Disney’s new animated adventure, Moana, hit theaters last week to rave reviews and a great show at the box office. The success of that film, alongside the smash hit that was Frozen in 2013 and the incredible Zootopia earlier this year, fans are hailing a new Disney renaissance. The House of Mouse has certainly been upping its game in recent years, following a string of lackluster films such as Bolt, Brother Bear, and Home On The Range. It’s phenomenal to see Disney reconnecting with the magic that made it such a huge part of our childhoods, and we’re hoping that this second renaissance produces some new classics to rival Beauty And The Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid.
However, it’s important not to look at Disney’s back catalogue with nostalgia-tinted glasses. While there are some truly incredible films in the Disney vault, there are also quite a few characters that just don’t stand the test of time. Although some or wonderful in their own way — or at least acceptable in their own time — many major animated characters wouldn’t garner the same kind of love and devotion now that they did in their heyday. From too-perfect princesses to underdeveloped princes and outdated pop culture references, we run through fifteen members of the Disney family that just wouldn’t work in 2017.
15. Snow White (Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs)
There are lots of reasons to love Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. It was the movie that launched Disney animated features. It’s absolutely beautiful, especially for the time in which it was made. It gave the world some of the catchiest tunes known to man, and proved that an animated fairy tale could make money.
But Snow White’s story is far from kid-friendly these days. She’s just a little too ‘perfect’… when ‘perfect’ was another word for ‘mindlessly submissive housewife’. Like many of the early princesses, Snow White simply accepts her step-mother’s awful treatment with good cheer, and when she finds herself lost in the woods, she is utterly spineless and terrified. Of trees. Her entire character seems to be built on a love of cooking, cleaning, and giggling, and she does it all with a kind of motherly bossiness that is just infuriating. To top it all off, she has an extremely dated accent that was popular for broadcasts at the time, but is more than a little bit grating today.
14. Prince Ferdinand (Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs)
Snow White’s leading man is, if anything, even less appealing than the princess herself. Her core personality traits may be dominated by a burning desire to keep house, but at least she has some. Prince Ferdinand doesn’t even have a name in the movie (the name ‘Ferdinand’ comes from an award speech where this moniker was listed between that of Snow White and the Dwarfs).
Ferdinand is woefully underdeveloped, making only two appearances in the film and having almost no lines. He pops up at the start to fall in love with Snow, singing to her as she sings into a well, and then reappears at the end to wake her with a kiss. That’s it. That’s his entire story and personality – he is a prince who sings. Today, kids want a little more from their heroes than a decent set of pipes and a velvet cape, which leaves our nameless Prince in the dust.
13. Bambi (Bambi)
Another early Disney release, Bambi has a distinctly different feel to many of the other Disney stories, being an ‘environmental’ tale of the circle of life and the seasons of nature, rather than following a classic fairy tale format. This alone might be enough to make it less interesting to kids today who prefer more character-driven magical adventures – Bambi is a very simple, setting-centric tale that relies on the beauty of the outdoors for much of its appeal.
In addition, the character of Bambi is a little bit too naïve. Adorable though he may be, there’s none of the kind of sass or capability that more modern characters have. Instead, Bambi does a whole lot of falling down, gazing wide-eyed at the world (well, he is a baby dear, after all), and making cute mistakes like calling a skunk a flower. The animation is still stunning, and it’s a surprisingly good rewatch as an adult, but this may be a little too slow-moving, with an overly simplistic protagonist, to really appeal to the younger generation.
12. Sunflower (Fantasia)
Another Disney classic that doesn’t stick to the usual fairy tale format is Fantasia. This celebration of classical music is an absolutely incredible way to get kids thinking about the storytelling magic of sound, but there are a few elements and characters that are definitely out of date by now.
The most famous of these is the little black slave girl who has a bit part in the otherwise gorgeous centaur scene. Set to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, we see centaurs and winged horses frolicking in a beautiful fantasy-inspired nature setting. What we no longer see (as it was cut out of later versions) is a ‘pickaninny’ slave girl named Sunflower who existed to cater to the beautiful white centaur ladies. Kids today would recognize that this is a painfully inappropriate stereotype (we hope!), and we’re thrilled that the scene was cut, leaving only happy cupids to braid the ladies’ manes and tails.
11. Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
Another early princess who suffers from a severe lack of personality is the lovely Aurora (or Briar Rose, if you prefer). The cursed princess from Sleeping Beauty does little else but smile, sing, and dance gracefully. She does have a bit more spunk than Snow White, in that she actually chafes against the restrictions that her fairy godmothers place on her, but we don’t really know why she’s unhappy with her lack of freedom. What does she want to do instead? Run off into the woods to hang out with animals and fall in love, it seems.
Speaking of which, this is another early Disney princess who falls in love with (and marries) a man based solely on his singing voice, which is more than a little frustrating. Kids might also be a little less than impressed about a woman who wants to turn down her responsibility, family, and a life as a princess for the sake of a boy she met once – although they might also be a little more sympathetic to instant crushes than adults are during a rewatch!
10. Prince Charming (Cinderella)
More frustrating royalty comes in the form of Prince Charming (later revealed to be named Henri, because like Prince Ferdinand, he isn’t even named in his movie appearance). Like the other early Disney princes, Henri isn’t developed beyond ‘generic handsome prince’, but it’s not just that which makes him dated and frustrating. Any kid watching Cinderella today would be flabbergasted by the Prince’s apparent inability to remember the face of the woman he loves.
Obviously, the glass slipper is a key part of the Cinderella story, but so much confusion and time would be saved if the Prince just went around the homes himself, or called all the eligible women back to the castle for a line-up. This oft-discussed plot hole just adds to the overall lack of development in this character, and drives kids crazy – Cinders herself is a little more interesting, and deserves more than a man who can’t remember what she looks like!
9. The Siamese Cats (Lady and the Tramp)
Set up as the villains of the piece (along with their odious and dog-hating owner), this pair of foul felines were never particularly beloved. These evil schemers manage to get Lady muzzled, even though she was only trying to save the family fish, and we are supposed to hate them. They were, however, accepted as villains despite being painfully racist, with slanted eyes and obvious Asian tropes thinly disguised by fur and four legs.
Like some of the other culturally inappropriate characters on this list, these furry bad guys would be obviously unacceptable to modern viewers, especially for those who are Asian themselves. Disney has come a long way since 1955 (when Lady And The Tramp was released), with movies like Moana showcasing other cultures’ mythology rather than demonizing them, and kids today are far more aware of problems with racist tropes. In an otherwise great animal animation, those cats just didn’t stand the test of time.
8. Lady (Lady and the Tramp)
The cats aren’t the only problem with the cast of Lady And The Tramp; Lady herself is no longer the sympathetic pup that she was in the ’50s. Sheltered, pampered, and naïve, Lady represented all the ‘good girls’ of the time. Now, however, she just comes across as a bit of a dumb snob. She’s young, true, but she’s also incredibly helpless and nearly gets her head literally bitten off by a crocodile as a result. Rather than being endearing, this is just a little bit frustrating (and terrible as a role model for women, although that’s beside the point).
She’s also very arrogant and snobby, especially toward the lovable stray that is Tramp. She’s been protected and raised in luxury, and she comes off as more of a brat than a heroine in a more modern context — especially compared to the increasingly strong and independent women in more recent Disney movies, many of whom overcome real hardship. Sorry, Lady, you’re just a little too spoiled.
7. Copper (The Fox and the Hound)
There’s one more problem with Lady And The Tramp that extends to most of the other dog-centric films of the early Disney years, but it’s not exactly with the characters themselves. It’s their living situation that wouldn’t sit well with most kids these days, as the majority of dogs spent a large portion of their time living outside or sleeping in a dog house. In the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, that was the norm; dogs lived outside, so showing them waking up in their outdoor home wasn’t an issue. These days, however, dogs are oftentimes indoor pets, and seeing Copper roped to a leaky dog house/barrel, or Nana being chained outside in the snow just seems cruel. Copper might also be a problematic character for city and suburban kids to handle – hunting dogs, and hunting in general, is something that many kids would find absolutely horrifying (more than they are supposed to, that is).
Copper might also be a problematic character for city and suburban kids to handle – hunting dogs, and hunting in general, is something that many kids would find absolutely horrifying (more than they are supposed to, that is).
6. Prince Phillip (Sleeping Beauty)
The last prince on our list is the only one who actually gets a name and a reasonable number of speaking lines (as well as sung ones), making him one of the more developed early Disney princes. Still, Prince Phillip isn’t quite interesting enough to compete with more recent characters. After falling in love with a girl based on her singing and dancing, he then rushes to her rescue – but it’s nothing that the Prince does that actually saved her. Instead, it is the fairies and their magic sword and shield (as well as some more direct magic) that saves the day. Phillip, while slightly more jocular and interesting than Prince Ferdinand and Prince Henri, is still a purely generic Prince on a horse. He’s just a little too simple, a little bit dull, and a little too perfect. In short, he’s boring and underdeveloped – which makes him a perfect match for Aurora!
After falling in love with a girl based on her singing and dancing, he then rushes to her rescue – but it’s nothing that the Prince does that actually saved her. Instead, it is the fairies and their magic sword and shield (as well as some more direct magic) that saves the day. Phillip, while slightly more jocular and interesting than Prince Ferdinand and Prince Henri, is still a purely generic Prince on a horse. He’s just a little too simple, a little bit dull, and a little too perfect. In short, he’s boring and underdeveloped – which makes him a perfect match for Aurora!
5. Tiger Lily (Peter Pan)
Peter Pan is full of characters that didn’t age well, and some that didn’t start off particularly well in the first place! Murderous mermaids, parents with anger issues (and no problems leaving their children entirely alone as they go on a night out) and the petty jealously of a little green pixie spring to mind.
But one of the most problematic characters is Tiger Lily. Along with the rest of the ‘Red Indians’ (and yes, that is how they are described), Tiger Lily is definitely not an appropriate characterization of a Native American girl. The rest of her tribe are even more of an issue, however, portrayed with funny faces, big noses, and as laughable caricatures who are always fighting, dancing, beating drums and smoking their pipes. Broken English completes this ridiculous corner of Disney’s take on the classic children’s book, and it’s one that kids today would be less than impressed by.
4. Wendy (Peter Pan)
Another of Peter Pan’s female characters that didn’t stand the test of time is Wendy (and her brothers wouldn’t be too popular either). She’s a far cry from the sassy, relatable female protagonists that kids love seeing in modern Disney films. Instead, Wendy is sensible, careful, and a little too bossy and perfect to be really enjoyable. There is a good reason that many fans prefer the flawed Tinkerbell to this little model of motherly virtue.
Wendy is cloyingly perfect, always careful and more than a little bit of a killjoy when it comes to the boys’ games. Overall, she’s just a little bit boring. Recent films have focused on more complicated, sympathetic heroines, instead of the earlier models of perfection, and we’re thrilled about that change. The 2002 sequel to the original, Return To Neverland, provided us with a much more interesting female lead in the form of Wendy’s daughter, Jane.
3. Jim Crow (Dumbo)
The last of the incredibly racist characters on our list is Jim Crow and his crow friends in Dumbo. Like Tiger Lily and her tribe of ‘Red Indians’, these crows epitomize all kinds of awful racist stereotypes, with a special focus on ‘sounding black’. (Made significantly worse by the fact that the characters were all voiced by white actors.)
It’s not just the overtly racist aspect of these crows that would make them unappealing to today’s kids, though. It’s also that they are very clearly outdated. Most kids today wouldn’t even be familiar with the kind of language the crows use, and certainly wouldn’t get the reference to segregation laws that’s in the leader’s name. A group of characters that are deeply problematic and so outdated that they wouldn’t make a lot of sense? That’s a not-so-winning combination if we’ve ever seen one. The crows aren’t the only issue in Dumbo, either, as kids probably wouldn’t love any of the circus elements now that animals in circuses are generally seen as a form of cruelty.
2. The Vultures (The Jungle Book)
Another group of animated birds who wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense today are the vultures from The Jungle Book. Released in 1967, The Jungle Book featured vultures who are avian versions of everyone’s favorite Liverpudlians: The Beatles. Originally, the film was even going to have the boys from the band voice the characters, but their schedules (and John Lennon’s professed disinterest) prevented it from happening.
Although The Beatles were hardly a flash in the pan, they are now relegated to the worlds of ‘classic’ pop and rock, and while kids today will probably still recognize the big songs, they may not be well-versed enough in the Fab Four to recognize them in bird form. It’s very telling that this carrion quartet didn’t make it into the recent live-action adaptation of the film, although almost every other character managed to make the leap. It’s a reference that is just too outdated for younger viewers today.
1. Pinocchio (Pinocchio)
This classic tale is one about wishes coming true – par for the course in Disney movies. However, Pinocchio comes with a powerful message about morality, one that may be a little difficult for kids today to stomach as entertainment. Most Disney movies come with some element of reward for good behavior (and vice versa); evil perishes and true love conquers all. Pinocchio, however, is told outright that he will only become a ‘real boy’ if he is good, unselfish and truthful.
The entire movie consists of Pinocchio doing things that he shouldn’t (including performing on stage, which kids these days would be hard-pressed to see as a bad thing), being rescued by someone else (the Blue Fairy and Jiminy Cricket), and then doing something else that he shouldn’t. He does it all with a gleeful naivety that is more annoying than empathetic, and generally comes across as a tool to shove an unsubtle message about “good behavior’ down the throats of impressionable viewers. Kids today would see right through it, and have no patience with the little wooden boy. Whenever the live-action take on the character makes it to the big screen, we hope that Disney will give him a bit of a facelift.
What other Disney characters do you feel have failed the test of time? Sound off in the comments!
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