Disney parks are the place where dreams come true, and Disney movies kindle the imaginations of millions of children around the world. Yeah, sure, that’s the party line passed down by Walt himself, but they’re not exactly going to say true things like “Disney: Where sexual predators hide in plain sight” or “Disney: Where the ashes of the dead are scattered,” are they?
40. The mysterious death of Debbie Stone
In 1974, 18-year-old Debbie Stone got the dream side-job as a hostess for “America Sings,” a new musical performance at Disneyland. But during one evening performance after Debbie left the stage, park guests heard a horrifying scream and rushed to find the teenager crushed to death between the rotating wall and stage. Even to this day, no one knows exactly how it happened.
39. Brain-eating parasites at Disney World
Located on Bay Lake in the grounds of Disney World, River Country was Disney’s first ever water park. Now in 1980 a young boy of 11 was killed by a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which lived in the semi-fresh waters of River Country that kids used to swim in. The park closed down in 2001 and remains eerily abandoned to this day.
38. Walt Disney was an FBI stooge
Unless you’re a criminal, you can’t really mock someone for working closely with the FBI; they’re there to keep us safe, after all. But in the ’50s, at the height of the Red Scare, things were different. In fact, Walt Disney worked closely with FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover and testified against a number of his own animators as being communists.
37. Sex predators at Disney World
Disney World is the most popular, child-friendly amusement park in the world – so of course sex predators will gravitate towards it. The shocking evidence for this came to light in 2014 when CNN found that 35 Disney employees in the Florida area had been brought into custody for sex crimes with children since 2006.
36. Throwing lemmings off a cliff
Aww, lemmings! Aren’t they silly? Throwing themselves off cliffs like that to their deaths? Actually, no, they’re not. This misconception stems from the 1958 Disney “documentary” White Wilderness, where filmmakers pushed lemmings off a cliff into the water below to make it look like they were jumping. They then claimed that this was simply in the lemming’s nature. Lies! Disney lies!
35. Disney threatened to sue several daycare centers
In 1989 Disney threatened to take legal action against three daycare centers in Florida that had lovingly painted life-sized versions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Goofy on their walls. Because… “trademarks.” The nurseries had to remove the paintings, but it all ended happily for them as rival animation studio Hanna-Barbera let them use its characters for free.
34. Cast member run over by Disney float
A Disney flotilla is a familiar site at Disney World, as costumed actors – hopefully non-predatory – dressed as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and the like stand on ornate, slow-moving vehicles waving at passersby like the Queen of England. But somehow, one of the costumed actors got run over by one of these floats back in 2004. He was playing Pluto at the time.
33. Walt Disney invited Nazis into his studio
Considering Walt Disney’s history of racist cartoons, the fact that he toured Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl around his studio in 1938 has raised even more eyebrows. Especially since it was just one month after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht. However, Disney did go on to make some anti-Nazi propaganda films during the war, so maybe we’ll forgive him… this time.
32. Chef suicides
At Disneyland Paris, two chefs committed suicide in 2010. This was followed in 2013 by an employee who tried to set himself alight. One of the chefs left a note saying, “I don’t want to work for Mickey anymore.” His father said that his son was depressed about the food at the park being switched from freshly-made to frozen – surely the final straw for any Frenchman.
31. Disney cast members love to get high
Pinocchio snorting coke? Dumbo in an orgy? The Seven Dwarves smoking pot? Okay, that last one’s perfectly feasible, but actor Trevor Allen was privy to all these things while working as a cast member at Disneyland. Not afraid to get in on the action, Allen – conveniently dressed as the Mad Hatter – once tripped out on a pot brownie as well.
30. Too racist (even for Disney)
Disney’s 1946 animated/live-action movie Song of the South caused such outrage over its alleged racism that Disney ended up never releasing it on video in the U.S. (though edited versions can be found elsewhere). The main character – a happy-go-lucky black former slave called Uncle Remus – was so divisive that Disney has completely wiped this film from its history.
29. The ashes of the dead at Disney World
Disney World is a decidedly better final resting place than a graveyard, which is probably why the park has to contend with people bringing their loved ones’ ashes onto rides and then sneakily pouring them out. The Haunted Mansion is seemingly a favorite among the recently deceased, and poor park staff are often required to use a special HEPA vacuum to clear them up. Yikes.
28. Disney blocked Snow White’s voice actress from having a career
Adriana Caselotti is best known as the voice of Snow White in the Disney movie. In fact, she’s only known for that role – because Disney banned her from doing future work that entailed using her voice. Why? In order to preserve “the illusion of Snow White.” She was even banned from being interviewed on the radio, effectively ending her career right as it started.
27. The Club 33 speakeasy
There are many nooks and crannies to California’s Disneyland, and this has led people to wonder what mysteries lurk behind some of those innocuous-looking doors. One of these doors, in New Orleans Square, actually leads into Club 33, an exclusive speakeasy and one of only two places that serve alcohol in Disneyland.
26. The Tree of Life is actually an oil rig
The Tree of Life, which represents all nature’s diversity with hundreds of animal carvings, is the centerpiece of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It’s ironic, then, that it’s actually made from an oil rig. Just try not to imagine the pretty carved birds coated in the fallout from an oil spill.
25. Ducks being roasted alive
Disneyland is beloved for its pyrotechnics. However, during one of its shows – which involved setting fire to water – a whole paddling of ducks quacked their last when they got burned to death. In fairness to Disney, it has now inserted a bubble machine to scare the ducks away during shows.
24. Subliminal mind tricks at Disney World
Disneyland is full of mind tricks. First up, it uses “smellitizers” all over the park; on Main Street, for example, you inhale the sweet aroma of cookies despite there being no cookies. Cinderella Castle, meanwhile, looks bigger than it actually is thanks to forced perspective; the castle’s bricks actually get smaller the higher they go.
23. Real skull-and-crossbones on Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Most of the skellies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World are fake – surprise, surprise. But the skull-and-crossbones on the headboard above the skeleton sitting in the bed looks a bit… different – because it’s real. Who knows who it once belonged to?
22. The secret Disney World horror movie
Disney World and Disneyland like to protect their squeaky-clean image; indeed, they would rather you didn’t know that a horror B-movie was once shot at both locations without Disney’s permission. Maybe Escape from Tomorrow director Randy Moore should be expecting a visit from the Seven Dwarves’ hit squad, or perhaps a Dumbo drone, soon.
21. Disney refused to hire an animator because she was female
Today’s all-welcoming Disney would squirm at the way the company turned down a female animator for a job in 1938. Mary Ford’s rejection letter stated that all creative work at the company was “performed entirely by young men.” Worse still, the letter was penned by a female employee.
20. Bird abuse allegedly took place at Discovery Island
Right next to the ill-fated River Country in Walt Disney World, Florida, stand the abandoned remains of Discovery Island – an adventure park that doubled as a zoological garden where guests could get up close with the wildlife. But the place also has a rather grim history, having courted controversy for the abuse of birds that reportedly went on there. Worryingly, this is said to have included beating vultures to death, firing at eagles with rifles and even smashing ibis eggs.
19. The Matterhorn is cursed
Of all the rides at Disneyland, the Matterhorn may well have the worst record of fatal and non-fatal accidents. In fact, the first ever fatality at Disneyland occurred there in 1964, when a 15-year-old boy fell from the ride to his death. Additionally, in 1971 a fire broke out on the ride, burning – but thankfully, not killing – a hapless family in their sled. And as if that wasn’t nearly enough, another couple of deaths were clocked on the Matterhorn in subsequent decades. Yikes.
18. Disney vs. hippies
In the ’70s, youth movements across the U.S. were seeking to subvert the state in protest against capitalism and the Vietnam War. However, Disneyland made its conservative political stance on the whole thing clear by banning long-haired hippie types from entering the park. Consequently, members of the Youth International Party responded in kind by invading Disneyland one day in 1970, only leaving when riot control officers forced them away.
17. The death of a Disney World monorail driver
The monorail at Disney World Florida may look like a relatively mundane way to get around the park, but for one driver it proved to be the last ride that he’d ever take. Two monorail trains collided head-on when a fault prevented the tracks from switching over, subsequently causing a number of minor injuries as well as the tragic death of a 21-year-old monorail driver.
16. Pubic lice and scabies at Walt Disney World
Up until 2001 it was common practice at Walt Disney World for cast members to wear special Disney-sanctioned undergarments, which they’d then share with their fellow Goofys and Mickeys. However, the lack of hygiene in this system meant that scabies and pubic lice actually got passed around the cast. Thankfully for employees, though, the rules have subsequently changed to allow them to wear their own undies.
15. Donald Duck’s Nazi cartoon
While he wasn’t an out-and-out goose-stepping xenophobe, Walt Disney’s associations with the Nazis were a bit too common for comfort. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that you don’t hear too much about Der Fuehrer’s Face these days, seeing as it’s an animated short starring Donald Duck as a Nazi soldier toiling in a warehouse. After all, having one of your most iconic characters wear a swastika on their sleeve just isn’t great P.R…
14. Jessica Rabbit’s “accident”
The distinctly Warner Bros.-esque Who Framed Roger Rabbit was actually produced by Disney, which means that Jessica Rabbit’s infamous wardrobe mishap in that movie was the House of Mouse’s headache. Specifically, when the sultry Mrs. Rabbit jumps out of a moving car her rabbit-hole is visible for all to see – for just a split second, of course. Though on the bright side for Disney, at least most people assume that it’s a Warner Bros. movie…
13. Disney clocks and timers lie to you
Is the forced perspective slowly degrading your sanity, or is the passage of time out of whack at Disney? In reality, there’s no need to worry, because the slowly-moving clocks and exaggerated line timers are real and just another one of Disney’s mind games. Reportedly, the line timers are intentionally overestimated so as to make rides seem more in demand. And that’s not to mention this also making you feel grateful when it doesn’t take as long as you’d think to hop aboard: apparently, the slow clocks make lines feel quicker-moving.
12. And wait times don’t always get shorter with fewer people
If you strategically go to Disneyland in the middle of the week when all the squares are at work and the brats are at school, you probably think that you’ll get to jump right onto rides like you own the place. Think again. On less busy days, in fact, Disney purportedly reduces the number of carts on roller coasters, subsequently increasing time spent in line. You. Just. Can’t. Win.
11. One hellish ride was closed for not being family-friendly
Mr Toad’s Wild Ride was certainly dark – in every sense of the term. That attraction took guests on a dimly-lit tram ride down into a Disney depiction of Hell – horny devils and cloven hooves included. Park officials deemed that the ride didn’t offer a family-friendly experience, however, and despite numerous protests and “Toad-Ins,” it was shut down in 1998.
10. Cast members faint from overheating
Those costumed mascots may be all fixed smiles on the outside, but the cast members stuck inside them have to suffer and sweat through sweltering temperatures in the height of summer. In fact, Disney expert and author David Koenig has told the New York Post that back in the ’60s, when outfits were poorly ventilated, temperatures inside these costumes could top 130 °F. And what’s more, characters would occasionally faint in full view of the public.
9. Disney cleaned up a fatal accident before police arrived
One of Disneyland’s less savory chapters took place in 1999, when a weighty metal chunk of the Sailing Ship Columbia ride broke loose and flew into the guests in line – killing one of them. Disneyland employees, however, cleaned up the mess from the accident before the police arrived on the scene, and their actions could arguably have jeopardized the investigation.
8. There are secret police at Disneyland
Having heavily-armed grunts wandering around Disneyland would be pretty hard to integrate into any of the park’s family-friendly themes, but don’t think that that makes the place some kind of security-free free-for-all. Yes, while company policy means that apparently no security staff carry guns, there are plenty posing as park guests, so maybe you should take your pick-pocketing to Universal Studios instead…
7. Disney released a very racist book
Back when Disney focused on books as well as movies, they released one risibly racist gem. To wit, the 1948 book Mickey Mouse and the Boy Thursday sees Mickey opening a crate only to find a “primitive” African inside. Cue horrendously crass “African savage” stereotypes such as spear-throwing and worshipping Goofy. Because, as was reckoned at the time, how is Boy Thursday to know any better?
6. There were drownings on the Rivers of America
The Rivers of America is one of the more peaceful areas of Disneyland, as guests take a steamboat across the artificially green waters of a Mississippi-like setting. But in June 1973 and June 1983 two drownings occurred there. One happened when a couple of boys stayed in the park after hours; the other occurred when a kid capsized in a dingy he’d stolen from the cast area. Don’t break the rules, kids…
5. Walt attended pro-Nazi meetings
Always with the National Socialism, eh, Walt? To be fair, if that Nazi Donald Duck cartoon is anything to go by, maybe Walt was just attending meetings of the pro-Nazi German American Bund group to help research another right-wing Disney cartoon. Or maybe he just had a healthy curiosity for Nazism, if such a thing exists…
4. There’s an offensive black centaur in Fantasia
If you watched Fantasia, you probably won’t remember a scene involving a little centaur – which weirdly resembles some kind of racist caricature – grooming all the beautiful white lady centaurs. That’s because, understandably, it was quietly cut out of later edits of the musical extravaganza. However, the scene gives a pretty good idea about how Disney was just as racist as the rest of society back in 1940.
3. An actual sex hotline featured in The Santa Clause
Disney’s festive classic The Santa Clause has its share of gags for the adults courtesy of Tim Allen’s comedic presence. But the part where he jokes about his ex-wife being reachable at “1-800-SPANK-ME” had unexpected consequences. Indeed, several children reportedly dialled the number and found that it was a genuine sex hotline, forcing Disney to change the dialogue to “1-800-POUND” for the DVD release.
2. The secret of Disney’s motherless heroines
Okay, we’re entering Freudian territory here. But have you ever noticed how many Disney protagonists have mothers who die in tragic circumstances? Bambi, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and even the more recent Finding Nemo are just some examples of movies where this happens. Moreover, it’s been suggested that this is partly down to Walt’s guilt after he paid for a house for his mother in which she perished from asphyxiation caused by a badly-installed boiler. Gotta love pop psychology!
1. Rocket Rods caused a “code V” outbreak
“Code V” is the code word for vomit used by cast members at Disney, because using the actual word is a surefire way of bumming out park guests. However, former staff member Lynn Barron has told the New York Post that the Rocket Rods ride was particularly prone to Code V outbreaks and once caused 36 in a single day. Predictably, then, the ride flopped; it had its final run in 2000 after just two years of operation.