The Disney stable has provided a whole lot of entertainment for children and adults alike for decades. The characters are cult, and the movies are part and parcel of every childhood. However, the films have been studied a lot by various groups around the world, and many of them have come under much criticism for being wrong on several counts. Probably the constant scrutiny of these films is because of their popularity and reach, and the impact they have on the vulnerable minds of the kids. It’s interesting to note, however, that these criticisms reflect social, political and cultural change; what was accepted in the 1930’s is considered uncivilized today, and the 1950’s probably raised eyebrows at and mocked things that are commonplace at present.
Here, let’s take a look at some of the biggest Disney controversies.
10Objectification of Women: Disney Princesses
The most important of Disney characters, the women, have been coming under criticism from a very long time. Most of the women in the Disney tales are beautiful and strong, but their sole purpose in life seems to be working toward the benefit of their male counterparts. In one Disney tale after another, the wonderful women are seen to make sacrifices and work really hard to make their men happy, or to ensure that no trouble befalls their men. Again, despite all their accomplishments, there is clearly only a single factor that attracts the men to them; their beauty. Naturally, with the waves of feminism washing around us since the last few decades, Disney has taken a lot of flak or its submissive portrayal of women.
Talking of feminism, Disney’s recent offering, Tangled, has come under huge criticism from the feminism section of the society for blatantly nullifying feminist standards. The movie, which features a young girl falling in love with a rakish and handsome outlaw and persecuted by the state and the girl’s obsessive mother, is a take on the well known fairy tale, Rapunzel. According to feminists, the name of the film was changed from Rapunzel to Tangled in order to make it more gender neutral, so that focus is shifted from the fact that they original story is mainly female-oriented. Moreover, feminists also argue that the story’s focal point has been twisted considerably to make it a mainly male-oriented film, with the devilish outlaw taking up a lot of attention and sympathy, the portrayal of an older woman obsessed with looking younger, and a young woman unrealistically thin.
8Old Age Bias: Disney Villains
According to a survey conducted by Brigham Young University, a study of several Disney movies reveals all the villains to be at least 55 years of age, or older. According to this study, such villainous portrayal of aged and aging people run the risk of inculcating in children’s minds a fear of the elderly population, who will thence be viewed as sinister and angry, or desperately seeking to be young and thus pathetic. This, in turn, could lead to an ostracism of this section of the population.
7Drugs: Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland seems to be replete with drug imagery, and the critics advocating this theory find support in the fact that smoking opium was a common practice at the time when the story was written. According to many critics, Alice’s experiences seem to be the product of a drug-addled mind. Moreover, Alice is seen eating mushrooms in the film, and the caterpillar is constantly chugging away at a hookah. With these images, the critics at the time were pretty concerned about the negative impact the film might have on the children; kids watching the film might feel inclined to try the drugs and narcotics in order to identify more with a beloved character.
6Special Interest Controversies
Disney has taken a lot of flak from religious welfare groups. Films such as Dogma were wildly protested against by religious groups, who found the material offensive. Religious groups have also protested against the annual Gay and Lesbian day at the theme parks, advocating it to be a blatant flouting of Christian values. A boycott of Disney was voted for by the American Family Association and the Southern Baptist Church when the conglomerate proposed to offer domestic partnership perks to employees in same-sex relationships.
5Racism: Lady and the Tramp
The Siamese Cats are in the film are the principal focus of this controversy. According to critics around the world, the cats reek of racism right from their features to their activities. The Siamese cats are portrayed with markedly slanted eyes and thick accents, and seem to be an obvious reference to the Asian population of the world. If this allusion is taken to be true, then their behaviour is obviously extremely offensive. They are furtive and ill-mannered; in the movie, as soon as they place foot in the Lady’s house, they proceed to haphazardly ransack and demolish the interiors. More support for the blatant racism in the film comes from the fact that America’s feud with Japan had just concluded a few years before, in the Second World War, and it is quite possible that the Cats were a neat little piece of anti-Japanese propaganda.
4Sexual Imagery: The Little Mermaid
Once the Little Mermaid was released in VHS, hordes of parents bought the beloved children’s movie for their kids, and regretted it almost instantly. The cover of the film had a drawing of the castle on it, and right in the middle of the castle, there stood a structure that was most unmistakably a male genitals. The parents naturally felt it was a most offensive thing for their children to view, and inundated Disney with complaints. Now, here comes the funny part; Disney did not try to say that the parents were simply misconstruing something completely innocent as a phallus. Instead, Disney assured the parents that the male genitals was there because of an internal- and completely unintentional- error (makes you wonder what kind of an error could have put that in the cover of a children’s movie). An updated cover was released, and the organ mercifully removed.
3Human and Animal Abuse
The Disney conglomerate has been whipped a lot about the questionable conditions in the factories where its merchandise are created. According to several Human Rights groups, Disney provides extremely low wages and benefits to the workers in these factories. Moreover, Animal Rights groups have also criticized Disney for the poor standard of welfare and upkeep of the animals in its Animal Kingdom theme park. Moreover, Disney’s portrayal of animals in its movies, according to animal rights groups, lead a lot of people to buy and adopt dogs, many of whom are later abandoned when they fail to meet up movie standards.
2Racial Jabs: Aladdin
Aladdin was, strictly speaking, a ‘different’ movie from the Disney stable. For the first time, Disney came up with a film that did not feature a white man and woman as its protagonists. Instead, it featured two Arabs. Critics could not be calmed, however, and the film came under fire for the scene where an Arab official tries to cut off Jasmine’s hand, and also for the lyrics of one of the songs. To be fair, the song was clearly offensive, with lyrics like “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home”. Naturally, Arab-Americans protested, and the lyrics were changed somewhat, but the barbaric allusion was retained.
1Social Media Faux Pas: Disney Japan
In August 2015, on the 70 commemoration of the bombing of Nagasaki, the corporate Twitter account of Disney Japan sent the following message: “Congratulations on a not special day”. Needless to say, this mist insensitive comment incurred a lot of indignation from the country and the rest of the world, leading the organization to issue an apology for the unintentional mistake, and an assurance that its social media accounts will be monitored more carefully in the future.