Adult Topics You Never Noticed In Disney Movies

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By Holly Whitman.

We all have a spot in our hearts for our classic and beloved Disney movies — movies that we spent hours upon hours watching with our juice boxes when we were young.

But somehow, we enjoy watching these movies still, as adults. Perhaps this is because they hold so much nostalgic value, but it’s also for another reason. Disney perfectly crafted these movies so that children can enjoy them as funny and musical adventures and so that adults can enjoy them as relatable stories about life, love and lessons learned.


Racism is a theme that is tackled in a few Disney movies. While children might understand that some people look different, they’ll need to grow up to understand these themes fully.

One character in “Dumbo” is a crow named Jim Crow. You didn’t know the significance of this until you went through middle school history class, but now you understand that this is a historically and racially significant name because of Jim Crow laws. That these crows were also portrayed in the movie as lazy and foolish is not a coincidence.

“The Lady and the Tramp” features a pair of evil Siamese cats, complete with offensively slanted eyes and broken English. In “The AristoCats,” members of a traveling band called the Alley Cats are a host of ethnic stereotypes, including a womanizing Italian cat, a Russian cat modeled after Stalin and a Chinese cat with buckteeth who sings about fortune cookies.

In a more positive light, “Pocahontas” tells of the love between Pocahontas and John Smith, showing that we can love those different from us. This movie tells the story of fear, racism and the importance of seeing past race. For better or for worse, you won’t fully pick up on all these messages until you’re a little older.

Growing Up

Disney movies show the scary and often heartbreaking truth of growing up. These messages begin to get real to adults as we ourselves grow up and can relate to these themes.

One of the most heartbreaking and real scenes is in “Tangled,” after Rapunzel sees the floating lights on her birthday — her life dream. She expresses sadness that she fulfilled her dream and now she doesn’t know what to do next. This will probably hit a cord with every single adult who watches, as we’ve all been through the experience of reaching one goal only to be left with a feeling of emptiness and fear about the future.

“Peter Pan” is all about staying a kid. As children, we are often too excited and ready to grow up quickly, not appreciating our childhood for what it is. Looking back as adults, we’ve all had moments in which we wanted to go back to a simpler time and just stay there. This is why the story of Peter Pan often makes more sense to an adult than to a child.

Breaking Boundaries

Being somebody that the world is telling you not to be is an experience explored in Disney movies that might ring truer with adults. With the world constantly telling us who to be, these movies send us a message that, sometimes, you can just be you.

“Mulan” is a great example of this. As a woman, she could never get away with being a warrior. She does what she has to do to be the person she wants to be. She breaks gender boundaries and, in the end, is hugely successful.

In a more recent Disney release, “Wreck-It Ralph” tells the story of a computer game character who is supposed to be a bad guy but wants to be a good guy. He goes on a journey to become a good guy and break out of what his game is telling him to be. This heartwarming message will teach children something, but it teaches adults something too.


While children may feel sad at some of the more heartbreaking moments of Disney movies, adults can understand the subtle ways that Disney handles loss in their stories.

While watching “The Lion King,” it would be hard to find a dry eye after Simba discovers his dead father. Still, most children were sad for that scene and then moved on. Adults can understand on a deeper level that this loss affects Simba in huge ways for the rest of the movie. His inability to commit to anything and his desire to run away can be traced back to the loss of his father. The feelings that occur after a tragic loss are things that we can better understand as adults, and Disney portrays this very well.

Disney movies are beloved by all — there’s no doubt about that. There’s a reason why adults love cuddling up with their children to watch a Disney classic! Disney does a fantastic job of making their movies relevant to children and adults alike, creating meaningful and heartwarming films that will be cherished forever.

Watching Disney movies as an adult is a different experience than watching them as a kid, but one that is an equally amazing ride.

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