Our Weird Fascination With Making Disney Dirty

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 11 2013 5:50 PM

The Long, Weird Tradition of Dirty Disney

Well, this is weird.

©2013 - Producers Distribution Agency

At a recent New York screening of his controversial first feature, Escape From Tomorrow, writer-director Randy Moore explained the inspiration for his surreal story of a Disney World family vacation gone bizarre. His parents divorced when he was a kid, and when his father moved to Orlando, trips to Disney World became such a regular ritual that his memories of his dad are inseparable from the fantastical theme park. And now that he has had the chance to reflect on those memories and has returned to the park with his own children, Disney World no longer seems so innocent.

This is a common trajectory. At some point, we become a little unnerved by the fact that every other Disney movie kills off a parent (Bambi, Cinderella, The Lion King, and so on), or we struggle to reconcile fond memories of watching Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid with the sad knowledge that these movies celebrate their leading ladies for having zero agency and screwed up priorities. Or we simply recoil at the eerie cheerfulness of the Disney outlook.


What Moore does in his movie is bring sex, violence, and despair to Disney’s iconic surfaces. The “It’s a Small World” ride becomes a demonic jaunt with sinister glares from the happy robotic children and dissonant children’s chants in place of that cloying, repetitive song. The princesses that greet children at the theme park are, in Moore’s movie, undercover prostitutes. Spaceship Earth rolls over screaming patrons. It’s not a great movie—the acting is often unintentionally funny—but it does do subversive Disney well. (And did so without Disney even knowing: The film was shot in three weeks at Disney World and Disneyland with an undercover cast and crew. Disney has made no efforts to curb the film’s release.) It’s a distinguished part of a fairly long tradition: Dirtying up Disney’s family-friendly empire.

Go online and you’ll find any number of Disney characters and films reappropriated for an older, kinkier audiences. People have been doing this since at least the 1960s; one of the most famous examples comes from the late cartoonist Wally Wood, whose fascinating collage of Disney characters gone wild, “The Disneyland Memorial Orgy,” was published in The Realist in 1967. Goofy has sex with Minnie, Tinker Bell performs a strip tease for an eager crowd (including Peter Pan, Jiminy Cricket, and Pinocchio), and, perhaps most egregiously, Pluto urinates on a huge picture of Mickey Mouse.

Disney films are occasionally violent, and a few feature small splashes of dark and/or sexual content (consider Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke’s mildly mature lyrics to “He’s a Tramp,” for instance). But for the most part their squeaky-clean sensibility invites perverse repurposing in a way that less uptight children’s fare—think Looney Tunes—does not. There’s a spiritual kinship between Escape From Tomorrow and the adult careers of former Disney darlings Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Miley Cyrus: Their hypersexual performances similarly skewer the old Disney façade, titillating their audiences with “bad” behavior.

Moore’s film—and, perhaps, Miley Cyrus’s career thus far—suggests that there’s still an interest in seeing Disney dirtied. You just have to take it a little bit farther, get a little bit weirder, and maybe stretch the boundaries of copyright law just a little more than those who came before.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

160 Countries Host Marches to Demand Action on Climate Change


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.