Shocking, Untrue & Altogether Awful Life Lessons Cynics Take away From Classic Disney Films

in Disney, Featured, Movies, Movies & TV, What If

A colorful assortment of variously styled cuckoo clocks hanging on a wooden wall, each featuring unique designs and characters, from disney's animated environment.

Credit: Walt Disney Archives

Disney’s classic films have long been known for their colorful, enchanting animation, their lovable characters, and the timeless life lessons and wisdom they impart to those who watch them. Sadly, however, there are some people who find it impossible to embrace such a mindset of magic, of wonder, and of “happily ever after.”

For those people, any number of Disney’s classic animated films fill them with a sense of skepticism, disbelief, and even frustration as they see many of those films as out of touch with reality and full of deceptive storylines that teach kids and kids at heart that life is better than it actually is.

Snow White dancing with the seven dwarfs
Credit: Disney

Walt’s Gift For Storytelling

In addition to being a gifted animator, visionary, and creative genius, Walter Elias Disney was also a talented storyteller. It was evident in every single project that resulted from Walt’s dreams and creative prowess–from the first iteration of Mickey Mouse in the form of Steamboat Willie to Walt Disney Animation’s feature-length films and shorts to the world’s first-ever Disney-inspired theme park resort, Disneyland, which opened in Anaheim, California, in July 1955.

vintage photo of man in a dress suit with mustache against an background of earth tones
Credit: Walt Disney Archives

From Disneyland’s unforgettable classic attractions to the timeless Disney classic films from which they drew their inspiration, Walt’s affinity for storytelling was undeniable, and it’s a theme that, after more than 100 years, The Walt Disney Company keeps as its cornerstone.

Naysayers, Nonsense, and Nastiness

But sadly, for all of the millions and millions of fans who derive joy from the colorful animation, adorable characters, and timeless life lessons in every one of Disney’s classic films (and some Pixar films as well), there will always be those who choose to see the proverbial glass as ever half-empty.

They are the cynics and skeptics who often wear larger-than-life frowns on their faces as they pick apart such films, pointing out the improbability of the storyline, as well as the unlikelihood that any sort of happy ending could come about, considering elements in the story.

Cinderella in her shimmering blue gown is surrounded by a magical glow in a dark forest, illustrating a classical fairytale moment of transformation.
“Cinderella” (1950)/Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Walt Disney Looked at Things a Little Differently

But Walt Disney felt differently. He saw the possibilities within the impossible and the hope within every wish made. It was Mr. Disney who once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” He also believed in the fun that was found in “doing the impossible.” But he also pointed out a sad truth about some people, saying, “That’s the real trouble with the world–too many people grow up.”

walt disney in front of sleeping beauty castle
Credit: Walt Disney Archives

And that “growing up” often renders people pessimistic, jaded, and wholly unbelieving in the possibility of good in the world–and of happy endings, even in Disney movies.

If you’ve been a Disney fan (or a dreaded “Disney Adult”) for any length of time, you’ve no doubt already read your fill of articles dedicated to the wisdom that can be gained from watching any number of Walt Disney Animation’s classic films. To that end, this writer won’t perseverate the conventional idea of such posts–at least in this publication–and will direct your attention, instead, to the shocking, heartwrenching, awful, and occasionally disturbing and scary lessons that some cynics, skeptics, naysayers, and otherwise disagreeable and negative people might glean from some of those films.

Girl, You Better Check Your Dreams – “Cinderella” (1950)

Disney’s 1950 masterpiece, Cinderella, could be in the #1 spot on the list of the saddest films produced by the studio (especially if you’re a cynic or a wildly jaded skeptic). Is there any other Disney Princess more deserving of a heart-healthy dream come true than this young girl? Maybe. Maybe not.

Cinderella and Wicked Stepmother in mirror
Credit: Walt Disney Animation

The harsh reality is that Cinderella would have done good to give up ions ago. Are we actually to believe that a young unknown maiden who spends her days scrubbing marble floors, changing the litter box of a cat named Lucifer, and throwing corn kernels at the chickens outside would somehow rise above her circumstances to amass the affections and attention of the man who’s next in line for the throne–and especially while wearing that dress?

The life lesson we can gather from this 1950 Disney film is to sit down, shut up, and bloom where you were planted years ago. Oh, and don’t be upset when you realize that most of your petals are brown.

Cinderella, you better check your dreams. You might be your daddy’s daughter, but he was no king. And in this house, you’re the maid. And the scullery girl. And the laundress. So quit feeling sorry for yourself, and go mop something. Again.

Forget Your Origins and Deal With Your Downward Spiral Now – “The Lion King” (1994)

In Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007), Gusteau told Remy not to look down on himself of limit himself because of his origin, but he was just being nice. After all, Remy was nothing more than a filthy rat–and a delusional one at that. (Remember the hallucinations and his grandeur in thinking he had some future in the kitchen? As a rat?!)

remy in ratatouille
Credit: Pixar

In a story with some similarities to Remy’s, Disney’s The Lion King sees Mufasa attempting to teach Simba never to forget from whence he came. The 1994 Disney film depicts an egregiously impressionable, easily deceived, and ignorant Simba who serves as easy prey to his uncle, Scar, who doubles as the villain in the storyline–and a power-hungry one to boot! Scar had it easy as he escaped blame for his brother’s death, pinning it on Simba with no qualms whatsoever.

Can you really blame Scar for his feelings? The punk cub had skirted in ahead of him in line for the throne. Framing him for a terrible crime and making sure he faced permanent banishment from Pride Rock was the only way Scar could have his rightful place as king.

Scar leaning in toward Simba in the canyon
Credit: Disney

As a result, Simba is forced to spend years of his life roaming the savanna like the children of Israel wandering the wilderness–until he finally learns the truth about his uncle’s indiscretion–and, ultimately, about himself. Understandably, Simba finds the courage (and probably the rage-filled determination) to return to the now-disgraced Pride Rock and attempt to regain his rightful place as king. But Simba would really have done better to stay in the wilderness and let bygones be bygones.

Think about it: there’s not a chance in the Sahara Desert that Simba would actually have been acquitted of his alleged crimes. Who would have believed him at that point? That’s right: no one. And even if he were to be acquitted by some miracle, it would have taken Simba the rest of his own circle of life to get the word out to everyone that he was, in fact, not responsible for Mufasa’s death. And then he’d still have to see whether or not everyone believed him.

hakuna matata
Credit: Disney

The sad–but true–life lesson people should glean from this film is akin to the one Simba should have learned: Simba, you’re EXACTLY the same as what you have become–not more. So, it’s time for you to focus on the things that might support you for whatever time you have left. Perhaps some small business opportunities with Timon and Pumbaa, and that’s assuming they want anything to do with you anymore since you ditched them and ran back to Pride Rock, and they honestly probably think you’re a murderer, too.

Look, it’s not fair, but it’s life. The circle of life. So get on with it and quit crying and talking to the night sky.

True Beauty = What You Look Like on the Outside – “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)

In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, bibliophile Belle takes a shot at standing against judging the proverbial book by its cover. But how real is that in today’s world? What exactly was Belle’s message, anyway?

Illustration of belle from "beauty and the beast" joyfully swinging on a ladder in a library filled with books, with a small bust of a man on a shelf in the background.
Credit: Walt Disney Animation

Are we supposed to believe that Belle actually fell in love with Beast? Since the history of mankind began, there’s never been a name more befitting for any individual. Beast was nothing more than that–a ghastly beast with a beastly temper and a monstrous appearance.

The “tale as old as time” might more appropriately be deemed the “wool over the eyes as old as time.” The message about true beauty being found on the inside, regardless of the “book’s cover,” is a clever ruse at best. Never mind what you are on the inside–will anyone ever really know, anyway? It’s a simple game of keeping up appearances. That “inner beauty game” is a massive time-waster, and even if you’re unbelievably gorgeous on the inside, you’re still not guaranteed anyone will accept you, are you?

Belle (Paige O'Hara) and Beast (Robby Benson) in 'Beauty and the Beast'
Credit: Disney

Look out for number one and make your superficial beauty your #1 priority. What’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like you’ll be cursed by an enchantress or anything, right?

Never Mind the Voices in Your Head, Even If They Sound a Lot Like Jiminy Cricket – “Pinocchio” (1940)

Disney’s Pinocchio seems to attempt to encourage viewers to listen to their hearts and blindly follow–with reckless abandon–the little voices in their heads masquerading as their “conscience.” But over the course of history, those who’ve listened to the voices in their heads have ultimately brought demise to others or been met with their own demise.

The blue fairy raises her magic wand towards pinocchio, who looks at her attentively, inside a cozy, dimly lit room filled with pottery and beams of light.
Credit: Walt Disney Animation

And if we’re honest, Pinocchio’s the one who could use a good old-fashioned life lesson. Desperately unhappy with his lot in life (and intent on refusing to bloom where and how he was planted), the little wooden puppet proposed that he could see the future. He was only days old when he made the discernment that the proverbial grass would be greener if he could trade his wooden legs for legs with skin on them. And if you finished the film, you’ll remember that the puppet-child couldn’t stay out of trouble to save his soul–or to gain his skin.

A colorful assortment of variously styled cuckoo clocks hanging on a wooden wall, each featuring unique designs and characters, from disney's animated environment.
Credit: Walt Disney Archives

The voices in your head are not your friend, and they don’t sound anything like Jiminy Cricket. So Pinocchio would do far better to stay where he is and strike up some convos with the cuckoos and little figurines in Gepetto’s clocks. Surely they could benefit from some new friends and experiences.

On the Brink of Your Miracle? Probably Not, So Go Find a New Sport – “Finding Nemo” (2002)

Finding Nemo should have been titled Dory’s Story, as it’s Dory who actually carries the whole story. But it’s not likely Pixar thought anyone would take direction from a little blue fish with dementia who isn’t sure where she left her this or that–or whether she has gills or lungs. Good call, Pixar.

The sad truth about the animated film is that Nemo had actually been Dory’s friend, he would have found the time and courage to tell her the truth: that she had absolutely no reason to keep swimming and that she would have done better to find a new sport in the first place. An absent mind, few friends, and nary a singular memory of her family–how could such a scenario actually lead to Dory being the true hero in a story about a missing clownfish in the expanse of the open ocean?

Dory from Finding Nemo
Credit: Pixar

Fifteen minutes into the film, they should have stopped spinning their wheels (or flapping their fins) and instead pursued a new pastime, dream, or adventure. Somehow, the storyline would have been more believable. After all, it’s not likely either one of them was actually on the brink of their miracle.

Use Your Words to Spew Unkindness to All Those Around You – “Bambi” (1941)

In Disney’s 1941 film, Bambi, it’s Bambi’s friend Thumper who often repeats his mother’s words of caution to him:If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.”

Meet the Men who Voiced Bambi and Thumper in Disney's 1942 Classic Bambi - The Credits
Credit: Walt Disney Animation

While that might be a pleasant idea, was Thumper actually supposed to grow up and allow others to say and do as they please while he sits idly by, keeping 100% of his thoughts to himself, simply because the truth might not be fun to hear? Again, it’s a nice sentiment but hardly a plausible way of doing things as a part of everyday life.

Is it Thumper’s fault–or anyone else’s–that tongues are double-edged swords, and we seem to always use the same edge? Today’s world is a free one in which thoughts, impressions, and observations should flow freely and often, right? It’s a free world where opinions, impressions, teasings, and other forms of verbal “observations” should flow freely.

And now is as good a time as any to point out that the name “Bambi” had many Disney fans thinking the film was about a little girl deer till they were in their late teens. Sometimes there’s simply no way to say something nice. Sorry, not sorry.


Thankfully, most Disney fans are likely not quite as cynical, negative, or skeptical as those who might have spewed the aforementioned observations about some of Disney’s and Pixar’s films. The actual truth is that many a life lesson can be learned from watching some of Disney’s most beloved films. Perhaps it’s why they’re so beloved after all.

in Disney, Featured, Movies, Movies & TV, What If

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