Disney+ censoring classic Disney cartoons to reflect modern sensibilities

Originally published at: Disney+ censoring classic Disney cartoons to reflect modern sensibilities | Boing Boing


I fully support content warnings, and I would support an option for parents to allow them to block their child children from watching anything with a content warning without parental permission. I really wish they wouldn’t silently edit things, though. It’s just a bit too 1984 for my taste.


In the remaster the scene is re-added with Donald as a vape-bro.


I have mixed feelings about content warnings. They should be reserved for immediate harm, like photosensitivity and trauma. Let’s throw in harmful stereotypes/racism for good measure, too. Bad habits like smoking and drinking as well as obviously negative acts performed (like being drunk or blowing smoke) strikes me as over-sanitization when edited or warned about. From their daily lives, kids already have enough messages about these activities anyway. Seeing Donald blow smoke isn’t exactly going to persuade them to start chomping cigars.

Only speaking from my position, though. Whenever they see it, my kids tell me how disgusting certain habits are. And when it comes to television content, I sit with them enough to be able to have a conversation about the things we see and how acceptibility has changed over time.


They’ve been doing that for years, long before Disney+. Pecos Bill (from Melody Time, 1948) smoked cigarettes very prominently, using a lightning bolt to ignite it, etc. In a 1990’s DVD release Disney heavily edited the whole segment to get rid of the smoking, which unfortunately cut out some of the best parts including a tornado wrangling scene, and what was left was disjointed and weird.

But editing objectionable content even goes back decades earlier than that. Disney did some pretty significant edits to Fantasia to get rid of some of the more extreme racial depictions way back in 1969, and the Three Little Pigs film (1933) was re-released in 1948 with an entirely new sequence animated to replace the original scene that had the wolf disguised as a stereotypical Jewish brush salesman.


Will they edit out overly enthusiastic use of guns as well?


Maybe that depends on the region. For a while they were continuing to distribute movies like Song of the South and unedited Pecos Bill cigarette smoking outside of the United States even after they determined that content to be too objectionable domestically. With guns maybe it will be the opposite- removing reckless gunplay from content that’s shown in some of the markets that have reasonably sane attitudes about gun safety, but keeping it for American audiences who (sadly) absolutely love to see guns onscreen and everywhere else.


Is it censorship for the publishers and creators to update their work? In my mind censorship is done using the tools of government, which this is not. A technicality, but I personally don’t care if Disney edits and updates their stuff, because it’s their stuff.

Just as when the publishers and family of Dr. Seuss decided to stop publishing a couple of books that weren’t appropriate to current understandings, this is not censorship.

It’s ok to recognize that things are no longer ok.


Yes, censorship of one’s own IP is still censorship. Most of the time when sensitive or controversial stuff has been kept off TV or out of movies (like interracial relationships or LGBT content) it came at the direction of the studios or networks rather than some governing body like the FCC.

That doesn’t neccessarily mean that all censorship is inherently bad (for example, I have no desire to rewatch the many, many instances of blackface used as a comedic trope in old Tom & Jerry cartoons) but in most cases I tend to lean toward “make the content available but clearly labeled and framed in its appropriate historical context so impressionable kids don’t see it by accident.”

The Dr. Seuss books were a sensible case of self-censorship since there aren’t exactly a lot of adults buying those books for themselves.


I forgot where I heard the argument before, but it was related to Dahl and Seuss’s work a short while ago being re-edited. If you see this work (and most children’s entertainment in general) as commodities and ways to entertain kids, then who cares? If kids like it and adults tolerate it, just make it entertaining. There is nothing more than making sure Disney makes a buck and kids are entertained.

If you see this work as art, then you’re changing the meaning of the work and it is a tragedy (well…maybe tragedy is too strong of a word), but it’s a disappointment at least.

Personally, I lean more towards commodity and I’m finding it hard to care.

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This. Old Warner Brothers, Disney, etc. had some actual Bad Things like racism (because well, institutional racism, but also WWII propaganda using institutional racism as tool) and other terrible stereotypes. It’s perfectly reasonable to note them with a warning that it may trigger someone but otherwise leave it for historical context.

Smoking, drinking, etc.? Meh. That’s a conversation with my kid just like explaining a telephone booth (or landlines for that matter).


Some of that stuff is much more recent than many people realize, and while I’d hate to see it completely erased from history, the value of leaving it in the versions that are currently being distributed for “historical context” is not alway evident. There were a ton of things in the 1992 Aladdin movie there were considered objectionable even when that movie was first released. Like did you know that Aladdin (or at least his Prince Ali persona) owned slaves? A line in the song says

That line has been updated in some versions of the song that are out there now, and I don’t see that change as being any different than when Disney updated that scene in Three Little Pigs in the 1940s.

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They rely on the state to enforce their “limited” monopoly.


It’s hard to separate commodity from art in the modern context. Even paintings hanging in museums have been commodified in various ways. Mass production has allowed for much greater access to art for a wider swath of humanity, so it’s not entirely negative that it’s been commodified. Access was always a key aspect of making art seem “precious” or only for some, rather than for all.

And of course, while NEW editions of books at least might change, the older versions are still available as long as we have libraries. Same with changes to films, as long as there are older versions floating around (and there are, thanks to previously produced recordings of these films).


Heh, yeah I was a teenager when the original came out but didn’t watch it until easily a decade or more later (I rabidly hated Disney in my teens/early 20s for reasons I can’t recall) so I missed that. Many of the “Hey so and so did blackface in the 90s/early 2000s”, transphobia/homophobia, etc. definitely resonates though because I watched it live and I forget that it’s a surprise to folks who were young/didn’t exist yet have no idea.

And yeah, totally fair. This is where copyright and IP law in general has failed us since we all know Disney isn’t going to have two separate versions of things they don’t like (or won’t let the public know if they do) but a separate digital archive also likely will never exist after seeing what’s happened to archive.org.

That said, if Disney puts out re-releases of the Star Wars prequel era media that entirely removes Jar Jar Binks and/or reskins the character to not be a horrible stereotype, I’m all for it.


Disney recently stopped releasing physical media in Australia-- so backups won’t be around forever. Moreover, many libraries don’t see themselves as repositories for old material. My local library weeds after just two years.


Reminded me of the absolutely -horribly- racist Tom and Jerry cartoons I used to watch on broadcast television. To know that I didn’t “get” how bad it was then makes me double cringe!

I’m sure there were plenty of Disney ones, but Tom and Jerry were the ones I could see on the two channels we had at the time.

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Good, smoking shouldn’t feature in kids cartoons. This isn’t censorship.

Second-hand smoke is bad, but second-hand gunsmoke, not so much, weirdly.


Well, for now, anyway. But studios are really focusing on subscription-based streaming content where you don’t own the media and can’t make a (legal) copy. A lot of shows are removed in their entirety just for the tax write-off and are no longer available on any platform. So in the future it’s going to be pretty hard for libraries or other organizations to maintain legal archives of films, whether they’re offensive or not.