Blog Lagoon’s 31 Posts of Halloween: More Spooky Toons (& the Dark Side of Disney)

If I were to ask you if you like Disney — as an entertainment entity, lets say — I’d expect one of only two possible answers: “Yes! How could anyone NOT?” or “I hate Disney with every fiber of my being.” I don’t know too many folks who are indifferent when it comes to the house of mouse.  The reason for the polar disparity is not exactly a puzzle to me. For the haters, the word Disney probably conjures images of Miley Cyrus, and the Wizards of Waverly Place. Or perhaps homogenized pre-packaged tween stars who are bursting with the desire to turn 18 so that they can be caught by the paparazzi in a sheer top at the Kids’ Choice Awards or release an album and video that shows how they’ve grown from mouse-ear-wearin’ jailbait to sexy pop star. Long gone are the days of Uncle Walt tsk-tsking over Annette’s revealed belly button in her teen-year beach movies.

If all you know about Disney is culled from a period of time following the release of the album “Disco Mickey Mouse” (full disclosure: it’s an important album from my past), which was probably a turning point in branding, the idea of Disney Inc. probably leaves a bad taste in your mouth and who can blame you? I understand where you’re coming from, and I fully admit that watered-down tween sitcoms and manufactured celebrities have made Disney an ugly western-culture-infecting tumor — one I doubt old-school Mickey would approve of.  Even the Disney theme parks — once the last vestige for what used to make Disney great — are not immune. (Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride? GONE. The Enchanted Tiki Room? Raped by ill-advised tinkering for the modern Disney disciple. Pirates of the Caribbean? Oh, look there’s an animatronic Johnny Depp.) BUT – if you can disregard the last two or three decades and turn back the hands of time you may find it in you to understand the origins of my devotion.

The Disney I love is tied to memories of things like riding the Jungle Cruise for the first time, watching the New Mickey Mouse Club in the late 70s, and gathering around the TV on Sunday nights for The Wonderful World of Disney. Family-friendly and hardly edgy stuff, I admit, but there’s MORE. And some of it is dark and edgy. A darkness that could surface subversively in everything from early Mickey cartoons to the suicidal hung-skeleton in the room-with-no-doors at the entrance to the Haunted Mansion. Back before we over-protected children (from the wrong things like boobs and jarts, while we under-protected them from things like, oh I don’t know, second-hand smoke) Disney had taken the safety off and was firing some strange shit into the collective consciousness. Look at the alleged destruction of Ichabod Crane in Disney’s animated adaptation of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or above and below stills from the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia. Does this look like the product of modern Disney?

Try to imagine visuals this dark coming off Disney assembly line, circa 2010:

Many decades ago, Halloween was less shat upon by the moral majority than it is now. Even the fine church-going families of the 1950s let their children go trick or treating without hand-wringing over perceived satanic subtext, witchcraftian sacrilege or that sort of thing. Fundamentalist haunted houses like the ones in Hell House which I reviewed last Halloween) just didn’t exist back then. Halloween was still spooky, innocent fun for everyone. And we know Disney can pull that shit off in its sleep:

But looking back, it almost appears as though ol’ family-values Walt was actually pushing the envelope, subversively (and sometimes not so subversively), injecting darkness (the kind Dexter is always talking about) into his product, even during the golden age of his empire. Want evidence? Here are some entertaining season-appropriate clips that will illustrate what I’m talking about. Many have forgotten (or never knew in the first place) that once upon a time Disney villains were scary, bad things happened to innocent characters, and this kind of crazy-edgy shit was going down:

…and remember: many report that Disney considered Fantasia his “dream project.” (What was Walt eating before bed to conjure THOSE dreams?)

Sure, Fantasia gives us dancing hippos, Mickey in a sorcerer’s hat, and dancing mushrooms (wait — is that right? I suppose it is.) but it also gives us naked forest nymphs (with boobs even!), dinosaurs dying of starvation, and of course, this nightmarish little number. And yes — I do believe that’s the Devil Himself as the star of this mini-epic:

This isn’t a Halloween-themed short but it’s got plenty of scary imagery going on. I know that I saw it as a kid back during the early years of the Disney Channel (when you had to actually PAY EXTRA to get it) when they would actually air old Disney shorts as part of regular programming. But take a look and try to imagine anything like this appearing in any modern Disney venture. The short, menacingly titled “Pluto’s Judgement Day,” gives us a visual tour of the titular canine’s uncensored nightmare landscape.  …and it ain’t pretty and it sure as hell isn’t very funny (Well, except in maybe a “HA-I-can’t-believe-John-Travolta-just-accidentally-shot-that-kid-in-the-face kind of way.) It’s effed up, entertaining and noteworthy enough that it’s discussed in this great documentary. The short could be titled as accurately: “Pluto Goes to Dog Hell.” I doubt Warner Brothers’ Loony Toons shorts ever offered up anything quite this “loony” (particularly, starting at the 2:50 mark):

By contrast, Warner Brothers cartoons seemed to have a different relationship to dark subject matter and Halloween-related themes. Bugs Bunny was subversive in a way that Mickey Mouse could never be, and while it’s not easy to find a “creepy” WB cartoon from its golden age, Bugs and company had their own smart way of handling Halloween with jokes that played to adults as much (if not more) than they did to the kiddies. In the 1956 short, “Broomstick Bunny,” rather than antagonize any of his regular foils per usual, Bugs must escape the clutches of a witch who wants to add him to a potion she’s got simmering. I can’t imagine anyone not finding this hilarious:

Hannah Barbara, by comparison, was never the most sophisticated animation house. (But, God help me, I love it all!) For every smart and funny series like The Flintstones, Johnny Quest, or Top Cat, you had a zillion anemic joke machines like Pixie and Dixie, Huckleberry Hound, and (I’m sorry to say) Scooby-Doo…which, as much as I love it, was about as dumb as a show comes. Don’t believe me? Watch an episode of Scooby back-to-back with an ep of The Flintstones and tell ME which one seems most rooted in a reality we recognize. (Hint: It’s the one with domesticated dinosaurs  and cave men in cars.) Nevertheless, H-B knew how to milk the Halloween season as well as anyone, and just about any episode of any incarnation of Scooby-Doo seems tailor-made for October viewing. Despite its modest beginnings as one of the studio’s MANY half-hour cartoons about a group of teens that solve mysteries (see: Speed Buggy, The Funky Phantom, etc.), Scooby was the one that really clicked with the kids — and time has actually been good to it. Two (pretty dismal) live-action movies and countless spin-off variations later (Ever catch A Pup Named Scooby Doo?) H-B finally allowed the Mystery-Inc. gang to indulge in a little self-parody. And THAT, as you’ll see with this great Blair Witch riff from several years ago, is a good thing. (And how great is it that the same guy, Frank Welker, has been the voice of Fred since the beginning?!)

Finally, here’s something a little more modern than the clips above. It’s one of Tim Burton’s first endeavors that reminds us of how cool his stuff could be before he lost his mojo somewhere after Ed Wood.

Here’s last Halloween’s Disney-related post featuring all kinds of Haunted Mansion audio shares.

~ by Number5ive on October 28, 2010.

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