London, March 25 : An academic at Cambridge University claims that Disney films have always been significant in providing people with a platform to understand environmental issues deeply.
David Whitley, a lecturer in English at the university's faculty of education, counts Bambi, Baloo, the bear from The Jungle Book, and the clownfish in Finding Nemo among the characters who have inspired the powerful environmental movement.
He credits Bambi with inspiring many 1960s environmental activists at an early age.
The academic also considers Snow White and Cinderella, who protect wildlife and care about their natural surroundings, to be role models for children.
Whitley highlights that Finding Nemo is one film that dramatises the "contradictory attitudes in our interaction with nature", and that the 2003 animation has been significant to the advancement of environmental issues.
"Disney films have often been criticised as inauthentic and pandering to popular taste rather than developing the animation medium in a more thought-provoking way," the Telegraph quoted Whitley as saying.
"In fact, these films have taught us about having a fundamental respect for nature," he added.
In his book 'The Idea Of Nature In Disney Animation', Whitley focuses on two periods in the corporation's history. One when Walt Disney was at its helm from 1937 to 1967, and the 1984 to 2005 "Disney revival" when Michael Eisner was in charge.
The book says that both men "saw themselves as having a sustained and strong commitment to wild nature and the environment," though in different ways.
Whitley says that Disney projected a "folksy and homespun" relationship with nature in his films, while Eisner was a city-dweller and co-founder of the Environmental Media Association, whose work is more politicised and self-conscious.
Early productions like Snow White, Cinderella, Bambi and Sleeping Beauty show the natural world as an idyllic retreat; whereas later productions like The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Finding Nemo have more exotic settings in which there is a more harmonious relationship with the natural world.
"If you can accept their sentimentality, it becomes possible to see that these films are giving young audiences a cultural arena within which serious environmental issues can be rehearsed and explored," Whitley said:
Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said: "Undoubtedly there has been a contribution (by Disney). But then again this is a corporation that is building into our culture all sorts of consumer ideas - plastic products and all of that, so the picture is really very mixed."