Recent Disney Controversies, Criticisms, and Scandals

Updated on June 18, 2016
What kinds of scandals and issues has Disney faced in the past few years?
What kinds of scandals and issues has Disney faced in the past few years? | Source

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:

Animation Scandals

  • 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.

  • Aladdin

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.

Up until recently, Disney seemed to have a very narrow idea about relationships, diversity and roles in  society.
Up until recently, Disney seemed to have a very narrow idea about relationships, diversity and roles in society. | Source

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.

Do Disney movies promote patriarchal culture?
Do Disney movies promote patriarchal culture? | Source

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.

Was Walt Disney anti-woman?
Was Walt Disney anti-woman? | Source

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.

Questions & Answers


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      • profile image

        Ayush pal ayush 

        16 months ago

        I am story writer I have been write a science fiction movie very mysterious and interesting.

      • Better Yourself profile image

        Better Yourself 

        5 years ago from North Carolina

        I had no idea, everything you mentioned above was news to me. Very interesting hub and I enjoyed the comments above as well. Well done, and congrats on HOTD!

      • Shinkicker profile image


        5 years ago from Scotland

        Very interesting hub and insight into the company, certainly Darth Disney had his dark side :-)

        Voted up

      • BernietheMovieGuy profile image

        Bernie Ment 

        5 years ago from Syracuse, NY

        I was pleasantly amused at the reference to the Lion King's "SEX" scene. I actually recall noticing that myself when I first saw the movie. I had to go back and see it again just to make sure I saw it right the first time - and I did! Voted up! Great Hub!

      • jpcmc profile image

        JP Carlos 

        5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

        What well to do families hiring disabled to buy their tickets? That's really absurd.

      • JoanCA profile image


        5 years ago

        I have daughters, so the Disney princesses needing to be rescued by men was always annoying. Not that I think that has much impact on how girls see themselves or the world. I think girls are much more influenced by the actions and behaviors of people around them than things in movies. Still, it was nice that Frozen took a different approach.

      • Rosie2010 profile image

        Rosie Rose 

        5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

        Awesome article! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all about Disney. There will always be critics in all genre. You did a wonderful job and I know more about Disney now because of your article. Funtabulous!

      • Nadine May profile image

        Nadine May 

        5 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

        Interesting to read about Disney world we only ever seen on TV. Congratulations!

      • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

        L C David 

        5 years ago from Florida

        I'm going to definitely research this one! Thanks for the information.

      • Lyndsay Gamber profile image

        Lyndsay Gamber 

        5 years ago from California

        Yes it is! It is lying on its side and looks like it was set on fire inside one of the windows where the pirates are pillaging the town! No body ever seems to notice it though.

      • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

        L C David 

        5 years ago from Florida

        Interesting! Yes, Meryl Streep made reference to her perceived views of Disney's anti-Semitic tendencies in her speech. Is the Menorah on fire at Disneyland's ride? I know it is a little different from the Disney World ride and older.

      • Lyndsay Gamber profile image

        Lyndsay Gamber 

        5 years ago from California

        If you want to talk about a huge controversy in the park there is a manora lit on fire in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride! It has been rumored that Disney did not like Jewish people (not that it was ever confirmed). This was a great Hub! congrats on HOD!

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        5 years ago from USA

        Great hub and a terrific pick for HOTD. You introduced some new ones to me. Shame on those people who are taking advantage of disabled access. I have seen terrible behavior from park-goers at Disney, nearly trampling a little girl who had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. She was waiting to board the tram and was supposed to board first but the crowd showed no respect to her and her mother/helper, jeopardizing her safety. And those folks who try to take advantage of the system should be expelled from the park -- or banned permanently. There are so many people like myself who have invisible disabilities and who struggle mightily in the Florida heat. The expansiveness of the park is also a challenge and many of the rides you cannot go on because of medical issues. Invisible disabilities can be verified, but that is pretty sensitive and should be unnecessary. People just need to behave.

      • carlajbehr profile image

        Carla J Swick 

        5 years ago from NW PA

        Congratulations on HOTD! Very interesting. I'd heard some of these stories so it was great to have explanation.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        5 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Very interesting and informative read! Congratulations for a well deserved HOTD!

      • KenDeanAgudo profile image

        Kenneth C Agudo 

        5 years ago from Tiwi, Philippines

        Never of this before but I have read an article about walt disney fairytales that they all ended tragically but disney changed it to happy ending story.

      • GmaGoldie profile image

        Kelly Kline Burnett 

        5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


        Our world has changed and this highlights how it has changed for the better. To hide history is a crime to humanity. We have to know the history to remember and to continue to grow. We must learn how we have advanced and be able to look boldly into the face that once was our history.

        If we cannot tell the difference between the magical world of Disney, the gender biases the racial biases and our real world, how can we set the stage for a better humanity.

        Shame on Disney for not releasing movies. Releasing these movies with a disclaimer of the time and place these were crafted would be a service to humanity.

        Billybuc makes a great point - it says allot about us and Disney doesn't want the backlash. I hope humanity can move beyond this and recognize history for what it is.

      • RonElFran profile image

        Ronald E Franklin 

        5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

        I think the current Disney corporation has earned a lot of the criticism it has gotten. But for Streep to knock Walt Disney for something he said in 1938 doesn't seem to me to help the discussion. Interesting hub.

      • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

        L C David 

        5 years ago from Florida

        I think that any big company faces an extra layer of public scrutiny. Disney has pretty much stood their ground and done what they wanted and I admire that.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        They have had their share of problems of late, but show me a corporation that doesn't. Of course they have done some things that probably could be handled another way....I think we could say that about each of us as well. I still love the idea of a magical kingdom. :) Interesting article; well done!

      • Ann1Az2 profile image


        5 years ago from Orange, Texas

        Interesting and also rather thought-provoking. It would almost seem that our heroes have feet of clay. lol

      • Sunshine625 profile image

        Linda Bilyeu 

        5 years ago from Orlando, FL

        I am aware of the Little Mermaid fiasco, I still have the VHS with the banned cover photo. I didn't know about the rest of the controversy. Very interesting. Then again, some one, somewhere will always find something wrong with Disney. Great article!

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        5 years ago from Central Florida

        This is a real eye-opener. I had no idea so many of the Disney movies meant for children had sexual innuendos embedded in them. Pretty ballsy, if you ask me (no pun intended)!

      • LCDWriter profile imageAUTHOR

        L C David 

        5 years ago from Florida

        Point taken. However, if Disney can change the original ending where she turns into sea foam, they could have made it a little less about getting your man. ;-)

        Thanks to both of you for stopping by.

      • dilipchandra12 profile image

        Dilip Chandra 

        5 years ago from India

        Interesting information and was written very well. Thank you.


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