The Lunchbox contains an unusual depiction of disability, in that the disabled character is never seen at all. The main character, Ila, gets advice and recipes from her upstairs neighbor Deshpande Auntie, who’s always available to talk because she provides round-the-clock care for her minimally-conscious husband. Ila is occasionally pressed into service to pick up things from the store, and the two pass each other items by way of a basket lowered on a string. How Auntie supports the two of them is not explained.
Auntie is convinced that Uncle’s fate is tied to the ceiling fan above his bed, based on an incident where his heart rate dropped just as the ceiling fan was turned off. Consequently, Auntie takes great care to ensure the continuous operation of the ceiling fan, going so far as to stand on the bed to clean it while it’s running. It is hard to say whether Auntie and Uncle’s relationship is supposed to function as an example of undying love and devotion, or monotony and force of habit.
Disney hasn’t always been known for positive portrayals of women, minorities, and the disabled, but in the recent animated film Tangled the company seems to be trying to turn it around . On Princess Rapunzel’s first journey outside of her tower, she visits a dive bar named The Snuggley Duckling full of thugs in Viking clothing. All are odd-looking and menacing, and several have various visible disabilities.
One is missing a hand and, in a clear allusion to Captain Hook, uses a hook as a simple prosthesis:
Tangled's Rapunzel intimidated by Hook Hand Thug
One has six toes and a goiter:
Big Nose Thug shows Rapunzel his six-toed foot.
And one elderly man is of short stature and appears to be wearing a diaper.
Short Thug, inadvisedly, hits on Rapunzel's Mother Gothel. This is why you should always bring a wing man.
Rapunzel is initially intimidated by all the strange men at the Duckling, but as they’re about to drag her guide Flynn away she tells them she needs him to fulfill her dream of seeing the annual floating lantern event, and asks them if they have dreams too. This gives the thugs pause, and they break into a song and dance number, led by Hook Hand Thug who explains that his dream is to be a concert pianist.
Hook Hand does a bang-up job on the piano.
Similarly, Big Nose Thug wants a girlfriend. (All the thugs have dreams that someone coming from a perspective of privilege might consider implausible or strange.) In real life many amputees and people with disabilities still follow such dreams; they have relationships, and some do enjoy playing musical instruments to the best of their abilities. Here’s one fellow who plays quite well with stiff, immobile hands:
Since Rapunzel has taken the time to get to know them as fellow human beings, the thugs help her escape from her witch of a mother. Hook Hand is rewarded with a chaste kiss, and though none of the disabled characters have ever been given proper names, they are all shown to have become friends with the princess and attained their dreams at the end of the movie.
Hook Hand, now with a golden hook, has trouble turning the pages of his sheet music, but manages without it instead.
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