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EPISODE 86 — How Disney Movies Program Your Mind

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Think about the Disney princesses of the 1930s, 40s and 50s and what they actually accomplished in their films. Snow White: Hot girl falls asleep in the forest and is almost murdered by dwarfs until they realize how hot she is. Alice in Wonderland: English girl falls asleep at lunch, has crazy dreams, wakes up. Sleeping Beauty: Do you see where we're going with this?


When you peel away your personal experiences with these movies and just think about their base elements, a dark subtext arises. The Disney filmography from the 1930s to today perpetuates an antiquated American value structure that depicts misogyny, racism, classism and narcissism, yet as kids watching these films and parents showing them to our children, we never think twice about it. Should we be more vigilant in deciphering what these movies are really about instead of just blindly trusting the logo on the Blu-Ray case?


This week on the podcast Jack O'Brien and guest host Tom Reimann are joined by Cracked editors Alex Schmidt, Josh Sargent and Adam Tod Brown. They discuss the grim underpinnings of the Disney film library, how his earliest films are ripe with misogyny, and Jack's secretly horrifying childhood vacation to a Disney theme park.

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There was/is also a lot of controversy surrounding Mission: Space at Epcot. Prior to the attraction's less intense makeover in 2006, two deaths, and within the span of a year, nearly 200 other cases involving guests needing to seek medical attention. Scary stuff. My cousin went on the ride in 2003 when the family took a trip to FL, and she, a hardcore thrill ride fan, said she thought she was going to die while inside.

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I love the Cracked podcast and these discussions about the unintentional impressions pop culture leaves on us, but I found this one problematic.


I realize there aren't a lot of women on the writing staff, but why would you try to cover one of the few collections of female protagonists with no women? Personally, I found it difficult listening to a collection of dudes unapologetically tearing down female icons and calling them worthless or damaging to women.


It's not that I don't think there is a valid conversation to be had here or that I don't think men should be a part of it, but this definitely suffered from a lack of perspective. To just make an extreme metaphor, what if the same group had done discussion on "African American Heroes and why they're ruining it for Black People" then described how Rosa Parks sucked for taking all of Claudette Colvin's glory. I think it would be hard to justify that conversation without proper historical context or an outside perspective. Obviously, that's a huge leap from Disney princesses, which the guys in the conversation grew up with and were influenced by and are generally a bit silly.


I'd like to address a few things that were brought up. Not to apologize for clearly sexist or racist norms of the time period or the Disney company, but to add context to the conversation.


The form letter that was sent was very much a product of it's time. A time when it was considered inappropriate for married women to work (most likely because of all the horrible sexual harassment that was allowed in most workplaces) and if a woman married or got pregnant they would leave. It was viewed as a poor investment to train them. Disney actually did have female animators, many of them seeking jobs during the war and staying on after.The art director for Snow White was a woman.She was also Walt Disney's sister in law, so take that how you will.


Walt Disney was not a perfect man, but I do think he was fairly progressive for the time. Certainly not any kind of leader of social change, but moderately progressive.


“If a woman can do the work as well, she is worth as much as a man. The girl artists have the right to expect the same chances for advancement as men, and I honestly believe they may eventually contribute something to this business that men never would or could.” – Walt Disney, 1941


There is a great tradition of creative female leaders involved in many of these films that shouldn't be dismissed or forgotten.


I'm guessing none of you guys saw the Princess and the Frog, but that story is a good example of how Disney started to shift the stories away from characters with a lack of agency to a message of taking responsibility for your future. It's very sweet.

Actually, the podcast "We Got This" covers all the princesses very well. I'll leave it to them to make the positive argument.



Disney is a great punching bag. It has a huge loyal following that are likely to click on stories with the name in the title. That makes it great topic to single out. I do marketing, I've met the internet, I get how it works. I just wish this had been a more interesting and balanced conversation, but I think it turned out to be the easy one. The arguments were weak and well worn for Cracked.


I love you guys and I don't generally like to criticize people who are out there creating stuff. I just think this might be an interesting conversation to start.

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