Fans of Disney films rarely complain about the quality of the films the Walt Disney Co. Produces. However, there is a large community of people who have a major problem with Disney, particularly in relation to the historical accuracy, or rather inaccuracy, of the films and the stories and characters they depict.
While Disney often introduces children to history (my 8-year-olds first Greek Mythology was via exposure to Hercules), some feel that Disney has an opportunity to supply some valuable teaching, but fails to do so.
Join us as we show you 17 films where Disney got it very wrong. Just remember - these films were created primarily to entertain, not to offer a history lesson.
Beauty and the Beast
- Though the opening number depicts the townspeople as singing ‘Bonjour!’ with exorbitant jubilation, those living in 18th century France would probably not have been this happy. Belle’s song makes no attempt to hide that the village is a ‘poor provincial town’ that is about to enter into the French Revolution. The average life span at this time in France was around 36 years old which would have caused the village to be a much more somber place.
- Literacy rates at this time were so low that it would be unlikely that Belle would be such an avid reader
- Belle’s famous golden ball dress, which she wore in the final scene of the movie was not historically accurate. Since the Beast is a prince, we know that the story takes place when there is still aristocracy, before the French Revolution. Royalty and women who married into royalty would have worn hoop skirts, heavily rouged cheeks, powdered hair, white wigs and revealing necklines (think Marie Antoinette). In order to reflect a more accurate representation of an 18th century princess, Belle should have been wearing a tight-fitting corset with a large, elaborate hair style.
- Though the film takes place in 1700s France, the Eiffel tower is depicted during ‘Be Our Guest.’ Building of the structure did not begin until 1887.
- Though the film is based on Greek mythology, many details were wrong including Hercules mother’s name. The film refers to her as “Hera,” while his mother was actually a mortal named “Alcmene.”
- Hades is not depicted as evil in Greek mythology
- According to the legend, Hercules murdered his wife Megara and their three children
- A scene in which Jane offers to take Tarzan to meet Charles Darwin and Rudyard Kipling doesn’t make sense, since Kipling wasn’t famous while Darwin was alive. Darwin died in 1882 and Kipling didn’t rise to fame until 1889
- While the costume designer claimed that Elsa’s costume was based on 1840s Western European fashion, the song ‘Let it Go’ contradicts this time frame. The lyrics which go “my soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around” don’t fit with the time frame, since the word ‘fractal’ wasn’t invented until 1975.
- While the film takes place in the Middle East, it is full of Indian-style architecture (the palace looks like the Taj Mahal)
- Jafar’s position of ‘Grand Vizier’ was not established until the Ottoman Empire
- Jasmine and Aladdin spot the Sphinx during their magic carpet ride, despite the fact that it wasn’t built until decades later
- Jasmine’s costume is grossly anachronistic for both the culture and time period in which the film is set. Her outfit would have been much more modest - loose, shapeless clothing that did not reveal a midriff. Women of higher class would also have worn a long veil, often exposing only one eye, and thick black eye kohl.
- Genie’s lines also pose complete anachronisms, to such a degree that fans have even postulated a theory about the film taking place in an apocalyptic world. References include Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Robert De Niro, Jack Nicholson, Rodney Dangerfield and more
- Aurora’s hairstyle does not fit that of 14th century England, when the film is set. Women during this period wore their hair in vertical braids which were supported by hair pieces, veils or crowns
- The dance between Philip and Aurora in the finals scene is also not fitting to the time period - firstly, this era saw men and women dancing in lines, secondly, this kind of dance would have been deemed inappropriate since the couple had to touch each other
The Princess and the Frog
- While the film is set in 1920s New Orlean, Tiana is not dressed as a flapper as we would expect. In order to fit into her era, she should be wearing a bobbed hair style, straight up and down, drop -waisted dress with ‘old Hollywood’ inspired makeup
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
- Trapdoors such as those depicted in the film were not used on scaffolds until the 18th century, while the story takes place in the 15th century
- Statues such as the gargoyles were also poly chromed, rather than made of stone as they look in the film
- Other architectural features such as the large statues of the 12 Apostles were also not constructed during the time in which the film was set
- While the Chinese poem the film is based on was penned in the 4th or 5th century, there is a reference in the film to the Imperial City which didn’t exist until some thousand years later
- The Great Wall of China can be seen in the movie, though it wasn’t built until the 14th century
- Mulan writes characters on her arm in simplified Chinese, which wasn’t developed until 65 years ago
- Mulan is depicted as being unskilled with weapons, while the real Mulan was said to be competent with many different weapons
- Though Pocahontas is depicted as a fully-grown Powhatan woman, Pocahontas was only around 11 years old when John Smith arrived with the Virginia Company
- While the film ends with John Smith returning to England and Pocahontas choosing to stay with her family, she actually ended up going to England later
- The film depicts a romanticised, happy colonisation that never existed. Though it appears that the English settlers develop friendly relationships with the natives, in reality, the colonists instead killed 90 percent of the native population
- Even Pocahontas’ wardrobe depicted historical inaccuracies. As the daughter of a chief, she would have worn an animal skin wrap around her waist with only her hair covering her top half. She may have worn a leather cloak in the winter to keep warm. As a high status woman in her community, she also would have had her face and body tattooed
- Pocahontas’ real name was Matoaka. Pocahontas was her nickname
- Since John Smith was 20 years older than Pocahontas, and she was only 10 when he arrived, it is unlikely that any romantic relationship took place between them
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
- Coelacanths which can be seen in an aquarium were believed to be extinct until their rediscovery in 1938, despite the fact that the film is set in 1914
- The reign of King Richard indicates the the film takes place between 1189 and 1199, however Maid Marion is seen playing Badminton which was not invented until the 16th century, and farthing coins depicted in the film were not minted until 1222
- Rapunzel ignites a match to light her candles. Matches were not invented for almost 30 years
Saving Mr. Banks
- Walt Disney and P.L. Travers never attended Disneyland together
- L. Travers had already signed her rights away to her work before she even met Walt Disney
- Travers is seen as crying during the premiere screening of Mary Poppins. While this did happen, the film implies that she is crying from relief and joy, when in fact she was so upset at her decision to sell the rights to her film
- Snow White’s outfit would have been much heavier than the light dress she does the housework in. Royalty in this time period would have worn layers of gowns and petticoats made out of rich colors and heavy fabrics
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- Tags: Aladdin, Beauty and The Beast, Frozen, Hercules, Mulan, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Tangled, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Princess and the Frog