Disney Needs ‘Course Correction’ Away From Political Messaging, Says ‘Little Mermaid’ and ‘Aladdin’ Director

Animated filmmaker John Musker — who directed such Disney films as “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Hercules” — called out the Walt Disney Company for prioritizing political messaging over story in its recent films.

“I think they need to do a course correction a bit in terms of putting the message secondary, behind entertainment and compelling story and engaging characters,” Musker told Spanish outlet El País at this year’s Animayo International Summit in Gran Canaria, Spain.

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“The classic Disney films didn’t start out trying to have a message. They wanted you to get involved in the characters and the story and the world, and I think that’s still the heart of it,” Musker added. “You don’t have to exclude agendas, but you have to first create characters who you sympathize with and who are compelling.”

Musker has collaborated with fellow director Ron Clements on several Disney animated features, including “The Great Mouse Detective” (1986), “The Little Mermaid” (1989), “Aladdin” (1992), “Hercules” (1997), “Treasure Planet” (2002) and “Moana” (2016). Musker and Clements also helmed 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog,” which was met with mixed reception over the depiction of Disney’s first Black princess.

“We weren’t trying to be woke, although I understand the criticism,” Musker said of “The Princess and the Frog.”

The animated filmmaker then shared his thoughts on Disney’s live-action remakes. “Companies are always like, ‘How do we reduce our risk? They like this, right? We’ll just do it again and sell it to them in a different form,'” he said. “Or they think, ‘Well, we could make it better.’”

He specifically criticized the 2023 live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid,” saying, “They didn’t play up the father-daughter story, and that was the heart of the movie, in a way. And the crab — you could look at live animals in a zoo and they have more expression, like with ‘The Lion King.’

“That’s one of the basic things about Disney, is the appeal,” he continued. “That’s what animation does best.”

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