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Drugs in Disney Movies!
What first comes to your mind when you hear “Disney”? For many of us who grew up on Disney, it brings back childhood memories, cute characters, and lovey-dovey songs. As such, people consider Disney movies to be the purest form of entertainment possible! In fact, the only movies many parents would allow their young children to watch are Disney movies. I personally grew up on Disney movies, and recall loving them. Now that I am a mature adult, however, I am about to expose another side of the story. If you firmly love and believe in the purity of Disney movies, you may not want to read on.
When parents present their children with Disney movies, they assume that they are protecting their young from the influence of drugs, sex and violence. The fact is, however quietly or subliminally, all three of these things are very much present in many Disney films! We already know that many of these beloved tales have violence; like the poisoning of Snow White by an evil witch or the homicidal murder of Mufasa in the Lion King. In addition, sexual innuendo may not seem too far off, what with half-naked, cleavage-bearing princesses like the Little Mermaid or Jasmine. But drugs? Most of us would be quite surprised to know of the extent to which drug references and allusions run rampant in many of the Disney Classics!
How and why could this be? We might start by taking a closer look at Walt Disney, the legendary man behind our favorite childhood films. One might assume that the person behind Disney movies must be very sweet in nature, and loving of children, sort of like a Mr. Rogers. Well, there is no doubt that Walt Disney was a very creative man who loved to bring to life stories for children. But what others have to say about this man, who lived from 1901-1966, show us that he may have had a darker side.
Starting with the darkest side of the spectrum, Frink Springmeier goes so far as to insist that Walt, as well as the entire Disney Company, are part of the Illuminati. For those who need a briefing on the Illuminati, they are essentially governments and large corporations who work behind the scenes to control world affairs. They may or may not actually exist today, but their idea is based on the historical Bavarian Illuminati group, which dates back to the 1700’s. If you are the type to believe in brainwashing, and evil powers who “hide themselves behind perfect fronts”, in the hopes of one day bringing about a New World Order, I would refer you to read Springmeier’s The Disney Bloodline. It quotes an Illuminati Grand Master as saying, “If the world only had the eyes to see the fibers which lay under the surface of Walt Disney’s image, they’d tar and feather him, and drag him through the streets. If only they knew what Disney’s primary goal is” (Springmeier, 1998). This idea of Walt being part of the Illuminati may help explain, in part, his reason for using subliminal drug (as well as sexual) messages in his movies; a topic we shall explore again later.
Whether Walt Disney was actually part of the Illuminati or not, there seems to be evidence in favor of a more common, every day vice: the use of drugs. In addition to smoking “specially rounded brown cigarettes”, Walt was quite a fan of “expensive Scotch Whiskey” (Springmeier, 1998). Now there is nothing wrong with enjoying a drink now and then, but “…unfortunately with the progression of time, by the 1960’s Walt had become a sadistic egotistical alcoholic” (Springmeier, 1998). In addition, sleep problems led him to consistently “…take alcohol and tranquilizers” (Springmeier, 1998).
Were there any other drugs Disney was involved with in his lifetime? According to several individuals, including artist Paul Laffoley, the answer is yes, mescaline. An interesting story lies behind Walt’s favorite drug of choice. How did he get introduced to it in the first place? Enter Black Mountain College, an art school taught by the late renowned German artist Josef Albers. In 1935, Disney, who sought artistic advice for his animations, rushed to Black Mountain to meet Albers. What Walt found was an impossibly narcissistic man who, looking down on his American students, taught with “…the European attitude of paternalism” (Laffoley, 2008). Needless to say, Walt never got his advice (rather, his animations were ripped apart by Albers), but he did get to “…discover the way students ‘escaped’ from the school in the summer. They all went to Chihuahua in Northern Mexico. There the students would eat wild peyote…(In its refined form…mescaline)” (Laffoley, 2008). As a result of hanging out with these students, “By 1936 Disney was taking mescaline on a regular basis…” (Laffoley, 2008). This is where the drug part of the story at Black Mountain College ends, but as a side note, any Fantasia buffs might be interested to know where the inspirations for the Night on Bald Mountain animations came from. It has been suggested that in Night on Bald Mountain, the devil was inspired from the “tyrant” Joseph Albers, and that “Bald Mountain” actually stood for “Black Mountain” College (Laffoley, 2008). In addition, the little creatures the devil plays with “…before he destroys them…” symbolize the students at the college, and how they were treated by Albers (Laffoley, 2008).
to the drug story, one year after Disney’s purported regular use of mescaline
began, in 1937, Walt Disney came out with his first classic, Snow White and
the Seven Dwarfs. Now Snow White may have been a poster-child for the
fairest and most innocent of them all, but according to Urbandictionary.com,
Snow White is now a street term for cocaine! Snow White and cocaine may both be
powder-white, but let us take it a step further. Why did one construction worker
at Disney world quit? According to his story, “Walt Disney had been a cocaine
addict. He insisted that ‘Snow White was (symbolizing) cocaine, and the seven
dwarves were the symptoms of various stages of cocaine addiction: Grumpy,
Sleepy, Grouchy [sic], Dopey, Sneezy, Happy and so fourth’” (Klimov, 2007). The
same theory is also explored on http://filmguide.wikia.com
:“…Snow is cocaine, which causes exhaustion (Sleepy), mood swings (Happy,
Grumpy), allergies (Sneezy) and alteration of personality (Bashful, Dopey)
eventually resulting in a trip to the doctor (Doc)”. Shocked yet?
The next Disney Classic, which came out in 1940, is Pinocchio. In my own personal opinion, no discussion of drugs in Disney movies could be complete without mentioning this film. Recall in your mind Pleasure Island, a type of Sin City for juvenile delinquent boys. Tricked by the so-called Honest John and the seemingly pedophilic Coachman, a truckload of young boys are taken to the Island. There they are allowed to smash in windows, get into fist fights, and, most covetable of all, to smoke. “Get your cigars, cigarettes, and chewing tobacco! Come in and smoke your heads off!”, yells a voice over the loudspeaker (Pinocchio, 1940).
One or two scenes later, the viewer witnesses the ultimate demonstration of peer pressure. Pinocchio finds himself in a pool hall with bad-boy Lampwick. Both boys hold mugs foaming over with beer, and cigars in their hands. After watching Pinocchio delicately puff his pipe, Lampwick, unimpressed, yells “Come on! Take a big drag! Like this!” (Pinocchio, 1940). Obediently, Pinocchio sucks in a large amount of tobacco, until the point where his face turns red and his large eyes water. The camera switches to Pinocchio’s view, shaking, and vision blurry. We see poor Pinocchio’s face go from red to sickly green and watch his eyes rattle about in his head.
To a young child, witnessing a beloved character undergo such
ill effects is quite scary! Scary enough, perhaps, for them to avoid smoking
for a while. Pinocchio’s smoking episode is not the worst thing that happened
at Pleasure Island, however. Lampwick, and eventually all the other boys who
engaged in smoking, drinking, and bad behavior turn into (pun perhaps intended)
jackasses! In this way, Walt’s Pinocchio
is didactic in nature, warning kids at an early age of the negative
consequences that come with drugs and alcohol. As the Coachman put it, “You boys have had your fun! Now pay
for it!” (Pinocchio, 1940).
The year 1940 was quite a productive one for Walt Disney. In addition to Pinocchio, he also introduced Fantasia, a film of epic proportions, far ahead of its time. The brilliant masterpiece, a collection of classical music brought to life by animation, was not appreciated at first. As critic Dorothy Thompson put it, “I left the theater in a condition bordering on nervous breakdown. I felt as though I had been subjected…to an assault [by Disney and conductor Leopold Stokowski, who] were responsible for the brutalization of sensibility in this remarkable nightmare…Since the chief characteristic of this…century is the collapse of the civilized world…Fantasia is [best taken as] a social symptom [of that collapse]” (Brode, pg.18). Such a strong review, although negative in light, adequately portrays Fantasia’s capability to alter the state of its viewer’s mind! It wasn’t until the rerelease in 1970, however, that Fantasia’s ability to grab you and shake you was fully appreciated!
By 1970, the hippie revolution and post-Woodstock culture was in full swing. Part of life for young people had become the rebellious, and the self-exploratory, adventurous use of drugs. As summarized by Dr. Timothy Leary, “the rage on campus was to tune in, turn on, and drop out” (Brode, pg.16). It was precisely this audience, the college students, who embraced the rerelease Fantasia with open arms. To paint the picture, “Theaters located near universities were filled with long-haired freaks, surrounded by sweet-smelling fumes worthy of a Grateful Dead concert” (Brode, pg.17). “They even sat in the aisles to drink in the experience” (Hoffmann and Bailey, pg.120). In other words, the 70’s counterculture helped to lift Fantasia from flop to blockbuster status. It’s “…clear the [Disney] studio not only anticipated, but hoped to exploit, the drug culture’s reaction, judging by its advertising slogan for Fantasia’s rerelease: “the ultimate trip!” (Brode, pg.17)
So what was it that made Fantasia so magnetic to its viewers? “With so much color splashed on the screen and great music shifting moods, those in the audience not under the influence of drugs still succumbed to Fantasia’s spell. But for hippies high on drugs the film was surrealistic and a better acid trip than the real stuff…” (Hoffmann and Bailey, pg.120). Fantasia combined “animation and classical music, cartoon humor and classical mythology, geological science and religious piety, whimsy and intellectual seriousness,” and acted through “bizarre images that dug deep into the unconscious” (Brode, pg.17). With that, let us now take a look at a few of the scenes in more detail.
Fantasia unfolds with its first piece classical piece, Paul Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Micky Mouse. In this scene, apprentice Mickey gets so carried away with magic that he dreams he can move the stars and the waters at his command, playing God as it were. He wakes up from his dream to find the entire sorcerer’s lair flooded with water, and panics! Micky, once high and mighty, is now faced with a situation quickly spiraling out of control. The viewer sympathizes with poor Mickey as he struggles to stop a broom from pouring more buckets of water into the lair. Things take a violent turn when Mickey resorts to chopping the broom to pieces with a hatchet. This only causes the broom to start multiplying. Eventually the sorcerer comes down, and like Moses parting the Red Sea, moves the flooded water aside. Spanking guilty-faced Mickey like a parent would, the sorcerer sends him off running.
What does all this have to do with drugs? In a way, I believe Micky’s experiment with magic could be seen as a teen or child experimenting with drugs, finding out what a disaster it could be, and then learning from the experience. What was at first a power trip turned into quite a bad trip indeed! Later on we shall see how this parallels to Alice from Alice from Alice in Wonderland.
Another composition from Fantasia, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, alludes to drugs with its “set of magic mushrooms dancing about hippie-style” (Brode, pg.19). I recall seeing the Nutcracker Suite as a ballet when I was a child, and there were certainly no mushrooms involved in the dance. Thus, for whatever reason, it was Disney himself who chose to animate the music in this peculiar way. Watching this scene, the mushrooms, with their bobbing heads, are somewhat disturbing to behold, and have no particular face, except for two little slits that could perhaps be eyes. The final composition in Fantasia, however, is ten times more terrifying. Night on Bald Mountain (or Black Mountain, perhaps) is truly a nightmare on screen. No “ultimate trip” (drug-induced or otherwise) could be complete without a visit to hell, and Night on Bald Mountain takes you there. In addition, if there were ever a more appropriate place to point a finger to Walt’s suggested sexual perversion, this would be it. Not exactly appropriate for children’s eyes, the Devil himself plays with fire, turning it into tiny, dancing naked women. Later, screaming topless women are literally thrown at the screen, expressions of terror on their faces. So yet again we see, Walt Disney’s mind was, in the words of a former Micky Mousy club member, “Not That Innocent.”
Moving swiftly along the Disney Classics timeline, the next movie to be released was Dumbo, in 1941. By now you are probably ready to stop reading, thinking that this is ridiculous. What could a movie about a cute little elephant learning how to fly have anything to do with drugs? Well before you go, let me remind you of one particular little scene. Half-way through the movie, poor little Dumbo gets depressed and discouraged, thinking that perhaps he will never be able to fly. Now think about what happens to us when we have a rough day, what do we do? A lot of us would head to the bar and have a drink. This is pretty much the same advice that Timothy Mouse gives to down-in-the-dumps Dumbo! “Well, ain’t nothin’ a little water won’t cure”, he says happily (Dumbo, 1941). The only problem with this so-called water is that it is actually a tub full of champagne! Dumbo goes ahead and “takes a trunkfull”, upon which his face turns red, and, like a true drunk, starts hiccupping. After Timothy Mouse dives into the champagne, he too emerges as a drunk, laughing and hiccupping and falling all over himself.
Up to this point, the drug of influence has been alcohol, but that all changes as soon as Dumbo starts blowing pink elephants out of his trunk. One elephant turns into two, two turns into four, and before you know it a whole “parade” of wildly colored elephants are assaulting the screen. This “psychedelic sequence…begins the surreal fantasy of design, space, color, light, and gags, all to the tune of this minor-key march” (Brode, pg.20). Can you say acid-trip? If not, take a look at these lyrics to the song “Pink Elephants on Parade”, sung by a man in the background:
“Look out! Look out… Pink elephants on parade! What’ll I do? What’ll I do? What an unusual view! I could stand the sight of worms, And look at microscopic germs, But Technicolor pachyderms, Is really too much for me! I am not the type to faint, When things are odd or things are quaint, But seeing things you know that ain’t, Can certainly give you an awful fright! What a sight! Chase ‘em away! Chase ‘em away! I’m afraid I need your aid! Pink elephants on parade!” (www.stlyrics.com).
The lyrics clearly convey a person who is quite distressed with his or her hallucinations of pink elephants. The fact that the person knows they are seeing “things that ain’t”, or things that are not real, gives us reason to believe that they are experiencing a drug trip. So too does the fact that they “need aid” or help! After witnessing the entire pink elephants scene, many viewers would conclude that the “water” Dumbo drank from was spiked with a little something more than just alcohol. It has been suggested that this very scene “…serves as a prelude to (and, perhaps, inspiration for) Ken Kensey’s Merry Pranksters, who drove across America, dropping “acid” in reservoirs, as detailed by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968)” (Brode, pg.20).
In contrast to Dumbo’s single drug-related scene, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is a drug trip from start to finish! First released in 1951, the movie is based on the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. It has been suggested that Lewis Carroll was on drugs the entire time he wrote his creative novel. As mused in the book, Alice in Acidland, “There is little reason why Carroll’s creative vision could not have included instinctively, what are now referred to as mind-bending drugs…He may have been, in fact, the original proponent of the use of these drugs” (Fensch, pg.13). Whether or not this is true is up for debate, as there are others who have dismissed such claims as pure slander and an insult to Carroll’s natural creative genius. Book aside, the movie version by Disney, much like Fantasia, went over quite well with hippies and druggies when it was rereleased in the 70’s. Also like Fantasia, it was a movie ahead of its time. As one individual put it, “Walt’s incarnation of the heroine foreshadows, two decades before the fact, every straight girl who went crooked over drugs and lived to regret it” (Brode, pg.21).
Alice in Wonderland is a film that embodies the idea of the counterculture. “Rather than Carroll’s typical late-Victorian child, Disney’s Alice seems more a progenitor of America’s flower-power hippie girls” (Brode, pg.22). Indeed, it is Alice’s rejection of an “uptight Victorian society” in favor of a world of nonsense that gets her started on that fascinating, life-altering trip in the first place (Brode, pg.21-22). The journey starts when Alice follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole, into another world completely different from her own. For some, the drug-references start right here with the White Rabbit signifying cocaine. Besides being white (like Snow White), the rabbit is always full of neurotic energy; one of cocaine’s side effects. In addition, for no apparent reason, Alice is always chasing after the White Rabbit, just like many addicted cocaine-users track down cocaine.
Even before Alice can enter Wonderland, she is faced with a challenge: how to get through a talking door-knob keyhole! The answer to her problem? Size-altering drugs! First, Alice drinks a bottle labeled “DRINK ME” to get smaller. Then, when she has to get larger to reach a key, she eats a cake from a little box, whose instructions are “EAT ME.” Alice’s rapid change in size (from a few inches tall to over ten feet tall) mimics the mental effects of drugs like LSD. “A common characteristic of LSD is distortion. Acidheads often experience space distortions” (Fensch, pg.32). Also, the little cake that Alice eats “…predates by almost one hundred years the recipes for making brownies laced with marijuana…” (Fensch, pg.35).
Alice’s changes in size continue several times throughout her journey through Wonderland, indicating that she is tripping the entire time. One of the most unforgettable creatures she encounters, a hookah-smoking caterpillar, gives her pieces of his magic-mushroom stool when she needs to grow taller. As advice from druggie to druggie, the caterpillar tells Alice “One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make your grow shorter.” Throughout his entire dialogue with Alice, the caterpillar speaks in his own cryptic language, “…half nonsense and half poetry” which makes it “…clear that the Caterpillar is stoned out of his mind” (Brode, pg.23-24). Another thing is also clear, and that is that Alice and the caterpillar are on very different drugs, probably acid and marijuana or hashish, respectively. While Alice is in a mild state of panic, the caterpillar is “…languid, sleepy…”, and slow to speak (Fensch, pg.64). When he does speak, large, perfectly formed “O’s” slip out of his puckered mouth and cloud Alice’s confused face. After the caterpillar departs with his final words of advice, Alice “…not only eats of the mushroom to alter her state, but packs pieces of it away for further experimentation” (Brode, pg.24).
Alice’s level of confusion and frustration with the large, blue caterpillar are nothing compared to what happens at her next stop, a Mad Tea party. At this point, “…the drug-induced state becomes utterly unbearable” (Brode, pg.24). Now would be an appropriate time to introduce you to the term “rapping”, not as we know it, but in terms of druggie-lingo. “Rapping” in this sense means “to talk incessantly while undergoing an acidtrip, whether to oneself or to someone else” (Fensch, pg.146). Watching the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and little Doormouse blabber on, seemingly inflicted with diarrhea of the mouth, one can get a pretty good picture of what it means to rap. As the three stooges crunch on plates dipped into hot tea, and butter broken watches belonging to white rabbits, Alice “…becomes truly threatened for the first time” (Brode, pg.24). At this point, “pushing Romantic thinking to the limit has proven as unbearable as was its opposite; “weird” has finally lost all charm for Disney’s heroine as the drug trip turns bad” (Brode, pg.24). As alluded to earlier with Micky’s magic experience in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Alice is learning that the fun experience that drugs can provide will eventually turn sour. Echoing the words of the Coachman in Pinocchio, she mourns, “I should have known that there would be a price to pay, someday” (Brode, pg.24). However, when Alice leaves Wonderland and heads homeward back toward Victorian society, she “…still carries remnants of the magic mushrooms, and there’s no reason to believe she won’t continue to consume the pieces, if now in moderation” (Brode, pg.24).
As we have seen with these five classic Disney movies, an underlying drug theme was present in each of them. However, the point of this discussion has not been to completely slander Walt Disney, dampen the genius of his work, or suggest that parents should prevent their children from seeing Disney movies. In reference to that last point, all of the drug-related Disney movies were released during the years before Walt died, and there have not been any more since. In this way, our study of drugs in Disney movies has been retrospective, looking back that the classics, the charming heirlooms of past decades, now far too old to be banned.
The point of this discussion has really been to turn over a shiny, perfect-looking coin to reveal another side. This other side does not necessarily have to be ugly, but just different. The fact that references to drugs existed in some of Walt’s movies does not mean he was a terrible person, or one without creativity and talent. So why was it that drugs were present in movies like Snow White, Dumbo, and so forth? Perhaps drugs were so much a part of Walt’s life that they just naturally worked their way into his films. Or perhaps he really was part of the Illuminati, and his goal was to subliminally get children to start thinking about drugs in their ripe, early age. Still another possibility is that he was doing kids a favor all along, warning them about the ill effects of drugs through the trials and experiences of characters like Micky Mouse, the boys of Pleasure Island, and Alice. What do you think? As for me, I believe a mixture of two possibilities, that drugs were naturally part of Walt’s life, and that his films were partially didactic, to be the closest to the truth. Perhaps when they unfreeze Walt’s body (as it is rumored cryogenically frozen), we will be able to ask him ourselves!
1) Brode, Douglas. From Walt to Woodstock how Disney created the counterculture. Austin: University of Texas P, 2004.
2) Dumbo. Dir. Ben Sharpsteen. Prod. Walt Disney Productions. VHS. 1941.
3) Fensch, Thomas. Alice in Acidland. Cranbury: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc., 1970.
4) Hoffmann, Frank W., and William G. Bailey. Arts & entertainment fads. New York: Harrington Park P, 1990.
5) Klimov, Blagoy. There! Did you see it?; Care! They do see you...Subliminal messages in advertisement, moving-making and cartoons in a 'not so-innocent world'. Profit driven or 'dark' conspiracy? Munich RePEc Personal Archive. 07 Nov. 2007. Central European University-Budapest. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/4257/1/MPRA_paper_4257.pdf>.
6) Laffoley, Paul. "Walt Disney and Joseph Albers." Interview. Weblog post. Official Paul Laffoley Blog. 21 Nov. 2008. 09 Mar. 2009 <http://paullaffoley.net/blog/>.
7) Pinocchio. Dir. Hamilton Luske and Ben Sharpsteen. Prod. Walt Disney Productions. VHS. 1940.
8) Springmeier, Fritz. Blood Lines of the Illuminati. New York: Ambassador House, 1998. The Revelation. 10 Mar. 2009 <www.theforbiddenknowledge.com>.