News & Politics

Disney's 5 Worst Moments of All Time

The company's latest movie, John Carter, is a massive flop. What better time to revisit the lowest points in Disney history?

Photo Credit: innuendo at Flickr.

I realised I had a problem when friends started introducing me by my Disney collection. We'd be at a party, and a friend would bring a pretty girl called Beth or Amy over to meet me. "This is Stephen", they'd say. "He owns every Disney film on DVD". Beth or Amy would look me up and down and determine, crushingly, that I certainly looked like I could own every Disney film. "Do you own The Lion King?", she'd say. "Yes. I own every Disney film". "How about Cinderella?" "Yes. All of them." And with that, she'd give me the look – the one reserved by all of womankind just for me – and walk away.

I don't know how I came to love Disney so much, but I do. So when I heard that the studios were adapting Edgar Rice Burroughs's John Carter series for the big screen – with none other than Finding Nemo's Andrew Stanton at the helm – I was ecstatic. Cue months of excitement and hype followed by … crushing disappointment. The film, which has been widely ridiculed by critics, has been a massive box-office flop that is expected to lose Disney $200m. Is this a blip for Disney, or, finally, the end of the line after years of falling standards? Whatever the answer, they have been here before. And so there's never been a better time to look over some of the lowest points in Disney's history. Here are five of their worst moments:

5. Pocahontas, released in 1995, came at the peak of the studio's second golden era, following the likes of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. A little different from these classic fairytales and fables, Pocahontas was Disney's first foray into "true story" territory. Unfortunately, the 10-year-old Pocahontas of history was a little boring for the studio. They quickly aged their heroine into a young woman and added a love story that angered historians and geeky critics alike.

4. Over time, Disney have had more than their fair share of "accidental adult content" – the word "sex" spelled out in dust in The Lion King's night sky, or people mistaking first a priest's knee and then a turret of a castle for male genitalia in The Little Mermaid. My favourite though? In 1999, a video release of The Rescuers was recalled when someone noticed a photo of a topless woman edited into two frames of the film. Cheeky.

3. Song lyrics have also caused some trouble for Disney. Though Aladdin and Lady and the Tramp often get mentions, the worst is almost certainly Peter Pan's What Makes the Red Man Red? in which the film's "injuns" explain that their red skin tone is a result of their endless pursuit of women. Apparently embarrassed by their own attempts at sexual harassment, Native Americans are always blushing. Ugh.

2. As founder of an American institution, it should perhaps be expected that Walt Disney private views have come under close scrutiny at times. There have been persistent allegations over the years that Walt was an antisemite. While the studio has pointed out time and again that he both hired and was friends with many Jewish people, it is often said these friendships were strained. This might just have been something to do with his membership (later reliniquished) of the contentious anti-communist and antisemitic organisation, the Motion Picture Alliance.


1. … which brings us to the top of this list. It's often repeated that the lead crow in Dumbo was named after the American Jim Crow segregation laws, and that Disney's 1946 film Song of the South will never be released on DVD due to its fairly cheerful take on slavery. Someone who tends to be forgotten, though, is Sunflower. By the time of the 1969 release of Fantasia, poor Sunflower had been edited entirely out of the film – no longer could the little black centaur be seen kneeling on the ground polishing the hooves of the pretty white centaur that towered over her.


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