Annaliese Franz in class

Courtesy photo

Loving and Teaching Disney

by | May 21, 2024 | Culture, Office Hours, Summer 2024

For UC Davis Lecturer Ted Geier, PhD ’15, a handmade Eeyore doll gifted to him as a child was one of his first introductions to the Disney franchise. Now he’s deeply involved in the Disney community, but with a background in comparative literature and critical theory, he is inclined to analyze the franchise he loves. He teaches methods of critical thinking, reading and writing in various classes at UC Davis, including in one about Disney. 

“A lot of people may call me cynical when it comes to these things, but we just have to be critical when it comes to Disney studies,” explained Geier, who currently teaches a first-year seminar called “Disney’s Politics.”

Geier has taught a variety of courses at Davis over the years in the University Writing Program, American studies and literature, but he mentioned that his Disney class is the most fun for him to teach. In it, he tries his best to incorporate his passion for Disney and its cultural significance.

“Disney is a very powerful force, at least in media,” said Geier. “They’re a corporation that owns so much and defines so much of our consumer identities.”

In the seminar, students explore forms of Disney media under critical lenses. Geier, for example, recognizes Disney’s efforts in expanding representation with films like Coco (2017) and Encanto (2021), while acknowledging that these films merely broaden the consumer bases of communities who identify with its characters.

“Disney is essentially making us people who can all buy things at the same time,” Geier elaborated. “They want people to think, ‘Oh, I can relate now. Here’s my money.’”

When diving deep into Disney films, students also analyze Disney characters and societal expectations. From exploring race in Princess and the Frog (2009) to understanding emotional dynamics in Inside Out (2015), he encourages students to engage critically with the media they consume by reflecting not only on their own enjoyment and identification but also on how recurring stories and character types can influence identity — and not always in the positive ways we think at first. 

“One of the things about doing critical media studies research is that you have to dig up the problematic stuff,” said Geier. “It’s difficult. I love this terrible junk that’s got these horribly outdated ideas about the world.”

Despite his research and critical lens, Geier said he continues to be a huge Disney fan at heart. Characters such as Eeyore and Stitch are his favorite, and he even has a Stitch-themed room in his home. He and his wife have been Disneyland pass holders. 

“Disney has absolutely been one of my luxury indulgences in the past few years when my income has been stable enough!” Geier joked.