Mattel accused of giving 'Aladdin' toys snow-white look


If your children really loved "Aladdin" and if you're really tired of repeat trips to the neighborhood movie house, you might curb their appetites for the animated Arabian romance by buying toy figures of the characters.

Don't be surprised, though, if the action figures aren't exact replicas of Princess Jasmine, Abu, Iago, Jafar and Aladdin -- the protagonist hailed by Newsweek as Disney's "first nonwhite human hero since Mowgli of the 'Jungle Book.' "

Margaret Freeman of Dallas, who is white, makes a point of buying ethnically diverse books and toys for her nephew, Travis.

The 4-year-old recently received Aladdin action figures as gifts. The toys dismayed Ms. Freeman, a customer support representative for Xerox.

"When I looked at the dolls, they didn't look multicultural," Ms. Freeman says. "I don't understand why they had to pale them up for the action figures."

Lisa McKendall, manager of marketing communications for Mattel Inc., maker of the Aladdin toy line, says the action figures have a darker complexion than other dolls produced by the toy company.

"It's an Arabian fantasy film, and you can tell that from the characters," Ms. McKendall says.

From their costumes, perhaps, but not their skin color.

Walt Disney Pictures chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and Peter Schneider, president of animation for the company, approved the toy prototypes, says Susan Jacobs, a public relations field representative for Disney.

"They don't know how to respond," Ms. Jacobs says. "The intent is to have the toy figures to look as much like the animated characters as possible."

By selling toys that look white, Ms. Freeman says, Disney is missing an opportunity to affirm diversity.

"These dolls have been 'Barbiefied'," Ms. Freeman adds. "I think it would be better for the children to be exposed to dolls and toys as diverse as the children they meet on the playground and in day care."

Her views are shared by Dr. Cynthia Whitfield, a San Francisco Bay Area child psychologist who owns Cynthia's Educational Toys and Games in Oakland, Calif. She says she is disappointed that Disney and Mattel weren't more vigilant about preserving the ethnicity of the Aladdin dolls.

"Nonwhite children finally got a chance to be legitimized by a movie hero," Ms. Whitfield says. "Then when parents shop for the toy that helps validate their child, they can't find the toy."

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