Examples of Archetypes in Disney movies

   Examples of Archetypes in Disney movies are everywhere.  After all, Disney is kind of a mythology-based business anyway.  In fact, Disney himself chose these age-old folkloric classics. Ultimately archetypal stories are the driving forces behind the culture. In this sense folklore and Disney go hand in hand.
  Archetypes are universal, archaic symbols and icons. They are residual concepts that haunt the human psyche.  Just like how our organs are formed by primordial evolutionary forces, so too are the archetypal concepts in our mind’s eye. Disney is a vessel for these age-old mythological motifs.  
  Think of archetypes as a universal or a stereotype.  They function as the main framework by which events, patterns of behavior, and objects copy, emulate or “merge” into human experience.
“Archetypes are the formulated meanings of a primordial image by which are symbolically identified.  It represents a permanent reality that makes a thing what it is, in contrast to the particulars that are finite and subject to change.”
-Rolo

How did Archetypes get into Disney Movies in the First Place?

  Archetypes come into actualization when they enter into consciousness. Of course, it is cultures and individuals that give them expression. In the case of examples of archetypes in Disney movies, it is the film producers and animators which bring the archetypes out of the depths of the unconscious and onto the stage of the film.   Yes, they spring forth from the hypothetical collective unconscious. In this way, they are a kind of innate unspecific knowledge that comes from the entirety of mankind’s history. We access them through stories, myths, religions, and dreams.
    Stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinnochio, and Snow White are very important for culture creation.  Indeed archetypal stories like these allow people a narrative structure to make sense of the world around them.  Cultures need to be bound together by a common consciousness. And in the modern world as in the ancient world, people still need narratives to make sense of reality.  So instead of piecing the world together through word of mouth tales, we rely on movies mass-produced texts & media to have the same folkloric effect on our minds. Hence the archetype being core to the Disney franchise.
   The concept of the archetype was mostly used in psychology by Carl Jung.  Jung was a quintessential expert in religious and mythological symbolism.  He noticed that they all shared similar themes, patterns & stories.  Through this, he saw the psychological importance of archetypes.  For him, the mind of a was not a blank slate. To him, there existed a mind outside and beyond the individual.  From this mind, all the archetypes could be derived.  This mind was not an individual.  Instead, it had psychic structures that were common to all.  He called this “The Collective unconscious.”
Image of Walt Disney
Religious relief of Walt Disney

Core examples of archetypes in Disney movies

  Jung’s first conceptualization of the Archetypes was as primordial images.  They gain distinction within the context from which they are used. For example.  Moana is only as much an adventurer so much as she corresponds to the template of the environment of adventures.  We can categorize her or “stereotype” her under the adventurer as an adventurer in as much as she adopts the units of adventuring. This is because traits play a very specific role in identifying archetypes.

1. Figural Examples of Archetypes in Disney Movies:

Although there are enumerable archetypes. Carl Jung distinguished 12 of the most common archetypal characters in storytelling.  They are as follows:
Artist/Creator
  Imagination is another dimension.  It is the purest dimension of the psyche.  Artists are driven to build things to create meaning from the other world. The best example of this is Mickey Mouse.  Mickey is one of the most abundant archetype examples in Disney movies.  He can be anything he wants to be.
    It is important to understand the importance of transformation for the artist.  Mickey’s ability to fit into any role is part of his power.  The artist has a profound drive for freedom. Novelty is his/her core desire.  Artists transform things in order to make something new.  An artist archetype is clever, non-conformist, and self-sufficient.  They always maintain a good-humored nature about them.
  The only problem with an artist is a lack of consistency.  This is probably why Mickey is so many different things so often.
Mickey Mouse as the Artist.
Mickey Mouse Archetype

Jester/Trickster

Laughter truly is the best medicine.  Jesters brighten the mood.  They are performers made to make lite of a heavy world. The jester lives to laugh, even at themselves. They ridicule and make fun of existence itself.  For this reason, they tend to be profoundly dastardly.

Madame Mim is the ultimate Jester.  Her magic powers are used purely for the Absurd.  Even according to young Arthur, her powers appear to have “no use whatsoever.”   She uses magic only to entertain herself.  Her lewd and obnoxious behavior is the ultimate testament to her parody of the real world.

Lover
Romantic love acts as fuel for the soul. If you’ve ever been in love you’d know the energy that love can bring to any movement.
Lady and the tramp are the great examples of the lover archetype. Lovers show their hearts.  Sensitivity is the predominant moral virtue for the lover.
Archetype Examples in Disney Movies Lovers
Lady and the Tramp: Lovers
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Magician

A Magician makes dreams into a reality. The purely imaginary soon is made real into the light of the world.

Merlin uses his magic to teach young Arthur.  The Magician brings the power of transformation into the realm of the hero.  It’s for this reason that Merlin was important for mentoring the young Arthur.


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Hero

Everybody needs a savior.  We sometimes find ourselves in deep situations that require a leg up. Here the Hero steps in. A hero is incredibly powerful.  They are filled with inhuman vitality and the ability to fight.  The Hero is incredibly competitive and they’ll do anything to achieve their goal.

Maui is one of the best Disney heroes.  This is mainly due to the fact that he is one of the primary heroes in Polynesian Mythology.  A hero saves people from disaster.  There are many accounts of heroism in the story of Maui. For one we hear how he stole fire from the underworld to save people from cold nights.  He also used his giant magic hook to expand the lands for people to live on.


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Outlaw

Often we are so ingrained in society that we never think to rebel.  The Outlaw seeks to break free from these constraints. To be his/her own person. A rebel is provocative  They go against the grain and are highly independent thinkers.   One thing that they hate the most is being told what to do.  However often this can lead to self-destructive behavior.

Snitch is the ultimate outlaw.  Not only was he an escaped convict, but he was also a dangerous criminal.  However, we identify with him because a part of us also wants to go against the grain.  As a result, we grow with Snitch. His bad boy’s side is really a part of his overall charm.

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King/Ruler

The ruler creates order from chaos.  Although the ruler may seem controlling, he/she is actually highly responsible and organized.
Mufasa is the King.  Though he has much power he is a just and courageous ruler over the lion pride.  He keeps order in his kingdom while at the same time being fair and reasonable. This mild nature of the philosopher-king is important. It means he has power but has great restraint.  This kind of benevolent ruler keeps order

 

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Sage

A practitioner of the Spirit.  The sage is associated with helping the world to gain deeper wisdom. A sage is a teacher.

Rafiki taps into two dimensions.  One is the space of the spirit.  The other is that of the teacher.  Through his transcendental abilities he is able to transmit his great wisdom and act as a mentor and advisor to the King of the pride.  Rafiki is wise and tranquil. As such the sage is equally at ease and enlightened.

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Innocent

The innocent is the virgin. Innocence is unscathed or tarnished.  It is the first preliminary stage before transcendence.

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Adventurer

Travelling is one of the things that sets the heart free.  It takes the risk to seek out new discoveries and experiences.


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Everyman

Culture needs to maintain a sense of normalcy.  The everyman is with the grain.  He serves as a stabilizing force.

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Custodian/Caregiver

We all need nurturing and protection. A custodian is a human shield against the harms of the world.  He/she is very generous and giving.

 

Remember that each of these characters portrays an archetype insofar as they take on the traits of that archetype.

Old myths, old gods, old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have need for them. They represent the wisdom of our people.

—Stanley Kunitz, former U.S. Poet Laureate

2. Archetypal Event

  Archetypal events are things that encompass the zone of primordial human experience.  These are things like; coming of age, birth, marriage, death, embarking on a new journey, etc.  The archetypal event is not entirely different from the monomyth proposed by Joseph Campbell. It basically runs around the assumption that character development itself focuses on a series of universal instances. Each of these ‘trials’ is integral to further developing on a given character.  In this way, according to Joseph Campbell, this character is a ‘hero.’ Likewise, his ‘monomyth’ concept was called the heroes journey.
    It encompassed the following archetypal events:
Here is an infographic of the Heros Journey with Aladdin. In regards to archetype examples in Disney movies

Let’s take a look at the hero’s journey as it pertains to the hit Disney film Aladdin. These events are the perfect examples of archetypes in Disney movies

Call to Adventure

Jafar in Aladdin acting as the call to adventure.

At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to the hero: Aladdin.  We get to see his pedigree, understand a bit about his life.  We come to find out he’s a pauper living off of stealing and plundering.

When he gets caught he’s taken into prison.  There the villain Jafar meets him disguised as an old man.  Jafar convinces Aladdin to seek out adventure with him. To go to the cave of wonders.

We come to find out Aladdin isn’t just any old “street rat.” Instead, he is a “diamond in the rough.” He has exceptional qualities and potentials. However, he seriously lacks refinement and polish.  His imperfections are what is required to gain him access to the cave of wonders.

So roused on by this strange old man.  Aladdin accepts the call to adventure and ventures to the cave of wonders.

Crossing the Threshold

The threshold is the beginning of the adventure.  Here the hero must undergo an ordeal. This ordeal signals the passing from the everyday world into the world of adventure.

It is fitting for Aladdins threshold to be a cave.  A cave is a perfect symbol to signal this passing from the world into the next. From the world the light of the “known” above down into the darkness of the unknown below.

Helpers/Amulet

In the early stages of the adventure the hero often gets help from magical characters.  Naturally, supernatural help can take many forms.  In the case of Aladdin that supernatural being is a genie.

Tests

The hero undergoes many tests.  There are many trials during the adventure.  These trials don’t always need to be violent.  In the case of Aladdin’s story many of his trials are interpersonal. He wants to win over the heart of the princess. In order to do this, he needs to craft a new persona.  He uses the power of the genie to turn himself into a prince in order to get closer to the princess.  However, as the story unfolds we begin to see the character of Aladdin unravel. His trials are against himself and him coming to grips with trying to accept himself for who he is.

Abyss

Finally, Aladdin’s true identity is exposed.  At this point, he is cast out of the kingdom.  Not only that.  He also loses the genie and the entire kingdom is under his tyrannical rule.  This is the abyss.  The lowest point in the journey.  Examples of archetypes in Disney movies also have low points.  It’s ultimately what makes stories archetypal.

Climax/The Final Battle

This is the transformational point in the hero’s journey.  Here a hero must atone for his/her past behavior.  Their ancient past often takes the form of a hideous monster that they have to fight.  It is in this critical moment the hero can bring the story to a climax and resolution.

In the case of Aladdin, his demons actually took the form of a giant snake.  Jafar transforms himself into the most hideous form possible.  He then commences to terrorize Aladdin.  However, at the last minute, Aladdin gains his strength and slays the snake (by outwitting him.)

Atonement and Return

Once the mission is complete the hero returns to the everyday world.  At this point in archetypal stories, the hero receives an amulet from the Goddess.  In the case of Aladdin, his lover Jasmine is the Goddess.  In his final act of atonement, Aladdin uses his last wish to free the genie. As a result, the Sultan grants a new law.  This new law allows the princess to marry whoever she wants.  They both live happily ever after.

 

Extra: bonus examples of archetypes in Disney Movies…Star Wars

So Disney bought Star Wars. Technically its a part of the great Disney catalog.

 Star Wars: A New Hope is a classic example of archetypes in Disney Movies.  Luke Skywalker follows the typical hero’s Journey; like Aladdin. We find him on Tattooine yearning for adventure.  Obi-Wan brings the droids and acts as a call to adventure. Luke refuses the call but then takes it up once he discovers his aunt and uncle have been killed.  He joins Obi-Wan in an adventure to save Princess Lei and defeat the death star. He gets supernatural health from the force and forms a friendship with Han Solo and Chewie Chewbacca.  Eventually, he destroys the Death Star and defeats Vader. Ultimately the rebels receive a decisive victory over the Empire and Luke is a hero.

3. Archetypal Motifs

Freud observed that elements in dreams occur which are not entirely individual. They seem ancient and out of place.  He, therefore, called these mental forms are ‘archaic remnants.‘ They are primordial concepts that cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s direct life.  Instead, they are aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind.  The fact that they occur across culture leads us to believe that they are intrinsic to the human psyche itself.

The Heros Journey is just one such of these larger motifs.  There includes an innumerable amount of archetypal motifs in the collective unconscious. These include motifs like Rags to riches, coming of age, marriage, birth, death etc.

  Believe it or not, you yourself are an archetype.  Self is the central archetype and helps unify the other archetypes of the psyche.  The first Disney archetype is YOU.  Think about it.  There needs first to be a consciousness present in order to perceive the films.

Conclusion of examples of Archetypes in Disney movies

   Archetypes are universalizing dispositions. They come before consciousness and form the substrate that are the basic themes of human life.  Examples of archetypes in Disney movies don’t come from consciousness.  Instead, they come from the collective unconscious and help to organize, direct, and teach human thought and behavior. Manifestations of the conscious mind are tiny in comparison to the unconscious.  As a result, these archetypes control the human life cycle.
  For this reason, Disney has become a powerhouse in the art of creating culture.  This is because they tap into the very primordial images that haunt the human psyche.
  Remember that we can’t directly observe these archetypes.  The only way that we can observe them is indirect.  By how they arrange themselves into human consciousness.  Mainly through their representation in symbolic imagery.  Disney uses films and media to give us these archetypal stories.
    Only understanding these archetypal patterns can we can gain an accurate map of human consciousness. These symbols don’t manifest exactly across all texts.  They provide structure. We learn from Moana, Simba, Tarzan, Hercules, Pinnochio, Mickey Mouse. What we learn from them is the process of creating our persona.  The narrative itself is the best way to string complex concepts together into coherent personhood. Therefore archetypes are grounded in the biological & psychic substructure.

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