Disney movies and cartoons are the movies of childhood. Even as adults, people crowd into theaters to see the latest Disney release. However, the adults may get a bit more out of the movie than the legions of eager children. It’s hard to look at a movie with a cute cartoon animal and think something inappropriate is going to happen during the course of the film. Yet, it nearly always seems to.
Cartoons have, for a long time, slipped in jokes and images a bit too mature for their young audiences. It’s a wink and a nudge to the parents, and it’s usually so fast that the kids don’t pick up on it. Shows like Rocko’s Modern Life are well known for making jokes well over their G and PG ratings. Still, kids love them. Along with the deeply and expertly developed characters and plot, grown up jokes and references in kids’ movies leave a little bit for the overworked parent or babysitter who has to watch yet another G-rated film.
These jokes don’t take away from the cartoons by any means. Instead, usually the opposite happens. Like all art, it can be viewed in different ways. Animators and writers may slip in the occasional joke, but rarely does it detract from the film. Most of the examples happen so fast you can blink and miss it. Others are more obvious but less likely to be caught by children. Either way, it’s fun to find out the hidden messages in old classics. Here’s 30 hidden gems inside Disney cartoons
30 What Was Sid Trying To Say In Toy Story?
In Toy Story, Sid’s toys are all Frankensteined monsters. Using various parts, he has created new toys, often horrifying to Woody and Buzz. Then, he blows his toys up, completing the surprisingly dark torture sequence of the beloved animated film. To his credit, he does stop torturing his toys when he realizes they are alive.
One of Sid’s predominantly featured toys is doll legs attached to a fishing rod and hook. As a child, this doesn’t seem any different from the mechanical octopus baby or the action figure duck. However, as viewers get older, a hidden meaning becomes more clear. This toy—aptly named “Legs”—seems to denote Sid’s budding interest in women more than his love of tearing toys apart and reassembling them in new ways. The hook is a key giveaway to the hidden meaning behind this seemingly innocent toy.
29 Hercules Sees A Greek Tragedy
While on a date, Hercules and Meg come out of a show. Hercules comments about the show they had just seen—Oedipus Rex—and comments that he thought he had problems. Most children, though they may know some basic Greek mythology (enough, likely, to recognize the major characters in the movie), probably don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of Greek tragedies. Even if they’re interested in the subject, Oedipus Rex is a bit mature for most kids.
Oedipus Rex is the story of a king who discovers that he has killed his father and married his mother. The play ends with Oedipus plucking out his eyes. Though Hercules may have his own trials and tribulations throughout the film, it’s definitely watered down from the real story of Hercules.
28 Hidden Messages In The Cloud In The Lion King
Animators will sometimes hide messages in big sequences. Famously, A-113—a classroom at California Institute of the Arts, a school many Pixar employees attended—appears in many films. There are other instances of this in Disney (particularly Mickey Mouse) and films across many genres. Films will deviate for a moment to break to the real world for a reference. This is the case in The Lion King.
As Simbar collapses into grass, glittering particles burst up and are blown away in the wind. The particles briefly form the letters “SFX” (special effects—referencing the department that created the scene), but many parents and other older viewers read a very similar word instead. Though it was meant to be a subtle nod to the hardworking animators who created the classic film, Disney had to quickly backtrack and reveal the sequences real meaning.
27 Ariel's Hair Is Part Of Your World And Out Of It
Ariel had fabulous hair in The Little Mermaid. Fans of the film lament their hair physics doesn’t quite match Ariel’s in or out of water. Her hair always looks soft and flowy, and never seems to be damaged by the sea water she lives in. What The Little Mermaid fans may not know about Ariel’s hair, however, is that it was based off of someone else who looked beyond her world: astronaut Sally Ride.
In 1983, Sally Ride became the first woman to travel to outer space. In 1989, Ariel became a part of every Disney princess movie collection. During the animation process, artists studied footage of Ride in space to model Ariel’s hair after the astronaut’s. Animators also used Alyssa Milano, then starring on Who’s The Boss? as further inspiration for Ariel’s look and personality.
26 The Witches Play The Harp In The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron is one of Disney’s most underrated films. Though when it came out, it was considered a flop, this dark fantasy movie was filled with unique characters and great moments. Loosely based on Welsh mythology and the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron is the story of Taran, the pig farmer, trying to stop the Horned King from finding a mythical cauldron.
At one point in the film, Taran and his friends come across the witches of Morva. One of the witches, Orwen, quickly becomes infatuated with Fflewddur Fflam. She pursues him as her sister turn him into a frog. He even at one point gets lost in her dress. Somehow, that’s not the most suggestive part. Rather, it’s when, after breaking a harp string, Orwen asks if she can pluck his harp.
25 Wardrobe Malfunction In Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Despite being a cartoon, Jessica Rabbit is an icon. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a deviation from Disney’s other films. Though there are plenty of grown up moments, the movie only has a PG rating. Despite plenty of excellent performances, Jessica Rabbit remains one of the most memorable characters. Her visage has inspired countless cosplays and fanart since the film’s release. However, at one point in the film, it seems that the animators took Jessica’s siren status at step too far.
At one point, Jessica and Bob Hoskins are thrown from a taxi. Her dress hikes up as she flies through the air. For a few frames, viewers can see what may or may not be Jessica’s underwear. They might be because they are in the right place, but the coloring of these frames makes it unclear if she’s wearing anything at all underneath her dress.
24 Warthog On The Menu In The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
Like some of the other movies on this list, The Hunchback of Notre Dame features cameos from other Disney characters. Looking out onto a city street, the viewers can briefly see Belle from Beauty and the Beast, the magic carpet from Aladdin, and Pumbaa from The Lion King. What is notable though, is that Pumbaa appears to be in the process of being carried away to be eaten.
Though warthogs are confined to Africa, Pumbaa is in the place of a pig, which are present in France. Still, this is a bit distressing. Pumbaa is a hero in The Lion King. He’s Simba’s loyal friend and comedic relief. Unlike another Lion King character on this list, he even lived through every movie. Thankfully, this scene is quick or else many children would have questions about why the lovable warthog.
23 Flower's First Kiss
Despite the emotional trauma caused by Bambi’s mother dying at the beginning of the film, Bambi is a children’s film. It’s filled with cute animals and delightful forest scenery. It has all the parts of a Disney film: a dead parent, conflict, royalty, and romance. Still, there’s some suggestive moments slipped into a film as well.
Bambi isn’t the first film to suggest embarrassment by turning characters red. When Flower is kissed for the first time, the white in his fur turns red, and his whole body stiffens, causing him to fall over. Other cartoons have used similar animation, but fans of the film ask “where is all that blood going?” Flower’s flushing and stiffening, intentional or not, reminds some older viewers of more inappropriate things.
22 Kronk's Tent In The Emperor's New Groove
The Emperor’s New Groove is a fun movie with great rewatch value. The jokes are hilarious even when you know they’re coming, and it’s filled with quotable lines. One of the best characters is Kronk, Ysma’s assistant and bodyguard. Kronk is technically only a villain by association, as his good nature and low intelligence don’t lead him to do evil deeds.
In the film, Kronk pitches a tiny tent to sleep in. At first glance, this is a gag over Kronk’s large size. The tent only covers the tops of his legs, which is part of the inappropriate and appropriate joke. The difference in size is funny, but the implication that Kronk is “pitching a tent” is not lost on all viewers. Though it’s unclear if this was an intentional joke or not, it certainly adds to the humor of the film.
21 Mulan's Name Will Shock You
Mulan is one of the best Disney princess films. Though Mulan is not technically a princess, she has been named a princess by Disney. She holds no title or land, but she does all she can to protect her family and her people. She goes in disguise, giving up her life to save her father. Then she risks her life again, this time as herself. However, Mulan’s undercover pseudonym has more to it than meets the eye.
This joke really only makes sense to people who understand Cantonese idioms. Mulan’s last name is Fa, but, in the traditions of her language, she would put her family name first. Then, in the film, Mulan introduces herself to the others, making her Fa Ping. In Cantonese, fa ping means “flower vase,” another word for a woman who is just eye candy. Obviously, this does not describe Mulan. Hence, the joke that was likely lost on many viewers of the 1998 film.
20 Mushu Sees All In Mulan
Mushu makes Mulan feel like a Disney film. The added touch of an animal companion who offers comedic relief and sage advice is a very Disney move. Mushu is a friend to Mulan and a servant to the gods, easily able to access meta knowledge about the world and the people in it. He’s a useful character, plus he made a great merchandising mascot.
Mushu also makes an off-color joke at one point during the film. When expressing his phenomenal power to Mulan, he describes being able to see through anything, even her armor. This leads to a pointed look at her chest. While some kids may miss that moment, other viewers may pick up on the clear implications. While Mulan may be dressed like a man, she is still a woman.
19 Something Is Off About The Wedding In The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid has many hidden images. Goofy and Mickey are hiding in crowds while you can find the king and duke from Cinderella in others. There’s even a questionable piece of anatomy hidden in the movie poster. But, one of the most prominent inappropriate Easter eggs in the film is associated with a holy man. The priest marrying Eric and Vanessa seems to be rather excited about the ceremony.
Movie watchers are actually unsure if this piece of animation shows the knobby knees or the priest or something else. In other angles, it seems far more likely that the lumps under his robes are just knees, but it still begs the question “why was this left in the film?” Surely someone noticed how the animation looked.
18 Dancing Through Fire In The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
Esmeralda is a cool character. It’s unsurprising that practically every other character in The Hunchback of Notre Dame quickly becomes infatuated with her. She is a strong person with a clear sense of justice and moral compass. Quasimodo needs a person like that in his life, regardless of if the relationship is romantic or not. Conversely, Esmeralda is far too good for Frollo, despite his obsession with her.
Frollo sings about his desires for Esmeralda and he sees her image dancing in flames. In some moments, her dress appears to vanish, only to return a moment later. This may seem like fans reading too much into the animation, but Frollo sings about the Romani woman leading him to sin. His obsession with her combined with his religious background may have led to this artistic decision.
17 Hidden Disney References In Fantasia
Fantasia is not a typical Disney film, but its beautiful animation makes it an enjoyable watch. It combines classical music with visual artistry from some of the best animators in the world. Many grown ups now have seen Fantasia, but they may have missed a big Disney Easter egg.
The sorcerer in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is an extremely obscure Disney character. However, he still appears in Fantasia, Fantasia 2000, and even Kingdom Hearts. Interestingly, this sorcerer is modeled after Walt Disney himself. The original animators modeled his face and characteristics after Disney. Even his name, Yen Sid (which is never given in Fantasia) is simply “Disney” backwards. It seems that Walt lives on not through secret cryogenic chambers under Disneyworld, but in this cameo in the Disney world.
16 Damaged Halo During Christmas
Beauty and the Beast is the tale as old as time. The Disney movie has been adapted into Broadway show and a live action movie. Belle and the other characters can also be seen in other Disney properties. It’s unsurprising that the film spawned a sequel, especially since large amounts of time pass during the course of the film. In Belle’s Enchanted Christmas, Belle grows her relationship with the beast and the others in the castle.
One of the original characters from the film is Angelique, an angel Christmas ornament. Her goal is to decorate the castle for Christmas, but her fear of the beast stops her. She also develops a relationship with Lumière. Ever the flirt, Lumière flirts with Angelique, and she accuses him of trying to tarnish her halo. This could be a reference to Lumière’s flames, but it’s more likely a subtle nod to Angelique’s purity in contrast to Lumière’s flirtation.
15 Genie And Aladdin: Just Friends?
The Genie is one of the most important characters in Aladdin. Without Robin William’s immense talent and The Genie’s excellent dialogue, Aladdin would not have been as strong of a movie. During one of the many moments Genie slips into Williams more than a Disney character, he tells Aladdin that he’s getting fond of him, “not that he’s ready to pick out curtains or anything.”
The joke is clearly that Aladdin and the Genie are not interested in one another, though they spend much of their time together. This joke is likely more akin to William’s stand-up routines than Aladdin. It seems out-of-place in the movie, but the moment goes by so fast that many viewers might not even notice it. Practically before the joke is over, they are moving on to the next bit.
14 From Paris To Anaheim
Though Beauty and the Beast is set in France, some of the signs indicate that Maurice may have gone much too far west when getting lost in the woods. When Maurice is lost and searching for signs, he finds one. However, two cities on the post seem very out-of-place: Valencia and Anaheim. Both are cities in California.
Animators and writers tend to make jokes and references about their actual geographic location. As stated earlier, A-113 at California Institute for the Arts is frequently referenced in Disney and Pixar films. In fact, the school is located in Valencia, one of the cities mentioned on the post. The other city, Anaheim, is home to the original Disneyland Resort. It is close to Maurice and the other characters; just not geographically.
13 What's Hidden Beneath The Coat In Hercules
Hercules is filled with many subtle jokes. Rewatching the movie shows moments never caught before. It’s part of what makes the movie so great: there’s so much depth to each scene, the songs are catchy, and it’s an original twist on an old legend. It’s an underrated film that shows off what Disney does best.
After Hercules travels to the big city looking for acts of heroism to perform, he comes across a stranger. This stranger rips his jacket open and offers to sell Herc and Phil a sundial. Kids may get the joke about selling stolen watches out of a jacket, but they likely won’t get the reference to this stranger being a potential flasher. With a trench coat and all, this background character shows the seedy underbelly of the city.
12 Vultures Jamming Out In The Jungle Book
Disney can often snag huge stars to perform in their films. Working with Disney is a great resume booster for anyone, and the company has a reputation of excellence to uphold. By getting famous, talented people, they ensure their future and the futures of their films.
In The Jungle Book, characters are contrived from old animation and stories. But, what some viewers may miss is the cameo of the four vultures. Originally, these characters were meant to be played by The Beatles. It’s not surprising Disney could pull such a big name. However, scheduling conflicts prevented the band from lending their voices to the movie. Still, in recognition of what could have been, each of the vultures still represents a member of The Beatles.
11 It's Sad Aladdin's Hit The Bottom
People in the movie Aladdin really hate Aladdin. In one of the opening numbers, Aladdin struggles to find food while the city sings about what a pest he is. He flees from the guards, but no one he meets offers him any protection until he meets the princess. The city is content to ignore his poverty rather than confront it.
However, some may be moving him along because he can’t pay them. When Aladdin crashes into a building with three women, many assumed growing up that they were sisters and that was their home. However, some speculate that it is actually their place of work. The theory goes that Aladdin actually crashed into a brothel, and they moved him along because he wasn’t a paying customer. This makes the madam’s moral outrage over his lack of parents all the more interesting.
10 Flashing Headlights In Cars
Cars is targeted towards a very young demographic. Unlike most of their films, Cars doesn’t have a lot of appeal to older Disney fans. Still, this doesn’t stop animators and writers from slipping in some jokes for the older crowd. Even though most Cars fans are young kids, they don’t need to get every single joke.
Lightning McQueen is a successful racecar and the main character of Cars. After a race, some fans come up to him. They gush over him, telling him how excited they are to meet him. They are so excited in fact, that they flash him. And, by this, of course, what is meant is that they flash their headlights. Giggling, the cars drive away, and Lightning laughs to himself about how crazy fame can be. It’s a joke that most kids wouldn’t realize is a joke, but also one that grown up would understand immediately.
9 Dumbo And The Pink Elephants
Like Bambi, Dumbo is way too sad to be a kid’s movie. Even so, it’s widely considered one. Dumbo tells the story of a young elephant with oversized ears. He faces loss, humiliation, and unhappiness as he loses almost everything close to him. It isn’t until he believes in himself and finds what makes him special that things start to turn around.
What’s weird is that, in order to initiate self-discovery, Dumbo has to get drunk. Essentially alcohol (and whatever was making them hallucinate all those pink elephants) solved a lot of the problems the characters faced. That’s a strange message for a children’s movie. Is the point of Dumbo that underage drinking is helpful during your darkest moments? Hopefully that isn’t the take away for young Dumbo fans.
8 Speaking French In Atlantis
Atlantis is a cool movie. Another one of Disney’s underrated films, Atlantis explores ancient civilization and uses linguistics and science to unlock the secrets of the world. It also has a more diverse cast than many other Disney films. The women are also stronger characters than usual.
While some children may have noticed this moment, it doesn’t necessarily mean they all understood it. In the film, Mole declares that the Atlantians speak his language. Then he whispers something in French into Kida’s ear. It’s unclear what exactly he said to her, but her reaction makes it pretty obvious. She punches Mole in the face as soon as he finishes. Mole, in an attempt to flirt with Kida, propositioned her. Kida’s response to this makes it very clear that this proposition was unwelcome.
7 Hidden Mickeys In A Goofy Movie
Mickey’s silhouette appears in every Disney film. It’s an Easter egg for Disney fans to find. Sometimes, however, Mickey himself joins in to join the fun. In A Goofy Movie, Goofy tries to connect with his son, Max. Max is getting older and is easily embarrassed by his father’s goofy antics. Still, at the end of the day, they will always have one another.
Despite not appearing in the film as a main, or even supporting, character, Mickey appears in a large crowd at the end of the movie. During the Powerline concert, Mickey can be seen twice. However, it seems he has no interest in helping his friends. He stays put for the entire scene. Perhaps he knew that it was important to Max and Goofy’s bonding that he not interfere.
6 Pongo Is NOT The Father
To maintain a degree of reality, most of the people in Disney films are ignorant to the secret, sometimes magical, lives of their pets, toys, and even peers. In many of the pet movies, owners have no idea what their animals do when they are not home. They seem to be unaware that they can even communicate. This lets children stay in the movie long after the credits have rolled.
In 101 Dalmatians, this degree of separation is present. After going on their adventure and returning with hordes of Dalmatian puppies, Roger assumes that Pongo did what dogs are apt to do. He congratulates Pongo on a job well done, shaking his paw. Of course, only fifteen of the puppies are the children of Pongo and Perdita, but neither Rodger nor Anita know that. Adults watching the film will realize how overwhelming just 15 puppies are. 101 leads to many more questions.
5 Skinning Other Villians
It’s a bit morbid to see a Disney character, even a villain like Scar, skinned. However, in Hercules, this is exactly what happens. When Hercules finds fame and fortune, he poses for a portrait with a lion pelt wrapped around him. This is a reference to The Nemean Lion of Greek mythology. Hercules’s first task is to slay the Nemean Lion, a magical beast who pretends to be a damsel in distress to kill warriors and give their bones to Hades.
Scar’s role in The Lion King is quite different from the Nemean’s Lion. However, they’re both villainous lions. It gets the point across quickly that Hercules didn’t slay an innocent creature like Simba or Nala, but a vicious, evil lion like Scar. The moment happens so fast though that many viewers may miss Scar’s cameo in the film.
4 Not Safe For Babies
Who Framed Roger Rabbit turns cartoon tropes on their heads. Though many of these tropes were inspired by Disney, it seems that the studio wanted to poke fun at itself before anyone else got the privilege. The film was made at a time when the company was struggling, and the risk seemed worth it. Decades later, the company is stronger than ever, and it doesn’t seem like the raunchy Roger Rabbit hurt the studio’s reputation too much.
One particularly scandalous bit came from Baby Herman. While angry at Roger and storming off set, he ducks in between a woman’s skirted legs. Slowing the footage down shows him sticking his finger up there. Due to Roger Rabbit’s content, this was likely intentional and not an animation mishap.
3 Waiting For The Honeymoon
Aladdin and the King of Thieves is a sequel to a sequel. It’s two steps removed from the iconic original film, but, with the return of Robin Williams, it’s still a worthwhile film. The film deeply explores Aladdin’s past and progresses his relationship with Princess Jasmine.
Robin Williams, forever pushing the envelope, makes a somewhat grown up joke towards the beginning of the film. While preparing for their wedding, disaster strikes. A rumble tears through the ground. Genie makes the comment that “I thought the earth wasn’t supposed to move until the honeymoon.” The one liner is likely unnoticed by most children, but adults will get The Genie’s salacious implication. Aladdin and Jasmine will learn after the film that people really don’t come out of thin air.
2 Alice In Wonderland And The Suspicious Cave
Alice in Wonderland is filled with strange and fantastic imagery. Everything in Wonderland is familiar, but far removed enough to be bizarre. Alice has to try to navigate the strange world with little help from its inhabitants. In fact, they seem to enjoy terrorizing her and subjecting her to their strange customs. Going into Wonderland is like being reborn, so it makes an animation error in the film look especially suspect.
When Alice is chasing the White Rabbit, she follows him through a hole in a tree. This sounds innocuous, but some grown up viewers of the film have pointed out that the hole, due to its design, ended up looking like a certain part of the female anatomy. It’s unclear what the motivation would be to include such a thing. Perhaps it was a Fruedian slip from an artist or an intentional joke that made it to the final cut.
1 Ursula Is So Divine
It’s safe to say that most children don’t know Divine. Divine, a famous actor and drag queen from the 1970s and 80s, starred in movies like Hairspray and Pink Flamingos. Divine was an important part of film history, but it’s still pretty shocking to see this famous performer in a Disney film.
Ursula went through many design revisions. She transformed from a shark to an octopus, and her original design was closer to the lithe forms of Maleficent or the evil stepmother. The animators, however, decided to go in a different direction. They decided they wanted Ursula to be boisterous and larger than life rather than subtle and traditional. In selecting an icon who represents those qualities, Divine is a clear choice.