10 Disturbing Classic Disney Cartoons
Disney is a favorite of ours, almost like a family. And as a family, you have to deal with all your relatives — the good, the bad and the strange. Never forget that Uncle Walt was a product of his time, and as such, his cartoons contained some material that would shock our politically correct 21st century sensibilities.
That being said, while some Disney films from the ’30s and ’40s are offensive, others are just…strange. Not bad, mind you, just a little eyebrow raising. And just so we’re clear, this is about Disney animation, so no ‘Song of the South.’ And yes, yes, we know it had a cartoon rabbit, but it’s a live-action movie. So no leaving upset messages below. Agreed? Okay, read on. (Note: Despite the fact that these are decades-old cartoons aimed at children, some may find the content NSFW.)
1) ‘The Winged Scourge,’ 1943
Disney made a lot of propaganda and educational films during World War II, but did it with its trademark flair. Dramatic narration transforms a mundane topic about malaria prevention into a tense thriller. (“Little does he suspect he’s to be the victim of this bloodthirsty vampire!”; “This tiny criminal, which has assumed the proportions of a monster!”)
It gets better when the narrator calls on volunteers to defeat this “evil,” enlisting the aid of the Seven Dwarfs. This, in turn, leads to perhaps the best line spoken in Disney lore: “Atta boy Dopey! Kill her good and dead!” (The narrator is referring to a mosquito, of course, not Snow White.)
2) ‘Reason and Emotion,’ 1943
Another wartime film, this one portrays the epic battle between reason and emotion, and how the latter can be hijacked and exploited by dictators like Hitler. The Fuehrer’s rantings hypnotize “Emotion” to goosestep around in a spiked helmet and generally bully his reasonable counterpart. Funnier still is when their female equivalents bicker over what to eat, only to have “Reason” lose and “Emotion” pack on the pounds. It’s even funnier when you realize they appeal to your emotion rather than your reason by using this cartoon.
3) ‘The Story of Menstruation,’ 1946
In case you didn’t watch this classic film strip in middle school health class, here’s your chance to learn about menstruation, Disney style! It’s very strange to see a Disney cartoon talking about the uterus and ovaries, but it needs to be watched to be believed. Our advice? Watch it with a Rifftrax.
4) ‘Hell’s Bells,’ 1929
Disney made a cartoon about Hell? That’s not something you’d expect from Uncle Walt. Not only is it about Hell, it’s about demons partying, with little plot other than evil revelry.
Again, this is a Disney cartoon. The only conflict comes at the very end where Lucifer tries to feed a lesser devil to his three headed dog Cerebus, and then the chase is on while ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ plays in the background.
5) ‘Out of the Frying Pan into The Firing Line,’ 1942
Did you know that bacon grease makes cannon shells, can sink Axis warships and launch depth charges? Neither did we, but after watching this, we’ll never look the same way at breakfast again.
In the short, Minnie is about to pour Pluto some extra bacon grease over his kibble (what pet owner does that?) but is reprimanded by an intrusive radio announcer. An odd, but surely effective wartime piece. Also, would Hitler and Hirohito take G.I. Mickey seriously? We can’t.
6) ‘The Spirit of ’43,’ 1943
Who can make a film about paying income taxes interesting? Disney, that’s who. Specifically Donald Duck, who is torn between a crypto-Nazi “spend thrift” and a patriotic proto-Uncle Scrooge on what to do with his money. Should he spend it on whatever ducks do for fun, or save it for “guns, guns, GUNS” that blast giant Nazi warmachines out of the sky? And no, we’re not kidding about that last part.
7) ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face,’ 1943
Probably the most famous of all of Disney’s wartime propaganda, ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face’ still holds up. It’s a genuinely funny film that lampoons Nazi Germany to ridiculous proportions. Swastikas decorate virtually everything (even the foghorn has his own armband!) while Donald slaves away in a factory manufacturing shells for the German war effort. Wackiness ensues.
Wartime hysteria explains the exaggerated caricatures of the Germans, Japanese and Italians, but it takes a special kind of creativity to make a film about Nazism actually funny. So kudos, Disney.
8) ‘Education for Death,’ 1943
Also about Nazi Germany, this film is decidedly more serious, made very apparent when you hear the first bars of the dramatic opening score. It tells the story of Hans, who is molded from a sensitive little boy into a brutal and pitiless Nazi. This is done early through lessons where predators are to be emulated and prey despised. Perhaps the only genuinely funny bit is a fairy tale where the heroic knight is revealed to be Hitler and the maiden he rescued is a Brunhilde-esque Germany.
9) ‘The Thrifty Pig,’ 1941
This short was made even before America entered the war, instead aimed at Canadian audiences to buy bonds (hence the Union Jack fluttering from the Practical Pig’s stone house.)
‘The Three Little Pigs’ was one of the most famous and popular Disney cartoons of all time, and became something of a Great Depression icon, so it made sense to use it as a metaphor for the war against Hitler. Disney didn’t even make new animation for this short, instead recycling from the 1933 classic and decking the Big Bad Wolf out with a swastika armband and peaked cap.
10) ‘Mickey’s Mellerdrammer,’ 1933
Brace yourself, this is going to get uncomfortable. Mickey Mouse does blackface. You read that correctly. And he puts on a production of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ Just let that sink in.
Okay, ready? Yeah, this seems wrong even by 1933 standards. Different time, different attitudes. Still, it’s an interesting watch, albeit an awkward one. At least the audience has enough decency to boo the slavemaster whenever he’s on stage.