Disney started entertaining children with a drawing of Mickey Mouse in 1928 and created the first animated feature film in the world less than 10 years later. From the mind of one man, this company bloomed into one of the world’s biggest businesses. But make no mistake, Disney is a business. And like all big businesses, it’s got a whole lot of secrets lurking under its pretty, polished exterior. Peek beneath the palaces and look past the princesses, and you’ll discover a lot of disturbing facts about Disney that this business really doesn’t want you to know much about.
Nudity, gruesome true stories, ugly hidden projects, even pettiness that’s hard to believe — it’s all a part of Disney’s dark past. Most of the things you’ve heard are probably true, and lots of the things that are true are probably worse than the stuff you’ve heard. Knowing what Disney owns will surprise you. Finding out how closely Disney maintains control will unnerve you. And discovering just how much Walt liked to be in charge of absolutely everything will probably give you the chills.
These are the disturbing things Disney doesn’t really want you to know, and that’s exactly why you probably don’t know these things already.
20. Disneyland Employs Wild, Rodent-Killing Cats
Disneyland is lousy with cats. There are around 200 feral cats prowling the streets of Tomorrowland and all the other kingdoms in the park, but you probably won’t see them. These cats are nocturnal and mainly only come out to hunt in the park at night. They are here for the most obvious reason, and the most disturbing one: they’re hunting rodents. These cats are not of the friendly, Disney magic sort — they are feral killers, and not necessarily safe for you to pet and touch. Because of this, the park even posts signs telling people to leave the cats alone because they’re essentially at work. When you think about the fact that Disney as a brand was built on the back of a mouse, this all starts to become pretty darned disturbing.
19. Disney Makes Its Own Colors, And Shares With No One
You can’t get Mickey Mouse red if you don’t buy authentic Disney. The actual red shade of Mickey’s shorts is a closely-guarded secret not to be shared with anyone else. The exact red hue of Mickey’s shorts is proprietary property, and Disney won’t publicly share the shade. Walt Disney loved Technicolor the first time he saw it, and was the first Hollywood producer to actually use it in film. Color has always been a part of the Disney story, and it’s always been theirs to jealously guard. Disney has created their own proprietary color palette that includes 3,800 shades. Animation artists use color master chips in order to create new Disney movies. The chips are kept in special cases where they are protected from light and carefully guarded.
18. Walt’s Word is Law
Even decades after his death, Walt Disney maintained control on every aspect of how he wanted his brand to run. Walt was so fastidious about his operations at Disneyland and Disney World that he didn’t allow employees to grow mustaches. The policy was in effect until the year 2000. Walt Disney preferred his employees to be clean shaven, presumably to preserve a squeaky clean image. To this day, full beards, some piercings and certain hair colors are still banned among employees. What makes this even worse is that Walt himself wore a mustache through most of his life. These days, Disneyland and Disney World have both loosened their restrictions to allow for neat, well-groomed facial hair.
17. Disney Created ‘Black Sunday’
The opening day of Disneyland was such a nightmare, employees called it “Black Sunday.” Several attractions weren’t ready to be opened, so they weren’t. Tomorrowland was totally unfinished. And temperatures soared to 100 degrees, making everybody miserable and thirsty. There weren’t enough water fountains, so that was a big problem. Meanwhile, the Mark Twain riverboat ride was sinking under passengers. The refreshment stands ran out of stuff to feed the crowds. Walt Disney apologized in the press, and said the park probably wouldn’t run smoothly for another month or so. Still, people wanted to keep going to Disneyland and the bad memories of that terrible opening day eventually faded away. Today Disney parks run like well-oiled machines, but that wasn’t the case when they just opened.
16. The Disney Recycling Program
Getting a warm sense of the familiar when you watch a scene from one of your favorite Disney movies? It’s not because you loved it so much when you were 10 — it’s because you’ve seen that exact animation in three other movies. Disney used many of the same animated sequences over and over again in multiple films, to the point where you’re actually going to feel cheated once you start realizing how much it was actually done. Watch “Robin Hood” and “Aristocats” back to back, and you might think you’ve just seen the same movie twice. The dance sequence at the end of “Beauty and the Beast” is the same dance sequence from “Sleeping Beauty.” The technique is called rotoscoping, and if you start looking for it you’ll see it everywhere in Disney animated films.
15. ‘Finding Nemo’ and the Fish Murders
“Finding Nemo” is responsible for goldfish genocide. After the film came out in 2003, a wave of kids began flushing their pet fish down the toilet. This way, the fish could swim back to the ocean. In the film, one of the characters tells Nemo that “all drains lead to the ocean,” which is patently untrue. But just try telling that to a kid who thinks they’re liberating a captive goldfish and returning it to its long-lost ocean family, right?
Fish who are flushed do not end up in the ocean. Flushed fished generally don’t survive the trip, but even if they make it through the drain they end up in the sewage system. Here, the gases will kill them fairly quickly. They would never survive the water treatment plant, anyway, where solid pieces of waste are removed and dumped.
14. Some Props Are Real…Too Real
When the Pirates of the Caribbean ride first opened at Disneyland, actual human skeletons were used to decorate the attraction. Yes, it’s the same attraction that eventually spawned a long-running movie franchise. Today, it’s a popular urban legend that one actual human bone is still a part of the display. The other bones have been replaced with bone props rather than actual human remains. A single skull, attached to the headboard of a bed, is still the real deal. Or so they say. The skeletons were legitimately taken from the medical center at UCLA when the park first opened in the 1950s. It’s certainly creepy to decorate a ride with actual human bones, but we think that Jack Sparrow would approve.
13. Famous Last Words?
Walt Disney created a multi-billion-dollar empire that all began with a sketch of a friendly mouse. He built theme parks and a movie studio, and turned himself into a brand and a franchise that continues to resonate through the generations. That’s why he most definitely wouldn’t want you to know that his last words on this Earth were “Kurt Russell.” Yes, as in Kurt Russell the actor. No one knows what the hell Walt was thinking at the time or what he was trying to say. Kurt did work as a child actor for Disney at the time, so Walt was probably thinking up new ideas even as he lay on his deathbed. The man certainly was 100% dedicated to his company until the very end of his life.
12. Disney Doesn’t Promote Everything
There are several Disney projects that they probably wish didn’t exist; stuff Disney never wants you to see and hopes no one will remember. “Song of the South” was controversial even in its day, back in 1946, for its rather rosy depiction of life in the late 1800s. Disney also wants you to forget all about “Der Fuhrer’s Face.” Yes, it’s about Nazis. It was made in 1943, and it shows Donald Duck as a Nazi in what later turns out to be a dream sequence. The cartoon is decidedly pro-U.S., but that really doesn’t make it any better, and there’s some pretty overt racism in it, to boot. For a company renowned for wholesome childhood classics, it sure has put out some bizarre cartoons.
11. Illusion is Everywhere
Don’t look too closely at the flags in Disneyland, or you’ll start to see some obvious errors. The flags all along Main Street are not actually U.S. flags. They each have one little detail wrong. Maybe there is a star missing, or there’s an extra stripe, but on each one you can always find a flaw. That’s because actual U.S. flags must be raised, lowered and flown at half-mast during certain times. Walt Disney didn’t want to mess with all that, so these flags are not true flags. That way, they can fly permanently and stay up at all times. Just one more clever trick from a company that prides itself in hiding secret messages in every possible corner.
10. Disney Owns Everything
Disney owns more media than you can possibly imagine. Disney acquired Pixar 10 years ago and more recently bought Lucasfilm, two enormous companies now under their umbrella. Disney also bought Marvel Comics. They’ve got that kind of cash. After decades of trying, Disney finally got their hands on the Muppets back in 2004 (they started trying in the 1980s). And way, way back, Disney bought Winnie the Pooh from the author’s family in the 1960s. Disney has had a hand in ABC from the very early days, back in the 1950s, and Disney bought the network outright in the 1990s. Disney also owns ESPN, half of A&E, Lifetime, The History Channel and Hollywood Records — plus all the stuff that those companies own. Don’t forget about all the theme parks, the animation studio, the movie studio, the recording studio and all the Disney retail stores.
9. Creating Disney Magic
Disney is an expert at faking it, and they’ll do anything to fool you. Once upon a time, the scent of baking cookies was piped right onto Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. It’s absolutely true. And while the park stopped creating fake smells, they haven’t stopped faking it in other areas. Go to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror to hear the artificial screams, which have been pre-recorded to scare you while you wait in line. Under your feet, Disneyland is a made of tunnels and passageways. With this system it is possible to create smells and sounds, and it’s easy to dispatch employees so they appear magically all over the park.
8. The Dark Truth About Disney Princesses
The Disney Princesses suffer from a multitude of psychological disorders. Belle clearly is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, as she begins to sympathize with her captor and then believes herself to be in love with him. Classic case. Ariel has identity issues and has such a hard time accepting who she is, she changes who she is completely and actually species-hops from mermaid to human with the help of a sea witch. That doesn’t sound like a healthy body image, does it? Meanwhile, one of the standards of Disney Princesses — Cinderella — is so screwed up she’s got an entire complex named for her. A “Cinderella complex” is when someone stays in a clearly dysfunctional situation because of fear of independence. Cinderella didn’t need a fancy pair of shoes. She needed to take her housekeeping skills down the road, earn her own money and then she wouldn’t need to wait around for a fairy godmother to show up.
7. Disneyland Is A Place For Grief, Too
People have tried to scatter the ashes of their children at Disneyland, and it almost always ends up badly. One couple had a child who loved the Haunted Mansion exhibit, so they sprinkled his ashes in the graveyard part of the attraction. But of course, there are cameras all over Disneyland so they were seen doing it. It was shortly after the post-9/11 anthrax scare, and the couple was sprinkling a powdery substance at Disneyland, so of course all hell broke loose. The attraction was shut down and the hazmat crews were called in. Don’t sprinkle ashes at Disneyland. It isn’t allowed…and sadly, because of the ventilation system, the ashes will end up in the air conditioning system.
6. Things Better Left in the Vault
The famous Disney Vault isn’t the open door Disney pretends it to be. There are plenty of movies tucked away in here that won’t be seeing the light of day again anytime soon. No fanfare for these feature films. Disney made the truly terrifying “Escape to Witch Mountain” about two creepy alien kids. And then there’s “The Black Hole,” a really bizarre sci-fi flick starring Anthony Perkins (none other than Norman Bates himself) that’s filled with murder and mayhem. “The Watcher in the Woods” is a true horror story that’s so frighteningly off-brand it comes with a warning label for parents at the top of the flick. This is the actual movie that motivated Disney to create Touchstone pictures, so the brand could separate itself from more adult movie material.
5. Working For Walt Kind Of Sucked
Disneyland workers had to fight for their right to wear their own underwear. Yes, you read that right. For a long time, the Disney characters walking around the park had to wear costumes that included park-owned underwear that was laundered at the park. After workers complained about lice and scabies they suffered from wearing dirty underwear, the Teamsters union negotiated a deal with Disney to allow employees to bring their own undergarments to wear to work. How grossed out are you? A perfectionist like no other, Walt Disney liked to control everything down to the smallest of details, and that includes even the most minute costume essentials, apparently. Talk about a control freak…
4. Yep, Everything’s Fake
There are no real lion sounds in “The Lion King.” Sure the movie sounds good enough, and maybe you’ve even imagined Disney audio engineers going on safari holding up sound-amplifying gear to capture those lifelike sounds. It just didn’t happen. All the roars and lion noises you hear in the movie are manmade. The specific man making them is Frank Welker, legendary Disney voice actor. Not one real lion roar can be found in the entire movie.
Frank Welker is one of Hollywood’s biggest earners over the last 30 years, with 95 feature film credits to his name. He’s the voice of Megatron, Scooby-Doo, Azrael, Garfield, Curious George and a ton of Disney characters. Welker worked on films like “Pocahontas,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Oliver & Company.” Heck, he was even used as voice talent in “Star Trek III.”
3. That Song? It Never Stops. Never.
Your worst nightmares are absolutely true: “It’s a Small World” never, ever stops playing. And it will keep playing even after zombies wipe out all the humans. The famously aggravating song is on a constant loop that never stops, because it would take too much effort to stop and reboot the sound system every single day. So even at night when the park is closed, the soft strains of “It’s a Small World” just keep playing and playing and playing and playing…
The attraction was originally going to feature the national anthems from all the countries represented on the ride, but Walt quickly decided it all created too much noise. He got the songwriting brothers who were working on “Mary Poppins” to compose a song that could be sung by all the children instead, and “It’s a Small World” was born.
2. And Then There’s the Nudity
Is there a naked woman in a Disney animated movie? Yes. It is in the original version of “The Rescuers.” The woman, said by longtime Disney animator Tom Sito to be a Playboy centerfold — is visible for a brief moment while Bianca and Bernard are riding past in a sardine can. It’s an actual photograph, and it appears in exactly two frames. When the re-edition of the film was released years later, the original 1977 negative was used and the naked lady was resurrected. This led to a huge recall of the video tapes and the image was taken out of later versions of the film. Are there other moments like this in Disney movies? Maybe. Keep looking.
1. Walt Wasn’t Above Getting Revenge
The Beatles were supposed to voice the four vultures in “The Jungle Book,” but John Lennon absolutely didn’t want to do it. Beatles manager Brian Epstein liked the idea, but Lennon stopped it cold and sarcastically suggested that the studio get Elvis Presley to do it instead. At the time, the King of Rock had declining sales and the Beatles were creating Beatlemania everywhere they went. The refusal pissed off Walt Disney, who decided to do the next best thing: rip off the Beatles anyway. Listen and look closely at the Vultures, and you can determine which is John, George, Paul and Ringo. “The Jungle Book” holds the distinction of being the last film Walt Disney personally helped to create, as he died while it was being produced.
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