Everyone loves Disney movies, but there are some historical mistakes Disney made in some of their biggest films. Some of them are, shall we say, not that big. Others, however, are pretty massive.
Disney is known for its continuity. They are touted as having the films and parks that pay attention to historical marks. They obviously attempt to get things correct. Sometimes, it takes them a very long period of time for a ride or movie due to this historical stuff alone!
Sadly, they are not perfect. This is the only reason articles like this exist!
To be fair, a lot of their movies come from relatively old Public Domain stories and folktales. Many of these stories date back well over 100 years.
In fact, there are 3 main people Disney used for their movies.
The first two are Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Carl, the Brothers Grimm. These men collected several German and European folktales and organized them in books.
Among these stories are the major hits Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Snow White, Hansel & Gretal, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, & Rapunzel.
The biggest major author, not collector, Disney used was a man by the name of Hans Christian Anderson. He’s most famous for writing the original Little Mermaid, as well as The Princess & The Pea, The Ugly Duckling, and The Emperor’s New Clothes. In fact, his story Snow Queen may be the biggest today. It is what Disney’s Frozen is based on.
The rest comes from books and Ancient Texts like Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, The Jungle Book, and many more. Due to their age, it can be hard to be completely accurate historically. Thus, we found several examples of Disney’s historical mistakes you can see below!
Beauty and the BeastBased on when the original fairy tale was written, it is safe to assume that Beauty and the Beast took place sometime in 18th century France.
Keeping that in mind, when Belle sings that she lives in a “poor provincial town,” it would imply that people would not be so happy. Therefore, singing “bonjour” to each other like it was nothing seems weird. They most likely would be yelling screaming and struggling to get the day started.
According to this article from the Christian Science Monitor, life wouldn’t be so easy. Each day would be a big scramble to get clothes and food made so they could survive and maybe make some extra money.
Also, they didn’t have showers, so several people did not bathe in any way for days on end.
AladdinAladdin is such a cool story. It borrows from the Arabian Nights tale and mixes it with the devilish genius of William Shakespeare’s Othello. It’s storytelling genius really. A few changes had to be made to the setting, however. This was mostly due to tensions overseas within the Middle East, where the Arabian Nights story was set around.
The idea was that they’d put in another name in place of places throughout Iran, Iraq, or Syria. This is why the “City of Agrabah” was used instead of one of their notable ancient cities. Yet it is STILL placed in the Middle East.
Historical mistakes that Disney made here mostly surround the area and time. Most of the architecture is mainly Indian instead of Middle Eastern. On top of this, most of the clothing screams Indian and not Middle Eastern as well. This is especially problematic for the time period Aladdin is supposedly set.
On top of this, Teach Mideast claimed that in the Arabian Nights story, Aladdin is actually Chinese and not Indian or Middle Eastern.
There’s a whole lot here than can be criticized if we really want to, but it’s a great story with a strong moral compass. What more could we want?
Princess and the Frog
Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation for Princess and the Frog was kind of a shocker.
The film offered a lot to love. The animation was beautiful, music was enticing, the story was captivating, women empowered, hilarity ensued, and the bad guy was crazy cool.
The sad part is that it was set in New Orleans in the early 1900s. There are some things that point to this in the film, but ultimately this meant one cruel and unnecessary law led to two historical mistakes that Disney made.
Jim Crow laws were in effect.
Yeah, so there goes the happy ending. Tiana can no longer legally own a restaurant and interracial marriage was illegal in the United States.
It’s a super messed part of history nobody is proud of, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thing. In fact, this is a great story to look at today just to see what life “could” have been. You know, if America did not have their head up their rear-ends. This movie offers a perspective of what we could have seen in a better society, without racial or sexist bias.
The wondrous tale of the wooden puppet wanting to be a real boy is just as captivating now as it was when it first came out on film in 1940. Pinocchio is darker than some other movies from its time as well.
Besides the fact that donkey scene – yeah, that one you still have nightmares about – was, and still is, one of the most terrifying things to occur on screen. There is one pretty big historical error that gets bookbinding nerds up in arms.
The film is based in 1883, as that is when the original story was written. However, the exact time is never specified. If that’s the case, then the opening scene of the book of Pinocchio opening and leading to the film is wrong.
Bookbinding in the 19th century was reserved for Bibles, Prayer Books, and Journals during this time. Pinocchio the novel would not have these.
Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks was a cool movie if you’re into the history of Disney and/or movies being turned into books because it covered both. It revolves around Walt Disney’s attempt to get P.L. Travers to let him make a movie out of her book, Mary Poppins.
Sadly, there are a few historical mistakes Disney made in this sort of docudrama. Walt Disney never actually went to Disneyland with P.L. Travers.
For some reason, this was still a scene in the film. Conspiracy? Possibly!
Perhaps, Disney just controlling the narrative and choosing to show what they wanted to show? We do feel that a lot of this movie was certainly attempting to re-write history surrounding Travers and Mary Poppins.
Another big mistake was that, while many loved Mary Poppins the movie, Travers was not a fan. In Saving Mr. Banks, we see Travers in the theater after the conclusion of Mary Poppins. She is seemingly joyous over what Disney did for her book. In reality, she was saddened at what it turned out to be.
Well, we can say that both the book and movie are terrific, yet they are slightly different.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Obviously, Atlantis was never discovered, but that would ruin the story to point that out.
The historical mistake Disney made in Atlantis: The Lost Empire revolves around the actual year the movie was based in. It is set in 1914, however, during the opening scenes, the viewer is shown Coelacanths.
Coelacanths were believed to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1938. There is the idea that this was part of the plan and the Coelacanths were a red herring to the finding of Atlantis even though people believed it to be extinct too.
Who knows though? Disney has, in all fairness, thrown stuff in like this from a story perspective. This is even a trick typically used in movies or TV shows within the comic book world.
The writers of this story actually have a lot of connections to this area too. Writers on this movie include big names in the TV & Movie industry like Joss Wheaton & Bryce Zabal. Both are known for their work on Marvel or DC Comics shows/films. Tab Murphy is the main screenwriter of the film, known for his work originally on Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame films for Disney.
He’d go on to make animated movies for DC like Batman/Superman: Apocolypse and Batman: Year One. It is not a shock that the Atlantis movie felt different compared to the others. These writers knew how to play with our emotions!
The 2000 film Dinosaur is an interesting story. It’s been watched numerous times by children all over the world. That includes this writer, as I was super into dinosaurs at the time of its release.
Sadly, the historical mistakes Disney made are kind of central to the plot. Dinosaurs and lemurs never walked the earth together.
Dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. The first lemur or at least lemur-like bones found have dated Lemurs to be as old as 60 million years.
It is important to point this out, as a lot of movies tend to mix up when certain Dinosaurs or Pre-Historic creatures lived. The main Dinosaurs we know such as the T-Rex existed in an era known as the Cretaceous Period. The Lemur came around in an era known as the Paleocene Epoch Period.
Plus, as you may or may not know, most of the major dinosaurs are believed to actually have had feathers and did not look like many reptiles do now. This was noticed when many fossils were found with some feather imprints near or on them. The closest living cousin to Dinosaurs are birds for a reason.
The movie is cool, but we cannot ignore historical inaccuracy!
Everyone loves a good anthropomorphic animal, but no movie is safe today. Even Robin Hood had historical mistakes Disney made in it.
Robin Hood takes place under the reign of King Richard.
Of course, Richard’s reign was from 1189-1199. Therefore, it’s a safe bet to say this movie takes place in that time frame.
That means there are two big problems here. First and foremost, farthing coins weren’t minted until 1222. This is the main currency used in the story by Disney.
On top of this, the sport of Badminton, even in its earliest form, didn’t show up in the world until the 1600s. Meaning, they are roughly 100 to over 400 years off with some of their material here.
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One of the greatest film scores ever doesn’t make the film more historically accurate. Jane says she wants to introduce Tarzan to Charles Darwin and Rudyard Kipling.
Both are famous and lived sometime in the late 1800s. Their relevance timelines just don’t quite add up though.
Darwin died in 1882. Kipling didn’t get famous until 1889.
The case could be made that the film takes place in 1880 or 1881. However, it can’t be earlier because the typewriter is from the early 1880s.
Nonetheless, the argument could be made that Jane knew Kipling before he was famous, as the character worked within a similar world. Meanwhile, Darwin was still alive for another year if we can somehow place the movie in that 1881 period.
One concept that many have used to make sense of this move was that Disney was trying to say Jane wanted to introduce Tarzan to their ideas. However, while this might have been a good idea for her to do…the wording is just too distinct to say that this was, indeed, her plan.
It was likely thrown in because many parents knew of both men, especially adults who watched the movie with their children.
Frozen is a fantastic movie and everyone that says otherwise is just annoyed at “Let It Go” being played on repeat since the movie came out. If we’re being fair, it is a lot.
The story was really cool, and there is a case that Kristof’s actions of bringing Anna to Hans was an act of love and should have saved her. That’s a rant for another time.
Yet there is a pretty big historical mistake Disney made here too.
The costume director said she designed all the clothing to be reminiscent of the 1840s Western European clothing. This gives us an implication of the timeframe the film took place.
That means, they should have guns by then. On top of this, the vocabulary Elsa uses in “Let It Go” shouldn’t have existed at that time.
The reasoning is that Elsa sings about “frozen fractals all around!!!” Yet the word ‘fractals’ didn’t actually come into vernacular until 1975. Thus, she’s decades off from such a word even being known for her to use.
Looking at historical mistakes Disney made in Tangled has to have some preexistent truths established.
The first is that Tangled, Frozen, and Tarzan are all in the same cinematic universe. This is built by some fan theories that were confirmed by some of the creators of the film.
One major point is that Anna and Elsa’s parents were headed to Rapunzel’s wedding when they died. This was proved false with the creation of Frozen 2.
Regardless, if you pause the film, or just pay close attention to the gates as guests finally enter, Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder are among them.
That little aspect alone means that the events of Tangled take place before Frozen. If that’s the case, then it’s believed that Tangled takes place sometime before 1800. This is thanks to Frozen 2 proving that it could have taken place well before Frozen.
All this comes to point out that matches weren’t invented until 1805. That means Rapunzel couldn’t have used matches in the movie to light her candles.
Sleeping Beauty is a great story as well. It has a few lines that are truly hilarious.
One such example is when Prince Phillip says to the king that he needs to quit living in the past and “it’s the 14th century now.”
This is such a millennial line to throw at your parents. Yet the big thing about this is that it now gives us an almost exact time period to help us date the film.
This just proves how ridiculous it was later in the movie to have Aurora and Prince Phillip do the waltz together. The waltz style of dance wasn’t invented until the 1830s.
PocahontasPocahontas has some amazing music and is really pretty to look at. It’s one of the first movies Disney used their newer 90s style of design on, which really paid off.
The downside is that this movie has very little historically accurate information. In fact, there are websites dedicated to the misinformation that is being spread with this movie.
The movie uses the story written by John Smith himself. He writes it with a slant that makes him look better than he actually was.
That doesn’t make it a bad movie, but there are several historical mistakes Disney made throughout.
The biggest standouts are that the movie portrays Pocahontas as a grown adult. She was only about 11 years old when John Smith was around and within her village. The reason Smith used her name in his book was that Pocahantas happened to be the daughter of the Chief, making her very important.
Overall, the romance between Pocahontas and John Smith is completely bogus. They likely never truly had many conversations. Plus, she was incredibly young and was even promised to another boy in their tribe, whom she loved her much.
Sadly, she also didn’t really have a happy ending like the story shows.
The Native Americans never really had a good relationship with the Europeans. Pocahontas was one that felt this the most. She was sold into marriage to John Rolfe and taken to England where she died at the age of 21. She passed due to European sicknesses that Native Americans were not equipped to take on due to those sicknesses not existing in North America until the “White Man” came.
The reality was a lot more brutal than Disney made it out to be.
There are a ton of historical mistakes that Disney made in Mulan. There are so many that we may not be able to go over all of them. However, it all pretty much comes down to their mash-up of time periods within Chinese history. They’d pretty much act as if it all happened at the same time.
One of their historical mistakes is pretty glaring to Chinese historians.
The film states that its set in the Han Dynasty of China. While this time period was real, Mulan was not set in this era.
The Huns were not an enemy of the Han dynasty either. In fact, they never directly fought against China. On top of this, most of China’s Great Wall was not constructed at the time. They had several original walls but the actual “Great Wall” was nowhere near constructed to the level this film shows.
Funny enough, China never truly finished constructing it completely around the nation at the time.
On top of this, the Emperor likely would not have been in place at the time. Of course, this all depends on if we’re using the Hun Dynasty time period or the Emperor’s time period. Neither existed at the same time, so there is an issue regardless.
Hunchback Of Notre Dame
IMDB has a neat page for each film called “Goofs.”
It’s where people highlight the goofs of films.
There’s quite a bit that most people don’t notice. There’s also a lot that people wouldn’t do the research to learn about.
However, there is one group of individuals (especially if love a good laugh and want to go on a YouTube tunnel for about an hour…or five) that gets particularly fired up about The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Notre Dame is known for being an absolutely beautiful cathedral.
Of course, when an architect watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they naturally noticed all the historical mistakes Disney made regarding the cathedral itself. This would get out and people got fired up about it. To be fair to them, they made a good argument!
If you want a good laugh, go down that YouTube rabbit hole.
Hercules (Bonus For Being Mythologically Inaccurate)
Surprise! This is a bonus offering because a couple of historical inaccuracies could potentially be explained away or debated.
Also, this is a mythological inaccuracy instead of historical. We like to add variety at #ManVs!
For those unaware, Hercules is a Demigod. To be a Demigod you must be Half God and Half-Human. This does not count if you are the son or daughter of two Gods and are randomly sent to Earth. Well, in the case of Disney’s Hercules, you’re taken by two devil-like creatures.
Another pretty glaring mythology issue that Disney chose to alter a bit is that the revolves around his marriage to Megara. However, it is said that he brutally murders her and his kids. In some portions of the story, this is altered where Hercules was actually drugged and a Lion killed his family. When Herc wakes up, he has blood on him and he cannot remember anything, making him assume he did this.
This is what ultimately puts him on his infamous “Labors Quest.”
Of course, a lot of this was difficult to put into a movie for kids. Disney could not really get everything in there, especially when they knew it would not work for younger viewers. Thus, they cut it down to fit what they wanted. Do keep in mind that Hercules is based on a myth.
Therefore, if one myth is changed to fit a less violent myth…it may not matter much. In the end, it’s still a myth.