If you grew up with a TV, chances are you spent a lot of your childhood watching Disney movies.
Do you ever wonder where all those images and stories went? They must be lurking around in our brains somewhere, having embedded themselves into our psyches when we were at our most impressionable.
Because of this, watching something you last saw as a six year old can be distinctly surreal, especially when you realize just how strange, messed-up, and often, wildly psychedelic so much of the media you consumed as a youth was.
Disney Plus has entered the streaming game, and naturally, it's sure to rake in billions despite the glitches. For better or for worse, Disney was part of most of our childhoods. If you're looking to tap into some of those hidden reservoirs of childhood memories and nightmares, look no further than these 11 odd films. Many of them hold up, but others are full of cracks and flaws you may never have noticed.
This heartwarming story appeared to be about a cute little robot, but it actually was very clearly about the climate crisis. In 2019, when scientists predict untold suffering due to global warming and natural disasters are picking up in speed and ferocity, WALL-E's desolate vision of global apocalypse feels...too real. Also, since Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are considering space communities, the surreal spaceship habitat that houses all the remaining humans in WALL-E hits a bit too close to home.
This film was made in 1940, and if you view any of the clips, you'll notice that every frame seems to have been spawned from some sort of psychedelic experience. What was Fantasia? What is Fantasia? The truth is that no one really knows—Fantasia exists beyond human comprehension, in a sphere all its own—but the music is magnificent and the imagery is so surreal that you'll be amazed that you just accepted it as a kid.
3. Sleeping Beauty
This film was made in 1959, so it can be forgiven for its lack of feminist sensibility, but still… watching the prince plant a totally non-consensual kiss on a woman who is mostly only known as "Sleeping Beauty" is rather disorienting. If you're a woman who was raised on princess movies but are still wondering why you're having so much trouble getting over the impulse to be shy, submissive, and acquiescent, look no further. (The same goes for Snow White, who also goes to live in a house with seven strange men).
4. Robin Hood
Robin Hood was kind of a militant socialist. If you've been motivated by Bernie Sanders in recent years or have been organizing since you were a teen, watching this movie and seeing Robin Hood's dedication to redistributing the wealth can feel oddly resonant and inspiring.
5. Hannah Montana
This isn't a movie, but watching Miley Cyrus gallivant around in her blonde wig as the super innocent, ultra-perky Hannah Montana will inevitably be disorienting for the adult viewer. Cyrus has spoken openly about the struggles she went through while filming the show, saying that playing Hannah Montana made her "hate her body" and leveling other critiques at the franchise. Watching the show is eerie in that it'll remind you of the days of your innocent youth—before you ever saw Miley Cyrus naked (which simply became a rite of passage around 2012)—but maybe it'll also make you realize that you have a lot of internalized sexism.
HANNAH MONTANA: THE MOVIE, Miley Cyrus, 2009. Photo: Sam Emerson/ ©Walt Disney Co./courtesy Everett Entertainment Weekly
Is this movie a critique of animal abuse or an insane, racist acid trip, or a bit of both? The crows are racist (their leader is literally named Jim Crow), and there's a racist song, etcetera. In one scene, baby Dumbo gets drunk and hallucinates a parade of pink elephants. Scarring? Undeniably. Poor Dumbo. This movie is almost sadder to watch as an adult knowing just how sad Dumbo's plight actually is.
Dumbo's dream www.youtube.com
7. The Black Cauldron
This movie is not as well-known outside of Disney aficionados, as its release almost brought down the entire franchise. Made during Disney's "dark period" when the company was experimenting with horror and new technologies, this genuinely creepy movie is often called the "darkest Disney movie ever." I definitely remember watching this as a kid and being seriously terrified by the skeleton crew and onscreen suicides in this film. In that way, it makes sense that the film has amassed a cult following largely made up of the generation it scarred for life. Sometimes ya gotta confront the demons of your childhood, especially when they were created by a bunch of overworked, underpaid animators in a Glendale warehouse.
8. Alice in Wonderland
Like Fantasia, some of the imagery in this movie is undeniably eerie and almost too surreal. The fact that Alice winds up at a strange luncheon with a Mad Hatter where time doesn't exist? That she takes something that makes her grow small, then large? That she falls down a rabbit hole? What drugs were the people who made this movie on? Or perhaps the better question: What weren't they on? As a child watching this movie, I imagine that I developed some strange ideas about reality and rabbits that haunted me to adulthood. Also, the movie brings up complex questions about physics, math, philosophy and more—that's a lot for a children's fairytale.
9. Beauty and the Beast
This one has also been discussed ad nauseum, but Belle...lets a man imprison her and then falls in love with him. This is Stockholm Syndrome at its finest. She gets imprisoned and then marries the man who imprisons her. Sure, it's a tale as old as time, but I think that in the recent live-action remake, we all let our feelings about Emma Watson's vocals and the Beast's anthropomorphization overtake the simple strangeness of the tale.
Crosswalk the Musical: Beauty and the Beast www.youtube.com
Cars is full of adult humor, from the stoner hippie bus character Fillmore to the scene where Lightning McQueen's fans "flash" him. Actually, it's implied that the cars have sex, so that says more than enough. What universe is this?
11. Hunchback of Notre Dame
This movie is adorable and charming in a lot of ways, but it also has an undercurrent of disturbing sadism and sexual violence. Frollo harasses Esmeralda to no end, and she's almost executed at the end of the film. There's torture, death, abuse, hallucinations…
Then again, all that is part of what made Disney movies so enduring, right? Kids get exposed to a lot growing up, and if all Disney films were all squeaky-clean and innocent, that would defeat the purpose of stories, which are meant to relate to people and resonate across ages and demographics. That doesn't mean that it's not strange to look back on these films after a while, but what's funny is that a lot of these strange films were also some of Disney's greatest. If anything, the grains of reality that Disney built into their fanciful stories are what make these films that much more powerful and timeless.