The Walt Disney Company has been entertaining generations of people for almost a hundred years, from the groundbreaking Mickey Mouse shorts of the 1920s to 2013’s gargantuan money-spinner Frozen. But some conspiracy theorists believe that behind all the laughs, smiles and saccharine happiness is a sinister, seedy plot to corrupt children with sexual subliminal messaging. Let’s take a look at the evidence…
The Case for the Prosecution
Disney is trying to fill children’s heads with ideas about sex before they are ready. In 1995, the American Life League waged war on the Walt Disney Company, alleging that subliminal sexual messages had been hidden in The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. Subsequently a woman from Arkansas called Janet Gilmer filed a lawsuit against Disney over the subliminal messages in The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. She alleged that Disney had misrepresented that these movies were suitable for children.
And in Aladdin, there is a clip where you can hear Aladdin saying, “Good teenagers, take off your clothes,” as he is trying shoo Rajah away. Have a listen…
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is also accused of subliminal messaging. During the scene when the cartoon car crashes into a lamppost, throwing Jessica Rabbit and Bob Hoskins from the car, the original film had several frames appearing to show Jessica’s naked nether regions. In another scene, animated Baby Herman extended his middle finger and jumped underneath a woman’s dress, re-emerging with drool on his lip. And apparently, during Betty Boop’s cameo, there was a single frame showing her nipples in the original film, which was edited by the time it reached home video.
And finally, Disney announced a recall of the home video releases of The Rescuers in 1999 because of an “objectionable background image” – a topless woman inserted into two frames of the cartoon.
Disney is also trying to push a pro-gay agenda, to promote the normalcy of homosexuality. The Conspiracy Zone points out that Tom Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical, is openly gay and has said, “There are a lot of gay people at Disney at every level.” Michael Eisner has been quoted as saying he thinks 40% of all Disney employees are gay. And the Conspiracy Zone also points out that Disney has placed adverts in ‘Out’, a homosexual magazine, and promotes ‘Gay Days’ at Walt Disney World.
More recently, Kathryn Skaggs, the writer of “A Well Behaved Mormon Woman”, has highlighted the gay agenda in Disney’s global hit, Frozen. She says that advocating the normalization of homosexuality is not just the underlying message, but the actual story of the movie. She says that Elsa’s powers, her shame and her attempts to suppress them and keep them hidden symbolise same-sex attraction, demonization of homosexuals in society and people’s fears of coming out. When Elsa reveals her powers, she is rejected by the townsfolk and runs away, symbolising how gay people are still treated in many corners of society. The rest of the movie is about getting Elsa to embrace her powers by letting go of her fears and learning to love. Skaggs argues that the lyrics of the huge hit song, Let It Go, illustrate the movie’s gay agenda explicitly:
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway
She goes on to say that the issue with Frozen’s blatant message is that acting on same-sex attraction is contrary to God’s will. That the normalization of homosexual behaviour in a hugely popular children’s movie should be of enormous concern to parents.
The case for the defence
In the Janet Gilmer lawsuit, Disney denied all allegations of subliminal sexual messaging in The Lion King and The Little Mermaid. The fact that she dropped her lawsuit two months later demonstrates that her claims did not hold water.
Looking firstly at The Little Mermaid, okay, so if you’re looking for an erection on that cartoon priest, you’ll probably see one. But you can see in this subsequent frame from the scene that it’s highly likely to be his knee. And in the case of the dodgy video box, it’s generally accepted that it was purely accidental, the product of a rush job by the artist.
The alleged ‘S-E-X’ in The Lion King was later acknowledged by a Disney animator called Tom Sito. He said it was actually ‘S-F-X’, the abbreviation of ‘special effects’, slipped into the film as a signature from the animation department. In an animated movie that is in essence one huge special effect, this makes a lot more sense than the word ‘SEX’ randomly appearing in the clouds. Same goes for the ‘SEX’ in that Tangled image, pointed out by the Conspiracy Zone. I mean, that one is clearly baloney. It’s the conspiracy theorists seeing what they want to see.
The Aladdin ‘subliminal message’ is also generally thought to be nonsense. When you listen to the clip, it might sound a tiny bit like “good teenagers, take off your clothes.” But it might also be a hundred other things. Once you’re told what to listen for, that’s what you hear. It’s generally accepted to be a bit of stray chatter and bad editing.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not a film you can place in the same league as the others. Firstly, this movie is a cartoon mash-up celebrating Hollywood animation, featuring not just Disney characters but characters from Warner Bros, Universal and other companies as well. Secondly, Disney produced this movie with Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and released it under its Touchstone Pictures label, because it was considered too risqué for the Disney label. And it is. While overall it is considered suitable for families, there is a lot of humour in the film that is reserved for adults. It opts to portray a ‘realistic’ (and I use that word ironically) world of humans and cartoons living and working together, complete with crime, corruption, blackmail, sex and murder. Remember the patty cake sequence?! And you only have to look at Jessica Rabbit to know you’re not watching a regular Disney film. There are also a few gruesome/violent moments as well, some of which I didn’t see for many years because the TV network I watched it on edited them out.
So it’s no surprise to me that cheeky animators might slip a few naughty bits, like the Baby Herman scene, Jessica Rabbit sans underwear and Betty Boop’s nipples, into the proceedings. These are far more likely to be deliberate than the other ‘subliminal messages’. But to point these out in a movie that already deals with risqué humour and isolate them as part of grand conspiracy to corrupt children is inane.
There’s certainly no denying the naked woman in The Rescuers. But Disney claimed that the images had been inserted during the post-production process more than 20 years previously, after the Disney animators had completed their work. And nobody knew about The Rescuers until Disney themselves announced it and recalled the videos.
Turning to Disney’s pro-gay agenda, there is very little to be said on the matter of Disney employing lots of gay people, except this: Good on them. Long may it continue. As to Disney conspiring to corrupt children with a pro-gay message in Frozen, I say: Good on them again. I will say that the story of Frozen and its famous song Let It Go can be interpreted hundreds of ways, that it can be said to symbolise many fears that people have over being different. It’s not just about homosexuals afraid to come out. But, certainly, it could be seen that way. And why the hell not?
I can’t see any evidence of ‘subliminal messaging’. For starters, subliminal messaging means to secretly plant a message into the minds of those who are watching or listening with the intention of persuading them. None of these alleged instances actually do this. The word ‘sex’ randomly spliced into The Lion King is not a message. Apparent phallic images in The Little Mermaid are not messages. And what is “Good teenagers, take off your clothes” supposed to mean? Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s nonsense. And all of these instances are generally regarded as being untrue anyway – the product of people’s imaginations.
Does the imagery in The Rescuers and Who Framed Roger Rabbit prove a Disney conspiracy to subvert children’s minds? No. They were not messages. They were jokes inserted by the animators, which the higher-ups at Disney clearly had no knowledge of.
With regard to Disney corrupting children with a pro-gay message, the issue is in the use of the word ‘corrupting’. It’s mostly right-wing religious people and people stuck in medieval times who consider homosexuality to be a bad thing. The rest of the forward-thinking world doesn’t, therefore – in my view – it’s not possible to ‘corrupt’ children with a pro-gay message.
In any case, creating stories about people who are ostracised for being different, and have to learn to conquer their fears and embrace who they are, is what Disney does best. Elsa in Frozen. Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Mulan. Hercules. Dumbo. The message isn’t just pro-gay. It’s bigger than that. It’s pro-tolerance.
There are lots of other conspiracy theories about Disney and Disney movies. I’ll be exploring these in forthcoming articles.
Next week: The X Factor Conspiracy!