The Disney Lightbringer

18 Jun

I love Disney.

above image via

Sometimes I feel like that should be treated as a dirty little secret. And I get it, for all the wonderful things (stories, characters, songs, theme parks) that Disney has played a part in bringing to the world; they have participated more than a fair share in perpetuating some awfulness. Despite that, I want to look at something else they’ve perpetuated, in the form of a particular kind of heroine. Because there’s a specific kind of character that I love from Disney, no matter how much it can drive me crazy at times, and it taps into one of the key commodities that Disney will sell by the truckloads: hope. I like to call her the Disney Lightbringer.

Some of you may already have an idea of what I’m talking about but, if not, here goes. For me, the Disney Lightbringer is a specific recurring character type in the Disney universe. In short, they are the character who seems to be born of the light, they are bright cheery and (exponentially more and more) spunky; it is their role in the movie to enter a world that is dark, depressed, and altogether stuck in a rut and turn it around. Alternately, they may start out a bit down themselves and then their arc of self-discovery parallels the arc of the community/group they are bringing into the light.
What makes this special? It’s not that it’s very different from archetypes that we’ve seen before but it does feel as though, more and more, this is becoming a trademark of what makes a particular film/show feel so very “Disney” to me. And this is where I’m talking about more than just the brand but the idea that a particular kind of product can feel “Disney” in a way that goes beyond the idea, and coining of the term, branding. If that makes sense.
To make my point here are a few examples spanning the years in chronological order:
Snow White: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” 1937
There is so much I find interesting about this movie; it also happens to be a good example of what this character type. Snow White is like a little ball of sunshine that, even when thrown into the darkness after almost being murdered, comes out cleaning! She stumbles into the cottage of the dwarves (dwarfs?) and is just what they never knew they were looking for, what was once dusty and dingy is a warm home once again. Without going into all the extreme hetero-normative sub-text here, I think this is where what I imagine as this character type begins.
And just about everything here is revisited in “Enchanted,” which might one day be an entry of it’s own…
Belle: “Beauty and the Beast” 1991
image via
This is perhaps the most obvious example. When Belle walks into the dark castle where the Beast lives, it is dark and broken, as is he. By the end of the movie, her inability to give up on the characters that inhabit that castle literally transforms everyone involved. She brings light and love and transformation but leading up to that is the giant hope that she will be the one. And can we talk about how transformation is literally fireworks and light pouring out of fingertips?
Rapunzel: “Tangled” 2010
 image via
Again, a more obvious example in that Rapunzel is actually filled with light. She glows! And her hopes and dreams inspire everyone everywhere she goes.
Again, there could be a lot to talk about here but I’m just focusing on the idea of this character. The basic cause and effect. And all of it is embodied by a hope that cannot be contained that results in the hope and literal and figurative light.
For the sake of relative brevity, I’m going to stop there. But I feel like I’m just getting started. All of this resulted when I randomly used the phrase while guest-blogging for the World Weaver Press’ blog. Please read that post over here. But what do you think?
There’s a part of me that feels like the lightbringer is a character that can have motivation, drive, and agency while still leaving room open for a prince/rogue/beast to save her. Maybe that’s part of the appeal and the reason she still drives me crazy? Also, is this an entirely female type? What are some other characters that could fall into this description? I might have to revisit this topic again in the future.

3 Responses to “The Disney Lightbringer”

  1. danieleharper June 18, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    This is really interesting stuff. I’ve heard you use the term before but never really paid enough attention to get the pure visual dynamic of the lightbringer character.

    I don’t have enough of a grasp to really dig in deep into this, but I’m struck by your description of the lightbringer as a hope-bringer, that the character, just by entering a room, brings hope and goodness with her. You seem to have an emotional “kick” to these scenes that is similar to the “kick” I get out of traditional hero moments, most vividly in my mind the moments in Doctor Who where the Doctor is about to unleash a plan to defeat the monsters, or the scene in the Avengers movie where Tony Stark “threatens” Loki.

    It’s a similar kind of “bringing of hope,” but in the case of the heroes the hope is that the Big Bads are soon to be defeated, and the simple presence of the hero is enough to banish them. It’s hard for me to think of male heroes acting in your lightbringer mode, there are some examples of female heroes acting in my more traditional mode.

    But what’s interesting is this: female heroes bring the light, while male heroes banish the darkness. A difference in agency? I feel like there’s something here but I can’t quite articulate it.


  1. New and old, fairy tale television « WorldWeaverPress - June 18, 2012

    […] our hero, who is part detective but primarily hope-bringer to all of the show. She is the one, the Disney light-bringer. If you’re a fan of Disney, and I am, this aspect is both comforting and troublesome. It relies a […]

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