Disney films have become almost synonymous with childhood memories. Thanks to their storytelling genius, they’re movies people love to rewatch – even after outgrowing them. However, the more you re-watch them, the more you start noticing certain weird aspects of these beloved Disney classics.
Sometimes you’ll even pause and rewind to see whatever the hell that was again, just to make sure you’re not imagining things. And boom – there it is – something that reminds you of World War II or a visual image that is unabashedly racist. Your favorite classics are peppered with dark Disney imagery that was passed unnoticed by you in childhood, but have since come back to haunt your dreams.
At any rate, those loaded details were the sign of the times. There’s a lot that ranges from creepy to sexual to straight-up mind-boggling by today’s standards. Ranker took the time to compile these, and they’re kinkier than you would have expected from a family-friendly animated classic. Other times these disturbing Disney images may evoke some connotations of dictatorships or religious hellscapes. Take a look at the images below and see just how creepy they can get – and how much, or little – we’ve changed.
1. Pinocchio’s scary donkey transformation is a reference to child trafficking
It all starts when our puppet protagonist and some other young boys get lured to “Pleasure Island,” where they’re free to drink, smoke cigars, and play pool. But things get dark really quickly. Each of these badly behaving boys suddenly sprouts donkey ears and endures a horrifying, Cronenberg-esque donkey-transformation. Then – they’re sold off as slaves to go work in the salt mines.
Remember when I mentioned Disney’s storytelling genius above? This is a perfect example. Pinocchio manages to fit the topics of child abduction, slave trafficking, and even creepy loss-of-childhood-innocence metaphors all into one horrifying sequence… That surely left a lot of kids traumatized.
Initial Release: 1940
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, T. Hee, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen, + more
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Animation, Music, Musical Drama, Musical, + more
2. Donald Duck reads “Mein Kampf”
But Disney didn’t just make movies for entertainment – his talents were sought and needed elsewhere. Like the government. For example, this particular image comes from a 1943 anti-Nazi propaganda film called Der Fuehrer’s Face. It depicted Donald Duck in the midst of a nightmare where he slaves away in a factory in Nazi Germany. Of course, it’s all a dream and Donald wakes up back in the United States, thankful to be in good old America.
Initial Release: 1943
Directed by: Jack Kinney
Genres (Film): War film, Family, Short Film, Comedy, Propaganda film
3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame portrays sex-obsessions and a lot of hellfire
For a musical animated film made for children, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is chock-full of some pretty dark sexual tension. Which is perhaps not that surprising, since it depicts how life was back in the Dark Ages. The movie is rife with terrifying imagery, the implications of which understandably go over the heads of its intended audience.
The movie’s villain, Frollo, is obsessed with lady Esmeralda in that if-I-can’t-have-you-no-one-can kind of way. So he gives her an ultimatum: she can choose to be with him or be condemned to the fiery pits of hell. Then he sings a song with such sunny, cheerful lyrics like, “Don’t let this siren cast her spell/Don’t let her fire sear my flesh and bone/Destroy Esmeralda/And let her taste the fires of hell/Or else let her be mine and mine alone.” As if that wasn’t enough, he sings while he watches a tiny, naked Esmeralda made of fire dance around. That’s a lot of sexual repression and religious guilt to unpack. Sadly, it’s often still relevant, even in 2017.
Initial Release: 1996
Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Genres (Film): Romance Film, Animation, Musical Drama, Musical, Family, + more
4. Fantasia was super racist
You may flinch at this, but Disney has had a long history of tone-deaf, insensitive, and downright racist movies in its catalog – including Fantasia. Disney attempted to scrub all evidence of Sunflower, the centaur handmaid to an Aryan-looking horse-woman, and pretended that the whole scene never made it to the screen.
They successfully corrected themselves when they rereleased the film back in 1960. Sans Sunflower.
Initial Release: 1940
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, T. Hee, Ford Beebe, + more
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Animation, Musical Drama, Musical, Family, + more
5. Aladdin introduces us to BDSM
Echoing Frollo’s psycho-sexual obsession with Esmeralda, we’ve got another Disney movie that has weird, overtly sexual dynamics swirling around in a scene where a woman is in a dangerous situation orchestrated by a pervy, older guy.
In Aladdin, Jasmine is imprisoned by Jafar, and the visuals take on a very BDSM-tinged element. Jasmine is chained to Jafar’s snake scepter, feeding him apples. And Jafar swapped out her green outfit for a far more revealing, Princess-Leia-in-Return-of-the-Jedi red number. Kinky, or am I reading too much into it?
Initial Release: 1992
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Romance Film, Animation, Music, Musical, + more
6. The Lion King gives us an idea of what dictatorships are like
If you felt the montage of “Be Prepared” from The Lion King was giving you some serious totalitarian vibes, you’re pretty spot on. Shots in this number were meant to echo Nazi propaganda films, specifically Triumph of the Will. Scar standing on a platform while his hyena army goose-step down below is an almost exact replica of Hitler’s puff-pieces. Except with, you know, cartoon lions and hyenas instead of an evil dictator’s soldiers.
Initial Release: 1994
Directed by: Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers
Genres (Film): Animation, Musical Drama, Musical, Family, Adventure Film, + more
7. 101 Dalmatians and its tiny swastikas hidden in the dogs’ fur
What a find, huh? Or are we imagining things? Admittedly, this one would only be noticeable to those with an eagle-eye for Nazi imagery. But there it is: Dalmatian mother, Perdy, has been marked with a swastika, formed subtly by the spots on her coat. Maybe Cruella Deville would have thought twice about trying to take this fur if she knew she’d be communicating fascist symbols? Or, knowing Cruella, maybe not.
Initial Release: 1961
Directed by: Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wolfgang Reitherman
Genres (Film): Animation, Family, Adventure Film, Drama
8. Dumbo’s pink elephant visuals are a psychedellic drug trip
Disney wants us to believe that Dumbo’s only drinking alcohol, but whatever it is, it has to be laced with some seriously hard stuff. Because just look at that imagery – it’s like straight up taken out of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The black, dead eyeholes of the elephants swirling around the screen like they’re the ghosts of elephants makes it pretty clear where Disney stands on the war on drugs. One elephant even becomes a belly dancer as a disembodied eye blinks into the middle of the screen. Elephant noses morph into clarinets and they begin to play trippy jazz music. Yeah, that’s Fear and Loathing in Dumbo all right.
Initial Release: 1941
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, Samuel Armstrong, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen, Norm Ferguson, + more
Genres (Film): Animation, Musical, Family
9. Pocahontas is the story of the victor and the erasure of genocide
When John Smith first meets the titular Powhatan noble woman in Pocahontas, he is 28 and she 11. The movie fudges this and passes her off as 18, and while Smith looks to be charming Pocahontas on account of an immediate attraction for her, he is in fact attracted to her land. Ensnaring her is a means of taking that land for himself.
Time and again throughout the film, Pocahontas is portrayed as analogous with the territory of the United States, an ageless, totemic being. In this context, her relationship with Smith, in which he (as you know, being an adult) penetrates her and sows his seed, is a metaphor for the European seizure of territory from indigenous people.
In turning Pocahontas into a metaphor for the United States, the film erases the history of genocide and conflict. It makes it seem as though a harmonious relationship led to the establishment of the colonies – and not warfare, skepticism, lies, and brutality.
Initial Release: 1995
Directed by: Eric Goldberg, Mike Gabriel
Genres (Film): Romance Film, Animation, Music, Musical Drama, Musical, + more
11. Tinker Bell’s sexual subservience in Peter Pan
Ah, Peter Pan. This is kind of well-known, but an iconic example indeed. As numerous shrewd bloggers have pointed out, Tinker Bell seems to exist as an object of subservience to male sexual fantasies of domination and violence. In one scene, Peter grabs her by the wings and spanks a bunch of glitter out of Tinker Bell as she grimaces and thrashes about. It’s basically a kid’s version of a male fantasy in which a powerful man spanks a woman as she squirts, her face betraying equal parts pleasure and pain.
But get this: in another scene, Tinker Bell gets trapped in keyhole that looks like a combination of pillory and glory hole. Seen from the front, her face is a mixture of pain and wide-mouthed surprise. It’s almost as if she is experiencing ecstasy through punishment, on all fours, locked in a bondage device. But from behind, she is all ass – her dress hiked up, underwear exposed, butt writhing. Gifs taken from this scene make it seem as though she’s either twerking or, pardon the French, getting hammered from behind by an invisible man.
Throughout Peter Pan, Tinker Bell truly appears to be the subservient object to male desires of the ‘perfect’ woman. Her clothes are revealing, she wants you to think she’s adorable, she pouts when she doesn’t get what she wants, she finds herself in very domestic situations… Can you say gender roles again?
Initial Release: 1953
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Animation, Musical, Family, Adventure Film
12. A lot of queer coding
You name it, these movies have it. Disney is notorious for queer coding, or indicating, though stereotypical mannerisms, patterns of speech, and other behavior, that certain characters are gay, queer, bisexual, transgender, or transvestites.
More often than not, characters coded as one of these things are either villains or otherwise undesirable. Scar, for instance, is exhibiting all manner of stereotypically gay gestures, and The Little Mermaid’s Ursula, who was based on the drag queen Divine, exhibits stereotypical traits of lesbians and transvestites. Other queer Disney villains include Governor Ratcliffe from Pocahontas, Hades from Hercules, and Jafar from Aladdin.
13. The rape imagery in Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast is clearly a metaphor for men competing to control a woman, take her virginity, and then possess her as a sexual object. Belle, the titular beauty, is harassed by men in the small town in which she lives, Gaston included. Eventually, the Beast gets a hold of her, imprisons her in his castle, and psychologically abuses her in a bunch of ways. He’s basically gaslighting her into thinking they’re in love.
This interpretation of the film has been debated hotly since its 2017 live adaptation loomed on the horizon. But what isn’t as frequently discussed is the film’s rape imagery, in particular, the scene with the wolves. Early in his relationship with Belle, Beast flies into a rage, scaring her senseless. She runs into the woods, where she’s greeted by ravenous wolves. These wolves can be a metaphor for the men laying in in wait to prey upon Belle. Should she refuse to give her virginity to Beast and become his sexual possession, the wolves await her. Beast, obsessed with possessing Belle, rescues her from the wolves, proving himself the alpha male, and thus a worthy object of her affections.
The wolves are a clear stand-in for rape, and much of Belle’s terrified interactions with Beast call to mind rape and sexual abuse.
Initial Release: 1991
Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Romance Film, Animation, Musical, Family
14. Racial segregation in Fantasia
Amazingly, Fantasia offers more than one version of racism in its centaur sequence. As we mentioned above, the segment contained a black slave catering to a white centaur. However, even when that was removed from the sequence, it still remains a vignette of racism and segregation. Like, get this – when the male and female centaurs are paired with one another for coupling, they are done so by race. Best stick to your own kind, kids, especially when it comes to romance and mating. Eugenics, Disney? Did you learn nothing from those Hitler-bashing toons?
15. Fantasia’s night on Bald Mountain is hellish
But wait, there’s more. Fantasia doubles down on its nightmarish imagery by closing out the movie with “Night on Bald Mountain,” which is as close to a Hieronymus Bosch painting as Disney has dared to venture. This cartoon really has everything: a winged evil god called Chernabog, topless harpies flying with their tits out, the ghosts of fallen warriors who haven’t received proper burial. Everything. Chernabog picks up the spirits and throws them into the fiery mountain pit, clearly enjoying himself. The visuals are hellish, nightmare-inducing insanity. And word on the street is that Disney is planning a live-action version so expect those visuals to get a terrifyingly realistic update soon.
Frankly, we can’t wait!
16. Snow White gets groped by a creepy, molesty forest
This is one touchy forest! Already a scene that evokes feelings of peril, the animators decided to up the ante by providing the trees with long, molesting fingers to claw at Snow White. This imagery is downright dark, incredibly creepy, and more than a little reminiscent of an infamous tree scene from The Evil Dead.
Initial Release: 1937
Directed by: Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen, William Cottrell, + more
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Romance Film, Animation, Musical, Family
17. When The Nightmare Before Christmas’ villain is a sack full of maggots
The visuals for the Oogie Boogie Man’s death scene are horrifying: on the first viewing, this stop-motion nightmare is enough to send kids into a state of terror that is bound to result in several sleepless nights. His insides are made of maggots and worms, all covered up by a burlap sack, so when Jack Skellington pulls a loose thread and splits him open, all those claymation insects come spilling out! Oogie Boogie screams “My bugs! My BUGS!”
I need that memory-wiping thing from Men in Black, please.
Initial Release: 1993
Directed by: Henry Selick
Genres (Film): Fantasy, Animation, Musical, Family
18. The Great Mouse Detective’s burlesque mice are kinda too sexy for a kid’s movie
Here’s another sexual Disney visual, this time involving sexualized, burlesque-dancing mice. Maybe Disney writers went like “now’s the time to give something to the furries,” and created a striptease by rodents. Maybe this would go over the heads of children, but looking back through the lens of adulthood, this imagery ticks the box of one very specific niche.
Initial Release: 1986
Directed by: David Michener, Burny Mattinson, Ron Clements, John Musker
Genres (Film): Animation, Mystery, Musical, Family, Detective fiction, + more