warning they might be mean to you.

• It's important to give people a chance to learn lessons and change their bad ways. Sometimes when someone behaves badly they do so unwittingly. In fact, many of the good people/mermaids/mermen in these films made mistakes. They didn't act as their highest best self. But they all apologized for their bad behavior. They looked for the lesson to be learned. They expressed wanting to grow from their mistakes. They even followed up their apology with a positive action which showed they learned their lesson and were choosing not to do this bad behavior anymore. Meaning? Even if somebody does something bad, it doesn't necessarily mean they are forever bad. Also, even if YOU do something bad, it does not mean YOU are forever bad. Each of us can act badly at times -- makes mistakes or act sbadly. What's most important is to always want to learn and grow from any misbehavior.

2014-01-31-posterkidscountmed.jpg

Karen Salmansohn (founder of the popular inspirational site notsalmon.com ) is a bestselling author and award winning designer with over one million books sold. She is known for creating self help for people who wouldn't be caught dead doing self help-- like with her e-book Prince Harming Syndrome (recommended on Oprah's site). She's a proud and busy mom, who's on a mission to empower kids to become Kindness Rockstars. Many of her inspirational anti-bullying posters are now up in schools and school buses.