Disney Movies Are Rotten With Fallacies

 Disney movies are rotten with fallacies... logical fallacies, that is. That's why we love them. Nothing quite gets the blood boiling like your favorite baddie rolling his Rs and telling the hero that they're worthless and no one will ever believe them. My righteous indignation meter just pegs out, whether it's Jafar denigrating Aladdin, or Medusa being meanie-pants to poor, pitiful Penny. That's partly because we know it's just not true! Disney movies seem to know how to get our little kid no fair! circuits firing all at once. It's also a matter of just finding their terrible arguments frustrating to my nerd brain. And it isn't just the bad guys that sometimes employ a logical fallacy or two. Here's a whole bunch of examples for your outrage fuel. Pop some popcorn, and let's play, Spot the Logical Fallacy! 

Beauty and the Beast

 

Gaston, embodies a kind of Appeal to Authority known as Appeal to Accomplishment, where the whole town just accepts that whatever he says must be true because, well... he's Gaston. No one shoots like Gaston. No one tromps around wearing boots like Gaston. As Gaston himself demands, "And don't I deserve the best?" So of course Belle will want to marry him. And of course she wants the same things out of life a he does. And if she doesn't, there is something wrong with her!

It seems Belle sees right through his arguments. She recognizes a logical fallacy when she sees one. The rest of the town are are bit slower to figure it out. They'll commit several more before the movie is over. Like in this scene where Gaston uses a kind of Appeal to Emotion, the Appeal to Fear, to get everyone to accept his premise that they must go and destroy the Beast, despite Belle's appeals to their better emotions. 


Pete's Dragon (the original)

Pete's mean old adoptive family sure know how to apply a fallacy when they use the Argumentum ad baculum (appeal to the stick), literally at some points. Their threats of force to try to get Pete to return home, or make Nora hand him, over just don't convince anyone of the truthfulness of their claims.

While Nora isn't budged by the Gogols, she makes a logical misstep of her own. The whole town dismisses poor Lampy. They both Pooh-pooh his whole story, and argue against it based on an Ad hominem of poor Lampy himself. The tavern goers aren't the only ones who assume the story can't be true because the lighthouse keeper has been known to have a bit of a problem with strong drink. The whole town dismisses his concerns, to their own detriment and very nearly to the loss of both Elliot the dragon, and their town. Luckily, they eventually accept evidence when it appears in front of their faces.

Mickey Rooney as Lampy, terrified by a braying jackass in Pete's Dragon, 1970

Mickey Rooney as Lampy, terrified by a braying jackass in Pete's Dragon, 1970


Cinderella

Is any family of a Disney princess as petty and mean spirited as the step-mother and sisters to poor Cinderella? When they employ the Ad hominem of the Abusive Fallacy, it's obvious to even the youngest viewers, isn't it? Of course the Step-mother doesn't have a good reason poor Cinderella can't go to the ball, but if she insults her enough, maybe everyone will think there's a reason in there somewhere. Do you think Cinderella fell for it, or just knew it wasn't worth arguing about?


Tangled

Mother won't let Rapunzel grow up and travel for fear her daughter will discover the truth. So a few Appeal to Pity, Appeal to Ridicule, and Appeal to Fear Ad hominems will keep her from arguing, right? Mother Gothel is such a perfect exemplar of the manipulative, dishonest arguer that I could probably write this whole article based on her tactics. 

Of course, mumsy mixes it up a bit with an Appeal to Authority. Because, as she sings, Mother knows best. If Rapunzel will only listen to all her wisdom, she'll stay right here in her tower, right? Lucky for Rapunzel, Flynn comes along to remind her that mother doesn't always know best.


The Brave Little Toaster

Our intrepid heroes are no match for their stylish city counterparts when the new lamp, stereo, and appliances start bragging about their newness. They might be singing an Appeal to Novelty fallacy in musical form, but it works to confuse Toaster and crew, at least for a while. 

Luckily Master shows up at the junkyard to show them that even old worthless peeps have value. 


Aladdin

Aladdin knows he is poor, which is why Jafar's use of the Appeal to Wealth fallacy works against him so well. He knows he is poor, and that others view him as less worthy. He can't be a hero, unless he's a prince, right? The appeal to wealth fallacy works so well because not only do people assume rich people must have gotten rich because they are smarter, but they also assume poor people must be poor because they are not as smart, or good, as others. And often, the poor person thinks they are right! Aladdin thinks people will think more of him, and all his problems will go away, if he is only wealthy, just as everyone else seems to think. His answer isn't to say being poor doesn't mean he is bad. Instead, he just dreams of being rich.

Aladdin has a hard time trying to be something he isn't before he finally realizes he's been tackling the question all wrong. Luckily, Genie, Abu, and Princess Jasmine are there to help him figure it out.

And while we are talking about Aladdin, can we point out that the Sultan employs an old chestnut of a fallacy, the Appeal to Tradition fallacy. Jasmine must marry a prince. What is he to do about it? It's tradition. It's the law.

It's kind of amazing that it takes them all nearly being killed, Jafar turning into a giant snake, and nearly losing his entire kingdom before he realizes that... after all, he makes the laws! This whole movie could have been avoided if he had realized the fallacy he was arguing from the beginning.


Snow White

Snow White makes the opposite mistake when she judges the old peddler woman to be safe, despite the dwarves' warning. She has fallen for the Appeal to Poverty fallacy. She assumes because the woman is a humble old woman of limited means, she must be correct... or in this case, harmless.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Frollo confronts Quasimodo over his aiding Esmerelda and makes an argument against love using a Genetic fallacy. Esmerelda doesn't love Quasimodo, according to Frollo, because she is a Gypsy. His argument also relies on the Appeal to Motive fallacy, claiming her kindness toward him wasn't human compassion, but manipulation. He thinks he knows her heart, but he is just reflecting his own darkness. It is he who only pretends to care about Quasimodo for his own purposes.

It proves Quasimodo is more than man, and Frollo the beast, when Quasimodo proves he is loved, and it is Frollo who is incapable of true love or compassion.


The Great Mouse Detective

You wouldn't think that a movie based on the famous Sherlock Holmes would contain quite so many logical fallacies, but that would itself be a logical fallacy. Basil Rathbone makes repeated leaps of perception based on a scattered evidence only  superficially related to one another and better explained by the Texas Sharpshooter fallacy. Like the darts he literally throws at the wall, eventually he was bound to hit upon something he could score with. 

Sure, if you have writers on your side, they can make all those superficially related things add up the way Basil links them, but we could also link them up to mean almost anything else. From blobs of mud creating "footprints" he assumes are the bat's, to Dawson's catgut stitches, to a round hole in the glass, he goes around pronouncing things mean important other things! None of which would in fact be very good evidence for any conclusions. No real detective would get away with that. But it's all ok, because Ratigan uses an even worse logical fallacy. Like most Disney villains, he wins his Argumentum ad baculum arguments by cowing his opponents with threats, or maybe in his case, we should say cats, bats, and rats them. 


Almost Every Disney Movie Ever

Perhaps no other logical fallacy shows up more often in Disney movies than the Appeal to Wishful Thinking. From Tinkerbell living only if Peter really, really believes...

To Pinnochio getting a final shot at life as a real boy, Disney loves to make you believe that if you just believe hard enough, the impossible is possible. And while that is certainly true in Disney movies where children fly with pixie dust and puppets come to life with the help of the Blue Fairy, in real life, if anyone appeals to your natural childlike willingness to believe the impossible because it just sounds so wonderful, remember, fallacies only make sense in Disney movies.