What to Do About Disney?

what to do about disney

I grew up with Disney. You probably did too.

My Disney memories are idiosyncratic: I remember seeing the original Pete’s Dragon and The Cat From Outer Space in the ‘70s. Then there was that Sunday night staple in an era when we only had three network channels, plus PBS (oh, the horror!): The Wonderful World of Disney. How many Sunday nights did I spend cuddled up on the couch, taking in a delightful Disney story? Many. They’re lovely memories.  

Disney’s movies and shows always stirred playfulness, frivolity, imagination and a dollop of courage into stories brimming with wonder and delight. Nothing in the entertainment world was “safer” than Disney. That was the brand’s promise to parents. That’s the way Uncle Walt wanted it.  

I believe the Mouse House is still capable of producing those kinds of stories. The 2016 remake of Pete’s Dragon comes to mind. But increasingly, when we think about Disney, imagination isn’t the first virtue we think of. We may well instead recognize the entertainment icon’s cultural shift and, increasingly, its embrace not of wonder, but of wokeness.

The last week has given us plenty to ponder on this front. Leaked internal Zoom videos featured at least three Disney executives expressing their commitment to pursue and embrace the LGBT agenda. Those statements came amid outcry on the political left about a new Florida law that protects children from kindergarten to third grade from being instructed by schools on the topics of gender identity and sexual orientation.

In response, Karey Burke, president of Disney’s General Entertainment Content, told her fellow employees, “I’m here as a mother of two queer children, actually. One transgender child and one pansexual child, and also as a leader. … We have many, many LGBTQIA characters in our stories, and yet we don’t have enough leads, and narratives in which gay characters just get to be characters.” Burke went on to express her—and the company’s—commitment to 50% of Disney characters being LBTQ or racial minorities in future projects.

Meanwhile, Disney’s diversity and inclusion executive, Vivian Ware, announced that the company’s theme parks would exchange the phrases “ladies and gentlemen” and “boys and girls” with “dreamers of all ages.” And executive producer Latoya Raveneau added that her team has embraced a  “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” that includes “adding queerness” to kids’ shows. And there’s word that future shows will cease using gendered pronouns as well.

Disney has, of course, been including subtle nods to LGBT characters and ideas for quite some time now, with Beauty and the Beast (2017) and Andi Mack (2019), among many other examples in the last few years. It’s gotten to the point where we, as Plugged In reviewers, simply assume that there will be a nod to this worldview somewhere in any given show or movie. So we keep our eyes peeled for these sorts of characterizations. 

But it looks as if we may not have to squint as hard any more to make sure we don’t miss these subtle moments of dialogue or images in the background. Because there’s nothing subtle about Disney’s muscular advocacy for integrating a pro-LGBT philosophy into everything it does.

We’ve noticed that in newer Disney+ shows such as The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder and recent movies such as Better Nate Than Ever. Instead of a passing, subtle allusion to a same-sex relationship or attraction, these offerings wear their LGBT bona fides in ways that are impossible to miss. And we can expect much more to come, if the promises from Disney executives above are taken at face value.

Disney, of course, owns the rights to a veritable treasure trove of pop culture franchises. In addition to the litany of classic Walt Disney films that stretches all the way back to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney owns Star Wars, Marvel, ESPN, ABC, National Geographic, 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox), Hulu and more. It’s a vast, influential catalog of stories that many of us grew up with—stories and characters woven into the fabric of shared culture.

So where does that leave fans and families who once cherished Disney’s iconic stories, but who can’t abide the company’s activism? It’s a complicated question. Many families may well decide that the time to cut the Disney+ cord has indeed come. Might be time to dust off those old Star Wars DVDs and see if you can find that old remote, too.

Even for those who make a clean break with Disney, though, I think we’d do well to remember that the mainstream culture continues to move further and further away from an easy, happy and natural coexistence with a Christian worldview. We may be saying no to many new Disney offerings moving forward, but those stories continue to shape hearts and minds in the culture around us. They reflect and reinforce a way of thinking, acting and believing that’s often at odds with our own biblical convictions.

What these ongoing shifts in our culture require of us as parents is the willingness and the intentionality to help our children understand the why behind our convictions, as well as summoning the courage to potentially walk away from a brand that has veered so far from Uncle Walt’s intent.  

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.

29 Responses

  1. -So, how many are willing to put everything made by Disney, past or present, in the trash? I very much doubt anyone is willing to go that far. But maybe we should. Throw anything with those mouse ears away.

  2. -Dumped the movies long ago when videos went out. We may have a few of the ones from the 60s somewhere that my husband still watches on occasion. Have never taken the kids to Disney nor do we now watch Disney plus. I believe we live a perfectly well adjusted life without it.

  3. -We watch VERY few Disney movies, but my kids were really looking forward to Lightyear…until we heard a lesbian kiss was included.

    1. -Your kids are in for a shock when they go out into the real world and find out that gay people exist.

      1. -Actually, they’re in the real world and wondering why the media magnifies the minutiae.

        1. – Ah yes. Don’t represent minorities. Just straight white people all day long.
          The hate people are expressing in these comments is shocking and far from God honoring.

  4. -I still love the animated movies for the most part and still watch the Disney channel daily, but as far as recent movies are concerned, the last animated one I truly enjoyed was onward and the last live action one I loved was 2019s the Lion King. But yeah I noticed all the references in Andi Mack and of course there’s a lesbian couple in the owl house too, heck even Hallmark shows and movies have had gay characters in them. But as far as ditching everything Disney’s ever done, no way would I do that. Just pretend newer Disney never happened but continue to enjoy the old stuff.

    1. -FACTS! I will also enjoy the good wholesome movies and shows like Lilo and Stitch, Jessie, ANT Farm, Wizards of Waverly Place, and (1998) The Parent Trap. Just because The current Chairman of Disney is letting all of this trash happen, it doesn’t mean we should throw out our childhoods! Disney used to be great!

      1. -Old Disney is still Disney. If we want to take a stand against them, it has to be all in.

  5. -I can’t believe Disney would stoop down this low. It’s heartbreaking. We left Netflix for the very same reasons, but now Disney seems to be following in it’s footsteps. I can’t believe it. Very disappointing.

  6. -I grew up on Disney, we even would watch a little Disney channel too, and then “good luck charlie” decided to include a lesbian couple. That made my family steer clear from the Disney channel for a good time, and even now, we only watch the clean safe shows like girl meets world, Jessie, Liv and Maddie, and Hannah Montana. I’m really disappointed in Disney for their persistence in libralism. I really hope they change back to how they were in the good old days with Lilo and Stitch and Winnie the Pooh. I hope we can make a difference and show them that what their doing is wrong. Thank you for this post!

  7. -I’m glad Plugged In is talking about this, given how much they’ve praised Disney in the past (via Movie Mondays).

    But I wish Plugged In would have addressed the other scummy things Disney has done over the last few years. For example, Plugged In never discussed Mulan being filmed near internment camps in China back in 2020 or how the company’s “Reimagine Tomorrow” plan in 2021.

    1. -Disney’s reliance on real world Chinese slave labor and genocide is a thousand times worse than fictional immorality. But unfortunately the American Church doesn’t seem to concerned about our Chinese brothers in Christ suffering under the tyrannical regime there. I think we need to reorganize our priorities.
      I’m praying for the Chinese Christians. They need our help.

  8. -Live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ seems a very unfortunate example, since if people are more concerned about a man having a crush on another man than about that man having a crush *on Gaston* (an all-around horrible human being, and I also had this problem with both of the main characters in Brokeback Mountain), I think that’s a problematic assessment of priorities. You don’t have to like gay romance, but I don’t think it’s the main issue here.

    But I want to know. In a society where too many people and too many lawmakers seem more ‘concerned’ about what to do about sports teams than what to do about much more important problems, what can we as the church do to stop homophobic and transphobic violence? People outside the church aren’t going to take us seriously if we’re more concerned about LGBT kissing (and I’m not saying that we necessarily have to theologically or Scripturally endorse that) than about LGBT suicide rates or homelessness. What can we do about that?

    1. -I agree with some of what you’re saying. I think it’s ironic how many Christians want to boycott Disney now and get the “old Disney back”, when the fact is that problematic content has been present in Disney entertainment since the very beginning. I would hardly call The Hunchback of Notre Dame “family friendly”, and Hercules was entirely about Greek gods and goddesses. Pocahontas delved into the animistic beliefs of Native people (and of course, was a film based off a real girl who in actuality was a CHILD at the time the events took place). Wizards of Wavery Place was a show entirely about wizards (surprise, surprise!) with every episode revolving around magic somehow, and Disney movies like Twitches and Halloweentown (and its sequels) also were magic focused.

      Alice in Wonderland has a caterpillar who is, ahem, under certain influences (he even blows smoke at Alice’s face – she’s a child!). In Peter Pan, Tinkerbell checks herself out in the mirror and admires her curves. Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast (the animated films) featured minor instances of shapely women acting shamelessly towards men, but I have yet to see such an outcry over those scenes.

      I myself am not a huge Disney fan (I don’t watch much tv or movies anymore now that I’m in college), but I feel like a double standard exists. It seems like although many other troubling content can be overlooked, the mention of anything LGBTQ+ sparks outrage. I am not saying we much deny truth and accept everything that comes our way, but I think we all as Christians should carefully examine ourselves to see whether our heart is in the right place and make sure that we aren’t being hypocritical.

  9. -The most insidious part of this whole debate is the divisiveness it instills in the fabric of our country. Suicide rates among minors, let alone among the LGBT community, have risen–mainly due to the sense of alone-ness people are experiencing. Now, every time you turn around, you see something else dividing the country, communities and families. From political parties to BLM to LGBT to Vax mandates to social distancing, our entire country is finding new ways to hate their neighbor every day.

    The very first thing that God said was “not good” in Scripture was “it is not good for man to be alone.” We are finding more ways to separate ourselves from each other, and further distance ourselves from God. The more we explode the culture, the more hopeless we become.

  10. -To throw out all my families’ DVDs and VHS tapes of Disney movies would not send a message to Hollywood and only hurt me in the long run because I draw quite well and have learned a number of techniques from watching and studying Disney animation.

    We can avoid spending money on Disney production by only buying used copies of the movies and borrowing them from the library, though. I am okay with waiting 6-9 months to see a movie from the library – that is what I had to do growing up since I was poor. I’ve also never been to any major theme parks, so I don’t know what I am missing out on in that regard.

    But, if a Disney movie is released that is family-friendly, isn’t seeing that movie also sending a message that we’d like to see more movies like these?

  11. -This article is really unfortunate on multiple levels, but it began with use of the word “woke.” For heaven’s sakes, it’s widely known that this word originated with the Black community, which used it to remind one another to pay attention to danger around them. For a white person to use it as a term that describe anything they consider too-progressive is just *face palm* out of touch.

    1. -I do not find this to be a valid critique of the article. In my experience, condescension tends to undermine any point that you may initially be making, however correct you may be. For example, there are several grammar-related issues in your comment. However, a competent observer would sooner take note of the various other things that are incorrect. I have attempted to maintain a more respectful reply because it seems that pluggedin.com deleted my original comment 🙁 .

  12. -It’s articles like this that are driving so many away from the amazing love of Christ. The evangelical church has made their bed in politics, and at this point, it is impossible to find a line of distinction.

    When people read about Jesus and then see the church of today, they see no similarities and no reason to believe when the ‘believers’ are so misguided and distracted by political hate and fear.

  13. -Read this snippet-
    Romans 1:28-32
    Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
    32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death (spiritual death), they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (even approving or agreeing with these depraved acts is to be a participant, guilty by being )
    It reminds me of the “I Confess to You” prayer, where it says this:
    “…in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”
    To be complicit or to fail to take action is to be a participant, because it perpetuates abuse, pain, hurt and others to be dead spiritually.
    Remember God doesn’t want us to be bad, good is ok, but God wants us to be Holy. To be Holy is to be separated and put aside for the greater good or God’s kingdom on Earth and in Heaven.

  14. -I wish the article actually suggested to at we should boycott Disney and give us ideas on how to do it. For example, cancel Disney plus, don’t go and see anymore new Disney films (the last good Disney movies I saw were Encanto, Coco, and Toy Story 4), don’t g to Disney parks.
    It also would be nice to suggest alternatives to entertainment instead of Disney. (Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network also fell into the lgbtq trap, Veggie tales is for preschoolers, and I didn’t like any of the Christian propaganda films).

    Here is another idea: write a letter or email to Disney and Pixar, telling them how angry you are that they lost the public trust all because they had been promoting these sinful lifestyles.
    Recently, I wrote an angry email to Pixar after being upset with Turning Red (I didn’t like how the film encouraged rebellion and promoted the idea that friends or individuality triumph over family). Not sure how they responded but I wished that they would see it so they can see how hurt I have been.
    I looked up to Disney since I was a child because I wanted to be an artist. I even worked in the Disney College Program because it had always been my dream to work for Disney. Now the company had betrayed me and lost the public trust!

    1. -I do not know which movie you speak of yet the days are evil and the entertainment industry is as well. If we boycott Disney then all else must Go…Netflix HBO NBC BET Nickolodean (sp?). We must pursue holiness and help others see that they can come away from these entertainments. Come off of SM off TV video games and amusement parks. Let’s be sober minded in these last and evil days.

  15. -I would not go to any Disney Land again or let my grandchildren see any of their shows. PERIOD.