In their article about Disney’s portrayal of intellectual disability, the authors claim that films such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast illustrate Dopey, Gus, and LeFou, respectively, in such a way as to ridicule them, to present them as “eternal children”, incapable of competence in aspects of everyday life. While I sympathize with some of the treatment these characters receive, overall, I don’t think their film portrayals are that terrible. I don’t see Gus and LeFou as that disabled, I think they are purely meant to serve as comic relief in their silliness. I think the authors are a bit farfetched in saying that the “film portrayals of disability…potentially create misunderstandings and foster prejudicial attitudes toward these individuals.” Just because Gaston bullies his clumsy accomplice LeFou doesn’t mean that the children watching will think it’s expected to treat disabled people the same way. In all honesty, I think this is a bit of a dramatic conclusion to arrive to.
The original Snow White fairytale does not differentiate among dwarfs — they had no unique personalities whatsoever. But Disney definitely made an effort to give each dwarf a defining characteristic. Dopey’s, clearly, is that he is “dopey”, or dumb. His imbecile yet charming character is often de-humanized, given the appearance and personality of a dog. He is an “other”, significantly different than the rest of his family of dwarfs: he cannot talk (Doc says he never tried to), his long tongue waves around in the air like a silly animal, his gigantic ears wiggle… He’s just plain odd and an easy target for ridicule. The six other dwarfs never try to include him in their group huddles, and they are even willing to sacrifice him to whatever “monster” they thought was roaming about upstairs. The authors of the article have it right when they describe him as “dispensable.” His life is not valued the same as the others’.
When I first read this article right after watching Snow White, I wasn’t as offended by portrayal. I thought it was more funny than mean. But now after many days of thinking about it and revisiting the topic, I’ve experienced a changing sentiment. I actually feel quite bad for Dopey, and I think of the issue more as something that really happens to people in everyday life.
However, while I DO sympathize more with Dopey now, I still don’t think that his representation in the movie will likely corrupt children’s minds and have a “significantly negative impact on the lives of those people living with an intellectual disability. Frankly, I don’t think kids will think that he’s actually disabled. As a kid, myself, I laughed at Dopey’s silly actions, but didn’t think of him as invaluable… That complex topic never crossed my mind.
I react a bit differently to Gus than I do to Dopey. I think Gus’s character is funny, not meant to portray anything negative… He’s a little slow with catching onto social norms and situations, but for some reason I don’t feel the same inclination to feel bad for him as I do for Dopey. Gus is a lovable character, whose friends look out for him, such as when Jaq saves him from the cat, Lucifer.
LeFou’s character, like the other two, is the laughing stock of the film. While spying on Belle as an overly-confident Gaston prepares to make her his bride, LeFou lets go of a branch he’s hiding behind, which flings him in the face, stuffing his mouth with the branch’s leaves. The authors of the article communicate that this moment of humor is actually much more serious, as it supposedly implies that LeFou has “nothing relevant or worthwhile to say.” In my opinion, this commentary is far-fetched and non-realistic. I think this is more of a “slapstick” comedy situation than it is a significant commentary about LeFou’s worth as a human.
While I do feel that this article can sometimes go overboard with looking way too much into simple humor, I do see the authors’ points about Dopey’s pitiable treatment and portrayal… I do feel bad or him, but I don’t even see the illustration of his character as something that would forever instill prejudice and encourage abuse of those with intellectual disabilities.