On March 9 2021, disinformation purveyor Sean Hannity tweeted at least twice to complain Disney had “canceled” the childrens’ films Dumbo, Peter Pan, and The Aristocats:
In the two tweets — which were published roughly an hour apart — Hannity decried Disney’s purported decision to “cancel” or “purge” the three classic animated films:
THE PURGE! Disney Pulls Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Aristocats, Swiss Family Robinson for Younger Viewers
DUMBO DENIED! Disney Pulls Flying Elephant Over ‘Racist’ Characters, ‘Harmful Stereotypes’
Hannity linked to two separate Hannity.com posts, themselves published 25 minutes apart. The headlines matched the content of the tweets, and both posts (largely identical) were composed largely of statements attributed to Disney:
The Disney Corporation moved in recent weeks to limit access for younger viewers to classic cartoons ‘Dumbo,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ and other titles over “racist stereotypes” and other content.
According to the Disney website, ‘Peter Pan’ was included because “The film portrays Native people in a stereotypical manner that reflects neither the diversity of Native peoples nor their authentic cultural traditions. It shows them speaking in an unintelligible language and repeatedly refers to them as ‘redskins,’ an offensive term. Peter and the Lost Boys engage in dancing, wearing headdresses and other exaggerated tropes.”
Both posts referenced a March 9 2021 item by the tabloid New York Post, headlined “Disney+ prevents kids from watching ‘racist’ classics including ‘Dumbo.'” That outlet framed the story an iota less sensationalistically, suggesting that Disney+ (or Disney Plus) had restricted childrens’ access to certain films:
More like Disney minus.
Months after flagging classic flicks over stereotypical portrayals, Disney+ has now decided to go whole hog and drop several of the once-loved, now-controversial titles from their kids’ menus.
Per the initiative, children under 7 will be forbidden from watching “Dumbo,” “Peter Pan” “Swiss Family Robinson” and the “The Aristocats.” Settings on the app will prevent the movies from even showing up on the young viewers’ profiles. Disney explained its rationale behind each film’s removal on the kid-focused Stories Matter section of their website.
They cited “Dumbo’s” (1941) infamous singing crows, which “pay homage to racist minstrel shows, where white performers with blackened faces and tattered clothing imitated and ridiculed enslaved Africans on Southern plantations.”
The emphasized excerpt above linked to storiesmatter.thewaltdisneycompany.com, a page which began:
Stories shape how we see ourselves and everyone around us. So as storytellers, we have the power and responsibility to not only uplift and inspire, but also consciously, purposefully and relentlessly champion the spectrum of voices and perspectives in our world.
As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are in the process of reviewing our library and adding advisories to content that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures. Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all. We also want to acknowledge that some communities have been erased or forgotten altogether, and we’re committed to giving voice to their stories as well.
We searched a portion of the statement beginning with the second paragraph. That precise verbiage was included in October 2020 news reports about Disney+, and a decision to label certain content with warnings about unflattering depictions of cultures and ethnicities.
On October 16 2020, CNN reported:
Disney+ subscribers who log on to watch classic films like “Lady and the Tramp” or “Peter Pan” now see stronger advisory messages warning of racist content.
“As part of our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion, we are in the process of reviewing our library and adding advisories to content that includes negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures,” Disney said in a statement online.
Moreover, CNN’s October 2020 reporting indicated that in particular, Dumbo had been marked with an advisory in 2019, well before Sean Hannity managed to land on the topic:
“Rather than removing this content, we see an opportunity to spark conversation and open dialogue on history that affects us all,” it added … Disney says the advisory is not new, but it has now been updated and strengthened for this and other films.
Last year [in 2019], CNN reported that Disney had issued a warning on some movies, such as “Dumbo,” that they featured “outdated cultural depictions.”
We located a November 2019 Hollywood Reporter piece about Disney’s decision to label movies; Disney+ officially launched on November 12 2019. It actually appeared that for the entirety of the existence of the network, the films in question were marked as having “outdated cultural depictions,” meaning that both theNew York Post and Sean Hannity had simply missed this for nearly a year and a half:
As 10 million Disney+ subscribers browse through the new streaming platform’s hefty film and TV library [as of its November 2019 introduction], a line at the end of select content summaries might catch their attention: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”
The disclaimer appears with some animated Disney classics such as 1967’s The Jungle Book and 1953’s Peter Pan, offering caution to viewers of racist and culturally insensitive depictions and references in the plots and characters of those movies.
As of the November 2019 launch, Peter Pan and The Aristocats were definitively among the “labeled” films; if Dumbo was labeled, it wasn’t mentioned in that particular piece of reporting. However, a November 2019 USA Today article (“Disney+ adds ‘outdated cultural depictions’ warning to classics ‘Dumbo,’ ‘Peter Pan'”) affirmed Dumbo was also labeled:
The Disney+ nostalgia train has been briefly interrupted by a disclaimer.
Following the streaming service’s Tuesday launch, some users noticed a warning attached to several Disney classics of “outdated cultural depictions” in titles including “Dumbo” (1941), “Peter Pan” (1953), “The Aristocats” (1970), “The Jungle Book” (1967) and the original “Lady and the Tramp” (1955).
“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions,” the warning reads after each film’s plot description, referring to triggering elements that are culturally insensitive.
In “Dumbo,” for example, a crow named Jim Crow speaks with a stereotypical African-American accent. “The Aristocats” and “Lady and The Tramp” feature Siamese cats with stereotypical Asian accents. All of these characters are voiced by white actors.
The New York Post‘s alarmist March 2021 article mentioned the same films to which a warning was added on Disney+ ever since the streaming service launched, but the story also claimed “children under 7 will be forbidden from watching Dumbo, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson, and the [sic] The Aristocats.” We were unable to match the Post‘s March 9 2021 claim with any part of the “Stories Matter” section the outlet cited as a source for its claim.
Neither the linked Facebook post from Australia’s Today show nor the Instagram post by the UK’s Telegraph linked to any additional information substantiating the assertions. A January 2021 story in the UK tabloid The Sun (“PETER PANNED Parents stunned as Disney+ blocks kids under seven from watching ‘racist’ Peter Pan, Dumbo and The Aristocats”) quoted a different UK tabloid and claimed:
Other family favourites have also been removed from children’s accounts for breaching content guidelines recently put in place, the Mail on Sunday reports.
Parents were left dumbfounded after trying to watch the films on Disney’s £5.99-per-month service.
One said: “I wanted to watch Peter Pan with my daughter, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
“Then I realised they had all gone – they had been removed from the kids’ accounts. It was shocking.”
It is believed the reason behind the Peter Pan ban is because it features a Native American tribe whose members are referred to as “redskins”.
That story added that the films were available on Disney+, just not on accounts for children under the age of seven (and possibly only in the UK and Australia):
The decision to now ban the films from children’s accounts was made by a group of external experts who were brought in to assess if the content “represented global audiences”.
While the films remain available on adult accounts, they come with a disclaimer that reads: “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now.”
Finally, we logged into Disney+ in the United States to attempt to figure out if the titles in question were “banned.” One search result for “Parental Controls on Disney+” explained different settings for age-appropriate content:
Shows and movies rated higher than your profile’s Content Rating will not be shown while you browse or search Disney+. In your country, you can choose between the following Content Ratings:
- 0+ suitable for all languages
- 7+ Not recommended for children under seven years (7+)
- 10+ Not recommended for children under ten years (10+)
- 12+ Not recommended for children under twelve (12+)
- 13+ Not recommended for children under thirteen (13+)
- 14+ Not recommended for children under fourteen (14+)
- 16+ Not recommended for children under sixteen (16+)
No indication that the titles were “blocked” or “banned” in any form appeared on the page. An individual title search revealed that Dumbo was available with no clear age restriction; a content warning was added to the film, but it was available and rated “G,” meaning that it was considered suitable for general audiences without age restrictions. Peter Pan was available with a “G” rating (and content warning), as was The Aristocats (rated “G”) and Swiss Family Robinson (“PG.”) Swiss Family Robinson had no visible disclaimer.
We then created a child’s profile and selected the most restrictive setting; no results appeared for Dumbo, Swiss Family Robinson, Peter Pan, or The Aristocats. It appeared that children six and under could not locate the titles on their individual profiles. However, that particular restriction had been reported in January 2021, not March 2021, indicating to us that viral interest in similar ginned-up outrage over Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head led outrage-baiting sites to report the old restriction as new, and add further claims that Disney had “purged” or “canceled” the popular films.
In actuality, Disney+ initiated content warnings on Dumbo, Peter Pan, The Aristocats, and Swiss Family Robinson the moment it launched. No later than January 2021, Disney+ restricted viewers six and under from finding and watching labeled content without a parent or guardian present. However, those titles were neither banned nor canceled on most Disney+ profiles, and only parents who created profiles for children six and under would potentially encounter difficulty locating the films, which remain on the platform.