When most people think of Disney, they think of funny cartoons, movies with happy endings, and theme parks that would put a smile on even the grumpiest of faces. Disney has worked hard to give itself a squeaky clean reputation, but throughout the company's long history, it still often embraces the Dark Side, and did so even before it acquired the rights to Star Wars and Darth Vader. Not only do some of the company's movies provide hidden disturbing imagery for those with good eyes, but its theme parks also have a few dark secrets that almost no one is privy to. The Disney universe of talking animals, singing pirates, and fairytale princesses has a macabre side that embraces death, skulls, secret codes, and Nazi propaganda.
Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me! It's a song that every visitor to Disneyland will sing after riding the wildly entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean attraction there that follows Captain Jack Sparrow's adventures. But that attraction holds a dark secret: some of the skulls and bones you see while riding are not props: they're real and once belonged to human beings. Legend has it that imagineers were unhappy with the existing props, so decided to incorporate the real thing into the attraction. Although the park eventually removed many of those bones, some remain. The ride features one particular scene in a pirate's bedroom: the skull and crossbones on the headboard above the dead pirate's head is real. It's sort of perfect for a ride based on pirates, though, right?
Disney decided to join the World War II effort in 1943 and released an anti-Nazi short animated film called Der Fuehrer's Face to help promote the sell of war bonds. The cartoon, though, was just a little weird: it featured Donald Duck having a dream about being a worker in a Nazi factory. It even shows the popular character reading a copy of Mein Kampf, the autobiography of Adolf Hitler. Although the film won an Academy Award for Best Short Animated Film at the 15th Academy Awards and often makes top lists of being one of the best cartoons of all time, Disney decided to keep it well hidden from the public until 2004, when the cartoon finally made its home video debut on several DVD sets.
The Disney parks receive millions of visitors every year, and that means that its staff, known as cast members, must deal with millions of people each year on a daily basis. Sometimes those people are super friendly and just there in the parks to have fun. Sometimes, though, those people don't have their expectations met, they have a bad experience, or they're just jerks, but those people get called the nicest of names (because these are the happiest places on Earth).
So if you ever hear someone refer to you as a "treasured guest" at a Disney park, it's not really a compliment. In fact, it's just the opposite, it means that you're probably being incredibly rude and the cast members there are alerting others about your behavior.
If you've watched any number of Disney movies, you'll notice a disturbing trend: most of the characters either start the movies without mothers or lose their mothers during the course of the film after a tragedy. What is up with that? Legend has it that this goes all the way back to the man himself, Walt Disney, after he bought a house for his mom and dad to move into. But the furnace of that house leaked and it affected both of his parents, resulting in his mother's death. Stories suggest that Disney refused to talk about the incident because he felt guilty over what happened. But that grief and guilt bled into his work and somehow became a trend that continues to this day.
There is one Disney movie that will probably never see the light of day, at least as a home video release. That movie is Song of the South, which features a cheerful character called Uncle Remus, a former slave, telling folk tales about Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox. By today's standards, the movie is pretty racist, but at the time, it earned Disney an Academy Award for Best Song in 1947 for the top-tapping "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." The movie is still so controversial that no one has seen it since, although it has a ride dedicated to it at several Disney theme parks, including Splash Mountain. Fortunately, for Disney, most racist overtones don't exist on the ride, which focuses solely on the characters of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox and that Oscar-winning song.
Animators often throw in split-second gags and elements into their work just for the heck of it, but those who worked on Disney's Who Framed Roger Rabbit? movie carried their shenanigans a little too far, so much so that if the Motion Picture Association of America spotted their prank, the movie's rating might have been NC-17. Several scenes from the original cut of the movie show Jessica Rabbit's dress flying up to show her underwear, except that in the animation, she's not wearing any. That's right: Jessica Rabbit has a full frontal nudity scene in the theatrical version of the movie and no one caught it. There's also a brief clip in the movie of Baby Herman giving the camera the middle finger. Those sneaky Disney animators often liked to show off their dirty side.
If you ever get caught sneaking into a Disney park, shoplifting, or committing any kind of crime while at a Disney property, you can get sent to Disney jail. Although most thought that the concept of the Disney jail was a made up thing, it seems like Sheriff Goofy can handcuff and escort you to a place behind bars just like a real police officer. Disney jail, though isn't really all that intimidating, it's more of a holding room where Disney security can keep troublemakers away from the public until the actual police arrive. But it's still funny thinking of Mickey Mouse standing over someone with a taser and yelling at criminals to drop to the ground, or else, while Disney police cars blare the, "It's a small world" theme song over their loudspeakers.
Disney once banned cast members from having beards in the park (unless, of course, they were actors portraying characters with beards). That rule lasted until 2010, when the company finally decided to let bearded employees represent it, but the code is still strict: cast members cannot have facial hair that is longer than a quarter of an inch. The theme parks also do not allow staff to have tattoos, body piercings, or "weird" hairstyles and haircolors (which is odd, considering that this is the company that gave us Ursula the Sea Witch and Cruella De Vil). Before 2010, women had to wear pantyhose and skirts, but now they can wear pants. Tank tops are now allowed, but the company insists that the straps be three inches wide.
Although former President Richard Nixon isn't a guest Disneyland is probably very proud of, the ex-President has several connections to Disney and its parks. Because Nixon grew up near Anaheim, Disneyland gave him a key to its park at a major press event shortly after its opening in 1955. After, Nixon spent the entire day there, riding attractions and enjoying the happiest place on Earth. He returned to Disneyland in 1959, during his second term as President, to help the theme park launch its unique monorail transportation system. Several other visits followed, but the most famous occurred in 1973 in the middle of the Watergate scandal. It is there that Nixon gave his most infamous speech stating, "I'm not a crook." He later became the first President to resign from office.
It's no secret that life was difficult for women trying to find employment in the 1930s. Even women applying for jobs as animators at Disney's studios found themselves turned down because of their gender. One such woman was Miss Frances Brewer, who received a rejection letter that stated the following:
"Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that work is performed by young men. For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school. To qualify for the only work open to women one must be well grounded in the use of pen and ink and also of water color. The work to be done consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling in the tracings on the reverse side with paint according to directions."
Perhaps the most bizarre story about Walt Disney's life has more to do with his death. The last words of creative people are often saved for future generations to read and learn from, perhaps in an attempt to glean some kind of mystic knowledge. But Walt Disney wrote his last words down on a sheet of paper just before his death, leaving behind a great mystery.
Those famous last words were this: "Kurt Russell." Russell was a child actor at the studio at the time of Disney's passing: not only did he do voice work for The Fox and the Hound, but he also starred in several features for Disney, including The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Sky High, and The Strongest Man in the World. But why was Walt thinking of him in his final hours? We will probably never know.
Toy Story is a beloved kids' movie and for very good reason: the concept of talking toys with their own lives is one that every child fantasizes about. But underneath a story about toys lies a much darker theme, one taken straight out of The Shining. For example, in the scene where Woody and Buzz are attempting an escape from Sid's house, the carpet there looks remarkably familiar: it's the same as that of the Overlook Hotel. That carpet pattern appears throughout all three Toy Story movies. The number "237" also appears in all three animated features: on a security camera, on a garbage truck's license plate, and in a scene where Woody is on the computer chatting with someone called "Velocistar237." The number 237 refers to the scene in The Shining: it's the room number where Jack Nicholson makes out with a naked corpse in that film.
It's no secret that Disney is very protective about the copyright of its characters. That's why it threatened to sue three Florida daycare centers in 1989 for having murals that featured prominent Disney characters on their walls. Disney threatened the daycare centers with court action if those murals featuring characters such as Goofy, Mickey, and Minnie did not get removed. In the end, the daycare centers complied and painted over the murals with other beloved characters, this time from the Hanna-Barbera universe. Universal Studios, who owned the copyright to the Hanna-Barbera properties, volunteered the use of those characters as those childcare centers saw fit. Universal used the situation to get revenge on Disney for opening its movie-themed park before it completed Universal Studios. Universal also claimed that Disney stole many of its ideas from their park.
In 1970, a large group of 750 hippies invaded Disneyland and took over the park's Wilderness Fort. Not only did the hippies raise the Vietcong flag there, but they also passed out joints to the park's visitors. They followed that by marching down Main Street singing their own version of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" making the song about the Vietnam War and singing that Ho Chi Mihn would win. Other park members attempted to sing "America The Beautiful" over them and, eventually, police in riot gear showed up to contain the situation. Fortunately, the incident ended non-violently, but for many years after, Disneyland enforced a strict dress code that prevented "long-haired hippies" from entering the park. This was the only time that Disneyland visitors saw outside police officers handle such a security issue.
Before Hades ever set foot on the big screen in Disney's animated Hercules movie, Disney showed the darker side of hell in a short film. The film, called Hell's Bells appeared as part of 1929's Silly Symphonies. The animated short was hardly silly, though, and depicted characters in hell that resembled beloved Disney characters: for example, Cerberus looks an awful lot like Goofy. The story was also a little bizarre: in the film, Satan and his demons gather for a wild party, with the demons playing music for it. Then, they milk burning flames from a dragon. Satan then feeds one of the demons to the Goofy-looking Cerberus. Eventually, one of the demons kicks Satan off a cliff. If that's not the stuff of nightmares, nothing is.