Walt Disney's legacy as a creative visionary affects almost every aspect of American entertainment. He not only patented the use of the multi-plane camera (so animators could reuse backgrounds and create visual depth) but he also widely used techniques that inspired the last eighty years of animation. Though many hold his achievements high (and some of his political sympathies low) few look at those first, early cartoons and the messages behind them.
For Disney, his messages were as important as his techniques. In one of his Silly Symphonies he borrowed from a classic Aesop’s fable. “The Grasshopper and the Ant” warns against laziness, as the hardworking ants are chastised by the Grasshopper, who assumes that the world will take care of him. He sings, “Oh, the world owes me a living.” The story is fun and entertaining, but the message an important and timeless one. When winter comes, the Grasshopper finds himself cold and hungry, while the hardworking ants live comfortably off the store of their labor.
Today, we are hard pressed to find any cartoons, television shows or kids books that champion hard work and responsibility. One of the rare exceptions and one of my favorites is Phineas and Ferb, which tells the story of stepbrothers who make the most of their summer vacation by accomplishing new, exceptional feats each day. The show is peppered with themes of hard work and innovation. It is also a Disney show, incidentally. Phineas and Ferb was an inspiration to me when I founded my children’s entertainment company and I can only hope that other children’s content creators also begin to take their thematic cues from Phineas and Ferb and classic Disney offerings like Silly Symphonies. American children deserve stories that morally instruct as they entertain—and as many can attest, we already have plenty of grasshoppers out there.