Walt Disney Co. no doubt expected kudos for breaking racial barriers in its holiday hit, “The Princess and the Frog,” and that praise has come from some quarters. But the entertainment giant also finds itself receiving stinging criticism from conservative evangelical Christians on a Web warpath. Hollywoodjesus.com said the animated feature’s preoccupation with voodoo, black magic, bloody amulets and Ouija boards was “too dark and extreme for this kind of kids’ film.” Christiananswers.net rated the movie “Offensive”; citing a Tarot card reading, soul transfer and implied reincarnation, the site called the film “demonic.” A reviewer for the respected magazine Christianity Today charged that the movie was “disturbing,” with a “hollow, thoughtless core.” These and other essays provoked furious debate involving hundreds of Internet responses, likely echoed in evangelical moms’ groups in churches nationwide. Disney declined to respond directly to the criticism, saying in an email to me: “The Princess and the Frog is a lighthearted musical fairytale set in New Orleans during the jazz age featuring Disney’s first African American Princess, which audiences and critics around the world have enthusiastically embraced.”
What is most interesting about the current controversy is that it’s not new. It’s been going on for more than 70 years, beginning with the release of Disney’s first full-length animated movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” in 1938. Reviewers at the time voiced similar worries about the dark magic in that groundbreaking feature.
Walt Disney always called himself a Christian, but his biographers agree that he was skeptical about organized religion and rarely set foot inside a church. He insisted that any narrow portrayal of Protestant Christianity (or any religion, for that matter) in his animated features was box-office poison, especially in lucrative, overseas markets. More broadly, Walt’s fear was that explicit religiosity might needlessly exclude young viewers, while a watered-down version might at the same time offend the devout. Yet the studio’s founding genius also understood that, from the ancient Greeks to the Brothers Grimm, successful storytellers have needed supernatural intervention agents to resolve plots. So, Walt decided, Disney’s cartoon protagonists would appeal not to Judeo-Christian religion but to magic, which was more palatable around the ticket-buying world…..