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13 Historical References In Disney Movies We Missed When We Were Kids

Updated June 18, 2021 14.5k votes 2k voters 148.4k views13 items

List RulesVote up the historical references you definitely didn't notice as a kid.

Most of Disney’s animated classics take place in an idyllic past, and so, of course, there are a number of Disney movies based on historical events. But the history lessons don't stop there. Disney filmmakers not only put their spin on antiquity, but also fill films with Easter eggs, double entendres, and other historical references most children miss, but adults can surely appreciate.

Typically, these allusions and analogues are included to add an extra layer of authenticity and accuracy to the worlds Disney creates on screen. Learning something along the way is a nice added bonus. 

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  • 5

    That Statue Of Zeus In ‘Hercules’ Was A Real Wonder Of The Ancient World

    A pivotal scene in Hercules sees the eponymous youth wandering the Greek countryside, questioning his ability to go the distance, when he happens upon an enormous stone statue of Zeus. The young demigod seeks counsel, and gets way more than he bargained for when Zeus animates the statue, reveals himself to be Herc’s father, and sets him on a new path in life.

    That might seem like the sort of set-piece one could only encounter in a Disney fantasy; however, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia was not just real, but also renowned around the globe as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The actual monument was said to be even more impressive than the animated version, crafted from ivory and gold and towering above worshippers below. The Statue of Zeus stood for a millennium before it and the temple that housed it were destroyed by earthquakes in the sixth century. 

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  • 6

    Hercules And Meg Talk About Oedipus Rex On Their Date

    Disney typically toes the line when it comes to racy humor, but every so often they’ll slip in a little something for the adults in the audience to snicker at - or, in the case of Hercules, the history nerds. During a flirtatious scene in a garden, the titular hero references the night’s entertainment to Megara, quipping, “And then that play, that Oedipus thing? Man, I thought I had problems.”

    That’s actually a fairly brainy comment, if you’ve got the background in classical theater to understand it. Hercules is talking about Oedipus Rex, a Greek play written by Sophocles. In it, Oedipus is abandoned at birth because of a prophecy stating that he will grow up to slay his father and sleep with his mother - and then proceeds to do exactly that. When he figures out what he’s done, he pokes his own eyes out. It seems like a questionable choice for a first date, but obviously it worked out for Herc and Meg.

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  • 7

    ‘Frozen’ Features Recreations Of Famous Works Of Art

    In Frozen, Anna spends much of the song “For the First Time in Forever” bouncing around her castle’s portrait hall, imagining herself recreating the scenes she sees in the painting. It’s a memorable sequence for anyone, but especially for hawkeyed art historians, because each painting featured is also a recreation of a famous composition.

    The real-life paintings referenced include Brueghel the Elder’s “The Peasant Dance,” Auguste Serrure’s “The Picnic,” and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing.” Each of the images has been adapted so as to be recognizable - but not so close as to incur allegations of plagiarism.

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  • 8

    'Brave' Features Prehistoric Standing Stones

    Brave takes place during some nonspecific point in the 10th century and stars Merida of the nonexistent DunBroch clan - but the film does, at the very least, include some very real Scottish landmarks. Brave earned some light criticism for overly generalizing Scottish history, but got full marks for the authenticity of its monuments.

    Along her journey, Merida encounters both Pictish stones and the larger, more impressive standing stones that once dominated the landscape of medieval Scotland. Though some might see them as evocative of Stonehenge, they’re actually modelled on the Calanais Standing Stones - a real historical landmark that’s been standing since the late Neolithic Age.

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