We’ve all heard the rumors: Phallic symbolism in “The Little Mermaid,” a starry sky spelling out S-E-X in “The Lion King” and “Fantasia” as an animated acid trip. Disney might be the quintessential source for innocent children’s entertainment, but it’s also been targeted as a cesspool of sexual innuendo and unspoken drug references.

Remember sitting mere inches from the TV screen, your thumb hovering over the pause button, eagerly waiting for that single instant of scandal? Of course, you never caught it on the first try, so the next half hour was spent rewinding and re-watching, turning up the volume and turning it down.

Was that the priest’s knee flashing Ariel or his boner thrusting forward? Is Aladdin actually whispering “take off your clothes” on the balcony, or am I just imagining things?

But some speculation is believable, making clever detective work all the more complicated.

The animation crew at Disney reportedly defended the “sex” stars in “The Lion King” by claiming that the letters were actually “SFX,” short for the special effects team. And the phallic imagery on the cover art for “The Little Mermaid” was supposedly a last-minute stab at Disney after the designer was fired. Few Disney classics have escaped the inappropriate rap sheet, least of all “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,”
where the overtly sexual themes are far less ambiguous. Jessica Rabbit has even come under attack for an unforeseen and well-placed smudge of brown ink.

It’s one thing when impolite images are visually discernible, but what about drug-use hypotheses that can only be guessed at? There’s no way to prove that Snow White’s seven dwarves actually represent the seven stages of cocaine addiction, as convincing as the theory might be. And even though it’s hard to imagine any sober person conceiving Alice’s psychedelic cartoon-trip down the rabbit hole, it’s technically a legitimate argument.

So the question remains: urban legend or indisputable fact?

The only evidence that Disney is responsible for their suggestive extras is the video recall issued on “The Rescuers” after viewers across the nation saw a plainly nude model swinging in the background. But beyond that, we’re left to argue between speculation and hearsay.

Moving beyond the allegations themselves, what motives could possibly drive the Disney Corporation to include such asinine pranks in its films? Obviously the creative minds at work are adults, but it’s hard to believe that even the most jaded employees need to get their kicks this badly. Sure, Disney makes an effort to appeal to its older audiences, but these aren’t exactly “Shrek’s” accessible jokes we’re talking
about. And I think it’s pretty clear that the elementary-school group hasn’t zeroed in on all the controversy, so we can rule out deliberate juvenile corruption.

Then there’s the answer that no one wants to hear: Our painstaking attention to detail has been wasted on – gasp! – non-existent mishaps. Are Disney’s coincidental blunders simply the result of careless oversight? Or worse, are we searching for something that isn’t there at all? When an entity as powerfully influential as Disney becomes a monopoly of virginal entertainment, we’re fueled by an intense desire to see it come crashing to the ground.

But in the end, does the debate really matter? Whether or not Disney’s intentions have been realized, whether or not we’ve been sadly misled, the shock value and quest for crude humor have been more than accomplished. We’ve all had a good laugh over one blooper or another, and our prurient interests have been sufficiently satisfied. Isn’t that enough?

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