The Mulan Effect

I want to take a brief pause from the usual topics I discuss on this blog to talk a little about pedagogy. I recently ran across an article by Luke Epplin in The Atlantic: “You Can Do Anything: Must Every Kids’ Movie Reinforce the Cult of Self-Esteem?“:

These films have been infected with what might be called the magic-feather syndrome. As with the titular character in Walt Disney’s 1943 animated feature Dumbo, these movies revolve around anthropomorphized outcasts who must overcome the restrictions of their societies or even species to realize their impossible dreams. Almost uniformly, the protagonists’ primary liability, such as Dumbo’s giant ears, eventually turns into their greatest strength.

But first the characters must relinquish the crutch of the magic feather–or, more generally, surmount their biggest fears–and believe that their greatness comes from within.

This sounds like a fine theme for upbeat children’s movies, but a steady diet of these films leads, perhaps, to the assumption that life really works this way, and that furthermore all narratives should be structured this way. I have noticed this effect in my students.