September 17, 2019

Does Disney Really Hide Subliminal Messages In Cartoons?

“If you were a kid in the ’90s, or even if you weren’t, the rumors were as familiar as a white vinyl VHS case: Did you know there’s a hidden phallus on the cover art for The Little Mermaid? And by the way, the minister definitely pops a boner during the wedding scene. Oh, and there’s a cloud spelling S-E-X floating over Simba in The Lion King. Perhaps most iconically of all, in Aladdin, as the titular prince tries to woo Princess Jasmine for a magic carpet ride from her balcony, he secretly whispers some lascivious words to the adolescent audience: “Good teenagers, take off your clothes.”

If you remember this as an innocent bit of childhood folk knowledge passed down by cool kids at sleepovers, it wasn’t always that way. As the rumors started taking hold in the early 1990s, they spread rapidly, sparking outrage among church groups already suspicious of Hollywood and inspiring one parent to call Aladdin “a toddler introduction to porn.” Disney responded angrily at the time.

Search for “good teenagers take off your clothes” now—or, actually, don’t!—and you will quickly find Disney’s official explanation that the line of dialogue is really “Scat, good tiger, take off and go.” Listen for yourself, and what you hear will likely depend on how much you wish Disney was sending us all secret sex signals. The rumor is silly, to my ear at least, but it’s also a schoolyard urban legend for the ages, and many of us still want to believe. Even Snopes’ 2000 debunk, which deemed the rumors “False,” seemed unwilling to let go of them entirely: “A close listening to the audio track revealed Aladdin,” the site wrote, “speaking the words ‘C’mon … good kitty,’ and just as Aladdin said the word ‘kitty,’ a second voice began to whisper, ‘Pssst … take off your clo- …’.” It added, ominously, “Who this second voice was, and exactly what he said, is a mystery.” Snopes even included slowed-down audio to support its claims. (I shared the moment with a Slate audio producer, who said: “I don’t necessarily buy there is a second voice there. It all sounds like Aladdin, but it may have been an error in the sound editing and mixing that resulted in the way it is here and why it sounds jumbled.”)”

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