Offense these days is so prevalent that it's difficult to imagine a time when people weren't seeking to offend others or looking to be offended. Given the rise of the political correctness culture that rose in the nineties and the boom of social media the following decade, it has practically become its own language. Today, celebrities rise and fall due to their ability to cause rifts in humans decency, sometimes intentional, sometimes not. Some, like George Carlin, make careers out of damaging others' pride, and for others, like Michael Richards, can struggle with damage control all they like and never get the redemption they seek.
With Disney, it's a whole different game. They've been churning out material for nearly a century in everything from rides and cartoons to movies and toys. Naturally, when your business is as vast, diverse, and far-reaching as the Mouse House, something is inevitably going to ruffle someone's feathers. Sometimes it's as innocent an error as a Rad Repeatin' Tarzan action figure, or people claiming to see phalluses in "The Little Mermaid".
But it what I want to discuss are the things from Disney I frequently hear others getting angry over. Everyone has the right to be angry and vocal, but it ought to be directed in the right vicinity. Now, don't take this article too seriously; I'm not suggesting we refocus our efforts and further condemn Mickey and Company, nor am I telling everyone mad at the items below should "lighten up". This satirical article is merely about pointing out ironies and contradictions in which the general public chooses to be offended by a Disney product, when there are much worse products that people seem to overlook. Let's begin:
1. Ariel, the little Mermaid
The complaint: For decades, Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora were Disney's primary princesses. Then, in 1989, Disney kicked off a new era of prosperity with an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Little Mermaid". Ariel was lauded by critics like the late Roger Ebert by being dynamic: willing to go to any extreme to get what she wants. She didn't sit around waiting for Prince Charming to ride in on a white (sea)horse and whisk her away. She was determined to go after him, consequences be damned.
But while Ariel's primary dream was to go on land and live like a human, it was her teenage hormones that caused her to sign a contract with a figurative devil, relinquish her voice, and abandon her family and friends. Thus came the complaint that she gave up her voice for a guy, and that was not a positive message for girls and young women. Though Ariel is a far, FAR better role model than Bella from "Twilight", it's not hard to understand where the concern is coming from.
Instead, be offended by: Jasmine, Princess of Agrabah.
While Ariel does get histrionic, she is still a teenager. Jasmine's age is harder to pinpoint, though she seems a year or two older than Ariel. She can also be more abrasive, but that's not why I suggested her.
Not once, but TWICE does Jasmine flip-flop on her convictions. The first is demonstrated by her running away from the palace. She grows upset at the confines, both literal and figurative, of being a princess, until she decides to run away. By all accounts, this is a fairly decent establishment of her character, as someone who is more independent and self-sustaining than any other princess. What makes this interesting is NEVER AGAIN does Jasmine display dissatisfaction about her lot in life for the rest of the movie. Once she returns to the palace, she also returns to her life as a princess, a lifestyle she claimed to have hated. In fact, come to think of it, I can't recall a time in either of the sequels or in the tv show where she expressed any further desire to break free of her royal status. Sure, she sings about being free of her entrapment in "A Whole New World", but she never says, "Hey, Ali, wanna just, y'know, never go back to Agrabah? Ever? Seriously, just drop me off literally anywhere on the planet."
Speaking of "A Whole New World", the second time was when she angrily, loudly declared to her father, Jafar, and Aladdin about she is "not a prize to be won". She sticks to that until that night when Aladdin, as Prince Ali, barges into her bedroom, clumsily, in effectively apologizes, and ultimately charms her because he has a magic carpet and he takes her on a world tour. I don't have a problem with Jasmine changing her mind, I just wanted to see the ball in her court emphasized just a little more
Say what you will about Ariel: at least she had convictions and stuck to them, even if they were misguided.
The complaint: when it comes to source material, Disney is known for playing fast and loose with the details. Hercules killed his family in a bout of madness. Cinderella's stepsisters cut off their toes to fit into the glass slipper. Shere Khan was trampled by buffalo and skinned by Mowgli. Naturally, these plot points are not appropriate for kids, but people like to complain because Disney didn't follow the source material close enough. It's a weird dichotomy with a mix of Schrödinger's cat where people want exact interpretations, but will practically crucify Disney should they show anything remotely inappropriate.
To further, my point, Disney's "Pocahontas", the first and so far only animated Disney film based on historical events. At least, Captain John Smith's version of them. It became evident well into production that it wasn't exactly the princess-fairy tale story they were hoping for, but they were in too deep to quit. Most apparent was the age discrepancy between Smith and Pocahontas, with reports varying on exactly how far apart they were. Smith had to return to England because a powder horn exploded on his hip. The women of the Powhatan tribe were topless. There were numerous discrepancies, but the "romance" (Some even say flat out rape) and the age difference were the least forgivable alterations.
Instead, be offended by: "Anastasia"
While not a Disney movie, many still confuse it for one. And while people generally will rally and sound the drums of war over the issues in "Pocahontas", I've been hard-pressed to find anyone equally irate over the discrepancies in Don Bluth's Russian tale.
Rasputin, for one, was not a zombie sorcerer with a vendetta against the Czar. While nothing concrete about the "mad monk" exists, he did exploit his talents as a preacher, mystic healer, and possible hypnotist to achieve the finer things in life, right down to his choice of women. And while the circumstances of his death are still the stuff of legend, it's was reported he was drunk, poisoned, had to be shot at least twice, and thrown in the river (come to think of it, maybe he really was a zombie.).
Arguably, the most significant aspect is the fact that the plot of the movie, Anastasia's survival, is a total myth. In the twenties, a woman named Anna Anderson claimed to be the lost grand duchess, and became embroiled in a five decade-long court battle to prove it, with the courts deciding that she was not whom she claimed to be. Anna was not the only one, but she was the most famous. A DNA test in 1984 proved her story false and in 2007 - ten years after the movie - the bodies of all four grand duchesses were found in the mass family grave, settling any dispute once and for all whether or not Anastasia escaped during Bolshevik Revolution.
The complaint: "Aladdin" overcame the impossible by becoming more successful than the previous films, "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid". It was wildly popular, with no small thanks to Robin Williams as the Genie, whom everyone loved (Except Robin himself.). But there was one sect who was mighty displeased: the Anti-Arab Discrimination League.
In the early nineties, the notion of political correctness rose to prominence, surprising white people everywhere that not-white people had feelings, too. They cited the American accents in the protagonists, but the wicked Jafar was given an accent to accentuate his evil-ness. They didn't care for the "nasty, mean people" that populated the fictional city of Agrabah. But most significantly, a lyric.
Howard Ashman, the man credited alongside Alan Menken for writing the music for Ariel and Belle, wrote half the music for Aladdin. The reason is he was slowly dying from AIDS, leading to him passing away before even "Beauty and the Beast" was released. Given everyone's immense respect for him, they were reluctant to mess with his contributions. However, the line in "Arabian Nights" was "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face" was not well-received by the league. After some protest, Disney eventually relented and the line "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense" was implanted as a replacement.
Instead, be offended by: "Mickey in Arabia"
As a member of generation X, I like to think I'm more enlightened and less bigoted than I really am, but one way I can know for certain is by watching old cartoons. While Disney was no pure innocent when it came to portraying race in their cartoons, they still never made "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs"...But they DID make Mickey in Arabia".
The plot is simple: Mickey and Minnie are playing tourist in Arabia when Pete the sheik kidnaps Minnie and Mickey has to save her. It's when they enter the city things get uncomfortable. A stout, veiled woman carries several wailing children...who are each in clay pots all balanced on a plank of wood on her head. Another is balancing only one pot on her head...but her cigar-smoking husband is hitching a ride inside. A juggler with a turban, bulbous nose, and oversize lips is bouncing balls on his over-animated butt in MC Hammer pants. Minnie takes a picture of Mickey holding two tiny children who are more stick figures with curly toes and fezzes in each hand. The guards in Pete's fortress are drawn similarly, but instead with what seem like giant diapers. Oh, and lest we forget the inebriated camel.
Seriously, even Donald Trump would blush at these depictions.
But the rub here is that none of this is racist...at least, done with malicious intent. This cartoon came out in 1932, when transatlantic flight was not achieved until five years prior, so knowledge of the Arabian peninsula to the average animator was pretty limited. Not to mention, this was an era in which anything that was not white, Christian, or generally American was experimented with zealous glee in the brand new art form called animation, where drawing and exaggerating motion is a form caricature.
But even still...just wow.
The complaint: Okay, this one might be a bit of a stretch considering most of people's gripes against the movie are mostly related to the historical inaccuracies, but I've known a few people who just plain didn't like "Pocahontas" for it's inaccuracies in its portrayal of Native American culture. It's like it can't win. But what if I were to tell you there's a Disney animated movie that has Native Americans in it that is reprehensibly derogatory...and no one is upset?
Instead, be offended by: "Peter Pan"
Your words (or thoughts) said something along the lines of: "What the -...but...yeah, kinda. But no!". I assume, anyway. It's one of those things where we all know exactly what I'm talking about but no one wants to admit it.
For all the flack we throw at "Pocahontas" for being racist toward native Americans, here we find all those delightful clichés that have become so abhorrent these days. From war whoops and unintelligible grunts, to the fractured English and everything else mostly originating from the plains tribes, the "injuns" in "Peter Pan" are the epitome of uncomfortable stereotyping. Heck, their song is called, "What Makes the Red Man Red?", and includes lyrics such as "Why does he say 'how'?" And "What makes the red man say 'ugh'?".
My theory as to why this is might have something to do with entertainment value. There are crazy plot holes in movies like "Beauty and the Beast", "Star Wars", and "Wizard of Oz" that no one outside that one hipster friend you know bothers with. Why? They're all fun, entertaining movies. Same can be said for "Peter Pan". "Pocahontas", well, it can get pretty dull in several parts. Why else in the documentary "Reel Injun" (Now available for streaming on Netflix), "Pocahontas" gets a token mention, but "Peter Pan" gets entirely neglected?
5. "Song of the South"
Hoo boy, this one is mired deep in controversy. Known for "Zip-a-Dee-do-dah" and Splash Mountain, "Song of the South was officially withdrawn by Disney after its 1986 release and never spoken of again. Sorta. For a while, it popped up as a question at shareholder meetings when it would see the light of day, and Disney CEO Bob Iger would hem, haw, and mumble answers that often result in "never". But why? The characters are loveable (especially Uncle Remus), the animation top-notch, and its songs fun. The skewed perspective of it being an anti-black person movie is certainly a stretch, given the likability of the characters. Like "Pocahontas", the fact that much of it pretty boring may have led to people only remembering the fact it's about black people in the mid-19th century.
Instead, be upset about: "Cannibal Capers"
This Silly Symphony makes me mortified to be white.
Imagine you drew a bunch of stick figures. Imagine you gave them all little round pot bellies. Imagine you added hands and feet half the size of their whole body. Give them some googly eyes and a mouth. But make sure you make the mouth like five feet wide. And to top it all off, give them all grass skirts.
Of course, it's not enough to have them look like sloppy scribbles of Ickis from "AAAH! Real Monsters!". They also have to dance and chant and babble nonsensically because they're primitive and funny-looking!
And that's not all! Make sure they run around because they almost cook each other alive because cannibals eat turtles! Or have them run around hilariously because they angered a lion! Boola boola!
Yeah. It's pretty awful. No wonder you REALLY have to dig around to find this cartoon.
Or do you?
But yeah, keep yelling about how offensive "Pocahontas" is.