Top 10 Biggest Disney Scandals
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Top 10 Biggest Disney Scandals

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Tal Fox
Disney couldn't wish upon a star these scandals away. For this list, we'll be looking at the most disreputable times the Walt Disney Company wasn't the happiest or most magical place on earth. Our countdown includes a harmful relationship, plagiarism, "The Rescuers" risque VHS recall, and more!
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Top 10 Biggest Disney Scandals


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Biggest Disney Scandals.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the most disreputable times the Walt Disney Company wasn’t the happiest or most magical place on earth. We’ll be including movies, actors, parks, and other parts of the vast franchise’s universe.

Which of these scandals shocked you the most? Let us know in the comments.

#10: Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair Cover


It’s a story we’ve seen time and time again. As Disney’s young stars grow up, they try to break free from the idealistic pedestals on which they’re placed by the network. Miley Cyrus was among the more rebellious culprits, but she quickly learned she couldn’t have the “Best of Both Worlds.” In 2008, while starring as Hannah Montana, the 15-year-old was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, draped in only a bedsheet. As you can imagine, Disney wasn’t happy. We understand that they have a certain image to uphold but let’s not forget someone on team Miley did approve this photoshoot. Following the media storm, Cyrus issued an apology. However, a decade later, she showed she “got nerve” by retracting it.

#9: PETA Takes on Animal Kingdom



Disney knows how to capture hearts with adorable animated animals. Unfortunately, this meant fans of films like “Finding Nemo” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” needed reminders that pets are a long-haul commitment. This isn’t the only blemish on their animal welfare record, either. For instance, Disney orchestrated the myth about Lemmings throwing themselves into the ocean. However, the biggest outcry came from PETA in 1996 after plans for Animal Kingdom were announced. PETA didn’t believe a raucous theme park was the right environment for wildlife and fought to convince others, too. Disney powered on regardless, but sadly several animals lost their lives before the park even began welcoming guests. Still, the Department of Agriculture couldn’t find any wrongdoing, and the outrage quietened.

#8: A Harmful Relationship


In 2011, "Modern Family’s" Sarah Hyland starred as Dylan in “Geek Charming,” a DCOM rom-com. She and co-star Matt Prokop brought their love story into the real world, but it was far from the fairytale we'd seen on screen. The pair dated for about five years, but in 2014, it was revealed that Hyland had been granted a temporary restraining order against her now ex-boyfriend. Prokop was reportedly harmful during the relationship, and she'd enlisted her TV mom Julie Bowen to help her put an end to it. After the breakup, his behavior became even more sinister and threatening to Hyland's safety. Eventually, a permanent restraining order was granted, and Prokop hasn't worked in the entertainment business since.

#7: Sweatshop Retailer of the Year Award


You’ve likely heard stories about Disney treating employees poorly. According to one investigation, the company had contracts with 12 Chinese supply factories, whose staff were treated appallingly. They worked 16-hour shifts for unjustly low wages and were often castigated by superiors. Disney largely seemed to shrug this off. Even so, they were named The Maquila Solidarity Network and Oxfam Canada’s “Sweatshop Retailer of the Year.” The factories haven’t stopped being in the headlines, since, either. Claims that they were staffed by children, drove their employees to the brink, and forced them to work more than legally permissible emerged. Those Mickey Mouse ears aren’t looking so cute anymore, are they?

#6: Plagiarism



Have you heard of “The Seven Basic Plots”? Well, after roughly a century of storytelling, overlaps seem inevitable. However, some creators spotted similarities between their works and Disney classics that were too close for comfort. “The Lion King” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” have both been accused of imitating Japanese anime shows. The former film is said to have stolen from a series known as “Kimba the White Lion.” Meanwhile, the latter allegedly borrowed from “Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.” But there’s more. “The Snowman’s” Kelly Wilson noticed that “Frozen’s” teaser trailer bore a close resemblance to her short, successfully taking Disney to court. Screenwriter Gary Goldman also tried to sue, claiming that his twice-rejected pitch was eerily similar to the plot of “Zootopia.”

#5: Why Priority for Disabled Visitors Changed


In 2013, NBC uncovered a crazy Disney scheme where people were cutting long lines. With the help of these guides and their Guest Assistance Cards, parties could completely bypass the time consuming experience of waiting for rides. Further reporting by outlets like CNN revealed that it was primarily rich parents who engaged in this practice so that their princes and princesses wouldn’t have to stand in line with the masses. When Disney learned of these practices, they tightened the rules and closed the loopholes with a new policy that gave disabled visitors an allotted time for ride access instead. There are always a few who ruin it for everyone. Talk about taking the Mickey.

#4: Where’s Your Disney Pride?


Disney's record with the LGBTQ+ community has always been a little rocky. As recently as 2022, they've come under fire over their role in the "Don't Say Gay" bill. However, the company is striving to be more authentically representative. In recent years, they've introduced openly LGBTQ+ characters in their movies and TV Shows. Sadly this has also been met with controversy, like when conservative viewers blasted "Good Luck Charlie" for introducing a same-sex couple. You'll also likely remember the outrage over LeFou's sexuality caused by a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment from the 2017 "Beauty and the Beast" live-action remake. And when "Onward" featured a lesbian character, the film was banned in several countries. If we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that representation matters.

#3: “The Rescuers” Risqué VHS Recall


We’ve all heard those fables about Disney using subliminal messaging in their films. These are usually the result of an overactive imagination and someone having too much time on their hands. However, in one case, there was something there! A prankster over at Disney animation snuck an image of a topless woman in the background of this 1977 mouse adventure flick. Somehow, no one noticed until the movie’s VHS re-release in 1999. Disney quickly recalled millions of videotapes as a result. The company claimed they hadn’t received any complaints, but this 22-year-long oversight was still pretty awkward. But hey, we wouldn’t be surprised if this scene became one of Disney’s most rewatched movie moments.

#2: The Grandfather From “Andi Mack” Gets Arrested


Disney’s “Andi Mack” was a groundbreaking and critically acclaimed Disney show in the mid-to-late 2010s. Actor Stoney Westmoreland had a recurring role as Andi’s grandfather, Ham. However, in 2018, shortly before filming for season three wrapped, Westmoreland was arrested for planning an encounter with a minor. Needless to say, plenty of concern, shock, and outrage followed once the news broke. Unsurprisingly, Disney swiftly moved to fire the actor from the series, and edited him out of episodes wherever they could. In 2022, it was announced that Westmoreland was handed a two year federal prison sentence following a plea deal.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

The Excitable Priest in “The Little Mermaid”
A Misdirect by Animators, but Audiences Stood to Attention

Fingerprint Here Please
Not Every Park Visitor Has Been a Fan of This Entry Requirement

What Doesn’t Disney Own?
After a Multi-Billion Dollar Deal With Fox, Concerns That Disney’s Getting Too Big for Its Mickey Mouse Ears Emerged

Subliminal Messaging in “The Lion King”
We Know What You See, but It’s a Shout Out to the Special Effects, aka SFX, Team

Disney Redesigns Merida from “Brave”
The Character’s More Relatable Look Was Welcomed, & the Studio Faced Major Backlash When They Tried to Backtrack

#1: Racism in “Song of the South”


This movie is so offensive that Disney wants to erase it from memory. Even in 1946, "Song of the South" was considered shocking and controversial by many. It was blasted for its racist depiction of Black Americans, and for putting a rose-tinted lens on plantation life. Years later, Disney would come under fire again for harmfully stereotyping Arab people in "Aladdin," something the 2019 remake tried to rectify. However, "Song of the South" is so upsetting that the studio had no choice but to try and forget it ever happened. You won't find it on Disney+. If they could, we bet Disney would "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" this movie out of existence.
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