Disney and Religion

    Can you think of a more well respected, innocent name in the business world then the Walt Disney Company?  Well, recently Disney has been scrutinized by many different religious and human rights groups.  The Disney Company has come under fire lately because many of their actions have contradicted the values and beliefs of different religious groups, especially the Southern Baptists.  These groups also accuse Disney of portraying sexually implicit material in their animated features.  Many of their animated films, the most recent ones, have been examined based on their religious undertones.  These along with many other Disney related productions have been judged on how well they portray traditional family values.  Now, it seems as though everything Disney produces or supports has faced opposition in some form or another.

    The Disney company, according to the Southern Baptists, is a business that has a “historic commitment to traditional family values and high levels of moral and virtuous leadership.”  They believe that Disney has been untrue to their commitment and therefore proposed a boycott of the Disney ventures.  On June 18, 1996 the Southern Baptist held a Convention in which 85 - 90% of the messengers voted on a resolution that called for a nation-wide boycott of all Disney-related products (Land, 1997).  They believe that the company's moral leadership has been eroded by a variety of corporate decisions, including an employee policy that accepts homosexual relationships and hosting "GayDay" at their parks.  Disney’s subsidiaries, such as Miramax Productions and Hyperion Press, were also criticized for producing objectionable material that was offensive to Christians and failed to promote family values (Southern Baptist Convention, 1996).  This boycott has encouraged many other religious and human rights groups, including the Concerned Women for America, Focus on the Family, Assembly of God, and many more, to join in the crusade against Disney.  These groups along with the 16 million Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, offer quite a monetary threat to the Disney Company.

    Many of the boycotters accuse Disney of including sexual messages and material in their animated films.  In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, there are a few frames in which Jessica Rabbit’s dress is blown up and she is not wearing underwear beneath.  In Aladdin, there is a scene in which Aladdin is said to have uttered the phrase “Teenagers take off your clothes.”  In The Little Mermaid there is a scene in which a priest becomes aroused while presiding over the wedding.  Also, there is a phallic symbol as one of the towers in the castle on the movie cover.  In The Lion King, there is a scene in which Simba lies down at the edge of a cliff and the dust that rises in the air spells out the letters SEX (Havoc, 1997).  The New York Times noted that the actors portraying Timon, the meercat, and Pumbaa, the wart hog, claimed to be “the first homosexual Disney characters ever to come on the screen” (Land, 1997).  There is also a rumor that one of the animators working on Snow White was fired after creating an eighth dwarf named Sleazy, who did not wear pants.  These are just a few of the alleged sexual messages that Disney is accused of portraying in their animated films.  It is true that many of the allegations about the animated films can be exaggerated or even made up, but they serve to reflect the growing suspicion towards the Disney Company and the purity of the message they are sending to our children.

    Many anti Disney groups agree that Disney has not done their best to promote traditional family values.  But, others argue that their new animated films promote acceptance of other cultures and religions.  They believe that the “new genre” of multicultural movies will challenge old monotheistic beliefs and build acceptance of the world’s earth-centered religions.  The Lion King and Pocahontas are said to promote pantheism, the belief that all is god and everything is connected, and monism, the belief that all is one.  While, Hercules is said to portray polytheism, the belief in many gods.  Although, Disney had to idealize the story of Hercules and purge all of the negative facts in order to make it suitable for children (Kjos, 1997).  These same movies and others are also seen as negative religious influences.

Disney animated movies are also said to portray sorcery, black magic and cultic practices.  Most of these movies have evil characters, such as witches, with magical powers.  There are also many movies, such as Cinderella and Peter Pan, that have fairies with magical powers.  Christian religious groups also criticize Disney for censoring out the historical fact that Pocahontas converted from paganism to Christianity (American Family Association Journal Magazine).

The Disney Corporation is a media giant with annual revenues of $18.7 billion and has an enormous impact on our culture and the world today.  With all of its products and other business endeavors, it has a tremendous power to mold public opinion and values (Land, 1997).  Although Disney is threatened by a nation-wide boycott from many different groups, the situation may not be as dire as intented.  Many people do not support the boycotts because of the previous discriminatory acts against homosexuals (Human Rights Campaign, 1997).  The effects of the boycott are yet to be completely determined.

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This tutorial was produced for Psy 324, Advanced Social Psychology, Spring 1999 at Miami University.  All graphics are from the public domain, used with permission or under fair use guidelines, or were created by the authors.  Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA).  Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 22:58:20. This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 May 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman