You think you know the Disney brand, right? Princesses, wacky animal sidekicks, and dead parents. But nowadays it seems like Disney absorbs brands quicker than Star Wars' Empire absorbs territory. It may surprise you to learn this is nothing new.
In an attempt to be the constant top-dog in family entertainment, Disney has expanded its brand into some pretty kooky places over the years. From uncanny box office flops to serious political statements, Disney has reasons they may wish for these forgotten projects to stay forgotten.
Check out these bizarre Disney projects they'd probably wish would remain locked in the vault.
If you have never been to Disneyland then you have never experienced Splash Mountain. And if you have been on Splash Mountain you still might not know where the character Br'er Rabbit and the song "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" come from. Song of the South is a terrible secret hiding in plain sight. It's the movie Splash Mountain is based on, even though the film itself was removed from circulation long before the attraction’s 1980s construction.
Set in a irreverent and warmly remembered south that never was, the film follows storyteller Uncle Remus as he tells two young white children stories about the adventures of Br'er Rabbit. The film is unclear about Remus’s status as either a servant or slave. As Matt Singer eloquently puts it,
“Disney essentially turned the plantation system into a ludicrous utopia where blacks and whites live in a harmony — a harmony where the only thing that’s clear is that the blacks are inferior and servile to the whites, but are content to work the fields anyway.”
Der Fuehrer’s Face
As the nice man at the start of the video explains, Disney made a few propaganda films back in the day. But he doesn't tell you the real reason why! 1940 was a bad year for Disney, the initial release of Fantasia nearly bankrupted the company. While it was met with critical success, it was a box office flop, and the company lost the modern equivalent of 15 million dollars.
In order to stay afloat the studio took on various off-brand commercial clients, including a contract with the US government for 32 short films - some for the public and some for military training. Some have had a longer life than others, but this Donald Duck Nazi nightmare is definitely the most famous. The song in the short film has been referenced throughout pop culture, including on M*A*S*H, All in the Family and a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff comic. Additionally, the cartoon endured an internet revival as a meme and from 2010-2016, Russia had to ban the film for fear it would stoke a fascist resurgence.
Released suspiciously one year after the Neverending Story, and the expiration date of Disney’s rights to the Oz books, it seems like Disney was trying to kill two birds with one stone. Return to Oz is not a true sequel to the 1939 movie masterpiece, but it does assume that Dorothy has already been to Oz and is now going back.
Darker than the Neverending Story, the film was too scary for kids to do well in theaters. However the nightmarish memories of catching this film in TV reruns, has landed Return to Oz a spot on many cult classic lists. It is heralded as the Oz movie that remains most faithful to the spirit of the original L. Frank Baum books.
While it tanked in the box office, it received an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, which was well deserved as the film is full of masterful stop motion and puppetry.Seeing as the Oz books are speculatively about the pitfalls of the American economy, it's no wonder a faithful representation of the books might be too intense for children.
#60 on The Best Movies of 1985
Destino, the Dali/ Disney collaboration that almost never was, took 60 years to make.
While going through old files, during the remastering of Fantasia, Roy E. Disney stumbled upon a pile of old concept art, some of which were drawings by famed surrealist painter Salvador Dali - with Dali and Walt firmly in their graves, these drawings were now worth a fortune. A shining piece of art history.
In 1945 Disney had commissioned Dali and animator John Hench to develop Destino as a short that would merge the worlds of fine art and family entertainment. However, all funding was cut from the project after about a year because Disney just didn't have the money (it took years for Disney to recover from Fantasia's failure).
Luckily, Salvador Dali was a man of foresight. In his contract he stipulated that none of the drawings he did for the film could be sold, UNLESS the film was completed. So, years later, in order for Roy to be able to do anything with Dali's drawings, the film would have to be finished and released.
The film was finished by Walt Disney’s Paris studio, which worked off of drawings, journals, and animation tests left behind by Dali, Hench, and Dali’s wife Gala. The short was completed and released in theaters, though bizzarely was featured at the start of the film Calendar Girls, and then released on the Fantasia 2000 blu ray.