12 Disney Subliminal Messages in Movies That’ll Surprise You
If you’re a loyal Disney fan and spend any amount of time online, you probably have run across occasional shadowy rumors and innuendoes about Disney subliminal messages and imagery. These “secret” messages can be hidden subplots in movies or hard-to-distinguish images and forms in Disney films and promotional materials.
But how commonplace is this, really? Is Disney truly trying to sneak secret messaging into their entertainment, or are these all just pure accidents or even complete hoaxes created by people who hate the Disney brand? Well, let’s find out together right now.
Disney Subliminal Messages in Movie Subplots
Sometimes, a fairy tale movie is just a fairy tale movie. But other times, there might be a subplot meant to send a message to viewers or spread an idea. And on occasion, movie filmgoers themselves can concoct a nefarious hidden subplot that really just don’t hold much water.
Either way, here are some examples of alleged subliminal storylines in Disney movies (warning: there might be minor plot spoilers ahead!):
Frozen and the Elsa Controversy
What possible subliminal messaging could be in Frozen? That’s a good question, and the short answer (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t really exist. Yet, there are some people who think they “found” some subliminal message about Elsa, and the rumor has “snowballed” (see what I did there?) online ever since the movie was first released.
So the alleged subliminal message is that Elsa is a lesbian, and somehow this movie promotes a gay lifestyle. I’m not even sure where this rumor originally started, but it’s been spread and expanded upon endlessly.
The basic idea is that because Elsa doesn’t have any love interest, or doesn’t even seem interested in finding a handsome prince, she must be gay. Her whole life, her parents tried to convince her to hide her powers, which some people believe is a metaphor for her parents wanting her to “appear straight”.
Also, when Elsa finally emerges from the room she’s been isolating herself in, that is a metaphor for “coming out” to the world. Even the words to her song “Let It Go” have been interpreted as somehow confirmation of her finally accepting herself as a lesbian.
In actuality, Elsa doesn’t express interest in looking for a romantic partner of any kind. She’s pretty busy dealing with her barely controlled powers, becoming Queen of Arendelle, and reconnecting with (and eventually saving) her sister, Anna. When is she supposed to have time to date with all that going on? Just because she’s not pining away for a handsome prince doesn’t automatically mean she’s a lesbian.
Zootopia and Prejudice
Zootopia is a fun movie about an adorable hard-working rabbit who wants to join the city police force. At least, that’s what the story appears to be at face value. In actuality, this movie addresses the all-too-human problems of discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice within a fun adventure populated by anthropomorphic animals.
The lead character, Judy Hopps, is a female rabbit off to start her dream career on the Zootopia Police Force. Because she isn’t a predator animal and is a small female, she faces all kinds of discrimination as she tries to do her job. The police chief even argues that she was only hired as part of a “mammal inclusion initiative”; a subtle reference to Affirmative Action, in spite of the fact that Judy was valedictorian of her police academy class.
The other main character of the film is a con artist fox named Nick Wilde. Nick has been bullied and had negative assumptions made about him during his entire life, based solely on the fact that he is a fox. Eventually, this leads him to become a jaded petty criminal when he has been denied other opportunities.
The story is more complex, but a subliminal theme that cautions against believing in stereotypes runs throughout the movie. Judy and Nick learn that assumptions each made about the other were not just wrong, but hurtful and unfair. Eventually, the negative stereotypes get overcome, and the crime is solved.
Judy and Nick manage to succeed, even though there are authority figures that continually assumed the worst about both of them. There’s a good lesson there about not believing stereotypes.
Obviously, there are numerous metaphors for racism, sexism, and personal prejudices in this movie. Those are heavy topics for a Disney film, yet somehow this movie manages to address them without becoming overly preachy.
Hidden Messaging in Strange World?
Let’s start with one of Disney’s recent movie releases: Strange World. It’s one of the most imaginative pieces of Disney animation I’ve seen, and the visual appeal is simply stunning. In regards to the storyline, well, there’s quite a bit to unpack here.
The story has some obvious messages that pertain to climate change and environmental responsibility, as well as family members being supportive of one another’s lifestyles and choices. These are pretty obvious themes as you watch the movie. However, I think there was another underlying message in there. That message was all about “generational divides”.
We’ve all seen online memes and articles about “Millenials”, “Boomers”, “Gen Z”, and (occasionally) “Gen X”. If the internet is to be believed, each generation is perpetually at odds with the ones before and after it. Strange World strives to show what can happen when people stubbornly hold on to that “my generation knows best” attitude.
In Strange World, we see three generations of the Clade family. Even though they love each other, they don’t seem good at listening to each other. Patriarch Jaeger Clade refuses to listen to his son, Searcher, when he discovers a mysterious plant that can be used as a power source.
Once Searcher Clade grows up and has a son of his own (Ethan), he similarly dismisses his son’s discovery that using the plant’s power source is slowly killing their home world. Each generation of the Clade men dismisses the younger generation, simply because they’re younger.
Ultimately, of course, they realize the error of their ways and work together to save their home. I felt like there was a subtle message in this movie about how we shouldn’t let generational differences divide us, and how each age group can learn from one another.
Hocus Pocus 2
When I first heard about some dark subliminal message in Hocus Pocus 2, I was sure it was from a satirical website. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. There are actually many people that believe there was a satanic subliminal message in this movie, and that actual witches’ spells would be cast through the TV screen at children.
Although fundamentalist Christian groups have voiced their opposition to both Hocus Pocus and the sequel as “promoting satanism”, much of the panic around Hocus Pocus 2 seems to have originated from one woman’s social media post. This concerned mom from Texas was quoted as saying (among other things) “Everybody thinks it’s fake and innocent, but they could be casting any type of spell that they want to, anything could be coming through that TV screen into your home.”
This was posted on her social media after she watched the trailer for the movie. The movie hadn’t even been released at the time, and therefore she obviously had not watched it.
She further warns “After all the whole movie is based on harvesting the purity of children’s souls so that witches may live on.” Okay, so that is kind of what the Sandersons had planned, butthe movie certainly isn’t condoning the harvesting of children’s souls!
The Sanderson Witches never succeed in their nefarious plot (well, I suppose outside of that one poor girl at the start of the first Hocus Pocus film). But in the end (for Hocus Pocus 2), the children of Salem don’t have their souls taken, and good triumphs over evil. There’s even a moment of humanizing Winnie Sanderson at the end of film, as she realizes how much she really loves her sisters.
Of course, the concerned mom in Texas is not the only source who criticized the Hocus Pocus franchise as somehow promoting witchcraft and satanism. Prominent pastors and Christian websites also voiced their concerns that this movie made witchcraft appear “more friendly.”
This alleged occult subliminal messaging exists only in the fears and imaginations of people who were looking to find it. It’s impossible that a fictional witch’s spell is going to be cast through a TV screen to harm children. It also makes no sense that a company like Disney, whose success relies heavily on entertaining children (and engendering trust with parents), would promote any type of entertainment that would actively harm them.
Snow White and The Secret Owls
This one is pretty hard to believe, but the story has been around for a long while. As long as there have been internet rumors, there have been stories about Walt Disney and secret societies. You can find unsubstantiated stories alleging Mr. Disney was a member of the Illuminati, various Masonic organizations, and the Secret Owl Society.
This rumored Secret Owl Society supposedly dates back all throughout human history and may have been a precursor to organizations such as the Illuminati and the elite gatherings at The Bohemian Grove.
In Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, there are images of owls throughout the dwarfs’ cottage. They’re carved into the wooden staircase, above doorways, and on the headboard on the beds. It’s true, the owls are everywhere in this film! Not only that, there are over 40 works of Disney animation that include owls. Weirdly enough, there are some people who allege that this imagery is “proof” that Walt Disney was a member of the Secret Owl Society.
Of course, there are also other carved images in the dwarfs’ cottage, but it’s the owls that must have some secret meaning, right? It’s important to note that it’s never really clear exactly what the Secret Owl Society is all about or that it ever really existed, just that it’s secret.
So I’m not quite sure if this society is supposed to be taking over the world, or they already rule the world, or something else. Regardless, I don’t seriously think there is any subliminal message to be found in the Seven Dwarfs owl-themed home decor. This is more urban legend than true subliminal imagery.
Subliminal Imagery In Disney Animation (Real and Hoaxes)
Subliminal imagery is different from subliminal messages in a movie plot. Usually, these are quick images that are only visible in a movie frame for a second or two; not even fully visible to the naked eye. Another example of subliminal imagery is a hidden word or message written somewhere in a movie scene.
Sometimes these images are real, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily there to convey any meaningful message. Occasionally, it’s unclear if the image is intentional or not. Sadly, there are also a few instances going around the internet that are subliminal message hoaxes, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t spread like wildfire.
The Disney subliminal message in The Rescuers is pretty shocking. In fact, I wasn’t sure it was true when I first read about it, but it’s been proven accurate. Are you ready?
There’s a scene in The Rescuers where, just for a split second, a nude woman appears in a window. Not an animated cartoon woman either; this is a photograph of an actual topless human woman. Sounds unbelievable, right?
The scene occurs when the two heroic mice, Bernard and Bianca, are flying through the city on the back of an albatross. Briefly, for just two frames, the image of the topless woman is visible in the window of a building. The image had been there since the film’s theatrical release in 1977, but didn’t come to light until 1999 when Disney announced a recall of the home video version because it contained an “objectionable” content.
Disney issued a statement that the image wasn’t included by any of their animators, and was added during the post-production process. This was probably someone’s idea of a prank, as opposed to trying to send a message of any kind.
The Lion King
There’s a moment in the Lion King where Simba climbs up on a cliff and flops down dramatically, kicking up some dust. The dust swirls around in the air and appears to spell out S-E-X in the sky. This one is actually true, but may be misunderstood.
Animator Tom Sito has confirmed that there were subliminal letters in the sky, but they didn’t spell out S-E-X. “It’s just a shout-out to the special effects department. It doesn’t say ‘sex.’ It says special effects. It’s SFX.”
Still, the scene has since been edited so the letters in the sky are no longer visible. So yes, this was an intentional subliminal image, but it might not have actually been what everyone thought they saw.
101 Dalmatians Swastika Hoax
There is an image purporting to be a still from 101 Dalmatians that show spots forming a swastika on Perdita’s side. This has been circulating since 2015 and saw a resurgence of circulation on social media when the 2021 live-action film “Cruella” was released.
This is a hoax. It’s 100% not true. It’s not even a particularly well-done photoshop job of the scene, but it still gets circulated on social media every so often. It’s especially disgusting that someone thought it might be funny to impose such a hateful symbol onto a Disney character.
Duck Tales and The Illuminati
This is a bit of subliminal messaging that is probably a joke from the animators. In 1989, an episode of this popular Disney Afternoon show featured a scene where Scrooge McDuck is visiting a doctor’s office. In the background, you can see an eye chart.
Instead of the usual letters, the chart spells out “Ask About Illuminati”. This is probably a joke from the animators hinting that Scrooge McDuck is a member of the Illuminati, or poking fun at the long-standing rumors that Walt Disney was a member of this secret society.
It’s interesting that the letters on the eye chart change a little bit throughout the scene, so the “Ask About Illuminati” message is only seen briefly.
Subliminal Images in Disney Posters and Marketing
Finally, here are a couple of instances where a subliminal image was found on printed Disney promotional materials.
The Little Mermaid
We can’t have an article about subliminal messages in Disney without mentioning the infamous Little Mermaid VHS cover art.
When The Little Mermaid was released on home video, the cover art featured a sparkling gold illustration of a castle in the center. One of the castle towers bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain part of the male anatomy. This very phallic tower is right in the center of the castle and is hard to miss once you see it.
There have been rumors that this was done by an unhappy Disney employee who feared he was about to be laid off. This part of the story is reported to be false. In fact, the artist who created this artwork was subcontracted by Disney and claims the resemblance was accidental.
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The Lion King
Yet another sexy subliminal image from The Lion King was noticed in the poster promoting the 2002 re-release of this film. I’m not sure if this is an actual subliminal image…or simply a strange design issue.
The poster features a large portrait of Simba imposed on a bright sunset sky. Some people noticed that the shape of Simba’s nose, mane, and nose kind of look like a woman wearing nothing but a thong bikini bottom. It’s not too obvious, but once you notice you really can’t unsee it!
I can’t find anywhere that Disney commented on this image, so I’m unclear if it was intentional or not. If it wasn’t done intentionally, it’s a pretty amazing coincidence that the image can be seen this way.
Hidden Mickeys – Hiding The Magic In Plain Sight
Finally, I’m going to give a quick mention of the “hidden Mickey” icons that can be found throughout the Disney Parks, cruise ships, and even in the movies. Some of these are more obvious than others, and they can be found just about anywhere on Disney property. Are they subliminal advertising? Or perhaps a secret code of some kind?
No, these aren’t subliminal advertising or secret messages. They’re meant to be fun! Spotting that recognizable Mickey icon in an unexpected place is like discovering a bit of secret magic! If there is any “message” embedded in the “hidden Mickey”, it’s most likely just to make people smile and perhaps remind them that “it all started with a mouse”.
This article was written by Kimberly and edited by Michael.
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