Former Disney Screenwriter Says Earlier Movies Weren’t “Trying To Be Woke”

Ariel The Little Mermaid 1989
Credit: Disney

For nearly 80 years, Walt Disney Animation has been creating films that hold a special place in our hearts. They have brought some of the most memorable princesses to life with releases like Cinderella (1950) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). Disney animators have created some beautiful friendships and iconic love stories with films like The Fox and the Hound (1981), Lilo & Stitch (2002), The Lion King (1994), and so many more.

stitch, lilo, nani surfing from lilo and stitch

Credit: Disney

Related: Everything We Know About Disney‚Äôs Live-Action ‚ÄėLilo & Stitch‚Äô

For decades, Walt Disney Animation Studios has set the bar for animated films. Unfortunately, for the past few years, the company has been struggling to find success in both its animated films and its live-action films. Encanto, which was released in 2021 was a hit, but since then, Disney’s animated films, as well as its Pixar films, like Lightyear (2022), Strange World (2022), Elemental (2023), and Wish (2023) have tanked at the domestic box office.

However, Elemental and Wish did see a surge in popularity when they were released on Disney+.

wade and ember Elemental 2023

Credit: Disney

Former Disney screenwriter and animator John Musker was asked about Disney’s string of recent failures. Musker worked for the Mouse House for decades as an animator, a screenwriter, and even a director. He is one of the major creative minds behind more than a dozen Disney films, including¬†The Rescuers Down Under¬†(1990),¬†Hercules¬†(1997),¬†The Great Mouse Detective¬†(1986),¬†The Little Mermaid¬†(1989),¬†The Princess and the Frog (2009), and¬†Moana (2016).

Musker said that he thinks the company is focusing too much on sending a message and not focusing enough on creating characters fans will care about.

princess and the frog

Credit: Disney

Related: Could Disney Hand Drawn Animation Make a Comeback?

In an interview with Spanish newspaper El País, Musker said:

We weren’t trying to be woke, although I understand the criticism. 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. You don’t have to exclude agendas, but you have to first create characters who you sympathize with and who are compelling. 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.

Bernard, Bianca, and Jake The Rescuers Down Under

Credit: Disney

Moana was Musker’s first foray into the world of digital animation, and he admitted that creating the story of Disney’s first Polynesian princess was not easy. This was primarily because there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

Moana was a very difficult project. It was our idea, but with Pixar and John Lasseter, our story kept changing hands. In the ’90s, we had Jeffrey [Katzenberg]. He was an emperor, you know. But there weren’t 10 Jeffreys. Now, you have too many people to satisfy, before we didn’t have 15 directors telling you how to make the movie. But in some ways, they were right, it was a good thing.

moana rowing in "How far I'll go"

Credit: Disney

Related: Disney Has Found Its New ‚ÄėMoana‚Äô Star!

You can read Musker’s full interview with El Pa√≠s here.

With the company’s most recent struggles with new films, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the company will be leaning more into live-action remakes and sequels instead of creating wholly new stories. This year, Disney will release Inside Out 2 in June and Moana 2 in November. In 2025, the studio will release¬†Zootopia 2.

Do you think Mr. Musker is right? Is Disney trying too hard to send a message? Let us know in the comments!

About Krysten Swensen

A born and bred New England girl living the Disney life in Southern California. I love to read, to watch The Golden Girls, and love everything to do with Disney and Universal. I also love to share daily doses of Disney on my Disney Instagram @BrazzleDazzleDisney!

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