In The Jungle Book, men have 98% of the dialogue. This classic is not the only Disney movie where most of the talking is done by men. An analysis by The Pudding of 30 Disney movies showed that men have 60% or more of the screenplay dialogue in 22 children’s films. In 4 films, including Frozen and Tarzan, men and women are equally represented and in yet another 4 most words are uttered by women. Sleeping Beauty has the most female dialogue: 69%. There’s no data on dialogue by characters that do not conform to the gender binary – which isn’t too surprising, because who can name, say, a gender-nonconforming character?
The dialogue disbalance matters, because kids grow up with these films and learn that, apparently, men are worth listening to more than women. Even in films with a women lead, like Mulan, men have the most lines (75%). Adding to that: Disney movies are full of patriarchal and sexist scenes. Think of non-consensual kissing (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), women making huge sacrifices for a male partner (The Little Mermaid), women needing to be saved (Sleeping Beauty, Tarzan, Snow White, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the list goes on…) and women falling in love with characters that do not treat them well (Beauty And The Beast, Pocahontas). Especially the princesses featured in these movies have no discernable character of their own, apart from being needy and submissive.
As much as Disney films rely on gender stereotypes, they reinforce racist prejudices. In Peter Pan, Native Americans are called “redskins” (a racist slur) and turned into caricatures; the many cultural differences amongst Native Americans get no recognition. Besides, Peter Pan and his friends appropriate elements of Indigenous culture. Pocahontas tells a romantic story of a Native American woman who falls in love with a white colonialist, thereby ignoring the violent history of settler colonialism.
Disney also missed the mark in Aladdin, where the Arab world is called “barbaric” in the opening song – even after Disney decided to cut other parts of the song (“Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face”). Lastly, it must be noted that some Disney characters, like Mickey Mouse and the crows in Dumbo, find their roots in blackface minstrel shows. Because they contain racist elements, Peter Pan, Dumbo, Aristocats, Lady and the Tramp, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Jungle Book have been barred from kids accounts on Disney+.
If you want to watch inclusive films with a child, safe bets are Inside Out, Brave, The Breadwinner, Coco, Lilo & Stitch and Finding Dory (instead of Finding Nemo!). To explore the analysis by The Pudding of gender and dialogue in 2,000 films, click here.