Recent Disney Controversies, Criticisms, and Scandals
The Disney Company has influenced and changed the world of entertainment, theme parks and even travel. There have been many positive changes. Many have happy memories of visiting Disney theme parks as a child and playing with Disney toys.
But unfortunately, there are also moments of controversy and criticism that Disney has had to face over the years.
Some criticism was unfounded and some had a point.
Here are some of the highlights of problem moments in Disney company history:
- Song of the South
If you've never seen this movie, there's a good reason why. It has not been released on home video.
This film animated the Uncle Remus tales from Joel Chandler Harris and was extremely popular. Splash Mountain, at Walt Disney World, which is themed from the movie, remains one of the most beloved and popular rides in the Magic Kingdom.
So why won't they release the movie?
Disney claims that the movie is problematic for today's audiences because of the stereotypical and controversial ways the characters are created. The movie contains racial overtones and innuendos that were not as challenged when the film was made as they are now.
In what turned out to be a tempest in a teapot, some claimed that Aladdin told the princess's pet tiger "Good teenagers take off their clothes." In reality the actual line was "Come on...good kitty, take off and go" according to Controversapedia. The original VHS release has the line in it but Disney changed the line later for the DVD release.
- Lion King
In what turned out to also be, probably, a non-issue, overeager viewers of this movie claimed to see the word S E X spelled out in the dust of a scene with an animal running. Animators claimed that was actually spelled out was S F X, a reference to the animation company. Later home copies of the movie removed the reference all together.
- Little Mermaid
In the original release of the Little Mermaid, there seems to be more to the controversy. Claims that the priest, marrying the Prince and the Witch is showing a bit of "male" excitement seem to be well-founded. An examination of the original VHS release does show a suspicious lump for a few frames. Other criticisms include the resemblance to male anatomy found in the architecture of the castle towers. Even though these allegations were dismissed, Disney did change those scenes in future releases.
- The Rescuers
This one also turned out to have some merit. In a background scene of The Rescuers were two photographs depicting unclothed women. Disney quietly removed the offensive material and released a version without it.
Lack of Racial Diversity
One of the criticisms of the Disney cast of characters is that, up until recently, they were all glaringly white. Even the theme park rides that promoted diversity still seemed to glorify caucasian values and features.
Just take a ride on the very popular "It's A Small World" and you'll notice that while you take a trip through the world, all of the characters continue to have Caucasian looking eyes and facial features.
Discussions about this have not led to any changes. At this point the ride is such a classic that there would likely be riots if they tried to change it.
Up until the past decade, Disney's heroes and heroines were also very visibly white, sending unintentional messages of white privilege and culture.
Disney has worked to change that image with characters such as Pocahontas and Tiana.
All Female Couple on the Disney Channel
The Disney Company made very little fuss about their first same gender couple on their popular show "Good Luck Charlie." In the show, the parents are arguing over the name of one of Charlie's playmate's mom.
They each remember it differently. When the doorbell rings the problem is discovered. The friend has two moms and each of the parents had met a different one.
As you can guess, the nonchalant way that Disney treated the incident and the normalizing of a same gender couple had some conservative groups who are against these types of couples up in arms. Calls were made to boycott the show, the channel and the five year old star even received death threats according to the Daily Mail.
Happily Ever After---Reinforcing the Patriarchal Culture
Many of the Disney films unconsciously supported and reinforced ideas of patriarchal culture---that the female needs to be rescued and that only a man can do the rescuing.
Princesses in later Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast could be smart but they still needed to be pretty and above all, searching for a man.
More recent Disney animated films have worked to change that. Disney's Frozen, which was released near the end of 2013, broke all those stereotypes and even self-referenced them in certain scenes. There's a even a brief sighting of a two-dad family.
I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet, but the ending is not the typical damsel-in-distress scenario. Hopefully this signals a new era of Disney film.
Benefits to Same Gender Partners
Disney has been a progressive company as far as equal rights to same gendered couples. Their policy of inclusion didn't sit well with everyone though.
In 1997 and for eight years after that, the Southern Baptist Convention called for the boycott of all things Disney including movies, theme parks and TV shows.
The leaders claimed that Disney's policies were not family friendly.
In June of 2005 the Southern Baptist Convention voted to end the boycott even though the Disney policies had not changed.
Disabled Ride and Attraction Access
After it was discovered in 2013 that some, well-to-do New York families were buying access to bypass lines, Disney had to change its policy for the disabled.
Well-to-do families were hiring disabled tour guides to pose as family members. Then, the family was given a disability access card that allowed them to skip the lines at popular rides and shows. While the disabled person was paid well by the family, Disney felt that there had to be change to the program.
In late 2013 it implemented a new program that requires more verification, a fast pass type voucher and more questions.
But this change caused controversy as well. Guests with "invisible" disabilities such as autism or genetic disorders were now facing more controversy and questions. Many disabled guests felt that the process had become much harder and more unpleasant for their entire family.
Fixing one problem led to a different one. According to reports, Disney may continue to revise its policy as the need arises.
An Alligator Problem
With the tragic passing of Lane Graves at Walt Disney World due to an alligator attack, closer scrutiny has been made to just how many alligators are on Disney property. The answer seems to be: quite a few.
Anecdotal guest stories of seeing others feeding gators around the lagoon where the boy was snatched are surfacing on the internet.
And Inside Edition released a video form 2009 of an employee trying to get an alligator to move along very close to where guest were riding Splash Mountain.
Since Disney is in Florid and on a swamp, getting rid of alligators is going to be impossible. However, the Public Relations nightmare unfolding may take years to get a handle on. Guests need to feel safe at Disney and the thought of alligators lurking in the substantial waterways of Disney is scary for many people.
Walt Disney Himself
Even good old "Uncle" Walt has not been without controversy himself as highlighted by a speech made by Meryl Streep at the National Board of Review Awards. Streep indicated that Disney was anti-Semitic and a "gender bigot."
In researching her accusations there does seem to be some merit to the accusations. Disney himself has been quoted as saying that he prefers working with men. Streep even read from a letter written by Disney in 1938 saying that he did not hire women for the jobs of animation and preferred on all male studio.
But is Streep being too hard on Disney? Was he indeed just a product of his times along with the predominant, white and patriarchal way of thinking.
While opinion is divided on whether or not to cut him some slack, it is notable that even he can't get away from controversy, decades after his own death.
While the Disney company has seen its share of scandals and controversies, its movies continue to be popular, its TV shows watched, and its theme parks attended.
So while some of these controversies may have caused problems for Disney, the media giant hasn't really taken too much grief from its adoring public and fans.