There are few who would dispute the near stranglehold that The Walt Disney Company has on the world of entertainment. From the premiere of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie in 1928, the popularity of Walt Disney’s films was unquestionable.
Expanding into feature animation from shorts, then into live action filmmaking, and eventually into the many theme parks which are growing and expanding to this day, Disney was a name that meant quality multimedia for all ages. Their acquisition of the Marvel and Star Wars universes has given them a huge footprint in the entertainment arena that is unmatched in the modern age.
Of course, no one is bulletproof. The larger the company and the greater its output, the more likely that something was going to slip through the cracks. While the Walt Disney Company has done a great job of keeping most of their entertainment timeless and classic, that isn’t always the case.
Sometimes, simple things like changes in technologies make an older film feel antiquated, as in the case of changes in frame size, Technicolor, sound technology, and distribution. Other times, it’s a result of clothing styles and dialogue choices that end up historically being recognized as questionable fads.
However, there are occasions where the portrayals of people and circumstances are thoughtless or insensitive, famous faces end up later being exposed for their hidden misdeeds, and cynical cash-ins can be seen clearly in retrospect.
Here are the 15 Loved Disney Movies That Have NOT Aged Well.
15. Peter Pan
Portrayals of Native Americans in film has been a problem ever since white actors portrayed villainous Indians in silent westerns. Though Disney movies tended to avoid clear political commentary in order to appeal to broader audiences, they did not escape the occasional very unfortunate portrayal.
With the animated Peter Pan, Walt Disney probably felt comfortable including Native American character Tiger Lily and her father Big Chief in the film because the characters originated the James Barrie play that pre-dated the movie.
However, Disney and his songwriters Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain can be held directly accountable for the truly insensitive and offensive song titled “What Made the Red Man Red?”
It was 1982, at the height of home video game popularity. A Disney-backed movie about a man whisked into a world of video games should have set the imagination of moviegoers aflame.
Instead, it premiered to moderate success and mixed reviews, languishing in cult popularity for twenty-eight years until its sequel proved that the audience still wasn’t that interested.
The reasons for its middling success are many. Though the visuals are spectacular, the characters and narrative are threadbare and unengaging.
The actors give it their best, but the painfully dated and expositional dialogue and the story’s lack of grasp over basic technological concepts makes it more laughable than enjoyable for anything other than a nostalgic viewing or a silent screening meant for eye candy aficionados.
13. Song of the South
How is there still any public support for a Disney-sanctioned release of Song of the South? The Walt Disney Company wisely decided in the 1980s not to re-release this film, a decision that the company rarely uses and had utilized mostly for its propaganda material from World War II.
The confusing part is not why Disney pulled the film. Its portrayal of the cliched “magical black man” storyteller Uncle Remus, living happily in his impoverished post-slavery circumstances, is tough to watch.
Equally tough are the accents and slang that the animated characters use, the character traits of laziness and avoidance of responsibility embodied by the ostensible hero Br’er Rabbit. Also awful is the fact that there is a “tar baby” in the film who is used as a plot device.
12. Lady and the Tramp
It seems strange to complain about certain elements of an animated children’s film about dogs from over sixty years ago.
Sure, the main canine character in Lady and the Tramp is a street dog who seduces and abandons his many romantic conquests (chronicled in “He’s a Tramp”, truly one of the strangest musical numbers in a film intended for kids), but we chalk it up to being a product of its day.
The cultural stereotypes are a little harder to get over, with a Scottish terrier, a Cockney bulldog, a German dachshund, and a couple of Italian chefs all painted as broadly comical caricatures.
However, Si and Am, the sneaky Siamese cats that play as cliched Asian stereotypes, are the worst. Their broken English, coupled with the disastrously bad visual design, make them some of the most egregious racist missteps in Disney history.
11. White Wilderness
Disney has long been known for its beautiful nature documentaries, a phenomenon that began back in the 1940s and continues today with releases like Crimson Wing and Monkey Kingdom. The films, however, are not without their controversies.
White Wilderness was an Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, but it was later discovered that a segment featuring the suicide of many lemmings over the edge of a cliff was fabricated in a studio.
Not only do lemmings not behave the way they were shown in the film, but the filmmakers actually forced the lemmings off the cliff and into the water, causing many deaths.
In 1973, Superdad seemed like a great idea. Kurt Russell was at the height of his Disney popularity. The film was intended for both younger children and the now-adult fans of Disney’s early films, and they planned to bridge the gap by pairing Russell with Bob Crane, former star of the popular TV series Hogan’s Heroes.
The film landed with a thud, delivering poor box office and bad reviews. Crane also appeared in Disney’s Gus three year later, and it would be the last feature film he made before his death.
The sordid details of Crane’s death by bludgeoning, which was likely tied to his activities engaging in and filming a group intimate movie with a friend accused of his murder, left a dark cloud over his films with The Walt Disney Company, and Superdad never saw a renaissance in nostalgic affection that other films of the era did.
9. The World’s Greatest Athlete
Disney made many action-tinged and sports-related comedies during the late 1960s and 1970s, from Kurt Russell movies like The Strongest Man in the World to Blackbeard’s Ghost (which begins as a supernatural buddy film and somehow ends as a slapstick comedy at a track meet).
One of those entries was The World’s Greatest Athlete, about a desperate track and field coach who ventures to darkest Africa seeking to recruit the world’s greatest athlete to single-handedly win every event.
The white savior story kicks in when it is revealed that Jan-Michael Vincent (?!) is somehow the best athlete in all of Africa. It’s all the more insulting that Vincent is the hero in a film also starring the always fantastic John Amos AND Roscoe Lee Browne.
8. Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken
There are numerous films that get in trouble for their treatment of animals during their production. The Adventures of Milo and Otis, for example, or the previously-mentioned Disney documentary White Wilderness.
More recently, the Humane Society had to clear up a misunderstanding about possible abuse on the family film A Dog’s Purpose.
Given how damaging that kind of reputation can be on a film, one can’t help but wonder why a studio would voluntarily make a film in which the characters put animals in danger over and over as a plot point.
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, which was made in 1991, tells the story of a young woman who became famous for riding a horse off a platform and down into a swimming pool.
7. Darby O’Gill and the Little People
There may not be a single cliché, trope, or stereotype about the Irish that doesn’t get trotted out and used for bluntly comic effect in Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People from 1959.
The lead character, Darby, is essentially an old alcoholic liar who has spent most of his adult life trying to catch leprechauns.
He is cared for by his adult daughter because he can barely function in everyday life because he’s basically a useless dreamer. He is fired from his job and loses his horse, which leads to him stumbling into the home of real leprechauns.
Darby’s battle of wits with the leprechaun king entails all the typical Irish clichés: being a sneaky liar and getting other people drunk.
One of the reasons that fans of films from back before the 1990s cite those films as timeless is because their practical effects look as good now as they did when they were produced. The relatively new world of digital effects, which have only been in active and frequent use since the late 1980s, can be dangerous in terms of revisiting early work.
What seemed groundbreaking and ultra-realistic in the early days of a technology can feel hopelessly dated and clunky in a few short years. Movies like Dragonheart and Lost in Space seemed impressive upon release, but some scenes are nearly unwatchable now.
Add to that list Dinosaur, a Disney film about talking CGI dinosaurs. The bad CGI would have been bad enough on its own, but they shot real locations to animate over, and it makes the bad animation stand out even more.
5. The Black Hole
In the wake of the enormous success of 1977’s Star Wars, every studio was looking for their version in order to strike while the space opera iron was hot. Disney was no exception, as its live action fare was struggling and seeking to find new inspiration.
Their answer to Star Wars, The Black Hole, is fondly remembered by many because of its impressive special effects. However, that is where the objective quality ends.
The blatant R2-D2 ripoff, the awkward presence of otherwise excellent actors like Anthony Perkins and Ernest Borgnine, and the glacial pace of the story all add up to a strangely forgettable science-fiction action story.
4. The Fox and the Hound/The Black Cauldron/The Great Mouse Detective/Oliver & Company
Viewers often feel like the Disney animation machine has a been an unstoppable juggernaut since it first released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. The truth, however, is that there was a time in the early 1980s when the future of the animation studio was in question.
Most of the original animators and directors of Disney’s golden age were gone after 1977’s The Rescuers, and the studio struggled to find talent to replace it. Some of their best and brightest left with animator Don Bluth to make the brilliant Secret of NIMH.
The Little Mermaid re-established Disney’s dominance in animation, but in the interim, four films came and went that were pale comparisons of the studio’s former glory: The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver & Company. These middle children are reminders of what might have been.
3. The Devil and Max Devlin
Sometimes, through no fault of their own, a studio finds that a film of theirs becomes unpalatable in the future due to unforeseen circumstances.
No one wants to watch John Wayne’s film about Genghis Kahn, The Conqueror, given that almost one hundred people died of cancer after being exposed to radiation on the New Mexico shoot.
This has happened with the entirety of Bill Cosby’s film and television output, from his self-titled series to Fat Albert to Disney’s The Devil and Max Devlin.
When the seemingly endless number assault allegations became known, all of his work lost its luster, but it’s no surprise that a film with Devil in the title would bring up painful memories of a man capable of such horrible acts.
2. The Haunted Mansion
Sometimes, The Walt Disney Company overestimates its power and influence. Sure, early 2003 had already brought the enormous success of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the swashbuckling adventure based on their popular ride.
They were high on the successes of that film and the previous year’s The Country Bears, so it seemed like a no-brainer to cast comedian Eddie Murphy in a comedy adaptation of their ride The Haunted Mansion.
It didn’t work out so well. Though the movie did turn a profit, it was received with middling reviews and was almost immediately forgotten.
It was Murphy ‘s second big-budget disappointment after The Adventures of Pluto Nash, and less than seven years after it was released, Disney announced it was partnering with Guillermo Del Toro for a new adaptation of the ride. It has yet to arrive.
Being insensitive to the history and plight of a marginalized group is horrible. Nearly as bad is the failed attempt to honor a people or culture by selecting a real event from history and then presenting it inaccurately.
Disney would have you believe that the story of Pocahontas and John Smith was a love story born of two worlds, and their love brought two peoples together. Not only is that not true, but the truth makes the film feel pretty creepy.
The film gives audiences a relationship where there was none. Pocahontas and Smith knew each other, but there was never a romantic element. Add to that her age: Pocahontas was somewhere between eleven and fourteen when they met.
Those two revelations make the entirety of the film pretty icky to watch now.
Can you think of any other loved Disney movies that aged terribly? Sound off in the comments!
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