With dozens of streaming platforms at our fingertips these days, it's easy to stumble across the movies that encompassed our childhoods — and press play. The Little Mermaid on Disney+, Free Willy on Netflix, The Flinstones on Hulu.
Maybe you want to rewatch a film you have fond memories of, or perhaps share it with your own child now that you're a parent. But before you do, remember that times have drastically changed since you were a wee one sitting in front of an impossibly heavy 32-inch Sony TV.
But like so many other things from our youth — from pop music to Barbie dolls — a lot of the movies you loved are now considered at least problematic if not outright racist and sexist.
So before you go snuggling up on the couch with your little, check out this definitive list of your favorite childhood movies that have aged terribly, and why you should think twice — or have thoughtful conversations — before letting your kids watch them.
Peter Pan (1953)
Peter Pan features harmful racial and gender stereotypes with its problematic depictions of Native Americans and women.
The story of the little boy who never grows up offensively portrays Native Americans as wild, pipe-smoking, uneducated individuals. (Don't even get us started on the song "What Made the Red Man Red?") And misogynistic undertones run through the animated film when it comes to the characters of Wendy, Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily and Mrs. Darling. For example, Peter tells Wendy within the first half hour of the film: "Girls talk too much.” The young girl looks down and goes right back to sewing on the shadow of “the lost boy.” Not to mention she cares for her brothers, John and Michael, throughout their entire journey to Neverland.
Peter Pan may never grow up, but we did.
Bee Movie (2007)
Bee Movie is not a kids movie. Or it is, but it shouldn't be.
Jerry Seinfeld himself, who voices the movie's lead Barry B. Benson, recently apologized for the 2007 film's sexual innuendos on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He admitted that the tone of the kids' movie was off and that the romance between Barry and human Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger) was extremely uncomfortable.
“[It] really was not intentional, but after it came out, I realized this is really not appropriate for children, is it? Because the bee seemed to have a thing for the girl," Seinfeld said. "And we don't really want to pursue that as an idea in children's entertainment.”
At this point, most Disney fans know that Dumbo is not a movie about a cute, flying elephant. It’s incredibly racist and violent, and not at all appropriate for young children.
First, there are the crows. For decades, viewers, critics and scholars have pointed out how these characters — and their leader, named "Jim Crow" — evoke minstrel show stereotypes. Then there's the "Song of Roustabouts," which features lyrics like, "When other folks have gone to bed / We slave until we’re almost dead / We’re happy-hearted roustabouts," over visuals of faceless Black men working in the rain at night. It's truly disgusting.
There's also Dumbo's hallucination scene. And the circus bullying and violence. The fact that this movie is still available to stream on Disney+ — even with the new, live-action version, which aimed to "fix" the movie's history — is baffling.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Little girls everywhere idolize Ariel, a 16-year-old mermaid who yearns to be human and marry handsome Prince Eric. See a problem here?
As a teen, Ariel is subjected to the male gaze throughout The Little Mermaid. She also gives up who she is and literally loses her voice to marry the first man she sees. Not to mention she's manipulated by an older woman: sea witch Ursula.
It might be best to have a conversation about female empowerment with your children after watching this Disney classic.
Antz, DreamWorks Animation's first project, was a box office success when it was released in 1998, but features violent battle scenes and inappropriate language. Within the first few moments of the film, two ants are sitting at a bar drinking "aphid beer" when one asks, "What are you bitchin' about?" Not exactly PG.
The movie has also come into question for its casting of Woody Allen as lead ant Z. Allen heads up the star-studded voice cast, which includes Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Dan Akroyd and Danny Glover, and plays a neurotic ant who tries to break from his totalitarian society while trying to win the affection of Princess Bala (Stone). But after allegations erupted in 2017 that he sexually molested his adoptive daughter, Dylan Farrow, his connection to the children's film became disturbing. Allen is also married to Soon-Yi Previn, who is 35 years his junior and the adopted daughter of his former partner Mia Farrow, making the romantic storyline between Z and Princess Bala pretty flagrant.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Since its debut over 60 years ago, some aspects of Lady and the Tramp have aged poorly, namely the racial stereotypes scattered throughout the film. There's the pair of Siamese cats, whose depiction of the Asian community is egregious, as well as one-dimensional characters including Pedro the chihuahua, Boris the Russian wolfhound, Bull the English bulldog, Dachsie the German dachshund, and Italian waiters Tony and Joe.
As with a handful of its films, Disney has added a content warning at the top of the film on its streaming platform, saying it includes "negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures."
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
There are many reasons the Grimm fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is problematic, none bigger than the Disney movie’s depiction of consent. In the story, Snow White is poisoned by an evil queen and falls into a comatose state. But, “true love’s kiss” breaks the spell when Prince Charming arrives while Snow White is still sleeping. She wakes up and they live happily ever after, despite the fact that she barely spoke to the prince before he kisses her without consent.
That’s only a part of why this film is not suitable for young children. As actor Peter Dinklage recently pointed out when he heard the news of Disney’s live-action remake starring Latina actress Rachel Zegler, we should not be promoting stories that feature harmful stereotypes.
“Take a step back and look at what you’re doing there. It makes no sense to me,” the Game of Thrones star, who has a form of dwarfism called achondroplasia, told Marc Maron on his podcast WTF. “You’re progressive in one way, but you’re still making that f**king backward story of seven dwarfs living in a cave. What the f**k are you doing, man? Have I done nothing to advance the cause from my soapbox? I guess I’m not loud enough.”
In response to Dinklage’s comments, a Disney spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter, “To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period.”
The Aristocats (1970)
Like others on this list, a disclaimer is featured at the top of The Aristocrats on Disney+ due to its portrayal of Shon Gun, a Siamese cat who plays the piano and talks about Asian food in a stereotypical accent.
Disney’s Stories Matter advisory council wrote of the character, “The cat is depicted as a racist caricature of East Asian peoples with exaggerated stereotypical traits such as slanted eyes and buck teeth. He sings in poorly accented English voiced by a white actor and plays the piano with chopsticks. This portrayal reinforces the 'perpetual foreigner' stereotype, while the film also features lyrics that mock the Chinese language and culture such as 'Shanghai, Hong Kong, Egg Foo Young. Fortune cookie always wrong.'"
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This Christmastime classic still runs on CBS and fellow Paramount networks every holiday season, despite the fact that it’s been critically panned by parents as of late.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tells the story of the famed reindeer, who is considered an outsider due to his glowy nose and discouraged from participating in the reindeer games. He travels to the island of “misfit toys” — with fellow odd men out Yukon Cornelius and wannabe dentist elf Hermey — until Rudolph is needed to light the way for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve.
Parents have pointed out that Rudolph is only accepted by a mean Santa when his "abnormality" proves useful, and that Hermey is also made fun of for being different.
The Santa Clause (1994)
If you’ve never seen The Santa Clause, the movie centers on Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), a divorced dad who accidentally kills Santa on Christmas Eve and finds himself magically transported to the North Pole to take his place.
This “kids movie” is filled with crude humor, very bad examples of co-parenting and, well, the death of Santa. Truly troublesome are the fat-phobic comments scattered throughout the film as Scott gains weight when he morphs into Santa.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
Sure, this movie is all in good fun — and was made in the ‘90s — but the scenarios it presents can be triggering for some children.
First, the film centers on a painful divorce. Single dad Daniel (Robin Williams) concocts a plan to spend more time with his kids by disguising himself as a nanny — elderly woman, Mrs. Doubtfire — who is hired by his ex-wife, Miranda (Sally Field). Of course, the children and Miranda fall head over heels for Mrs. Doubtfire, who becomes an integral part of their family despite really being Daniel.
Not only is Daniel an objectively bad father, he uses Mrs. Doubtfire to stalk his family, make his children like him and infiltrate his ex’s private life. His mistaken identity is also an insult to the trans community. Once scene in particular, where Daniel’s son walks in on Mrs. Doubtfire urinating in the bathroom and reacts with shock and horror, is incredibly offensive.
A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story is still a holiday classic for many families, and it continues to run for 24 hours during the festive season each year on TNT and TBS. The movie follows 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) over the course of one Christmas season, in which he dreams of seeing a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle under the tree.
Modern audiences might take offense to a few scenes in the film, like the one where Ralphie gets the bar soap punishment as his friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb) can be heard over the phone being beaten by his mother. (We cringe just writing those words.) And there’s no denying this scene is incredibly racist and offensive to the Asian community.
Space Jam (1996)
Space Jam, the film about Michael Jordan teaming up with the Looney Tunes to beat aliens at basketball, is a meaningful childhood film for many millennials. But when you really think about it, it’s a movie meant to promote Jordan and his career.
The biggest gripe many parents have with the movie, though, is Lola Bunny, who is objectified throughout the story. (She’s called "hot" by Tweety bird himself.) While promoting the 2021 follow-up “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” director Malcolm D. Lee shared his thoughts on the character and why he decided to change up her appearance.
"Lola [Bunny] was very sexualized, like Betty Boop mixed with Jessica Rabbit," he said. "Lola was not politically correct.... This is a kids' movie, why is she in a crop top? It just felt unnecessary, but at the same time there's a long history of that in cartoons."
“So we reworked a lot of things,” he continued, “not only her look, like making sure she had an appropriate length on her shorts and was feminine without being objectified, but gave her a real voice. For us, it was, let's ground her athletic prowess, her leadership skills, and make her as full a character as the others."
Back to the Future (1985)
Still revered as timeless, Back to the Future has high highs and low lows. There are some moments in the Michael J. Fox-fronted film that just read “inappropriate,” especially when considering its kid-filled audience: namely, that incest subplot.
Throughout the movie — about 17-year-old Marty McFly (Fox), who’s accidentally transported 30 years into the past in a time-traveling DeLorean invented by eccentric scientist Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) — Marty is hit on by the teenage version of his mother Lorraine (Lea Thompson). It’s more than odd to watch a mom flirt with, and, um, kiss, her son (though, the character isn’t privy to the information that he’s her child).
Of course, Hollywood has drastically changed since the ‘80s. If it were made today, the plot might’ve been a bit different — and maybe Lorraine would’ve been a more dimensional character. Justice for Lea Thompson!
Spy Kids (2001)
Spy Kids is one of the weirdest children’s movies out there. Starring Alexa PenaVega, Daryl Sabara, Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas, the film follows two kids, Carmen and Juni Cortez, who become involved in their parents' espionage.
But the plot isn’t what’s truly troublesome, it’s all the whacky add-ons — like Floop’s Fooglies, a popular show in the world of Spy Kids that stars Alan Cumming as something of an evil Steve from Blue's Clues alongside his Thumb-people. It’s sort of — well, very — terrifying. And let’s not forget that Carmen and Juni end up fighting AI mirror images of themselves in a scary ending.
How is this not nightmare fuel?!
Annie is billed as a kids’ movie, but it’s pretty heavy material that warrants a major conversation ahead of watching. The stage show-turned-movie musical tells the story of a young, red-haired orphan (Aileen Quinn) as she’s taken in by the wealthy Daddy Warbucks (Albert Finney) to the absolute dismay of the cruel woman who runs the orphanage, Ms. Hannigan (Carol Burnett).
First off, Ms. Hannigan is a truly awful person and she’ll surely frighten little kids. Also, the lyrics to most of the songs are very distressing as Annie sings about being treated terribly and longing for her parents. “It's the hard-knock life for us! / 'Steada treated, we get tricked! / 'Steada kisses, we get kicked!”
Then there’s the character of Punjab — who is the unsung hero of the movie despite filling the “magical minority stereotype.” Not only is the entire character an insult to the South Asian community, he was not played by an Indian actor but by Geoffrey Holder, a Trinidadian-American actor.
“I'm sure South Asian parents who took their kids to see ‘Annie’ in 1982 had to explain to their kids why Punjab, an already problematic ‘magical’ servant, was played by Geoffrey Holder, a Trinidadian-American,” comedian W. Kamau Bell wrote on Twitter in 2018. “Something to the effect of, ‘We aren't cast in many movies in the US.’”