Just before Disney’s Aladdin was released in 1992, it was brought to the attention of the studio that some of the lyrics in the introductory song, Arabian Nights, were actually quite racially offensive. So, the line “where they cut off your ear, if they don’t like your face” was replaced with “where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense,” and the song merrily continues on through imagery about the desert sun and wind, and magic carpets, and on into the refrain with, “Arabian Nights, like Arabian days, more often than not are hotter than hot, in a lot of good ways.” Right, yes, excellent, right.
There are two things that need to be said about this suspect little line from Aladdin’s opening track. Firstly, hands up for who giggled at these sorts of innuendos as soon as they got a bit older and started to notice them? Secondly, whose response to lines such as the ones that were removed would have been, “I say – that’s a somewhat unfair and decidedly stereotypical presentation of the Middle-Eastern populations, is it not?” Didn’t think so. Even if Disney did cut or adjust parts of some of their movies, there was still a lot more to them that we were going to realize later on in life during the second (or ninth/twelfth/fortieth, whatever) viewing.
But it’s not just the moments where we can almost see Disney physically winking from the screen that keeps these movies relevant to grown-up audiences. As the sensation that is Frozen has been proving for almost a year now, Disney has a power to completely transcend the child/adult divide (and by ‘transcend’ I mean ‘disguise,’ and by ‘divide’ I mean ‘the fact that adults actually loved Frozen even more than children did, and suddenly realized that having children of their own would be entirely worth it, simply for the fact that they could then totally legitimately buy the DVD).
Disney films tackle serious themes and reinforce important messages. They can be affecting in ways we didn’t even imagine and they are often strangely inspiring. (And just in case too many of us at once reach for the sick bowl, they also encourage some seriously questionable moral behaviour, and then laugh about it).
Disney hasn’t just saved us adults from a fate worse than the Teletubbies (which I think we can all agree makes for a much more effective phrase than the original wording) by giving us something to watch with younger siblings or children of our own that is actually bearable – Disney has a certain attraction that is all its own, that it has built through cleverly joining various parts of the adult and childrens’ worlds together. As Walt Disney himself says in Saving Mr Banks, it is the job of story-tellers such as Disney to “restore order with imagination….and instill hope – again and again and again.” If we think about it in these terms, Disney really does have a kind of magic.
Whether it be the underlying meanings then, the pornographic shots that accidentally made it through to the final cut – or just plain straightforward escapism – the aim here is to cover a few of the reasons for the enduring popularity of Disney among adults.
To create the clearest distinction between adulthood and childhood, most of the references are to Disney’s animations, rather than their live action collection (and Pixar’s role in the action is just taken as read where relevant). But as these things are highly subjective, do feel free to involve any other favourites in the comments below.
Also, apologies in advance to anyone who has managed to make it this far into adulthood without coming across some of the dodgier references, whose viewing of the films in question is about to be ruined forever.
So – without further ado, welcome back to The Magic Kingdom!