For decades, Disney has delighted the world with its cartoons, feature films, and theme parks. From Snow White to Frozen, they’ve excelled at releasing high-quality entertainment for generations. It’s unlikely their brand will go away anytime soon. Still, there’s a dark side to Disney most fans don’t know about, including uncomfortable racial stereotypes and tragic deaths. Are you curious what lies beneath the most wonderful place on earth? Here are 25 Shocking Facts About Disney.
Ursula from The Little Mermaid was inspired by a drag queen.
Most kids were terrified of The Little Mermaid‘s villain, Ursula. Early on in production, the animators tried several versions of the villain but ultimately landed on their inspiration from John Water’s muse Divine. Not exactly the kid-friendly inspiration you’d expect.
Feral cats are allowed to roam Disneyland.
For years, Disneyland has allowed scores of feral cats to roam around. These cats have garnered many Instagram followers with lots of pictures of them around the park. Disneyland claims they help keep the rodent population down.
The Lion King was probably ripped from an Japanese film called Kimba, the White Lion.
While Disney denies stealing the story from Kimba, the White Lion, it’s hard to deny the striking similarities between it and The Lion King. The story and characters are very similar. Even the main characters names were Kimba and Simba.
Walt Disney was a secret FBI informer against Communism.
During the Cold War, Walt Disney collaborated with the FBI and was an informer against Communist activities. He co-founded the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals to combat Communists in the industry. The FBI frequently screened Disney films and complained whenever it had content they didn’t like.
Disney was sued over portraying hyenas as villains in The Lion King.
Because some biologists felt the villain hyenas in The Lion King was a bad portrayal that perpetuated negative hyena stereotypes, they sued Disney for defamation of character.
The Beatles officially disbanded at Disney World.
Few people want to be told that the happiest place on earth is also where The Beatles officially died. But that’s exactly what happened. On December 29th, 1974, John Lennon signed the contract that brought them to an end while at Disney World.
Disney rejected a woman's application because she was female.
In 1938, Mary Ford applied to be a part of Disney’s animation department but received a rejection letter stating, “Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.”
The voice actress of Snow White was only paid $970.
Adriana Caselotti, the voice actress of Snow White, was only paid $970, and because her voice was so recognizable as the character, she couldn’t get work afterward. When Jack Benny requested to have her appear on his radio show, he received this response, “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.”
Toy Story characters used to drop on the ground at the theme parks.
The Toy Story characters walking around the Walt Disney theme parks used to drop when someone yelled, “Andy’s Coming!” However, once people found out about it, they stopped doing it.
Two deaths were caused by the Matterhorn ride.
In 1964, a fifteen-year-old stood up on the ride and was thrown from it, crushing his skull on the tracks. In 1984, a 48-year-old didn’t have her seatbelt fastened, and her body was crushed and pinned under the cart.
Disney perpetuated a racial stereotype in Fantasia.
In the early version of Fantasia, there was a servant centaurette called Sunflower who appeared as an African that would get angry if the other centaurs were not properly groomed. Considered racist, Disney removed her from all re-releases after 1969.
35 Disney employees have been arrested for sex crimes.
In under 10 years, 35 Disney employees at Disney World were arrested for sex crimes ranging from child prostitution, pornography, and more. These employees include a security guard, costumer, and gift shop employee, among others.
Disneyland was supposed to have a Wizard of Oz ride.
While most people would think The Wizard of Oz was owned by MGM, technically Disney bought the rights to twelve other Oz novels by L. Frank Baum. Disney tried to create a movie and a ride called Rainbow Road to Oz, but they didn’t work out.
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride has real human skulls.
The original creators of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride weren’t impressed with the faux skulls they had, so they got real human skulls from the UCLA Medical Center. They claim these skulls were removed and given a proper burial, but former employees and guests aren’t convinced.
Walt Disney welcomed Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl to his studio.
Rumors have swirled that Walt Disney was an anti-semite. He didn’t really help these claims by his portrayal of the wolf as a Jewish peddler in the Three Little Pigs, his co-founding of the Motion Picture Alliance which was very anti-semitic, and his invitation of Nazi director Leni Riefenstahl soon after Kristallnacht.
People scatter real human ashes at the Haunted Mansion.
There’s a popular request by people who die to have their ashes spread at the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. While these requests are denied, people still smuggle in the ashes and figure out ways to scatter them without getting caught. However, janitors clean them up to be compliant with health codes.
Disney threatened legal action against daycare centers.
Three daycare centers using trademarked images of Mickey Mouse were threatened by Disney for infringement. After word got out Disney threatened to sue, there was a public outcry. Of course, Disney had every right to seek legal action, but suing daycare centers probably isn’t the greatest PR stunt.
Disneyland once prohibited long hair visitors and bearded employees.
Until the 1960’s, Disneyland refused to allow men with long hair into the park. They also didn’t hire anyone to work at their parks who had mustaches or beards. They’ve since relaxed these policies due to worker shortages.
Toy Story practically took the story from a 1986 TV movie The Christmas Toy.
Everyone loves Toy Story. It’s practically a classic at this point. However, little do people realize how much of the story is similar to a 1986 TV movie called The Christmas Toy. In The Christmas Toy, the main character is worried he’ll be replaced by a new toy. The new toy is a character from outer space called “Meteora, Queen of the Asteroids.” There’s even a worn out old bear that acts as a wise leader.
Walt Disney Ended up with 11 angry naked dwarfs running around.
To promote the Pinocchio premiere, Walt Disney hired 11 dwarfs to dress up like the puppet and greet children at the Radio City Music Hall. Their payment was a full day supply of food and wine, which ended up being a pretty bad idea. By the middle of the afternoon, there were 11 angry naked dwarfs running around on the top of the marquee, screaming obscenities.
There's a creepy abandoned water park in Disney World.
First opening in 1976, Disney’s River Country was shut down in 2001 after a boy contracted a rare amoeba and died. Since then, they’ve just left the park to rot.
Pocahontas was supposed to have a sidekick named Redfeather.
Originally, John Candy was tapped to do the voice acting for Redfeather, the turkey sidekick to Pocahontas. They had early sketches and even had Candy do some early voice recording for the role. However, the character was scrapped when Candy died.
A teenager was killed when he snuck into Disneyland.
In 1966, a 19-year-old scaled the sixteen-foot high outer fence and climbed on the monorail track, hoping to climb down once inside. But he failed to get out of the way as the monorail train approached. It struck and killed him, dragging his body 30 to 40 feet down the track.
Antz was put in theaters early to undercut A Bugs Life at the box office.
When a feud broke out between the Dreamworks and Pixar (Disney) head honchos over their respective films Antz and A Bug’s Life, Dreamworks decided to release Antz earlier than usual to undercut A Bug’s Life. Still, A Bug’s Life performed better at the box office and reviews, squashing Antz under its feet.
Disney fired John Lasseter because he believed so strongly in computer animation.
When John Lasseter worked at Disney early in his career, he pushed heavily for computer animation to make full-length cartoons. Because of that, they eventually fired him. He went on to work in the computer animation department at Lucasfilm, which was bought by Steve Jobs in 1986. This allowed Lasseter to work on building the company that Pixar is today
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