Snow White’s kiss is far from the dodgiest Disney moment

From Peter Pan to The Aristocats, much of Disney’s back catalogue features potentially offensive stereotypes

When is a kiss not just a kiss, but something more sinister? Most would agree that consent – and certainly the involvement of Donald Trump – should play a major role in such a discussion, but few of us would have spotted the scene in which Prince Charming wakes up the title character with a smooch in 1937’s Disney classic Snow White as a problematic moment, even in 2021. After all, the concept of kissing as a way to break magical spells and curses has been a fairytale staple for centuries in stories such as The Frog Prince.

Theme park reviewers Katie Dowd and Julie Tremaine of SFGate saw things differently. In a review of Disneyland Anaheim’s recently revamped Snow White ride, which features a fresh denouement based on the “true love’s kiss” scene, they described the kiss as one “he gives to her without her consent, while she’s asleep, which cannot possibly be true love if only one person knows it’s happening,” adding: “Haven’t we already agreed that consent in early Disney movies is a major issue? That teaching kids that kissing, when it hasn’t been established if both parties are willing to engage, is not OK?”

This may seem a reasonable point, but what might have been a throwaway comment has spun into the catalyst for a full-on culture war after Fox News spent most of the last week highlighting it as an example of extreme cancel culture. Over multiple segments, the channel’s presenters accused SFGate of “going after Disney’s Snow White”, while guest John Kennedy, a Republican senator for Louisiana, bellowed: “We are so screwed. I don’t know where these jackaloons come up with this stuff.”

Both perspectives seem a little full on to me. But it’s an example of the difficulties Disney faces when trying to present a modern image to the world without destroying its entire back catalogue. This is the reason streaming services such as Disney+ and the UK’s Now TV have recently added disclaimers to films such as Peter Pan and The Aristocats, making clear that the much-loved animations feature outdated and potentially offensive stereotypes.

It’s a clumsy approach, but the alternative would be to go through each movie frame by frame and excise everything that upsets modern-day sensibilities. The result would be the eventual destruction of these films, a sort of death by a thousand final cuts. Or Disney could just remake everything, which seems to be happening behind the scenes in any case.

Some offending segments, such as the infamous bit in the 1940 film Fantasia where a black, servile centaur tends to her preening white mistress, certainly deserve to have been removed altogether. Dumbo’s pimp-hatted, jive-talking crows, Peter Pan’s pidgin English speaking “picaninnies” and Sebastian the workshy Caribbean crab from The Little Mermaid have all been quite reasonably accused of racism in recent years.

How about the “Siamese” cats in Lady and the Tramp or the Arab marketplace trader who threatens to cut off Princess Jasmine’s hand in Aladdin? Yes, those should probably go too, but by the year 2050 – as cultural sensitivities continue to shift – all old Disney movies will be 26 seconds long.

Those disclaimers are surely the best way studios have so far found to highlight problematic material without entirely removing our ability to view these classic animations as they were intended. But there may simply be no right or wrong answer – only individual perspectives on whether such movies are suitable for viewing.

As for Disneyland’s ride – perhaps, all things considered, the mouse house would have been better off sticking with the old finale in which the Evil Queen falls to her death with a scream. It may have scared too many kids, apparently resulting in some of the shortest queues in the “Fantasyland” area, but at least Disney wouldn’t now be facing what now seems likely to be a second redesign in as many years.


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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