Cartoons Show Their True Colors: Fact Checking Animated Characters in History


There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality.

When we watch a movie like Selma or The Imitation Game that is based on historical events, we often wonder how closely they resemble what really happened. It can be a lot of fun to compare the events of the movies to the historical record and point out when the two don’t match up.

At Buzzfeed, Eugene Yang has applied that same logic to Disney Princesses, digging deep into Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to determine when and where the films’ heroines lived. Unsurprisingly, their lives would’ve been pretty different in reality than they were in the movies: no harem pants for Jasmine, for one thing.


jasmine a:b


Yang’s project serves as a reminder of how many animated movies employ historical settings while ignoring actual historical fact. Yet as obviously fictional as most animated films are, they can still influence our perceptions of history—half my elementary school was convinced that Pocahontas and John Smith were romantically involved, when in fact she was just twelve years old when they met.

There’s nothing wrong with historical fantasies, but it’s worth considering how they differ from the reality. The addition of dancing candlesticks and talking parrots is one thing; idealizing the extremely constrained life of a fourteenth century noblewoman is another.


Some media may contain mature content. Discretion is advised when viewing with students.

Lesson Plan

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: This lesson will help students practice close reading media, develop research skills, and learn to consider pop culture in a historical context.

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Lesson tags: Animation, cartoon, Disney, Eighth, Featured, Film, History, Pop Culture, Research, Seventh, Sixth, TV

Alex Heimbach

Alex Heimbach Alex is a writer and educator in California. She is a pop-culture fanatic and an experienced tutor. After several years as an educator and tutor, she has taught everything from the Pythagorean theorem to Dickens. Alex is also a freelance writer who routinely covers pop culture, writing for publications such as Slate and Thrillist.