The Walt Disney Company is many things to many people. To parents, it’s a trusted name in wholesome family entertainment. To kids, it’s the absolute height of amusement and fun. But to others, it’s something considerably darker, more sinister. The company has been in business for nearly a century and is one of the largest media corporations in the world. So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find that many peoples’ opinions of the company are clouded by mistrust and skepticism.
Any business as successful and long-lived as The Walt Disney Company is bound to have its detractors. Though weirdly, in Disney’s case, its detractors tend to latch on to the more nefarious and macabre aspects of Disney lore, truth be damned (case in point: Do a quick Google search for “Walt Disney’s Frozen Head” then sit back and marvel at the crazy). One possible explanation as to why people tend to cling so fervently to the “Disney is Evil” school of thought is because the company goes to extraordinary lengths to paint itself as a paragon of decency and family values. It’s part of the company’s mission statement to be pure and good, so people naturally want to find ways to tarnish that reputation. The desire to besmirch Disney’s sterling reputation isn’t necessarily borne of malevolence; rather, it’s more of a good-natured attempt to level the playing field.
But people seeking to muddy the Disney brand need not resort to outlandish tales of a frozen founder, the Illuminati, or Nazis (that search for Walt Disney’s frozen head will lead you down the rabbit hole of pure insanity). There are plenty of dark, intriguing- and true! – secrets in The Walt Disney Company’s past that they would rather you not know. Secrets like…
10. Walt Disney Was an F.B.I. Informant
Much has been written on Walt Disney and, by most accounts, he was an okay guy. Quirky, to be sure, but essentially harmless. He loved his family and his work. But he also loved his country and he had some pretty strong political beliefs that were more or less in keeping with the wealthy elite of his time (read: he hated him some commies).
Sensing in Disney a powerful ally in liberal Hollywood, J. Edgar Hoover, director of the F.B.I. and himself an accomplished communist-hater, approached the famed animator about the possibility of teaming up to unearth Soviet-sympathizers working in show business. Disney was all too happy to oblige and he became one of Hoover’s most influential informants.
To this day, no one knows how many show business professionals Walt Disney may have thrown under the bus because all of the F.B.I. documents pertaining to his work as an informant are either classified or heavily redacted.
9. Brain-Eating Parasites at Walt Disney World
You know how people say the theme song for the It’s a Small World ride can get stuck in your head and eat away at your brain for the rest of the trip? Well, if you happen to go swimming in the waters around Discovery Island in Walt Disney World, it might not be the song that’s eating away at your brain. It could very well be a nasty parasite that has been found in the water there.
The amoeba Naegleria fowleri is commonly found in warm bodies of fresh water all over the world. It enters its victims through the nasal passageways and can cause a dangerous infection that ultimately eats away at the victim’s brain; it sports a 95% casualty rate. Thankfully, this type of infection doesn’t happen very often.
This parasite was only linked to one death at Walt Disney World. It did, however, play a key role in the decision to close Disney’s first water park, Disney’s River Country, which used unchlorinated water from the surrounding lagoon.
8. Deaths at Disney’s Theme Parks
In keeping with the last entry’s grisly theme, deaths at Disney-owned theme parks have been an unfortunate and all-too-common aspect of catering to millions of eager tourists every year. While the vast majority of deaths at Disney theme parks are attributed to pre-existing health conditions (strokes, heart attacks, and the like) and negligence on the part of the deceased (standing up on a roller coaster, jumping from tall heights, etc.), there have been numerous high-profile incidents where guests have been killed through no fault of their own.
The most famous of these incidents occurred at Disneyland in California on Christmas Eve in 1998. A heavy iron mooring cleat that was securing the Sailing Ship Columbia tore loose from the dock striking several guests in the head, one of whom died. The incident was a public relations disaster and resulted in numerous regulatory fines and a reported $25,000,000 settlement with the family of the deceased.
7. Disney Wants You to Forget That Song of the South Was a Thing
The Walt Disney Company’s hybrid live-action/animated film Song of the South has been a lightning rod for criticism ever since its release in 1946. Allegations of racism have plagued the film and they’re not likely to dissipate any time soon. As such, Disney would rather just sweep this one under the rug and pretend the whole affair never happened.
The movie rather callously depicts the lives of former slaves in the post-Civil War South. Everything from the film’s dialogue to the depiction of its black characters to the animation itself has been criticized as being patently racist. Today, The Walt Disney Company wants nothing to do with this film, as evidenced by the fact that it remains the company’s only animated film never to be given a US home video release in its full and unedited state. Portions of the film and heavily abridged versions can be found in secondary markets, but they always omit the more overtly racists parts of the original.
6. Yippies Invade Disneyland
On August 6, 1970, members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Youth International Party (also known as Yippies – because their goal was to be as obnoxious as humanly possible) invaded Disneyland in California and took over several sections of the busy amusement park. The 200 or so Yippies that occupied Disneyland that day were part of a leaderless but widespread countercultural organization that staged free speech and anti-war protests all over the country.
In an effort to gain publicity for their cause, the Disney Yippies (or “Dizzippies,” as no one called them) sought to disrupt as much of Disneyland as they could, seeing the park and the thousands of tourists visiting that day as representatives of “the man.” After replacing a few American flags with Youth International Party flags and generally being as obnoxious as you’d expect a group of aimless college students to be, Disneyland security stepped up and kicked the youths out of the park. At which point the Yippies dropped their protest, threw up a peace sign, and vanished in a puff of flower petals and patchouli smoke, content in the knowledge that they had finally made a difference in the world.
Meanwhile, everyone else at Disneyland promptly forgot about the entire event and continued going about their day.
5. Disney’s World War II Propaganda
Remember when we said that Walt Disney loved America? Well, before he became a card-carrying commie-hunter, Walt Disney oversaw the production of hundreds of pro-American propaganda and military training films from 1942 to 1945. The vast majority of the films were not seen by the general public; instead, they were training films intended for active military personnel.
The more famous of Disney’s propaganda films, however, featured famous Disney cartoon characters dealing with the stresses and complications of war. In one famous film, “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” Donald Duck has a nightmare wherein he must deal with ridiculous Nazi food rations and endure a hard day’s work in an artillery factory. In another film, “Commando Duck,” Donald goes full badass and single-handedly destroys a Japanese military base. The point of these films, like all propaganda, was to dehumanize the enemy and instill within the viewers an overwhelming spirit of patriotism. It didn’t hurt that they also served to endear Walt Disney and his company to a whole generation of Americans.
4. Wait…What’s That in the Background?
Disney animators have a long and perverted tradition of sneaking risqué, sometimes downright explicit, material into some of the most beloved and most watched animated movies of all time. There are several famous examples, such as one frame from The Lion King where the dust flitting through the air seems to spell out the word “sex” or the artwork on the original VHS cover of The Little Mermaid sporting a suspiciously phallic turret on the castle. Most of these examples have been dismissed by Disney as unfortunate mistakes that are otherwise harmless.
The same can’t be said for The Rescuers, however. In just two of the 110,000 total frames of the 1977 animated classic, a topless woman can be seen clearly behind the main characters as they race their way through London. The image is impossible to see when the video is being watched in real time. But if you pause at just the right time, you can clearly see a topless woman through the window in the background. Disney has never directly acknowledge the frame in question, but it’s telling that the boobs were no where to be seen in the movie’s 1999 home video release.
3. Disney Sues Day Care Center Because…?
It never looks good when a multibillion dollar company starts picking on the little guys. Even if Goliath is legally in the right, public sympathy always ends up on David’s side. That’s what happened in 1989 when The Walt Disney Company sued three Hallandale, Florida day care centers because they had painted murals on their walls featuring famous Disney characters without previously obtaining permission to use their likenesses. The media had a field day with this, but Disney refused to relent and the day care centers eventually painted over the murals.
Disney’s justification was that other businesses that had paid to use the likenesses of their trademarked characters would object to a different business using them for free. From a business standpoint, it makes sense. But from pretty much all other standpoints, it’s kind of a mean move. In the end, Disney’s theme park nemesis Universal Studios stepped in and gave the day care centers free use of their trademarked characters, like Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, and Yogi Bear. So, everybody wins, except for those poor children that had to look at Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, and Yogi Bear all day.
2. Escape from Tomorrow and Other Unauthorized Films
Over the years, Disney’s films and theme parks have inspired countless cottage industries to spring up, producing everything from jewelry to clothing to oil paintings. One niche industry that has popped up in recent years is guerrilla filmmaking, in which amateur auteurs surreptitiously stage and record entire films within the parks, all unbeknownst to Disney authorities.
Without question, the most famous of these guerrilla films is Escape from Tomorrow, a surreal horror film shot almost entirely at Disney parks without consent from The Walt Disney Company. While Escape from Tomorrow offers a decidedly negative portrayal of Disney, not all of these secret films seek to besmirch the company. Missing in the Mansion is a short film shot in secret at Disneyland in California. It tells the story of three friends who go on the Haunted Mansion ride only to find that one of them never made it to the end. It’s less a critique on The Walt Disney Company as it is a well made, if low budget, horror film.
While Disney is certainly within its rights to pursue litigation with the filmmakers, it tends to ignore such matters, preferring to let the issues fade away rather than bring them undue publicity by acknowledging their existence.
1. Unofficial Disney Burial Grounds
Disney’s parks and films have played an enormous part in the lives of millions of people all over the world. Children grow up loving all things Disney and their infatuation often continues well into adulthood. Many people develop very strong attachments to Disney’s theme parks, particularly Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom in Florida. In some cases, these attachments can even transcend death.
Several hardcore Disney fans have requested that, after they have passed away, their ashes be scattered throughout the park, often on a particular ride that they happened to love. The first reported case of this was a woman spreading the remains of her cremated son in the waters of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Lately, however, this has been a problem at the Haunted Mansion, in both California and Florida. It has reportedly become such a common occurrence that Disney cast members are specially trained in safely removing the remains and the rides have had high-tech HEPA filters installed to remove the human particulate from the air.
So, the next time you’re at the Haunted Mansion, remember the dust you see scattered around may be part of an elaborate decorating operation designed to make the place seem old and musty; or, it just may be the cremated remains of a former guest who like that ride a little too much.