Disney and other companies making animations targeting children have often been discredited for being racist. However, numerous animations from different companies and targeting different demographics are blatantly racist. It’s almost more common for animations targeting adults to include racists bits than it is for them not to include racism. Jews are the butts of jokes in 30% of South Park episodes. Despite how diverse The Simpsons cast is, it is also one of the most stereotyped.
That’s not to say that children’s animations are exempt from racism–far from it, for that fact. Looney Toons and Disney productions have included racist undertones, and some not quite so under, since their beginning. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, everyone has heard how in Disney’s Aladdin the protagonists, Aladdin and Jasmine, appear pretty generically Caucasian (if a bit tan) while it is only the villian, Jafar, who actually looks Middle Eastern. Plus then there’s the lyrics of the song Arabian Nights: “Where they cut off your ear / if they don’t like your face / It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home”. In Lady and the Tramp the Siamese cats even fill an Asian caricature (slanted eyes, buck teeth, over-exaggerated accents), as did the Siamese cat in Aristocats (and the lyrics from “Everybody wants to be a cat: “Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Yong / Fortune cookies always wrong). Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Fantasia–all of these Disney animations contain blatant racist references and characters. MGM’s Tom and Jerry featured a repeating character “Mammy Two Shoes” that was beyond racist. Even Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. was critiqued to have caricatures that bordered on racist.
Some critics rationalize that the racist tones of animations are just a product of their time, since racism was so rampant in the United States throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s. For newer animations, they rationalize that they aren’t being racist but rather they are satires. One complaint is that animated films are teaching children racial stereotypes before they even learn to read. Even in Rio 2, where the main characters are Brazilian parrots, the two main characters are voiced by white actors while the comic releifs are nearly all voiced by African-American actors. In The Lion King Scar is the only character who has a different accent (British, while the rest are pretty clearly American) and is also the only darker lion, despite being the brother of Mufasa. Disney purposefully used a voice actor with a different ethnic accent to help distinguish who was the “bad guy”. This is not the only time Disney used a British accent to denote who the villain was in an animation, as Jafar was also the only character with a British accent in Aladdin.