It’s no secret that I love Disney movies. Specifically, I love the classic animated Disney movies that I grew up with, and I still watch the new ones that have come out in my adulthood. Some people argue that Disney movies have objectionable messages, and while there are definitely some that are worse than others, I tend to think there are redeeming qualities in nearly all of them, and that children do not understand/absorb nearly as much as we’d like to think they do. Subconscious effects could exist, but I think they do more good than harm.
Now that so many older Disney movies are available on Netflix, I have been re-watching several and noticing some cringeworthy moments that are definitely a reflection of their time. Here is a short list of those moments, in no particular order.
Jim Crow – Dumbo
The movie Dumbo is pretty weird as is (faceless black circus laborers anyone?), but the crows are particularly questionable. It is a group of five birds who teach Dumbo to fly after he is initially away from the circus. The leader’s name is Jim Crow, which appears to be a reference to the Jim Crow Laws which mandated racial segregation in the United States until the mid 1960s. The combination of the name and the fact that they are a black bird, rather than a dove or a parrot or a sparrow or something else really seems like not such a great idea. Granted, the crows are actually some of the most likeable characters in the entire movie, but couldn’t you have named him ANYTHING else?
“What Made the Red Man Red?” – Peter Pan
I really enjoy Peter Pan, but this song and really the depiction of the Indians in general are problematic. They are portrayed as stereotypical and kind of slow, and their main purpose seems to be to sing the song “What Made the Red Man Red?” which basically says that they are the color they are because they are constantly blushing after kissing an Indian maiden. So I guess this is suggesting that otherwise they would’ve been Caucasian? The song also refers to them as “injuns” and I’m pretty certain that if this movie had been created today, this scene would be entirely different.
Pretty much this entire movie – Pocahontas
I love Pocahontas. The songs are really powerful, she is portrayed as a strong female unlike characters like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and it supposedly depicts part of American history. But therein lies the problem. Pocahontas was a real person, but this is not her story. Of course a children’s movie cannot depict all of the details of the violence and struggle that surrounded this time, but to make it into this type of love story really sells short all that Pocahontas experienced. There was never any evidence of a romantic relationship with John Smith, though Disney seems to have tried to provide more accuracy in the sequel. Overall, this movie had the potential to share a part of history but the creative liberties made it into fiction. Which is fine, except not everyone realizes the movie isn’t completely true.
I’d love to hear more about questionable Disney moments. Some day I want to get my hands on a copy of Song of the South, just to see exactly how bad it was.