Do Animated Films Really Impart Narcissism In Kids?

You may have seen this piece by Luke Epplin over in the Atlantic about animated features and narcissism in animation today. It’s a really good piece that’s well worth your time reading, but it’s false.

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Sure, animated films can go a bit too far with the ‘you can achieve anything’ notion, but they are far from alone. They’re American after all (at least the ones the article refers to), and yes, America is an individualistic society where the worth and capabilities of the self are valued and admired.

Contrast that with collectivist cultures like China or Japan; being an individualist is admonished in their cultures. The individual acts only for the benefit of the whole. Yet animated films do OK there, right?

Well, yes, because they’re films! Even audiences in those countries know they are not real. They expect that and react accordingly. Just because a character on-screen accomplishes things beyond his wildest dreams is not a guide or rule of thumb for the audience.

For starters, the article assumes that millions of millenials are entering the workforce with an inflated ego. Yet if that were the case, plenty of them would be getting their ass handed to them on the first day. Sure a certain level of cockiness is expected, but to be outright  demanding will get you a pink slip pretty fast.

Secondly, this trope is far from exclusive to animated films. Case in point: Xanadu. Yes, yes, terrible 80s movie starring the wonderful Gene Kelly. But c’mon? They were able to renovate and open a dance club sans purchase transactions, building permits and operating licenses? Apparently so, because they renovated the Pan-Pacific Auditorium into the Xanadu club and got it up and running in a matter of weeks. In real-life, the struggles between the owners raged on for decades, before finally being resolved by the building itself burning to the ground.

Are we supposed to believe that adults can make the distinction between what they are capable of achieving and kids are not? Of course not! Kids are well aware of what they are capable of, just not of the amount of work that is involved in achieving their goals. Case in point, many kids dream of becoming a professional footballer yet very few can even begin to fathom the amount of effort that requires.

The Atlantic piece does highlight a failing in American cinema in general, but it is far off the mark when it comes to animated films. It does highlight Charlie Brown as being the antithesis of current animated films, but those films are unique. Even back in the 60s they stood out; hence their continued popularity. Holding them up as shining examples of what animated films should teach kids is a false idolatry. Kids should be encouraged, and if they are overly so, life will teach them the counter-lessons soon enough. The point is that parents, teachers and peers will have a far greater impact on how confident a kid feels than any animated film will.

  • Alex Dudley

    I like how a lot of the reader comments in that article brought up Monsters University, that teaches the audience that dreams can’t always be fulfilled.

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