The magic of Disney
Pushing a global brand like Disney, a name close to the hearts of young and old alike, may seem like a no-brainer for many. Yet, for Vice President and Managing Director of Walt Disney Television International, Laura E. Wendt, focusing on what is relevant to the kids today remains a foremost and constant concern.
In this exclusive interview, Laura talks to theAsianparent about how Disney caters to kids, what tickles their bones today and the educational value in certain TV programmes.
Different Audiences, Different Content
theAsianparent (TAP) : Hi Laura, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Firstly, how is Disney Channel US different from Disney Channel Asia?
Laura : The biggest difference is that in South East Asia, we have a 24-hour Playhouse Disney Channel dedicated to preschoolers. In the US, it’s a block on Disney Channel, so it’s a few hours a day.
This give parents (in Asia) a lot of freedom and flexibility because anytime’s a good time for their kids to engage in some pre-school television programming.
TAP : When you say pre-school television programming, are you talking about just cartoons?
Laura : Let’s first define pre-schoolers to understand what entertainment they need. The US describes the target as 2-5 years old. Here in Asia, it’s safe to say that the target is 6 and under. I think for that age, it’s truly not just about the format, which could be cartoons or puppets or live characters. It’s more about the characters themselves, how engaging they are, the story line, and the use of music.
Busting the Myths
TAP : Kids watching TV is a thing that some parents frown upon. In fact, The American Paediatric Society does not recommend that kids under the age of 2 watch any television. Do you have anything to say to that?
Laura : I was on a panel with the guy who said that and we were talking about that very topic and he said, ‘You know what I wished I said, -‘Rather than no television under the age of 2, we need more parent interaction under the age of 2, and if part of that interaction involves watching TV together, I’m okay with that.’ I think he updated it appropriately because for pre-schoolers, parent interaction is everything as a child learns by engaging with their parents.
TAP : One of my pet peeves with a lot of kids programming is their damsel-in-distress take on princesses. For example, Sleeping Beauty just lies there, waiting for Prince Charming to come rescue her. Maybe about 50 years ago, that was fine as it fit in with the values then. But the 21st century woman is looking for a partner, an equal. How does Disney try to keep up with changing times and changing values?
Laura: But with the case of princesses, I will say that what Disney makes available is the ability for kids to play out their own images of what a princess might be. When you put on a princess costume, for example, you can play, ‘Princess’ as you envisage it. You can contemporise a classic story through play and have it be meaningful to values that make sense to you and your family.
Laura : What you are talking about is a little more school-aged orientated than for the case for pre-schoolers. With pre-school programming, if you think about a show like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, most of the characters are animals so they are ‘softer’ in that sense for kids.
Content: Gender Balance & TV Violence
TAP : Another hot topic. We recently featured a video that explored the phenomena of boys who have little play kitchens and Barbie dolls. So the stereotype of what’s a boy toy in comparison to a girl toy seems to not hold true anymore. What about Disney TV, is certain programming solely for boys or just for girls?
Laura : Our goal is to create a kind of a gender balance – gender mutual setting for most of our contents. Let’s look at Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Word World , two of our most popular shows. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse teaches early Math skills. Word World is a phenomenal new show about letters that come together to form a word. When they are separate, they are just letters. And when they’re together, they are what the letters stand for; so sheep is made of S-H-E-E-P. So with these shows, you’ve got interaction with character, just sort of outside any over gender stereotyping.
Mickey and kids
TAP: What about violence in television? In cartoons, characters are often seen fighting or trying to kill each other. Aren’t we portraying too much violence to an age group that is so impressionable?
Laura : For Playhouse Disney, we have very strict and attentive standards and guidelines. The more you watch Playhouse, the more you’ll see that it’s a very warm and safe and encouraging environment.
Laura at Home
TAP : How old are your kids?
Laura : My youngest is 6 and my oldest is 9.
TAP : What’s your TV viewing habit at home? How long do you allow them to watch television for?
Laura : Our habits are mostly about restrictions on time, for example, not in the mornings and only after homework.
TAP As a parent, what programmes do you personally recommend?
Laura My kids still actually enjoy Thomas the Tank Engine , Mickey Mouse Clubhouse , My Friends Tigger and Pooh , yeah even the 9 year old. But at that age, it’s less for academic purposes, more for the storytelling and the characters. I love it especially when they sing to me the songs that they hear. Then I know that it’s a nice imprint of what they’re taking away. I believe that television is an excellent compliment to any learning.
TAP : Is there one show that parents should watch?
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