Walt Disney built a career on the premise of providing good, wholesome family entertainment. As well as his cartoons that featured a multitude of talking animals and his television show that provided both animated and live-action programs, the Disney name became synonymous with clean, moral values. This image has in recent decades been somewhat tarnished and maligned due to various incidences in some of the many theatrical movies the Disney studio has produced. With the advent of home video, DVD’s and the Internet, rumors of hidden messages and images have plagued the studio’s reputation.
Subliminal messages in film have the distinction of being open to interpretation. Where one person may see nothing of concern, others may feel they have witnessed gross and inappropriate imagery. These supposed images tend to pass unnoticed in theaters. It was not until home video and DVD’s, capable of pausing on a single frame of film, were released that people began reporting alleged indecent content. There are still many debates over whether most of these “subliminal sexual innuendoes” exist or not.
On both the promotional posters and the first home video copies of “The Little Mermaid” a small central tower of Poseidon’s castle has the appearance of an erect phallus. The imagery is remarkably clear and led to the subsequent reissue of the video and posters with altered artwork that returns the tower to a less anatomic representation. In the movie itself, rumor states that during the wedding scene with Prince Eric and Ursula, the priest briefly gains an erection. Frame by frame analysis has shown that despite appearances, it is only the priest’s knee.
The case of the two frames that show a bare-chested woman in a background element of “The Rescuers”, Disney admitted that such had indeed been inserted into the film by an unknown person in the post-production department. Although the frames were not consecutive and, at 24 frames per second, did not distinctly appear, Disney voluntarily recalled almost three and a half million home videos.
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” also comes with two controversies. While the speech of Donald Duck has eternally eluded comprehension, there are those who swear they heard him utter a racial slur at Daffy Duck in the “Ink and Paint Club”. What has been explained as an accidental coloring error has at one point made the white undergarment of Jessica Rabbit disappear and become flesh colored as she emerges from an automobile accident.
Many accusations have been made that the Disney Studio inserts such sexually suggestive items in their movies in an effort to subliminally effect sales. It is more likely that, with teams of animators, colorers, background artists and the like, the occasional bored or disgruntled worker may slip in some brief inappropriate imagery that was subsequently overlooked. Movies run at twenty-four frames per second which makes one thousand four hundred forty pictures necessary for each minute of film time. With nothing to gain and a great deal to lose, it is highly unlikely that Disney would risk their business and reputation on a few fractions of a second’s worth of naughtiness.