Student Author(s)

Chloe Bartz, Hope College

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Curtis Gruenler, English; Dr. Dennis Feaster, Social Work

Document Type


Event Date



René Girard’s mimetic theory emphasizes the importance of imitation in shaping all human behavior, including desire. The questions driving this project were founded with human imitative behaviors in mind: Is Disney creating characters with disabilities that are inherently desirable to imitate (attractive, popular etc.)? Is Disney creating complex, dynamic characters with disabilities? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Within the Disney canon of animated films there are 13 characters identified as having physical disabilities. By tracking the language used to refer to these characters and their foils an alarming pattern was revealed. When formal titles, the character’s name, and nicknames were removed, the remaining terminology was assessed using Wordcloud technology to visually represent the frequency with which different terms were used in reference to each character. While only three of 13 characters with disabilities are characterized as villains, all of the characters with disabilities are most commonly referred to using derogatory or infantilizing terminology. On the whole, good or evil plays little role in the language referring to characters. Instead, those characters with disabilities had a high frequency of being referred to as “monster,” “little,” or by their disability, a trend most noticeable in Disney’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo. Children ages three to twelve who are the target audiences of these films are most vulnerable to absorbing Disney’s discrimination against disabilities. The characters with disabilities act as mimetic mediators between developing children and people with disabilities as children will retain and regurgitate the language and treatment they witness toward disabled characters. This negative mimesis is further perpetuated by the cute culture of Disney and their ostracization of characters that do not fit the ideal attractive standard. The villainization of a disabled body in Disney feeds into the scapegoating of people with disabilities and is harmful in maintaining societal stereotypes.


This research was conducted with support from the Howard R. and Margaret E. Sluyter Faculty Development Fund.

Title on poster differs from abstract booklet. Poster title: Disney on Disability