Most Unexpected Recent Disney Controversies
The Walt Disney Company is one of the top 25 corporations in the world by market cap.
As the preeminent storytelling business on the planet, Disney faces more scrutiny than any other non-tech/banking company.
Sometimes, Disney draws attention for even the most innocuous decisions, ones that virtually any company would make.
Here are seven of the most unexpected recent Disney controversies.
Removing a Slave Auction from Pirates of the Caribbean
When you hear the term “slave auction,” you don’t really think Disney, do you?
Hopefully, you don’t think of anything, as that’s a term that we’ve thankfully abandoned in modern society.
Well, when Imagineers designed Pirates of the Caribbean, they wanted to inject some humor into an otherwise dreary concept.
After all, an authentic pirate life attraction would have scarred children for life.
So, Disney added several humorous elements, such as a dog holding the key to a prison cell. Also, many pirates are too drunk to function.
Unfortunately, Disney also included a comedic scene where pirates bought unwilling brides at an auction.
Honestly, that was never great, even in the late-1960s. In the 21st century, it’s deplorable.
Disney correctly chose to modernize the ride by introducing a more empowering scene with Redd the Pirate.
At some point, this character will star in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. But, for now, she performs some character meetings.
For whatever reason, some people hated her before she ever debuted, as they preferred Pirates of the Caribbean in its original form, even with the slave auction.
Re-theming Splash Mountain
This story is technically ongoing, as it hasn’t happened yet. However, we know that Disney will soon close down the current version of Splash Mountain forever.
While everyone loves the adorable anthropomorphic characters who comprise the attraction, the current theme is impossible to overlook.
Disney regrettably connected Splash Mountain to the characters of Song of the South, albeit for the best of reasons. The movie’s soundtrack is wildly entertaining.
Alas, with the benefit of hindsight, Song of the South is the most racist movie in Disney history and an awkward point of contention for the company.
In fact, Disney doesn’t sell the movie or make it available on Disney+. It’s that egregious. So, an attraction themed to Song of the South is a no-go.
One day soon, Disney will take the same artificial mountain and turn it into a water ride themed to The Princess and the Frog.
That’s a movie with a much more positive message and an equally good soundtrack.
Once again, Disney loyalists decried the move as against Walt Disney’s wishes, which doesn’t even make sense.
First, Uncle Walt stressed the value of plussing attractions, keeping them modern and fresh for audiences.
Second, Walt Disney died more than 20 years before Splash Mountain debuted. So he’s got no attachment to it.
Removing Trader Sam from Jungle Cruise
Disney recently committed to a Fifth Key, Inclusion. Several of the topics here circle back to that decision, as executives work to foster a more welcoming environment.
As part of the implementation of the Fifth Key, park officials reexamined all current attractions to determine whether any of the humor no longer seemed appropriate.
Only a handful of attractions raised issues, but Jungle Cruise was one of them. The representations of island natives are, well, lazy and broad.
While cartoons have evolved over the years, early animators only had a few moments to grab viewers’ attention. So, they engaged in stereotypes.
Since many early Imagineers had worked in this field, they fell guilty to the same habits.
Specifically, the Trader Sam character at Jungle Cruise represents a tired caricature of a cannibalistic head shrinker rather than an indigenous islander.
So, Disney has removed him from Jungle Cruise, even as it leaves the name in play. In this manner, Sam is gone but not forgotten.
Once again, fans lament losing a character they loved, even if he is cartoonish and problematic.
Trader Sam Removed From Jungle Cruise at The Magic Kingdom https://t.co/9hfu2Gcb5e
— The DisInsider (@TheDisInsider) April 5, 2021
The Canceling of John Lasseter
As far as shocking heel turns go, the pop culture list goes:
- Bill Cosby for…reasons
- Hulk Hogan joining the NWO
- John Lasseter getting canceled
For the longest time, Lasseter earned a place as one of the most beloved figures in animation. He led Pixar and, later, Disney animation.
Lasseter has produced family films that have earned $19 billion. But, unfortunately, he harbored a dark secret.
The maker of beloved family entertainment apparently got handsy with the staff. This is a family blog, and I don’t want to bum you out.
All I’ll say is that female employees knew not to wear skirts around him, as his hands tended to roam.
— The Hollywood Reporter (@THR) February 26, 2019
In June of 2018, Disney had to fire one of its most revered staff members for being a secretly garbage person.
Outraged fans didn’t even know how to react to this one, as the entire series of events seemed so impossible to comprehend.
Disney Bans Smoking in the Parks
Did you know that smoking causes cancer? Have you heard that second-hand smoke is deadly, too?
Well, I can speak from firsthand experience on this, as I spent more than 50 days on a hospital floor helping a loved one during their final days of lung cancer.
If you believe nothing else that I ever say, PLEASE stop smoking. Lung cancer is a gruesome way to die.
Disney knows this because the parks gradually phased out smoking at the parks.
First, Disney reduced the number of areas where guests could smoke. Then, in March of 2019, Disney theme parks finally banned all forms of smoking.
Unsurprisingly, the nicotine-addicted expressed outrage at this decision. Unfortunately, this turn of events forced them to pick between a theme park visit and a cigarette.
Not Rehiring Gina Carano
Here’s a weird one, at least to me.
I just mentioned that Disney fired a beloved and integral part of company history when that individual acted inappropriately.
Well, actors don’t work for Disney per se. They’re really just freelancers seeking temporary gigs. Sure, the pay is excellent, and the gig comes with celebrity.
However, Disney is under no obligation to provide additional employment.
For example, Lindsay Lohan was the teen face of Disney in the early 2000s, best demonstrated by her starring in Herbie: Fully Reloaded.
Lohan’s last Disney film debuted in 2009…on ABC Family. The company stops casting actors who could cause damage to Disney’s brand.
To wit, Gina Carano, one of the occasional guest stars on The Mandalorian, got into some hot water for some political posts on social media.
We won’t relitigate what Carano said beyond the fact that one of her comments required an apology to The Mandalorian star, Pedro Pascal.
After a later incident, Lucasfilm took the unusual step of pointing out that the production company didn’t have the actress under contract.
Also, Lucasfilm went out of its way to state that “her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”
Along with these comments, Lucasfilm indicated that “Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future.”
As far as breakup letters go, that’s one pretty emphatic. Meanwhile, Carano’s supporters expressed outrage that she was fired for speaking her mind.
The Lohan example demonstrates that this matter wasn’t about politics inasmuch as an employee causing needless headaches for the company, though.
Requiring Face Masks at Disney Parks
This final topic falls under the category of “Too soon.” And I know that.
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that some critics bemoaned Disney’s decision to…follow the law.
At the time, Orange County, Florida, honored the CDC’s recommendation to require face masks at public gatherings.
On the other coast, Disneyland couldn’t even reopen for more than a year. So, the face-covering guideline seemed like the only choice and a reasonable one at that.
Even so, some folks didn’t like it and said as much.
In reading these debates, you likely realized that Disney frequently receives criticism, whether it’s valid or not.
Such is life for a business as prestigious as Disney. Yet, weirdly, the constant criticism is a form of flattery.