6 Reasons Why Disney Movies Still Appeal To Adults

1) Adult Humour

Let’s start with the obvious fact, which is that a good percentage of Disney movies simply go over our heads as children. Most of this is made up of innuendos, hundreds of which have been slipped in (ha!) throughout the years and that range through everything from songs about promiscuous dogs (Lady and the Tramp) and an Oedipus reference (Hercules), to girl groupies ‘flashing’ (Cars), an actual hooker (the crane with Barbie legs in Toy Story), and the fact that apparently “one can become too familiar with vegetables, you know?” (We don’t know, actually, Skinner from Ratatouille, but thank you for the decidedly uncomfortable mental imagery).

But the most important thing about this material is not just that it’s there and that we’ve been missing it all this time – it’s that the makers at Disney know that children will not understand these references. That is, there is a large extent to which Disney movies are specifically made with adult audiences in mind.

This doesn’t just apply to sex either (although it frequently frequently does); Disney’s scripts – and especially those of the last twenty years or so since Robin William’s genius turn in Aladdin – are brimming with a genuine grown-up sense of humour that is often sophisticated and always clever. Hermes’ throw-away comment, “I haven’t seen this much love in a room since Narcissus discovered himself” in Hercules, and Dory’s sleep-mumbled “yes I’m a natural blue” in Finding Nemo are two of the most regularly quoted examples.

The Emperor’s New Groove (despite being scandalously overlooked following its below-Disney-par performance at the box office) was nominated for three awards for its script alone, and Wreck it Ralph directly mentions Children of the Corn – unless Netflix  has recently decided to base its recommended for children list on the exposure-therapy model, I think we can safely assume that adults were the target of this reference.

Grown-up Disney humour isn’t just limited to the dialogue, though. As smart as their scripts are, Disney have not lost sight of the value of a good old fashioned sight gag. Of course, this is the sort of comedy that children themselves are more likely to understand, but there are plenty of moments that Disney has wryly engineered to make us squeak out loud before quickly asking ourselves, “er, I have a mortgage now….is it still ok to laugh at that?”

One of the clearest examples of this is the sequence in The Emperor’s New Groove in which in the poisoned flower drops to the floor; there are actually only two frames here, the one in which the flower is upright, and one in which it is flat on the floor. By having no connecting images between the two stages, the result is that maximum magic comic timing that only animation can achieve. And for anyone who needs a bit more convincing that basic physical comedy appeals to adults as much as it does to children – America’s Funniest Home Videos was recently renewed for a 25th season, and this is a show that is only a few years away from achieving thirty years of broadcasting almost nothing but people falling over. Variations include people falling through, off, down, (and in rare but commendable cases, up) – but the point is, Disney have all of these bases covered. Disney knows that there will never be a time in the life of an individual at which certain things cease to be funny. Disney knows how to draw a laugh in places where we feel we should no longer laugh, and takes the time to make it completely legitimate. Disney understands.

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There is one last thing to mention on the topic of adult content in Disney movies. This is that there have been a few cases in Disney’s history where the ‘bearing the adult audience in mind’ approach got interpreted slightly too literally by one or two hilarious (and apparently non-too-taken-with-their-jobs) fellows in the studios, and actual adult material ended up in final productions. The most infamous examples are the scene in The Rescuers in which the entirely naked top half of a real-life woman can be seen at an apartment window as Bernard and Bianca fly past the building, and the whispered line “good teenagers, take off your clothes” that occurs while Aladdin is trying to shoe Rajar away on Jasmine’s balcony.

In the Aladdin case, Disney tried to explain the er, embellishments, to the dialogue by claiming that the words had simply been misheard – but as demonstrated by the entire career of Weird Al Yankovic, any decent misheard lyric will render the original almost impossible to listen to ever again. The damage was done, and the relevant dialogue had to be edited for Aladdin’s 2004 DVD re-release.

As for the pornographic shot in The Rescuers, given that it only appeared for two non-consecutive frames in a film that was running at 30 frames a second, it wasn’t visible to the naked (sorry) eye until the movie had its second home release in 1999 – unfortunately into a world that had since developed single-frame advancement (and in which people were desperately in need of hobbies, apparently). 3.4 million copies were recalled, and amidst rumours that they had known about the image all along, Disney released a statement saying that the aim of the recall was to ‘keep its promise to families that they can trust and rely on the Disney brand to provide the best in family entertainment*’ (* when we’re not all busy ourselves proving that no-one ever really progresses beyond the mental age of six).

Despite Disney’s stalwart claims to wholesomeness, however, there are vast amounts of people who have gone loyally on to demonstrate that Disney really does offer endless entertainment to all age groups by pointing out questionable Disney images wherever they can. Some cover art for The Little Mermaid attracted some attention, and there is a particular poster for The Lion King – involving a bikini – which may as well be a dictionary definition of the phrase “impossible to unsee.”

And when all official images had been picked clean, people took matters into their own hands and photo-shopped the life out of several more. Look up Monsters, Inc. You have been warned.