What could be safer than a Disney cartoon? The Disney brand is all about fun for the whole family and the Mouse House works hard to maintain that image. But over the years, a few not-so-G-rated moments have popped up in the Disney shorts and movies. Some are relics of a different time, some are figments of people’s imaginations, and some are intentional attempts by the animators to sneak in some adult material. Whatever the reason, Disney reacted to these (potentially) salacious moments the same way that Congress reacted to Eric Jonrosh’s lost masterpiece The Spoils Before Dying — they censored them, lest young, impressionable minds be corrupted by, say, a milisecond of potential nudity. Check out ten of the most censored moments from Disney classics. (Note: While many of the scenes below are up to interpretation, they may be potentially NSFW.)
1. The Little Mermaid, the randy Bishop and a phallic castle
As Disney films became available on home video, they were scrutinized for “inappropriate content” — both real and imagined. An early target of this scrutiny was 1989’s The Little Mermaid. During the scene where Prince Eric nearly marries a magically disguised Ursula, the bishop officiating the ceremony appears to be a little too excited about the impending nuptials.
Various fans have pointed out that the location of the offending bulge and other shots in the scene show that it’s actually the Bishop’s knobby knee.
Whether it was an innocent error or someone trying to slip a suggestive image into the film, Disney has since edited the scene to remove the bulge.
A similar issue popped up in the film’s advertising artwork, where a tower on the castle in the movie’s poster and home video cover sported an unusually phallic shape.
Contrary to popular belief, the artist who created the image was neither about to be fired nor trying to cause a problem for Disney. He claims not to have noticed the similarity until the offending image made national news. Later home video releases feature a revised castle on the cover without the suggestive tower.
2. Aladdin, The “cut off your ear” line in “Arabian Nights” and a request for teens to remove their clothing
Disney’s 1992 film Aladdin was the subject of two controversies. The first involved a lyric in the opening song “Arabian Nights.” The American-Arab Anti-Defamation Committee took issue with the line “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face.” Disney changed the line to “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense” for the home video release, the second edition of the soundtrack, and all subsequent releases. Interestingly, the line that follows (“It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!”) remains unaltered, as does a scene where a merchant literally threatens to chop off Jasmine’s hand after she unwittingly steals an apple.
The second controversial line is a bit more mysterious. During the scene where Rajah the tiger prevents “Prince Ali” from wooing Jasmine, some people claimed they could hear Aladdin uttering the bizarre command “Good teenagers, take of your clothes.”
The line is difficult to hear, but it’s supposed to be something akin to “Good kitty. Take off. Go.” The word “kitty” sounds garbled in the above clip, possibly due to a sound editing glitch, though interpreting it as “teenagers” is still a stretch. While the alternate interpretation of the line probably says more about the people who heard it that way than anything else, Disney cut the dialogue from later releases.
3. The Lion King, “Sex” in the clouds
Similar to Aladdin‘s “Good Teenagers” controversy, The Lion King had some parents accusing Disney of sending inappropriate subliminal messages to their children.
The scene in question comes just after Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa share their theories on what stars are. Simba wanders off and flops down, sending a cloud of seeds and pollen up into the air. A few viewers who either paused the video at the exact right moment or were watching the movie frame by frame saw what they believe was the word “SEX” briefly formed by the cloud of plant dust.
A far more likely explanation is that it’s actually “SFX,” a nod to Disney’s special effects department who would have animated the plant dust. Whatever the intention, Disney altered the suspicious frame in later releases of the film.
4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Jessica Rabbit in various states of undress
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? wasn’t even strictly a kid’s movie, but it still ended up getting edited after its release. The reason? Viewers who paused the movie on Laserdisc (remember those?) claimed their were several moments where the animators drew Jessica Rabbit without clothing.
One problem scene comes when Benny the Cab crashes and his two passengers, Eddie Valiant and Jessica Rabbit, are thrown out onto the street.
It’s not visible at normal speed, but viewers who watched the scene frame by frame (pervs!) realized that Jessica maybe, possibly wasn’t wearing any underwear. (Or they just forgot to animate it.) Despite the many obvious sexual references made about the character in the film, this extremely brief (possible) nudity was deemed a step too far and was altered in later releases of the movie. As Roger says, poor Jessica was just an innocent victim of circumstance.
5. Fantasia, the character Sunflower
The “Pastoral Symphony” sequence of Fantasia pairs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 with creatures from Greek mythology. In the 1940s and 50s, the cast of characters included a young Black centaurette, named “Sunflower” in behind-the-scenes material, who helps the older centaurettes shine their hooves and decorate their tails.
Though rumors that she had a line of dialogue still circulate, her role was silent. Unfortunately, her design includes several features of stereotypical depictions of African-Americans from the era. By the 1960s all scenes including Sunflower and a possible second Black centaurette (who may just be Sunflower with a slightly different design) were removed from the film.
6. Song of the South, the entire film
After the release of The Black Cauldron on home video, Song of the South became the big hole in Disney fans’ collections. Although it’s really no worse than films like Gone With the Wind in its overly cheerful portrait of the African-American experience in the late 19th century, its status as a movie for kids makes it more controversial than other films with that setting. Despite occasional rumors and rumblings that Disney is looking for a way to release it, Song of the South remains unavailable in the U.S.
7. Melody Time, Pecos Bill’s cigarette
The depiction of smoking in older cartoons is an issue that has plagued Disney. Pinocchio has avoided edits, mostly because smoking is shown to be a horrible experience that will turn children into donkeys. The “Pecos Bill” segment in the package film Melody Time was not so fortunate.
To avoid the appearance of promoting smoking to children, Disney made cuts and digital alterations to the U.S. DVD release. It’s not noticeable in scenes where the cigarette was passively dangling from Bill’s lips, but the digital edits make for some confusing hand movements when Bill actually handles it. Even worse, a whole verse of the main song where Bill tames a tornado and lights his cigarette with a bolt of lightning is lost to history.
8. Various Shorts, dated racial and cultural stereotypes
Most Disney shorts aren’t entirely about racial stereotypes the way Warner Brothers’ “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” is. When problematic imagery does pop up, there’s usually one or two brief images or other racially insensitive allusions in a cartoon that is otherwise perfectly appropriate for modern audiences of all ages. Most of the time, Disney can simply remove the offending scene with little or no effect on the narrative.
But there are a few cartoons where the racist imagery is pervasive, such as “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer,” where Mickey and his pals perform “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” with several characters in blackface. These cartoons aren’t shown on TV and are only available for purchase in the adult collector targeted “Treasures” DVD collections, where they’re preceded by a disclaimer about their content from Leonard Maltin.
9. War cartoons, also various dated racial and cultural stereotypes
The main issue with Disney’s World War II-themed shorts is racist depictions of enemy leaders and soldiers, particular Japanese people. Additionally, there are cartoons about the war experience that just aren’t appropriate or interesting for most modern day audiences who watch Disney cartoons.
And there’s “The Old Army Game,” where soldier Donald somehow comes to believe he’s been cut in half without being killed and puts a gun to his head, contemplating suicide. Like the more blatantly racist shorts, they’re only officially available in the “Treasures” collection.
10. The Rescuers, photo of topless woman in a movie about mice who rescue children
Back in 1999, Disney announced a recall of their home video release of The Rescuers. The reason? A photographic image of a topless woman that appears in two frames of the movie.
This particular bit of self censorship was especially weird for a couple of reasons. One, the movie was 22 years old at the time, yet apparently no one had ever noticed the images before. Two, there’s no clear explanation for how the photos got in there. Disney has claimed that they were added sometime in “post-production,” possibly between the time when the background painters finished their work and the time when the background and cels were actually shot for the final film.
Even stranger are Disney’s assurances that previous home video releases do not include the potentially offensive images because they were “made from a different print.” Third, Disney actually issued the recall before the story became big national news. Perhaps they had become gun-shy from previous similar controversies and wanted to get out ahead of this one rather than waiting to see whether anyone noticed. Ironically, they likely drew more attention to the briefly visible moment by censoring it.