Disney+ has restricted access to some of its older titles for children, citing negative stereotypes in such films as Dumbo and Peter Pan.
The move happened earlier this year, but it’s drawing sudden criticism amid conversations about problematic content in old children’s media, including Dr. Seuss and Looney Tunes. The topic has become fodder for various conservative talk shows, including those on Fox News, where its opinion hosts have decried such changes as “cancel culture.”
Disney restricted the titles as part of its effort to tell stories “that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe,” it says. The company applied the restrictions to titles that it labelled with content advisories in October 2020.
Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Aristocats, Swiss Family Robinson, Lady and the Tramp and The Jungle Book are not accessible through kids’ profiles with the parental controls switched on. Disney has not removed the affected titles from its streaming platform, and users can still access the films through an adult profile. Each one starts with the content advisory that Disney added last fall.
“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures,” the content advisory reads. “These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove the content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”
The content advisories direct audiences to Disney’s Stories Matter website, which includes detailed explanations for some of the problematic content in each film. Most of the issues involve stereotypical representations of racialized people.
Disney says it evaluated the titles with help from its third-party advisory council, which includes a wide range of advocacy groups.
News of the change captured public attention this week, triggering a flurry of right-wing outrage.
“The Purge!” Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity cried on Twitter.
The outcry echoed similar outrage cycles surrounding other children’s properties in weeks past.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises recently cancelled publication of six titles due to racist stereotypes, triggering a flurry of buying and conservative backlash earlier this month.
Hasbro also ignited anger when it announced a line of Potato Head toys without the “Mister” attached to the name.
Warner Bros. then triggered online anger by adjusting its lineup of Looney Tunes characters for Space Jam 2. The studio reportedly cut Pepé Le Pew, the romance-obsessed skunk, due to his long-running gimmick of amorously pursuing a cat without consent.
Warner Bros. also toned down the appearance of Lola Bunny, a character who wore booty shorts and a midriff-baring tank top in the original Space Jam.
The fast-running Latinx mouse known as Speedy Gonzales will still appear in the film, according to comedian Gabriel Iglesias, who provides his voice.
“(You) can’t catch me, cancel culture,” he tweeted last week.
The Space Jam sequel is due out in July on HBO Max, so it may take some time to see how the changes affect its performance, if at all.
Accusations of cancel culture do not appear to be hurting Dr. Seuss Enterprises or Disney — sales of Dr. Seuss books skyrocketed last week after Dr. Seuss Enterprises cancelled six titles, with the profits from the sales going back to the company responsible for the cancellations.
Meanwhile, business continues to boom for Disney+, even after a round of right-wing backlash over the firing of Star Wars actor Gina Carano earlier this year.
Disney+ hit 100 million subscribers on Tuesday — a high-water mark that it achieved in 16 months, compared to 10 years for Netflix.