No one expects a company as huge and old as Disney not to have a few skeletons in its Haunted Mansion. The amount of power and money the corporations managed to accrue in the last 90 odd years it’s been in existence is, quite frankly, astonishing.
If you’re looking for an example, look no further than the unprecedented 65% share of ticket revenue Disney is demanding and getting from theater owners who want to screen The Last Jedi. Disney is a powerhouse for many reasons, not the least of which is their ability to mitigate scandals when they inevitably happen be they genuine accidents or the results of the companies sometimes brutal policies.
For this list, we gathered some of the more shocking stories to come out of the House of Mouse since its inception in 1923. You’ve probably heard of a few, but we bet there are some that Disney’s crack P.R. team took care of so well that they’ve escaped your attention. Warning: if you’re a die-hard, season-pass holding, spinning teacup tattoo-having Disney fan, this might not be the list for you. It may be hard to keep a rosy opinion of the Disney Corporation after discovering some of the events and practices they’ve attempted to sweep under the rug as the years have gone by.
Here are 16 Dark Secrets Disney Wants To Bury.
16. IT’S A WHITE WORLD AFTER ALL?
If you’re ever on Family Feud and the survey question is, “What’s your favorite Disney ride,” slap the crap out of your buzzer and scream “It’s a Small World” if you want an easy lead. Everyone loves that chill boat trip through international waters. It’s kind of weird when you think about it — It’s a Small World isn’t that thrilling, it’s rarely updated, and that song is very creepy. Also, all the international wooden children? They all have Caucasian features.
If you look closely, aside from skin tone differences, all the animatronic dolls that inhabit this strangely hypnotic, yet very unnerving ride, all have the same, broadly Caucasian facial features. Compare the doll faces from England, Africa, and Japan and you’ll notice some surprising similarities for dolls that are supposed to represent completely different races.
15. Scamming disability lines
In this current era of human discord, it’s important to focus on things we have in common. If there’s one thing you can say about red and blue states, it’s that we all hate waiting in lines. It’s particularly annoying at theme parks given that a trip to a place like Disneyland/World is costly and thus, only occasional for most families. The last thing you want to do is waste your limited (and expensive) time standing around nursing a steadily growing rage. But that’s the reality, no?
Well, not for some families with income and integrity to burn. Some wealthy folks awhile back were discovered to have paid disabled people to pose as part of their family so they could get on rides faster. Disney had to revise its handicapped pass application program in response to these jerks.
14. THE SECRET ABANDONED PARK
Disney’s first water park, River Country, opened in 1976 and ran for 25 years before shuttering in 2001 after guests started flocking to the newer and larger Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
When River Country closed, Disney stated they would reopen it if there was fan interest. There hasn’t been, but it seems like they haven’t given up… The park was never demolished, but simply left to deteriorate. It’s still there, in all its creepy, overgrown glory, but Disney doesn’t exactly like to advertise that fact. The only photos available of the park in its current condition were taken guerilla style by photographer Seph Lawless, who’s now banned for life.
We’re guessing it would cost a significant sum to demolish the park and dispose of the waste, so the park’s probably waiting until they have something to put in its place that would cover the cost of the demolition.
In June of 2016, two-year-old Lane Graves was killed in an alligator attack on Disney World property. The tragedy resulted in much criticism of Disney’s safety and whether or not their alligator issue was more serious than they let on.
Disney acted as though the attack came as a total shock, but according to the Washington Post, the gator problem had been worsening in the year leading up to the attack. From 2006 to 2015, 220 alligators total were removed from Disney World, but from 2015 to 2016, the numbers spiked — 40 were removed in that year alone and 83 the following year.
12. NOT EVERYONE MAKES IT OUT ALIVE
When you think about how large the U.S. Disney parks are (Disney World is roughly 40 square miles — about the size of San Francisco), how long they’ve been around and the amount of people who move through them on a daily basis, it’s not totally shocking to learn that guests have perished during their visits. But it’s still so incongruous with Disney’s brand that learning of park deaths is still weirdly macabre — especially when attractions remain open after someone’s died using them.
In 1980, an 11-year-old boy died after swimming in River Country because he contracted amoebic meningoencephalitis — a rare disease caused by an amoeba found in Florida freshwater lakes. Two other children drowned in River Country in 1982 and 1989 respectively, but the park remained open for another 12 years before shuttering in 2001. Don’t even get us started on the Matterhorn…
11. HAUNTED HAUNTED HOUSE
In addition to It’s a Small World, people are also weirdly devoted to Disney’s Haunted Mansion. The attraction in New Orleans Square has a storied history that starts with its plagued construction and continues throughout its reign as one of Disneyland’s most popular stops. So popular, in fact, people literally want to spend eternity there.
There is an actual regulation against the spreading of ashes at the Haunted Mansion because so many people have spread loved ones’ ashes there in the past. Not only is this eight shades of illegal, it’s also very gross and way, way too intense for a children’s theme park.
10. ADULT SUBTEXT
Anyone born in the ’80s is probably very aware that there’s a very phallic tower on King Triton’s castle on The Little Mermaid VHS covers, the priest in that movie is aroused, and when Simba sighs and flops to the ground in one of the more emo moments of The Lion King, the flower petals that blow out away from him look like they spell S-E-X in the air. But honestly? Those are tame compared to what managed to sneak by censors in Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Rescuers.
There is a very brief shot of a Playboy centerfold in the original negative of The Rescuers and in the first run of Roger Rabbit, Jessica Rabbit goes full Basic Instinct after getting into a car crash. You can find clips on YouTube of both of these “jokes,” but Disney’s obviously fixed the issue for all future releases.
9. NO GIRLS ALLOWED
Surprise, surprise, Disney hasn’t always been a friendly place for women to work. To be fair, not many places were during the first three-quarters of the 20th century, but context can’t totally erase the ugliness a young artist named Mary Ford endured in 1938 when she inquired about being an animator.
The rejection letter she received in response to her application explicitly stated that “girls are not considered” for such positions. Not only was it utterly sexist, but the language used makes it sound like everyone’s fighting over entry to a treehouse. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the stationary featured Snow White posed daintily while the Seven Dwarves stare at her.
8. THE WEINSTEIN CONNECTION
Harvey Weinstein’s reach was extensive, so his disgrace has endangered the reputations of many in the industry who now have to prove they aren’t guilty by association. Unfortunately, as Miramax’s former owner (despite the fact that they parted ways with the Weinsteins in 2005), Disney’s been named in a lawsuit filed against Harvey Weinstein.
On November 1st, the LA Times reported that a Canadian actress is suing Weinstein, Disney, and others for $14 million in damages. She alleges Weinstein assaulted her on two different occasions during a pair of his now-infamous hotel meetings.
Disney is denying all responsibility and had this to say in a statement: “the Weinsteins operated and managed their business with virtual autonomy, and we were unaware of any complaints, lawsuits, or settlements. There is absolutely no legal basis for this claim against The Walt Disney Company and we will defend against it vigorously.”
7. YOU DON’T SHORT LIZZIE McGUIRE
Hilary Duff’s show about eponymous high schooler Lizzie McGuire was a massive, massive hit on the Disney Channel, and thus, a massive, massive cash cow. It only ran for two seasons, but its popularity spawned a feature film and endless merchandising, and turned Duff into an icon. Unfortunately, when it came time renegotiate Duff’s contract, Disney played and lost.
Duff’s team felt she deserved a significant raise, but they couldn’t reach an agreement with the studio on what “significant” meant. According to Duff’s mother, her team was made to wait months for an answer from Disney, and when it came, the amount was paltry compared what they thought Duff deserved.
Duff walked and got a rep for being “difficult,” which could be true, but Disney’s known to be tight-fisted and ruthless in its contract negotiations, so it’s also very likely they strong-armed the teen too much for her liking.
6. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 HYPOCRISY
Michael Moore’s controversial documentary had a hard time finding distribution and financing at the outset, for obvious reasons. Harvey Weinstein bought the rights in 2003, but he did so while Disney owned Miramax and without getting the necessary approvals from Disney’s CEO, Michael Eisner. Eisner exercised veto, though, and refused to allow Miramax to distribute the film. So, Michael Moore got industrious.
He spread a rumor that Eisner caved to White House pressure and held up the film because it was unfavorable to then-President Bush and being associated with it could harm the tax breaks Disney received in Florida where Jeb Bush was governor.
That sensationalism, plus Moore’s 2004 Palme d’Or win ensured the film would make money, so Disney reversed its position to ensure it got a piece of the pie. Despite their commitment to family values, cash is king at the House of Mouse more often than not.
5. ANTI-POACHING NEVER LOOKED SO BAD
In February of this year, Disney settled a lawsuit with its animators to the tune of a 100 million dollars. The suit alleged that Disney had made backroom anti-poaching deals with other studios in an attempt to ensure the animators so important to the Disney machine would stay right where they were and not move on to other companies. But, more importantly, it ensured Disney could keep wages as low as possible without the risk of losing employees to other, higher-paying jobs.
The deal was widespread — defendants included DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Animation and Disney subsidiaries Lucasfilm and Pixar. The suit was initially filed in 2014 by a DreamWorks animation artist named Robert Nitsch who alleged the practice had been going on since the 1980s.
4. ALWAYS TAKE YOUR RECEIPTS
Vicki Prusnofsky was on vacation with her family and ducked into a gift shop for camera film while they were in line for a ride. Unfortunately, she was wearing Mickey earrings she’d purchased on a previous trip. After she left the shop, two security guards set upon her as she left accusing her of stealing the jewelry and the film for which she’d neglected to take a receipt.
Prusnofsky reported that she wasn’t allowed to go back to the gift shop to have the cashier confirm her story, so they hauled her off to Disney jail and then turned her over to the Orange County Sheriff’s department who reportedly strip searched her and put her in a holding cell.
3. COUNTRY WALK
Disney has its fingers in many different pots, including real estate. In the 1980s, Disney partnered with a company called Arvida to construct homes for a suburb called Country Walk in Miami-Dade County. As soon as the homes were built and sold, Disney sold their share of the company and cut ties with Arvida.
Then, in 1992, the worst hurricane in recorded history made landfall in Florida. Andrew created unprecedented amounts of damage everything it touched, but it literally leveled 90% of the Country Walk subdivision.
Despite the strength of Andrew, many thought the homes should’ve held up better, and when they investigated, they discovered a serious lack of oversight in the construction process. Wood frames were used instead of concrete and entire homes were finished months before construction permits had been issued. All this happened while Disney was a partner.
2. FORBIDDEN FLICKS
It should surprise no one that getting permission to shoot a non-Disney project on Disney property is basically impossible. But that hasn’t stopped people from trying (and succeeding) to do so.
2013’s Escape from Tomorrow and this year’s The Florida Project both involved guerilla shooting at Disney World and both were incredibly bleak, dark takes on the Happiest Place on Earth. Escape from Tomorrow is a cynical look at the park’s forced happiness as its seen through the eyes of a father who’s just lost his livelihood. The Florida Project is a heartbreakingly realistic look at the severe poverty that exists literally just outside park gates of Disney World.
1. ANAHEIM SCANDAL
The most recent Disney dust-up that clearly had their PR people in a serious tizzy was an article published in the LA Times that detailed Disneyland’s stranglehold on its hometown of Anaheim. The Times accused Disney of strong-arming the Orange County city into giving the parks whatever permits, tax incentives, and rebates they desire, raising questions about whether or not the billion dollar company was abusing its power at the expense of the city.
Disney reacted very, very poorly to what an OC Register editorial called a “hit piece” and imposed a news blackout on the newspaper. It backfired, though. When the LA Times reported reported what happened, other major outlets (including The A.V. Club and the New York Times) boycotted all Disney press screenings and events until the ban was lifted, and critics groups banned Disney from their awards. It worked — Disney imposed the ban on a Friday and it was lifted the following Tuesday.
Do you have any secrets about Disney to share? Let us know in the comments!
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