The Disney movies you shouldn't show your kids (and the ones you should)

Keira Knightley has banned her daughter from watching certain Disney films.

Sophie Monks Kaufman
Thursday 18 October 2018 18:30 BST
(AFP/Getty Images)

Keira Knightley's recent comments on The Ellen Show about banning her daughter from viewing certain Disney titles feel apt in the era of MeToo.

Many films and TV shows that we have previously celebrated and canonised can now be seen with fresh eyes and has led to feminist film writers questioning the works that influenced much of their careers.

Although Disney has been trying for years to evolve past its historically conventional take on gender and love, its classics remain a mainstay of many of our collections, but it's time to question how these once cherished animated films look in the light of this brave new world.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of the Disney classics with the most damaging stereotypes that we suggest you avoid showing your girls (and boys). Yes, some of us wanted to grow up to become mermaids and princesses, but we'd much rather have had a strong female lead to aspire to. Time to rethink your DVD collection?

The Ones Not to Watch

1) Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

Disney is worth $152 billion (£115.6 billion) today but in 1937 its first animated film based on a Brothers Grimm tale was risky business.

Snow White's surprise success has earned it historic success even though the villain is a warped misogynistic creation.

The vain Queen is fuelled by toxic jealousy. Her mantra "Who is the fairest of them all?" stokes the idea we women are pitted against each other to be awarded top prize for our looks.

Women are not the enemy, y'all.

2) Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The story of Beauty and the Beast (first written in 1740 by Frenchwoman Madame de Villeneuve) is one with subversive erotic potential which is harnessed in Jean Cocteau's gothic black and white film and Angela Carter's revised feminist version.

In 1991, Disney anointed Linda Woolverton as the first female screenwriter to pen an animated Disney title.

Despite her efforts, the film at its core is about Belle succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome as she's held captive by an arrogant prince who is cursed to live as a beast, then pivots around the idea that we as women should love bad-tempered male beasts in the hope of transforming them.


3) Cinderella (1950)

Cinderella was on Knightley's banned list with her logic being: "because she waits around for a rich guy to rescue her. Don't! Rescue yourself. Obviously!" I'm with Keira.

Yes, because the film positions passivity as a heroic female quality, but also because it continues a trope first dropped in Snow White.

Since the beginning of time women have been shoehorned into two binary stereotypes: angel or devil, Madonna or whore, and in Disney world: evil stepmother or virtuous beauty.

4) Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Do I need to say anything about this movie other than: it is about a princess who is saved from eternal slumber by a prince's kiss??! A kiss that takes place without her consent because she is unconscious. This is basis for a police investigation, not true love.

By and large any movie with 'beauty' used unironically in a title to describe a female character is worth skipping.

We are bombarded with enough messages that the path to female content is through looking perfect.

Enchanting spells and meddlesome fairies are not worth the governing principles here.

5) Aladdin (1992)

It causes me pain to put Aladdin on this list.

Memories of Robin Williams' unforgettable voice-role as Genie, the inexplicable crush on charming street-smart cartoon Aladdin, not to mention the fact that Jasmine was pretty feisty and headstrong, managing to escape the palace to explore real life.

But the crude visual depictions of Arabs have no place in the intersectional cultural utopia that we're trying to build. Fly away, magic carpet.

The Ones to Watch

1) Robin Hood (1973)

This is an adventurous romp that is relatively progressive by Disney standards.

The villain is not an evil stepmother or a bad fairy, but the oppressive taxations inflicted on the poorest by the richest.

And to top it all off, Maid Marian gets to be quite badass.

2) Mulan (1998)

Even Disney cannot mangle the feminist credentials of the legendary Chinese warrior Mulan who took her sick father's place in the army back during the Northern and Southern dynasties period (420-589).

Mulan has to impersonate a man in order to make her way, which is integral to the whole passing-in-the-army deal but still less than ideal feminist optics-wise.

Today we are still figuring out how to be successful on feminine terms, instead of by impersonating men. However the bravery, strength and integrity of Mulan - not to mention her dragon sidekick Mushu (this detail is perhaps not historically accurate) - still combine to make her a kickass heroine.

3) Alice in Wonderland (1951)

A lot of blame or praise for Disney films actually lies in the source material. Many of the early cartoons were based on 19th Century fairytales which placed women in the submissive damsel-in-distress roles to be moulded to man’s every whim.

When it comes to Alice in Wonderland, questions continue to be floated as to Lewis Caroll’s purity of intention with the real Alice Lidell, for whom he wrote the book.

Whatever the truth may be, Alice’s story remains an imaginative outlier in Disney history. The tale sees a headstrong young girl follow a white rabbit into an adventure. Alice is plucky, stubborn and more curious than she is scared of the unknown. She’s a young woman who can’t be pushed around by any prince, mad hatter or… pack of cards.

4) Frozen (2013)

Elsa is a Disney Princess who owns her magic!

Sisterhood and female friendship are the strengthening agents in Frozen - a truer source of empowerment than waiting for a man to bless you with his love.

It also gave birth to the anthem Let it Go, which is the most feminist Disney song, surely?

5) Moana (2016)

With a Lin-Manuel Miranda score and a strong-willed Polynesian princess (who hates being called a princess) driving the action, Moana is symbolic of Disney's attempts to rebrand itself.

Sponsored: Read more on The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Misty Copeland

The jury is out on whether these changes are driven by ideals or the current Hollywood mania for Strong Female Leads. Nonetheless a heroine who sets out under her own steam to sail the seas and save the day, befriending a god as she goes, is broadly more aspirational than, say, sleeping prettily for many years.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in