This post originally appeared in November of 2011.
When you have a company that primarily caters to younger audiences, it isn’t too terribly surprising the people behind the scenes make sure the material presented to these young people is in no way controversial. There is added difficulty when your company also happens to have existed for many, many years, and what might have been acceptable at one time becomes unacceptable in another.
Of the many films produced by Walt Disney Studios, the one you cannot get your hands on is an official release of Song of the South. This despite the fact that the film features one of the more recognizable Disney songs ever created (Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah) and has a ride (Splash Mountain) based on the animated segments in the film. It is the non-animated segments, however, that are -to put it mildly- a source of controversy given the depiction of African Americans in post-Civil War times. But the movie isn’t a unique example of Disney studios going back and changing things that may be, in these modern times, deemed at best “touchy” and at worst “offensive”.
I’ve been going to Walt Disney World near Orlando for years, and it is curious to note the subtle and not so subtle changes to some of their rides. The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage ride has been completely done away with. Two others have featured some notable changes.
The first is the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. With the success of the movie franchise, audiences have witnessed the appearance of an animatronic version of Capt. Jack Sparrow. His presence isn’t all that bad, but it does change the focus of the ride from one of amorphous idealized pirates to a focus more in line with the movies. What I found most intriguing was the way they changed one of the ride’s more elaborate jokes. After we pass the “women’s” market (where a pirate group is selling women off to leering pirates, the joke being that the current woman on sale, a fat one, is of no interest in the buyers. They have their eyes on the next woman in line, who is a knockout. The way things are going, I suspect this particular joke won’t remain in the ride much longer!), we come upon a besieged town. Originally the joke presented here was that we see one pirate chasing a woman around her house. Then another doing the same. When we get to the third house, however, the woman is far larger than the pirate and, instead of him chasing her, she’s chasing him around the house, swinging her broom at his head!
This joke was completely killed off for obvious reasons. After all, what are the pirates doing chasing the women? Because they are hungry and want the women to make them some breakfast or lunch? Are they cold and want the women to fetch them a warm drink?
Clearly, this is not the case. In fact, the “joke” presented here is that these women are in the process of being assaulted. Once the pirates “catch” them, what follows can only be one thing. The people behind the scenes at Disney, I’m quite certain, decided this “joke” was a little too risqué and nixed it. Now, the first house has a pair of pirates running around in circles while carrying a (no doubt pilfered) treasure chest. The second house has (I believe) a woman chasing away a pirate, and the third has the same big woman chasing a pirate. The joke is officially expunged.
This last time I went to Walt Disney World, I noted another change. If you go to the Haunted Mansion ride, in the preamble, you’re “locked” in a room with your fellow park attendees and listen as the narrator talks about the mansion. The walls seem to move, and the lower parts of painted pictures reveal humorous “hidden” bottoms containing macabre jokes. Toward the end of this segment, the narrator notes that the audience is trapped in a room with no doors or windows. How, he wonders, are we to find a way out? Our narrator then states that in a room without doors or windows, there is only one way out. Then, you hear a scream and lightning reveals a hidden attic above us, showing…not much.
At least now.
Yes, there’s the sound of crashing and you see a ragged figure above you, but the whole conclusion to the narration makes little sense. Why? Because the original “way out” was clipped. For the original “way out” was…suicide.
When the narrator says there is a way out, originally when you heard the screams and the lightning flashes illuminated the room above you, the ragged figure you saw was clearly hanging from her neck on a rope. The implication was that in a room with no exit, the only exit is to kill yourself. Not the most ideal of “jokes” to present little kids! Now, the ragged figure does not sway on any rope, but is immobile, making the ending of this part of the ride rather confusing (although, granted, far more politically correct than showing the ragged remains of some poor forgotten soul who has committed suicide!).
Anyway, if you’re interested in more changes (some dealing with far less controversial material within the parks), I found this pretty interesting website that details some of those people have noted: