Although the original Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was first established by the two Disney brothers in 1923, it was Walt Disney that the world became acquainted with as the man behind the Disney brand. Over the years, Walt Disney was able to make himself a household name through Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Productions and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Even after his death, the brand has continued to grow and has encompassed everything from TV shows to big budget films. Yet, at the core of its brand is still the idea that dreams can come true and Disneyland is “The happiest place on Earth.”
However, it hasn’t achieved this stellar amount of success and name recognition without its fair share of controversies. Since it was first developed, The Walt Disney Company has continued to grow and diversify. With an organization this size, it’s impossible for there not to be a few headline making news stories that have tarnished the brand at various times. Yet, it is surprising how many controversies have occurred around The Walt Disney Company and how scandalous the stories have been in a brand that is essentially catered towards children. While there are a few that have made it into common knowledge, there are others that have been swept under the rug over the years. Check out our list of the 15 biggest controversies in the history of The Walt Disney Company and see how many you can remember in recent years or when you were just a child.
15. Beauty And The Beast Gay Character
When Disney released the 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast, there wasn’t much controversy regarding Gaston’s sidekick friend, Lefou. There may have been a little something regarding his utter devotion to Gaston but it was pretty much glossed over in this Disney cartoon. Once the film was adapted to the live-action big screen film, it seemed like the writers took a few liberties with the LeFou character. This caused a huge controversy regarding the film because it seemed strange for Disney to include a gay character in a children’s film. GLAAD president, Sarah Kate Ellis, released a statement saying, “LeFou’s happy ending may be a small moment in the film, but it’s a huge leap forward for the film industry, and for inclusion and acceptance for all LGBTQ people.” Yet, not everyone was happy about these seemingly open homosexual moments in the film. The film wound up being banned in some countries that didn’t allow promotion of homosexuality.
14. Disney Show Features Same Sex Couple
Over the years, there have been a number of sitcoms that have featured same sex couples. From the Friends’ storyline that featured Ben having two moms to the more recent, Modern Family, it’s become commonplace for shows to feature homosexual couples nowadays. Yet, even these shows have had their fare share of criticisms so it stands to reason that a series on the Disney channel would spark outrage over featuring a same sex couple. In 2014, the Disney series, Good Luck Charlie, featured its first lesbian couple. Charlie was having a playdate with a new friend, and there was a misunderstanding regarding the mother’s name. When the parents of the child arrived, it turned out that there were actually two mothers. There was a huge amount of controversy regarding the emergence of this same sex couple and there was even a call to boycott the show.
13. Gastroenteritis On Disney Cruise
In recent years, there have been a number of cruise lines that have made headlines regarding the cleanliness of their ships. Being in a confined space and dining off of endless buffet lines creates the perfect environment to allow viruses to spread. On top of this, many ships from cruise lines have started to deteriorate over time and aren’t maintained as regularly as they should. In April of 2016, the Disney Wonder cruise ship made headlines when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began an investigation during a 14-day Panama Canal cruise from Miami, Florida. The outbreak of acute gastroenteritis affected some passengers and crew members, which prohibited them from certain areas of the ship. News of the diarrhea-riddled passengers and vomiting kids caused some controversy for the Disney cruise line.
12. Mystery Over Missing Disney Cruise Worker
Rebecca Coriam was an employee of the Disney Wonder cruise ship and was working as a crewmember in March of 2011. She was last seen on the cruise ship off the Pacific coast of Mexico and surveillance video on the ship showed Coriam on the night of her disappearance. Her family became worried after failing to hear from her and a Disney official confirmed that she was, indeed, missing. The story created a media frenzy, causing a number of speculations surrounding her disappearance. From simply falling overboard due to rough waters to a love triangle scenario, the details surrounding her disappearance were so obscure that it was hard to answer what truly happened to her. In 2015, Disney wound up settling with the family for an undisclosed amount but the mystery has never been solved.
11. 13-Year-Old Molested By Disney Employee
Disney cruise ships have been described as an absolute dream vacation for children of all ages and the cruise line pride themselves in assuring families that even the parents will be entertained while onboard. There are a number of childcare options to allow parents to have time away while their kids are enjoying activities and there are a number of Disney-themed characters to see throughout the cruise. Yet, there have been a number of news stories that have caused people to wonder whether or not the Disney Cruise Line truly is a safe place to take their children. In 2014, a 13-year-old girl was molested by a 36-year-old cabin attendant on the Disney Dream and in 2015, a 31-year-old man was arrested for molesting an 11-year-old girl while aboard the Disney Magic. This has caused people to question the background checks Disney conducts on its employees and whether or not the Disney Cruise Line has become a hotspot for potential molesters seeking out easy targets.
10. Disney Employees Taking Drugs Below Deck
In 2012, a former employee of the Disney Cruise Line came out to expose the partying and drug use habits of the staff aboard the Disney Magic cruise ship. People had already become aware of the shenanigans crew members would get into on some luxury yachts because of the reality TV series, Below Deck. Yet, it was shocking to think that this is something that would occur on a Disney cruise ship. Incriminating photos of employees taking cocaine (even using their Disney ID tags to create lines) were released by The People and sparked an investigation by Disney. The whistleblower claimed that crew members were adept at using the port stops to purchase drugs and management didn’t seem to care, as long as they still did their job and maintained a friendly smile.
9. Gator Kills Boy At Disney Resort
The Graves family was on vacation from Nebraska to a Walt Disney World Resort in June 2016. While partaking in a movie night event in the outdoor area at the Grand Floridian resort, their 2-year-old son was attacked by a gator in only about two feet of water in a nearby lagoon. Both parents jumped in to try and pry the gator’s mouth open but to no avail. The boy was dragged underwater in the Seven Seas Lagoon and was later found by an Orange County dive team. The story created a media frenzy and many people took to social media with huge criticisms over the family’s naivety in allowing their child to wade in an area that is known to have alligators. After more details surrounding the incident emerged, people began turning the blame to the Walt Disney Resort. Immediately following the event, there were rope-like barriers put in but those measures were too little and too late.
8. Dumbo Crows Reference Racist Tones
Disney doesn’t exactly have a history of being racially sensitive in its earlier work and there is a blatant racial reference in the 1941 animated film, Dumbo. There are a group of black crows that are depicted as poor, useless and mindless beings with ill-intent. They speak in jive lingo and repeatedly smoke cigars. The leader of the crows is named, Jim Crow, and he is portrayed as the leader that tells all the other crows what to do. Jim is voiced by a Caucasian actor but all the other crows are voiced by African-American actors. These other crows are completely submissive to Jim Crow and many have seen this entire dynamic as more than just a little bit racist. This wouldn’t be the only time that Disney has included a racial aspect into their characters but it is interesting that Dumbo is thought of as one of the most beloved animated films in its history, despite these blatant racist characters.
7. Moana Halloween Costume Wearing Another Culture’s Skin
Disney has a long history of treating different cultures as a way to make a quick buck but it was taken to another level after the release of the 2016 film, Moana. The premise of the film revolves around a Polynesian tribe and a demigod played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Disney films usually come with a number of Halloween costumes that coordinate with the characters but it must have been a little bit tricky to come up with how to get a costume to look like Johnson’s character in the film. To get around it, they came up with a brown skin-colored costume with tattoo print, wearing a grass skirt. People instantly took to social media to comment on how offensive the costume was and one tweet stated, “This might be the creepiest thing Disney has ever done. Wear another culture’s skin.” The costume was quickly pulled off the shelves.
6. Sexual Innuendos In Disney Films
There have been a number of Disney films and promotional photos that have become hugely controversial because of the sexual innuendos that have been picked up on by fans. While there have been many over the years, the most notable were in the 1989 animated film, The Little Mermaid. The original artwork on the cover for the VHS box featured an underwater castle that had one pillar that depicted an uncanny representation of what looked like a phallic shape. The majority of the spires on the castle had their own unique look but the center spire looked way too lifelike to be an accident. There was another instance in The Little Mermaid that caused many to question Disney’s intentions since the scene of Prince Eric’s wedding to Ursula depicted a strange occurrence involving the Minister officiating. At the point where he states, “Dearly beloved,” there is an immediate rise of something inside the Minister’s pants and it certainly appears that he has an erection during the wedding.
5. Idyllic View Of Slavery In Song of the South
While there are some Disney films that have eluded to stereotypes with racist undertones, there are others that are downright too blatant to even release in the United States. The 1946 film, Song of the South, was set in a post-Civil War setting in the South. The story revolves around a former slave by the name of Uncle Remus and he regales his stories of his days as a slave to children in order to amuse them. The idyllic view of slavery is more than just a tad racially insensitive. The fact that Disney would think that it was appropriate to tell children stories from his days as a slave, only further perpetuates the idea that the master-slave relationship was ideal. There were a few things that came out of the film that made it into the consciousness of mainstream audiences, including the song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Yet, the criticisms that followed were enough to stop the film from being released on video in the United States.
4. Disney College Program
There are some companies that have amazing internship programs that really let people get real-world experience within an organization and move on to a higher level as a fulltime employee. However, there are other companies that take advantage of their employees. Disney has been highly criticized for the Walt Disney World College Program because it employs ultra-young students at a far less rate, without insurance and no union affiliation. It allows Disney to get cheap work from eager students looking to put a reputable name like “Disney” on their resume. However, employees that do the same work as these college students are getting paid far more. The Walt Disney World College Program only hurt the reputation of Disney because it made the organization appear like it was taking advantage of young people and mistreating its employees.
3. Meryl Streep Defames Walt Disney
Meryl Streep is known for being outspoken when it comes to her political views and in recent years, she’s made huge waves regarding her intense criticism of President Donald Trump. Yet, the 2016 General Election wasn’t the only time that Streep has enjoyed the spotlight outside of her acting roles. In 2014, Meryl Streep gave a speech during the National Board of Review, which is the famed prequel to the Golden Globes. Her speech was in honor of Emma Thompson, who was promoting her role in the film, Saving Mr. Banks. Tom Hanks portrayed Walt Disney in the film but Streep made a point to include a number of defamatory remarks about this beloved mogul. In the speech, she said, “[Disney] supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group.” She also said that he was a “gender bigot” and sexist in the hiring. She quoted direct statements made from letters released by the company back in 1938 and also words from associates of Disney while he was still alive.
2. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Controversies
In an effort to ensure that Disney resorts will continue to be a sought-after vacation spot, there seems to be an ever-present need to come up with the next big thing. In 1998, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was opened but not without a number of animal rights groups picketing and raising concerns over the animals’ conditions. Some of the animals didn’t bode well after being placed into Disney’s Animal Kingdom environment, with some of the animals dying after being moved in and others being hit by the park’s vehicles. There were also protestors that hoped the park would be closed. Yet, it remains one of Disney’s most popular attractions, even after a number of incidents over the years. The most recent headline making incident occurred in October of 2014 when a snake dropped out of a tree and bit an 8-year-old boy. The boy was accompanied by his great-grandmother, who went into cardiac arrest. The boy was treated for the non-venomous snake bite but the woman, in her late 80s, subsequently died.
1. Obtaining Fame Too Young At A Cost
Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding Disney is the fact that it has spawned the careers of some of the biggest superstars but at a major cost. When Britney Spears first appeared as a solo artist in the pop genre, it was endearing to fans that she started off her career through Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club. Once she spiraled out of control into mental instability, people hoped that it was just a fluke occurrence. Yet, more and more Disney celebrities went on to lead a life of substance abuse and erratic behavior. From Lindsay Lohan to Amanda Bynes to Miley Cyrus, it seems like all of these individuals can’t all be flukes. Disney has started to create a reputation of their own over the years since creating fame at such an early age can have huge negative effects on its stars and yet, they continue to churn them out.