Every year, movie studios are taking bigger and bigger strides when it comes to sensitivity regarding orientation, racial representation, and other politically correct issues. One of the leading studios is Walt Disney, responsible for giving equal opportunities regardless of orientation and race in recent years.
However, for anyone who thinks that the House of Mouse has always adhered to their squeaky-clean reputation needs to go back and revisit “classic” Disney. Older Disney movies are kind of like that aging relative who spouts off an occasionally insensitive comment during holiday dinner that makes everyone pause and go, “what did you just say?”
You’ve probably seen most of the Disney cartoons listed below as a kid, but chances are you never picked up on the racist and sexist subtexts that lied beneath the surface.
It’s always a gut-punch when you realize that your favorite Disney cartoon is overtly racist, shattering that warm, fuzzy family memory into a million pieces.
Below you’ll find the most insensitive and cringe-worthy moments in Disney’s back catalog. From the early black and white shorts, to feature-length films of the ’70s and ’80s, these are the stereotypes, caricatures, and embarrassments Walt Disney would love to pretend never happened.
Here are the 15 Offensive Disney Characters That Wouldn’t Be Allowed Today.
15. The Merchant – Aladdin
You probably remember the song “I Can Show You the World” best from Disney’s Aladdin. Yes, that’s the most popular song in the animated feature, but there are several other musical numbers throughout the film, including an opening sequence that had to be edited for the home video release due to protest from Arab-American groups.
The offense: there is a lyric in the opening in which a merchant sings the line, “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” On the DVD release, the line was changed to the less offensive, “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense.”
In hindsight, Disney was wise to change the line, especially in light of the many protests that took place after the movie’s debut. Now, if only they could fix the fact that Aladdin looks European despite growing up in the Middle East.
14. Sebastian – The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid is the film that really kicked off Disney’s modern era of animated classics, filled with gorgeous animation and one catchy musical number after another. However, some things in the 1989 film have aged worse than others, and that includes Sebastian, a crab with a Jamaican accent who loves not having a job.
Of course you remember Sebastian’s song “Under the Sea,” a fun little ditty which chastises hard work in favor of laziness. “Up on the shore they work all day. Out in the sun they slave away, while we dovtin’ full time to floatin’ under the sea.”
Sure, Sebastian isn’t inexcusably offensive like some of the other characters on this list, but he’s not free from sin either. A Jamaican-sounding crab who champions idleness is still racially insensitive, even if he sings about it in the catchiest song imaginable.
13. King Louie – The Jungle Book
Early Disney productions weren’t so subtle with their racial overtones. For example, it’s probably no coincidence that all the animals in 1967’s The Jungle Book talk in suave English accents except for the monkeys who speak jive and are voiced by an all-black cast.
In addition to mainly speaking gibberish, their leader, King Louie, frequently mentions he so desperately wants to become a “real person.” The not-so-subtle stereotyping here is pretty hard to ignore, especially when you have Louie sing songs with lyrics like “I wanna be like you.”
If you need further proof of The Jungle Book’s blatant racial stereotypes, may we just remind you that the author, Rudyard Kipling, is the same guy who thought up the famous poem “The White Man’s Burden.” In hindsight, that makes a ton of sense.
12. The Black Birds – Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood
Cartoons have had a long history of making fun of Hollywood, just look at The Animaniacs. That was the also the aim of Disney’s 1938 Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood, a short animated feature that features a cast that includes Katherine Hepburn, W.C. Fields, and even the Marx Brothers.
Basically, the film is a reimagining of classic fables and fairytales with celebrities. It almost turned out fine, but still couldn’t resist from throwing in some awkward stereotypes.
The most jarring bit comes when a characters starts singing “20 black birds baking a pie.” Suddenly, a group of unnamed black jazz musicians stick their heads out of a pie who ecstatically begin singing along while mumbling jive.
11. The Sultan – Mickey in Arabia
Another early Disney short, 1932’s Mickey in Arabia has Mickey and Minnie travel to Arabia for a nice relaxing vacation. Of course things don’t exactly go as planned, and the pair of mice get into one wacky mishap after another.
Walt Disney didn’t have a ton of restraint at this time, shown by including a scene in which the Mickey and Minnie’s camel starts guzzling beer out of a wooden barrel and a cigar smoking cat pops out of a box.
That little restraint is echoed again with the dastardly Sultan character, who’s seen drooling and lusting after Minnie, kidnaps the mouse and attempts to force himself on her before Mickey rescues her.
10. Si and Am – Lady and the Tramp
Lady and the Tramp is one of those classic Disney movies that everyone remembers with fuzzy feelings. Who doesn’t love this romantic tale as old as time when a street-wise mutt falls in love with uptown Cocker Spaniel?
Unfortunately, the movie’s racial sensitives are as old as time as well. For some reason, Disney loves using Siamese cats as a representation of Asian-American stereotypes in their early animated features.
Lady and the Tramp is no different, with a pair of Siamese cats, Si and Am, who are basically the villains of the movie by causing a series of mishaps that are blamed on the Tramp.
9. The Big Bad Wolf – The Three Little Pigs
Everyone knows the story of the Three Little Pigs who are hunted by a Big Bad Wolf who constantly huffs, and puffs, and blows their houses down. Walt Disney decided to cash in on the story with producing their own animated short in 1933.
The classic tale is more or less told in the cartoon, with the Big Bad Wolf trying to outsmart the pigs after they retreat into their house made of brick.
The offensive part comes when the Wolf has the brilliant idea to disguise himself as a Jewish peddler who’s selling brushes. With an elongated nose, a pair of glasses and a fake beard, the Wolf tries to get the best of the pigs with his best Jewish accent.
8. The Alley Cats – The Aristocats
Released in 1970, The Aristocats isn’t exactly the most well-remembered of Disney classics. It tells the story of a smooth-talking alley cat who helps out a family of felines in an attempt to inherit a bit of money from their owner.
Even though it’s not the most beloved entry in Disney’s catalog. it still manages to reinforce overt racial and classist stereotypes. Just take a look at the picture above.
That’s Shun Gon, one of the colorful Alleycats who are each a one-dimensional representation of a different cultural stereotype. Shun Gon is an obvious jab at Asian-Americans with his buckteeth, broken English, and desire to play musical instrument with chopsticks.
But that’s not all. There’s also Billy Boss, the big Russian feline, and Pepe, the womanizing Italian cat who rocks a gold earring and red scarf. At least when it comes to being offensive, The Aristocats doesn’t discriminate.
7. Blackfish and Fluke, the Duke of Soul – The Little Mermaid
We’ve already pointed out that The Little Mermaid‘s Sebastian wasn’t the most racially sensitive crustacean, but he wasn’t the only offensive sea creature under the sea.
During Sebastian’s catchy opening number about how a carefree life is so much better, the audience is introduced to a variety of other aquatic critters who dig the lazy life under the ocean.
During the musical number we’re introduced to two more offensive stereotypes: Blackfish and Fluke, the Duke of Soul. Blackfish, a soulful singer, sports large lips and a noticeable African-American voice. Meanwhile, the Duke is seen with droopy eyes, a ragged comb-over, and playing a crudely-drawn saxophone.
It’s painfully obvious that both are caricatures of African-American jazz performers of the early 1900s, and both are cringe-worthy additions to Disney’s list of characters they probably wish were never drawn up.
6. Japanese Soldiers- Commando Duck
Though Mickey might be the face of Disney, his buddy Donald Duck might have been more popular during the 1940s, mainly because he was the star of several WWII propaganda shorts that were made to dehumanize German and Japanese soldiers.
Commando Duck is one of those shorts, in which Donald goes behind enemy lines in the East. After parachuting out of a plane, the fighting waterfowl floats down a river in a crudely put together boat.
Along the way, he runs into a group of Japanese soldiers who are incompetent, foolish, and totally stereotyped. With their big round glasses, wide overbites, large teeth, and broken accents, the soldiers are constantly seen bowing to each other while spouting the line “It’s Japanese custom to shoot enemy in the back.”
5. Uncle Remus – Song of the South
There’s a chance that you don’t remember kind old Uncle Remus from Disney’s 1946 Song of the South. That’s mainly because it’s a movie that everyone pretends doesn’t exist nowadays, preventing the film from ever being reissued.
Why the cold shoulder? Well, it wasn’t hard to notice that Song of the South is blatantly racist and not so subtle. It’s main character is Uncle Remus, a former African-American slave who works on a plantation in the post-Civil War South.
The majority of the movie consists of Uncle Remus wandering around, singing songs, and talking to imaginary animated birds.
4. Native Americans – Peter Pan
Peter Pan tells the story of a boy who lives in a magical land where boys never grow up. Ironically, the filmmakers prove they’re just as juvenile as their title character with their blatant stereotypical representation of Native Americans, who are more bluntly referred to as the “Red Man.”
They’re big scene includes the song, “What Makes the Red Man Red,” a catchy musical number that makes the sad attempt to explain Native American culture and history.
What gives the Red Man their distinctive red color? Well, the song states that years ago one a Native American kissed a girl and then blushed, changing their color from the normal, more natural tone of white.
3. Sunflower the Centaur – Fantasia
While Disney’s Fantasia was initially a complete box office flop when released in 1940, the animated symphony has gone on to inspire countless filmmakers over the years, including Steven Spielberg who has said that it’s his favorite animated film of all time.
However, the House of Mouse still comes under fire for some of Fantasia‘s more controversial elements, including a subservient African centaur whose job is to polish the hooves of “prettier” centaurs with whiter complexions.
Of all the characters in this article, Sunflower the Centaur is probably the one that Disney is most embarrassed of– and for good reason. In the 1960 re-release of Fantasia, they removed all footage of the character and completely denied her existence.
2. The Siamese Twin Gang – Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers
By 1989, explicit racism against African-Americans was finally starting to become a thing of the past for Walt Disney. However, explicit racism against Asian-Americans was far from over. Enter the Siamese Twin Gang from Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers.
Siamese cats are some of Disney’s favorite vehicles for Asian-American stereotypes. They’re used yet again in Chip ‘n Dale as a gang of criminals who own a laundromat as a front to an illegal gambling ring.
They even speak in horribly broken English. Disney made sure that all the boxes for offensive Asian-American stereotypes were completely checked off for this one.
1. The Crows – Dumbo
Yes, Dumbo is a classic. And yes, fans adore it so much that Disney is working on rebooting the 1941 film for live-action. However, the movie about the famous flying elephant still features jive-talking black crows that are just about as racially insensitive as anything Walt Disney has ever produced.
For starters, the leader of the crows is literally named “Jim Crow” after the statewide laws that enforced racial segregation in the South.
On top of that, they’re all specifically depicted as poor and uneducated birds who constantly smoke cigarettes and sing songs with lyrics like, “I’d be done see’n about everything when I see an elephant fly.”
The cherry on top of this offensive sundae is that the crows are voiced by white actors trying to do their best imitation of a black man’s voice.
Can you think of any other offensive Disney characters? Sound off in the comments~
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