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The Walt Disney Company is a large publicly traded American multinational media conglomerate. The company owns ABC, ESPN, A+E, Marvel Entertainment, and runs several studios such as Lucasfilm and Pixar. Walt Disney created what became the eponymous conglomerate in 1923, and created the well known Mickey Mouse character in 1927. Walt Disney personally won a total of 32 Academy Awards and received 59 nominations.
Both the Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney himself have been controversial. Many films produced by the Disney company are cited as classic examples of fakelore, in creating manufactured folklore out of traditional stories or characters. Walt Disney was a staunch conservative and opposed trade unions, while being an enthusiastic supporter of Barry Goldwater in 1964.
The man himself
Disney was born 1901 in Chicago and was an ambulance driver during World War I. In animation, Disney became successful after the creation of Silly Symphonies, and became famous after the creation of the first full length animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
One of the most popular conspiracy theories surrounding Disney is that Disney was an active Nazi sympathizer. This is despite the fact that Disney would go on to create several different propaganda cartoons attacking Nazism for the United States during World War II. These fellows also ignore the facts that the B'nai Brith Organization (a Jewish civil rights group) in Beverly Hills named him Man of the Year, and several of Disney's employees were Jewish.
Art Babbitt accused Disney of meeting frequently with the German American Bund, which fanatically supported Adolf Hitler. Disney was also accused of being a Nazi for seeing Leni Riefenstahl when she was promoting her movie Olympia about the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.
The idea of Disney being a Nazi has been promoted mostly by the television shows Family Guy and Robot Chicken. In Family Guy it is used as a recurring gag, such as in the episode "Road to the Multiverse" where Stewie and Brian travel to a Disney themed universe where a Jewish character is viciously attacked. Not surprisingly, the appearance of the conspiracy on Family Guy has done a lot to introduce it to people, and has given it a new lease on life since being published by Babbitt.
On YouTube, there are several creepypastas about either a Nazi Donald Duck or a Nazi Disney movie. The videos are made using scenes from one of two short films: Education for Death and Der Fuehrer's Face. Both are vehemently anti-Nazi World War II films, and both features images of swastikas.
During the Red Scare, kindly old Uncle Walt testified before the House Un-American Activites Committee and kindly pointed the finger at several animators and union organizers who had previously worked for him, and claimed that the Screen Cartoonists Guild was a Communist front. And that a strike during production of Dumbo was part of a Commie plot. See a pattern here? FBI memos indicate that he fed them information until his death.
A persistent urban legend maintains that Walt Disney was frozen in 1966 after dying of lung cancer. This may stem from an interview of cryonics advocate Robert Nelson in a attempt to show that Disney supported the idea of cryonics, and who himself has said multiple times that he did not freeze Disney.
The Disney businesses
After Walt's death, the Walt Disney company became a media empire. It continued to make animated and live action movies, and operate its theme parks. It also branched out into family friendly children's entertainment, featuring teenage stars.
Folklore and literature in Disney media
Walt Disney and his company made many films based on traditional folktales and stories from the public domain. Films based on folktales include:
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
- Sleeping Beauty
- Song of the South
- Beauty and the Beast
Other folk figures appropriated by Disney include Davy Crockett, Pocohontas, and Johnny Appleseed. Disney animated or live action entertainments are also very popular representations of literary figures such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, the Little Mermaid, and the Snow Queen (Frozen).
The deep penetration and popularity of the Disney representations of these traditional stories and figures tends to turn the Disney version into the canonical one in the public eye. This has been called the "Disney effect" and is regretted by some folklorists. The same thing has occurred with more modern source material: Winnie the Pooh and his companions are far more widely identified with their Disney cartoon incarnation than with the original illustrations by E. H. Shepard which appeared in A. A. Milne's Pooh stories; and Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories, along with their illustration by John Lockwood Kipling, are largely forgotten in favour of the Disney adaptation.
Folklorists also accuse Disney of bowdlerizing the source materials, removing disturbing or tragic elements. Most traditional folktales involve climaxes involving retribution, revenge, and physical justice meted out on the villains. These features are muted or absent in the Disney versions. The effect is generally most pronounced on the folktales from the Brothers Grimm, such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. To be sure, the Grimm heroines tend to be passive and underdeveloped; most of them suffer a range of mild to severe abuse; but they are not quiet and uncomplaining. But the Disney heroines are paragons of the passive virtues: patient, industrious, and quiet.
But the effect is by no means confined to the Grimm folktales, and affects the literary stories as well. In Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, the mermaid sheds her tail and gains her legs in an agonizingly painful ritual, but fails to win her prince's heart, and as a result is doomed to die because of her bargain with the Sea-Witch. She is given the opportunity to recover what was taken by the Sea-Witch if she murders the prince with a magic knife. She cannot bring herself to do this, and is rewarded with an immortal soul. In Disney's version, of course, the mermaid Ariel bags her prince. This alters the story so drastically that it's been said to "betray Andersen's tale while it exploits society's obsession with physical beauty and romantic love."
Disney has ransacked folklore, mythology, and the public domain literature of several nations making their aggressive lobbying for copyright extension a bit curious. Disney lobbyists fought hard for the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which tacked on twenty-five years to the extension of copyright in the United States. Fears that the first Mickey Mouse movie, Steamboat Willie (1928), was about to enter the public domain have been cited as one of the motivating factors for the legislation. As a result, the law is derisively known by its detractors as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act".
The hypocrisy kicks in when one remembers that The Jungle Book was originally an 1894 book by Rudyard Kipling. Thanks in no little part to Disney's lobbying, their 1967 animated film version is copyrighted until 2062, but had today's 95 year copyright term applied back in the 1960s, Disney couldn't have made their version without paying copyright fees as Kipling's copyright would have lasted until 1989. Fortunately for Disney, however, Rudyard Kipling's copyright only lasted for 70 years from publication, making Kipling's book public domain in 1964 whereupon Disney promptly decided to turn it into a film - without having to pay a cent in copyright fees, of course. Similarly, Disney has cranked out their own 95 year copyrighted versions of a host of other public domain stories (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin to name but a few).
Song of the South
Disney's 1946 mixed animation and live action film Song of the South, based on the Uncle Remus stories by Joel Chandler Harris, won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1948 with "Zip-a-Dee Doo Dah". The film has never been released on video in its entirety in the United States, although home video releases exist in Europe and Japan. The film is also remembered as the basis for the ride Splash Mountain in Disney World.
The Walt Disney Company deems the film's framing story too potentially controversial. It has been called racist because of its depiction of an idyllic life being led by Black freedmen in post-war Georgia, with a curiously integrated plantation manor house to boot. On the other hand, many of the film's critics incorrectly date the film to slavery days and assume the Black characters are slaves. The NAACP asked the Disney filmmakers to insert a placard in the film noting the post-war date of the Uncle Remus stories. For whatever reason, this was not included in the release. Perhaps the ultimate irony about the movie (or most fitting, depending how you look at it) was that the star actor—who was the first black man to win an Academy Award, albeit an honorary one, no less—wasn't allowed to attend the release of the movie thanks to segregation.
One stock character that has emerged from the Disney animated film series is the "Disney princess". Princesses figure prominently as the protagonists of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, while non-royal characters such as Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Megara from Hercules also fit many aspects of the stereotype.
The Disney princess stock character has been criticized by feminists for enforcing received cultural ideas about beauty, body type, and femininity. Disney princesses are chaste but highly sexualized. They are frequently cast in the damsel in distress role. Snow White cleans the cottage to ingratiate herself with the dwarfs. Ariel gives up her singing voice for a man. Belle endures an abusive and violent Beast, whom she redeems with love. 
On the flip side, initially the Disney princes barely received screen time at all, let alone any character development. Go ahead, name the Disney princes from Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and The Beast. If the Disney Princess told girls that they should be happy in the kitchen, it told boys that they didn't even exist outside of their wives. Possibly they were just victims of narrative efficiency. In fact, Belle in the Disney movie doesn't show any affection towards the Beast until he changes his behavior, learning to control his temper and replacing his cruelty with affection, in marked contrast to even more modern stories where the girl simply accepts the boy for who he is. The Beast is required to alter himself before Belle shows interest in him, which directly contradicts the abuse narrative.
Progressing further, we have the likes of Fa Mulan who is basically trying to survive in a man's world (army) as she doesn't want her father (Zhou) to shoulder that burden in his old age. Her inability to keep up with the male recruits is averted sexism, as she eventually does catch up to them; the real problem was that she was unused to hard physical labor, not that she had the wrong chromosomes. As fantastical as some of the story is, she is shown as strong, intelligent and capable, feeling like an extremely strong departure of the formula. Even further is the entire plotline of Frozen, featuring two princesses (and sisters) having to deal with their own issues without so much man help.
Former child stars
Many former Disney child stars, especially from its children's oriented live TV programming, ended up having serious problems in adulthood, including drug issues and stints in rehabilitation, legal problems, and other sorts of public scandal. Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Shia LaBeouf have all experienced similar issues as adults.
In 1995, Disney quietly broadcast a documentary in 5 states (including California and Floridas) that contained supposed evidence about UFOs. However, it was mainly a promotion for the Extraterrorestrial: Alien Encounter ride in Disneyland Florida and none of the cases shown in the documentary have been proven with certainty to be extraterrestrial. Then there are conspiracy theorists that shoehorn in the Illuminati and New World Order to propose that the video and ride were part of a plot to prepare citizens for real abduction and alien colonization (or perhaps Project Blue Beam).
- Disney History, The Walt Disney Company
- "Walt Disney's Oscars®:, The Walt Disney Family Museum
- "'We Must Keep the Labor Unions Clean'" History Matters, George Mason University
- Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, Neal Gabler, Vintage Books. p. 612
- Silly Symphonies was the first appearance of many recognizable Disney characters, such as Donald Duck and Pluto.
- "Walt Disney" Biography.com
- "Was Walt Disney a Fascist?", The Straight Dope,April 12, 2005
- Even though Hitler considered the Bund a nuisance interfering in his plan to keep the US neutral.
- "Disney, Walter Elias", in Linda S. Watts, Encyclopedia of American Folklore (Infobase, 2006; ISBN 1438129793), pp. 110-111
- Fortunately, Disney has not been able to entirely displace the Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland from the canon.
- Mikel J. Koven, Film, Folklore, and Urban Legends. (Scarecrow, 2008; ISBN 0810860252), pp. 10-11.
- Kay Stone, "Things Walt Disney Never Told Us", The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 88, No. 347, Women and Folklore (Jan. - Mar., 1975), pp. 42-50
- Hans Christian Andersen, Den lille Havfrue, 1837 (in Danish)
- Anne E. Altman, Gail DeVos, (2001). Tales, Then and Now: More Folktales As Literary Fictions for Young Adults. Libraries Unlimited. p. 187. ISBN 1-56308-831-2.
- Lawrence Lessig, "Copyright's First Amendment", 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1057, 1065 (2001)
- Actually, since Kipling was the sole author the "author's life + 70 years"-rule might apply, meaning that The Jungle Book would only have become public domain in 2006(!)
- While in the public domain when Disney made their 1940 version, current copyright terms would have kept it copyrighted until 1960 under the "author's lifetime + 70 years"-rule
- Made from public domain material in 1951, but "author's lifetime + 70 years" would have left Lewis Carroll's copyright in place until 1968
- The Wonderful World Of Disney Hypocrisy January 13, 2012
- Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings (1886).
- See the "Release" section on the Wikipedia article about Song of the South.
- Chyng Sun and Miguel Picker, Mickey Mouse Monopoly: Disney, Childhood, and Corporate Power (Media Education Foundation, 2001); study guide for the film.
- These characters are all typically called "Prince Charming". That phrase was first used in English literature in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, where it is used ironically to refer to the title character as he abandons his actress girlfriend, and she commits suicide. Wilde's use of the phrase suggests that this name was already current for the stock character.
In the Francophone tradition the character is often called Avenant, "fine" or "pretty" in French. In Sleeping Beauty the prince has a name that is acknowledged (Prince Phillip).
In Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (1946) translated as Beauty and The Beast, Belle is given a human suitor called "Avenant", who schemes to kill the Beast. Disney borrowed Cocteau's amendment to the original folktale without credit, but renamed the corresponding character "Gaston".
In Spanish and Italian, the character is the 'Blue Prince' (Príncipe Azul, Principe Azzurro). In Portuguese, he is the Enchanted Prince (Príncipe Encantado).
- Celebs Who Went from Disney to the Dark Side, Fox News Magazine, 03/27/13
- Dodai Stewart, Joe Jonas Reveals How Disney Puppet Masters Control Their Teen Stars. Jezebel, 12/02/13
- Mara Wilson On Why Child Stars Go Crazy: Former Child Actor Offers An Insider's Perspective, Huffington Post, 05/28/13