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Disney’s Representation of Couples and Families Essay


The society is ever-changing,and the pop culture defines the values that the majority of the people uphold at a given time. The media plays a key role in propagating and shaping the popular culture embraced by society (Campbell, Martin, and Fabos 74). Specifically, the film industry has gained popularity in contemporary times, and players like Disney shape society’s view of different issues on family and marriage. The conventional definitions of a family keep on changing with time. Initially, functional families were thought to be composed of a father, a mother, and children (Jeynes 53).

However, this view has changed with the time given the emergence of single parenthood coupled with the entry of transgender issues including homosexuality among other sexual orientations (Swartz and Scott 86). Additionally, some individuals choose not to have children even after they marry while others choose not to marry altogether. In this light, Tanner et al. embarked on a study to investigate how Disney feature-length animated movies portray the images of couples and families. This paper explores how a pop culture film, The Single Moms Club, by Tyler Perry, supports or challenges the assertions made in the article, Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films by Tanner et al. The pop culture text, the film, supports the findings of the said article.

The article

As mentioned above, the article used in this paper is Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films by Tanner et al. The article was written in 2003 and published in The American Journal of Family Therapy. In the article, the authors sought to establish how Disney feature-length movies explored the image of couples and families. The article started with a literature review on the different research works that had been carried out on Disney feature-length animated films. The authors concluded that while different studies on this issue had been conducted, very little information was available on the theme of the portrayal of couples and families in such movies.

Therefore, this realization necessitated their research on this topic, which eventually led to the publication of the article in 2003. The authors selected 26 feature-length Disney animated movies for the study with the oldest film being Snow White & the 7 Dwarves (1937) while Emperor’s New Groove (2000) was the latest one. The authors used purposive sampling where “movies were selected that are most commonly watched by children today and are among the more popular or most-watched movies among multiple generations of Disney viewers” (Tanner et al. 357). The findings indicated, “Family relationships are a strong priority, families are diverse, but the diversity is often simplified, fathers are elevated while mothers are marginalized, and couple relationships are created by ‘love at first sight’” (Tanner et al. 355).

The Pop culture text- the movie

The pop culture text chosen for this paper is a 2014 movie, The Single Moms Club, by Tyler Perry. The movie is about five single mothers with children in an expensive Atlanta school. The children have broken the school’s rules, and they face expulsion. The five single mothers have to plan for an upcoming school’s fundraiser to save their children from the imminent expulsion. Even though the five women are divided along racial and class lines, they share the common trait of raising children as single mothers. Esperanza is divorced, and she has found a lover, Levy, May falls for T.K, Lytia gives into Branson’s pursuits, Jan breaks her celibacy and starts a relationship with Sean while Hillary cannot resist Ryan’s romantic moves.


In the article, Tanner et al. noted that most Disney movies portray the traditional gender stereotypes concerning couples, where two people of the opposite sex meet, fall in love at the first sight, and live happily-ever-after (368). However, the authors rue that such presentations are erroneous because “these images encourage an expectation for relationships that is unrealistic, as couples do not tend to live happily ever after without effort from both partners” (Tanner et al. 368).

This observation is consistent with the contents of the film, The Single Moms Club. In the movie, the conventional gender stereotypes are broken. None of the five women is in a functional relationship that can be termed as a couple living happily after. Two of the five characters, viz. Esperanza and Hillary, are divorcees. On the other hand, the movie is silent on the fathers of the children of the other three characters, viz. May, Lytia, and Jan. Therefore, the traditional stereotype of “happily ever after” does not exist in contemporary pop culture.

Tanner et al. add that

These representations of couples also tend to present the image that marriage and children are the ultimate goals in life for all people… can be problematic for people who find that they do not want to have children and who choose not to or cannot marry for various reasons (368).

The movie’s contents support the assertion that people may decide not to marry or have children. For instance, Hillary is still ravaged by her recent nasty divorce and even though she falls for her new neighbor, she is not after marriage or children. She has someone to support her emotionally, and thus this association breaks the conventional belief that couples come together for marriage and children. Similarly, Esperanza is still hurt following her divorce, and she is not ready to commit to another long-term relationship. Therefore, she is in a romantic relationship with her boyfriend just to have a “good time” but not for children or marriage.

The movie also supports the article’s view that diversity in families is often oversimplified, and it does not highlight the realism of what happens in real life. For instance, Tanner et al. posit that a film will only “present one parent while very little explanation is provided for the absence of the other…these depictions do not provide good examples of both parents staying involved in their children’s lives in healthy productive ways after the divorce or break up” (367). The movie, The Single Moms Club, fits this description perfectly. The audience is kept in the dark concerning the male partners who sired May, Lytia, and Jan’s children. The audience only knows of the current male partners of these three women. At least for Esperanza and Hillary, the movie clarifies that they are divorced.

The article authors’ fear of children getting a twisted view about divorce and separation stands out conspicuously in the movie. The authors are afraid that children may think that divorce is the worst thing that can happen to marriage and children because parents are not involved fully in the upbringing of their kids. True to their fears, fathers do not appear anywhere in the movie. After the children are caught on the wrong side of the school’s laws, their mothers come to their rescue. Even the school principal wonders, “Where are the fathers?” (The Single Moms Club).

The principal’s question about the whereabouts of the children’s fathers highlights a society that is stuck in the past by refusing to deal with contemporary societal dynamism. Mothers have been empowered to provide for their families and take up the roles of fathers, but Disney feature-length animated movies fail to capture this theme. Tanner et al. warn that the elevation of fathers at the expense of marginalizing mothers may be harmful to children (367). Fortunately, the movie shows that mothers are well able to take care of their families even in the absence of fathers.


Gender roles and the portrayal of couples and families have changed with time. The authors of the article, Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films, maintain that the traditional stereotypes of couples living together “happily ever after”rarely apply in contemporary times. According to Ly, Seabury, and Jena, divorce cases in the United States currently stand at almost 50% (707). Therefore, the movie’s theme of single-parenthood and divorce advances the claims by Tanner et al. that the traditional stereotype that every family must have a functional composition of father, mother, and children does not hold in the contemporary times. The movie also agrees with the view that after divorce children cannot enjoy the support of their children, which is erroneous according to the article by Tanner et al.

Works Cited

Campbell, Richard, Christopher Martin, and Bettina Fabos. Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication, New Yok: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014. Print.

Jeynes, William. Divorce, Family Structure, and the Academic Success of Children, Abingdon: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Ly, Dan, Seth Seabury, and Anupam Jena. “Divorce among physicians and other healthcare professionals in the United States: analysis of census survey data.” Clinical Research 350.2 (2015): 706-711.Print.

Swartz, Mary, and Barbara Scott. Marriages and Families, Upper Saddle River: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Tanner, Litsa, Shelley Haddock, Toni Zimmerman, and Lori Lund. “Images of Couples and Families in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films.” The American Journal of Family Therapy 31 (2003): 355-375. Print.

The Single Moms Club. Ex. Dir. Tyler Perry. Santa Monica, CA: Lions Gate Entertainment. 2014. Film.

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