Originally Posted by angelandmisha
I'm not thinking that Disney invented this storytelling device, I was just using their films as an example, starting point because that's what first got me started thinking about it. But then, as you all have pointed out, almost every kids' story shares this device. I was thinking it would be nice to see an example of a family working together to solve a problem or have an adventure, to see an example of being able to count on your parents for help. But it seems the general consensus is that it's just a more interesting story without parents.
Keep in mind that most of these stories are written for children older than yours and mine
I think that the idea that books and movies can be for very young children is very, very new. When we were kids, there were no movies or TV for babies or toddlers... even Sesame Street was for 4-6 year olds. Alas, there is money (a lot of money... about $2 billion dollars a year) to be made in the under-3 market, and the people who design these shows obviously see no need to reinvent the wheel when coming up with storylines for their shows and movies.
But, at the same time, I don't think that it's entirely developmentally inappropriate. Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy being very independent, and they're so egocentric that they can take or leave parents at any particular moment. Many popular preschool characters have no parental presence, and it still works as a device to have the child figure out problems on his/her own. Others have a strong parental presence, but the device still involves other characters to guide the protagonist. I'm thinking of Sid the Science Kid, which is one of the very few kids shows that I like. He has a very strong family support system that reinforces the daily lessons, but the bulk of his learning still occurs when he ventures outside the home to discover things with his peers. I think that definitely appeals to preschoolers, who are very curious about the world outside their homes and who are just starting to be developmentally ready to form peer relationships.
The "age compression" issue, where young kids are now being exposed to things that were intended for much older kids, is something to keep in mind when watching movies and shows that weren't made in the past 5 years or so with the under 3 market in mind. Most Disney movies, most children's movies, most children's TV shows that were created before the 0-3 market became the largest media growth industry, are NOT designed for kids younger than school age or so. Whether it's appropriate for your child is definitely up to the individual child: some 3 year olds might be perfectly okay with Bambi, others might be scarred for life, and I have a feeling that most wouldn't have the faintest idea what was going on. I don't think that mine would! Bambi is kind of an extreme situation (imo... I, personally, am in the scarred-for-life camp. I've never seen it all the way through! And I didn't see it for the first time until I was someplace in elementary school and we had a VHS player), but the same is true of similar movies and media.