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Why For does Disney think that "No Nudes is Good News"

Why For does Disney think that "No Nudes is Good News"

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Earlier this week, Paul T. sent me an e-mail with an image attached that -- I'm sure -- will titillate a certain segment of the Disney fan community.

Jim,

Check out what I found on an animation art auction cite!! It's a bare-ass Ariel!!


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Well, okay. This is how this particular cel from that 1989 Walt Disney Animation Studios production was inked & hand-painted back in the day. But please note that the paint never actually makes it to the bottom of ... Well, Ariel's bottom. That's because when it came time for the scene in which this cel was featured to actually go in front of the camera,  this shot in "The Little Mermaid" was framed in such a way that this Disney Princess' shapely caboose was always going to be kept safely out of sight. So don't expect that when the Blu-ray of this John Musker & Ron Clements film goes on sale later this year (October 1st, to be exact) that -- if you carefully go frame-by-frame during this portion of that motion picture -- you'll ever be able to spy Ariel's behind as it's depicted in the above cel.

Mind you, if you talk with true Walt Disney Animation Studios veterans, they'll look at this particular image from the Little Mermaid and laugh. "That's the sort of stuff that titillates you?," these guys would snort. "Let me show you some of the Freddy Moore girl drawings that I've got squirreled away in a drawer here. Or -- better yet -- tell you about those female nudes that used to be painted on the walls of the Studio's old Penthouse Club."

Now you have to keep in mind that was the pre-1980s version of Walt Disney Productions. A few years into Michael Eisner's run as head of the Mouse House, Mickey developed kind of a prudish streak which continues even today.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The inciting event of this "No Nudes is Good News" policy seems to date back to the theatrical release of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in June of 1988. A few weeks into this Robert Zemeckis movie's run in theaters, Disney executives learned that -- when Eddie Valiant & Betty Boop have their brief meet-up in the Ink and Paint Club -- there was an moment in this scene where, just for a single frame (depicted above), the strapless dress that this classic cartoon character slipped off of her breasts and thus revealed Betty's bare nipples.

Mind you, the only reason that the animators who worked on "Roger Rabbit" slipped a topless Betty into this Touchstone Pictures / Amblin Entertainment co-production was to pay tribute to those animation pioneers like Grim Natwick who used to do the exact same thing when they were animating the original Betty Boop shorts for Fleischer Studios back in the 1930s. And the reason that they did this back then was ... Well, most of the animators who worked for Max & Dave Fleischer were young men in their 20s. And when you're that age, the temptation to try & put one over on the boss is great.

More to the point, given that film whizzes through the projector at 16 frames per second (which is actually faster than the human eye can actually process individual images), that meant 99.99999% of the greater movie-going public would have absolutely no idea that the animated cartoon that they had just been watching had included a somewhat salacious image in a single frame. So the chances that anyone outside of this animation studio would ever find out that the folks at Fleischer had pulled a stunt like this were pretty slim.


Copyright Hearst Holdings, Inc. / Fleischer Studios, Inc. All rights reserved

Of course, given that the cel in question had pass through a bunch of hands (i.e. from the animator to the inker to the cel painter to the cameraman, etc.), there were dozens of folks at Fleischer who knew about this slip-a-sexy-shot-of-Betty-into-each-short gag and then kept quiet about it. In fact, if what Richard Fleischer (i.e. Max's son as well as the director of Disney's 1954 live-action classic, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ") once told me is true, Max and Dave knew about this stunt as well. But the Fleischer brothers deliberately turned a blind eye to this practice because thinking that they were secretly putting one over on their bosses made the animators at that studio happy. And to Max & Dave's way of thinking, keeping morale high at their studio was far more important than being the sorts of bosses who came down hard on their employees for silly, sexy pranks.

That said, there were certain high-minded sorts among the movie-going crowd who thought -- right from the get-go -- that Betty Boop with her short skirts & garter belt was far too sexy. And if these self-appointed censors had ever known that the animators at Fleischer Studios were deliberately inserting images of a topless or bottomless Betty into each of these animated shorts ... Well, they'd have lost their minds.

But once Joseph Breen was installed as head of the Studio Relations Committee in 1934 and then began enforcing Hollywood's restrictive Production Code, pressure was brought to bear on Fleischer Studios. And as a direct result, Betty Boop's skirts got longer and the animators there were actively discouraged to stop with all that sexy stuff. Including slipping a single salacious cel into each short.


Joseph Breen

Even so, those pre-code Betty Boop shorts were still out there. And kids who were just starting out at film school in the 1970s would occasionally throw one of these old Fleischer animated shorts on a moviola. And then -- by going frame-by-frame through these films -- they'd then eventually find that single frame where Ms. Boop was doing something a bit naughty. And they then gleefully share this information with their fellow film students. And these future movie moguls would then all marvel at what production people used to get away with back in the old days of Hollywood.

Anyway ... That is why that topless image of Betty was deliberately placed in "Roger Rabbit." As a loving tribute to what Hollywood's animation pioneers used to do back in the old days. So -- to Richard Williams' way of thinking (And -- yes -- from what I've been told, the director of animation on this Touchstone Pictures / Amblin Entertainment co-production knew that a single cel featuring Betty Boop's nipples had been inserted in this movie and condoned it. And depending on who you talk to, Robert Zemeckis was also supposed to have been in on this gag as well) -- this was just the next generation of animators honoring the traditions of its pioneers.

Well, that's certainly not how the executives at The Walt Disney Company saw this situation. As soon as they learned that there was a topless Betty Boop hidden in plain sight in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," they immediately leaped into action. Even though this information was only brought to these execs' attention during the final few weeks of this live-action / animated hybrid's domestic run, they still sent Disney employees out to theaters around the country. Where these studio representatives were then under orders to enter each projection booth and take physical possession of that movie theater's print of "Roger Rabbit." Only after these Disney employees had unspooled the second reel of this movie, find the offending frame and snipped it out of the movie were they then allowed to return control of this print to that theater's projectionist.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

These Disney employees then had to collect all of these individual single frames of film (each of which depicted Betty Boop with her top off) and return them to the Studio. Where Disney's attorneys then determined which frames had come from which specific print at what theater (making sure that all of them could be accounted before) before Studio officials then ordered  that all of these frames be destroyed.

So you can imagine how Disney Studios officials felt, after having already dealt with the Betty Boob  issue, when they learned that there yet another single sexy frame that had been hidden away in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." A moment late in this Robert Zemeckis movie  where -- right after Jessica Rabbit had been involved in a traffic accident -- this cartoon siren had thrown into the air. As Roger's wife flew by the camera, for just an instant, Jessica's skirt flew up & her legs briefly parted. Which was when it was revealed that this toon temptress was sans panties.

Now what made Mouse House managers particularly crazy about the Jessica Rabbit  / no panties situation is that they only learned about it months after the VHS version of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" had originally gone on sale in stores back in October of 1989. So while they couldn't do anything about the millions of copies of this Academy Award-winning film that had already been purchased by animation fans, they could at least contact retailers and then asked them to return all of their unsold "Roger Rabbit" videos so that the offending tapes could then be destroyed.


Jessica Rabbit as she appeared in the sequence in question for
the 1989 VHS release of "How Framed Roger Rabbit" ...


... and this same scene in this Robert Zemeckis film when it was released on DVD
on 2003. After Disney artists had gone in and digitally extended Jessica's dress.
Effectively ending any questions about whether this cartoon siren had or had
not been wearing any panties during this sequence of that live-action /
animated hybrid. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Mind you, given that the VHS &laser disc players that most people owned back in the late 1980s weren't really capable of going frame-by-frame through a film (I mean, even when you did pause a movie using your VHS or laser disc player, what you typically wound up with was an on-screen image that was either very blurry or had an awful lot of grain to it), it became next to impossible for animation fans to verify whether the Jessica-Rabbit-wasn't-wearing-panties stories that had begun leaking out of Disney Studios were true. Even those who knew exactly where to look in this live-action / animated hybrid still struggled to find just the right frame. And because they weren't looking at the sort of crystal-clear image of this sexy cartoon character that one might be able to procure in a professional editing bay back then (or from one of today's DVD or Blu-ray players), this Jessica-without-panties story just didn't get the traction back then that it would have surely gotten today thanks to the presence of websites like Gawker, Deadline or TMZ.  

So Disney kind of dodged a bullet with "Roger Rabbit" 's original VHS release (And trust me, folks. The 25th anniversary of this Touchstone Pictures / Amblin Entertainment co-production which Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released last month has long since been scrubbed clean). But on the heel of having to recall six million copies of the VHS of "The Rescuers" in  January of 1999, all because Mouse House managers learned -- well after the fact -- that there was a single frame in this 1977 Walt Disney Productions release where a nude Playboy playmate could be spied in one of the apartment windows that Bernard, Bianca and Orville flew by in New York City ... Well, it was finally time that something formally had to be done about this issue.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Truth be told, Disney executives did start getting more hands-on about the animated features that WDAS had in production prior to the "Rescuers" recall in 1999. The first film to receive the go-through-frame-by-frame-to-seek-out-the-sex process was "The Hunchback of Notre Dame ." Paul & Gaetan Brizzi had done a masterful job with their animation of the "Hellfire" sequence in this Kirk Wise & Gary Trousdale movie. But as studio officials began reviewing Paul & Gaetan's pencil tests, they became very concerned about that fiery version of Esmeralda which Judge Claude Frollo envisioned dancing in his fireplace. The concern -- at least at the executive level -- was this hallucinatory version of "Hunchback" 's gypsy just looked too naked. Which is why the Brizzis were then ordered to go back in and reanimate a specific portion of "Hellfire." So that it would then appear that Esmerelda, even as she was supposedly made entirely out of fire in this scene, still had some clothes on.


Please note the scoop neck dress line that the Brizzi brothers added after the
fact to their original animation of Esmerelda in "Hunchback" 's "Hellfire"
number. Which then suggested that this fiery version of the sexy
gypsy was still wearing clothes. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Things got even sillier / stranger when "Mulan" was in production at Walt Disney Feature Animation - Florida. The executives back in California were so concerned about the skinny-dipping scene in this Tony Bancroft / Barry Cook movie that word came down that only the supervising animators for each of the characters featuring in this scene (i.e. Mark Henn for Mulan, Aaron Blaise for Yao and Broose Johnson for Chien-Po & Ling) were to be allowed to animate these characters in "Mulan" 's skinny-dipping scene. With the message from Mouse House Management clearly being that -- if anything even remotely risque were to pop up in this portion of that motion picture -- Disney officials  would then know who exactly to fire.

The irony is that -- because Blaise and Johnson wound up being so careful & cautious with their animation of Yao, Chien-P & Ling in this film's skinny-dipping scene -- people who watched test screenings of "Mulan" intially didn't realize that the Gang of Three had actually removed their clothes prior to jumping into the water to join Mulan. Which is why -- prior to "Mulan" 's June 1998 theatrical release -- Disney animators had to create a brand-new scene that (in silhouette, mind you) clearly showed Yao, Chien-Po & Ling peeling off their Chinese army uniforms before they then raced downhill to join Mulan for a late night swim.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But if you watch "Mulan" 's skinny-dipping scene today, you can see how carefully choreographed it is to make sure that any naughty bits are kept below the surface of the water and/or just out of frame. In fact, to hear some of the animators who worked on this Disney Feature Animation -Florida film talk, a lot of potential for comic tension in this scenes got lost because the execs out in California were so paranoid about Mulan, Yao, Chien-Po and Ling getting too close to one another and then possibly touching while they were all together in that water skinny-dipping. So the notes that Bancroft & Cook kept getting back from Burbank was " ... make sure that those characters stay far apart while they're together in the water."

The same sort of caution supposedly carried over to the production of Pixar's "Brave" last year. That -- while the folks back in Burbank didn't dare tell Mark Andrew, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell what sort of story they should be telling in their tale of the Scottish Highland -- they did reportedly send along a note or two about Queen Elinor's (SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) transformations. That -- when Merida's mother changed her form in this film -- Andrew, Chapman & Purcell please make an effort to make sure that the Queen's naked body was always kept just out of sight. That it was okay to suggest this character's nudity just as long as no real body parts were ever shown.


Merida's bare-bottomed brothers -- Hamish, Harris & Hubert -- scramble into
Queen Elinor & King Fergus' arms at the end of Pixar's "Brave."

Copyright Disney Pixar. All rights reserved

Likewise those brief moments in Pixar's "Brave" where Hamish, Harris and Hubert appeared naked and/or the members of the clans Macintosh, MacGuffin, Dingwall and DunBroch all march back into the castle without their kilts ... Well, that was okay as long as these male characters faced away from the camera and all the audience ever saw was bare butts. But even so, as a direct result of these two brief bits of male nudity, "Brave" still wound up being only the third film in Pixar history to be receive a PG rating (with 2004's "The Incredibles " and 2009's "Up " being the other two).

And to make sure that no other sexual content and/or untoward images ever pop up in Pixar & Walt Disney Animation Studios productions, Disney Legal now reportedly has several people on staff whose specific assignment it is to go through each new film (once it completes production, mind you) frame-by-frame and then search for questionable content that the filmmakers may have deliberately and/or unintentionally placed there. And when you consider that a CG film like Pixar's "Toy Story " had 114,240 highly detailed frames in it ... Well, it could take weeks at a time to go through each of Disney & Pixar's latest productions and then carefully search for questionable content.

But to Disney Legal's way of thinking, this additional effort & expense prior to a new animated feature's release to theaters will ultimately pay off. If only because the Company will now be dealing with far fewer embarrassing PR problems after production has officially wrapped & these movies are out in theaters and/or have been released to various retail outlets through Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

After all, in this age of Blu-rays & digital downloads, it's now possible for virtually anyone out there to go frame-by-frame through an animated feature and then discover that single salacious cel that the filmmakers thought that they had cleverly hidden out in plain sight. Which is why -- in an effort to save the Company from some future embarrassment -- Disney has adopted this "No Nudes is Good News" policy.

So how do you folks feel about this bit of news? Are you happy that Disney Legal has gotten so hands-on about making sure that each of the animated features that Disney & Pixar produces are genuinely family-friendly? Or does this practice of going through a film frame-by-frame to make sure that no questionable content ever makes it out in front of an audience these days smack of censorship? A way of stifling the creativity of the people who actually make these motion pictures?

Your thoughts?

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  • It stinks that the animators don't get to get to pull shenanigans like these anymore, but it's a different world now; I'm sure that if Disney or any other studio let things like this go, eventually one of them would get the pants sued off of them by some overly zealous parent for corrupting the morals of their impressionable young kids (never mind that their kids could find more disturbing stuff than this on basic cable, but I digress).    C'est la vie...

  • There was a special in 1987 called Funny, You Don't Look 200: A Constitutional Vaudeville.  While it wasn't officially a Disney show, it was made by Disney.  The last part had Mickey sitting in a chair in pants with a clearly defined crotch.  Don't know what was behind the thinking of that one.

  • God forbid kids should see anything they see in real life, even for a 24th of a second!! Why some parents or psychologists feel the need to make kids believe that they're built like a doll, I will never understand. Acknowledge the reality and move on.

    These kind of attitudes lead to greater body issues later in life.

    (I should point out that this is strictly a North American attitude.)

  • It's actually pretty sad that they have to go to these lengths.  Animators could easily hide something fun or funny in the frames for people to hunt for and it wouldn't be an issue.  In fact, it would probably become a game people play... looking for the random image.  Unfortunately, it always has to be sex or profanity or something that isn't appropriate for the audience that these movies are mostly for.

    Animators should take a queue from ILM and stick a sneaker in with the ships attacking the Death Star instead of seeing if they can sneak in something salacious.

  • Going frame-by-frame is a bit much. That's like when Sam the Eagle went on a diatribe about how humans, dogs and cats couldn't be trusted, because under their clothes and fur they were actually naked.

  • The opening shot of Pollyanna is a naked butt boy swinging on a rope and dropping into a river.  Walt didn't seem to be too troubled by it as he stuck with David Swift in future productions.

  • Personally, I understand the desire to hide an Easter egg of sorts-- salacious or not-- in a film. The problem we're having HERE, is that these are Disney Movies! Disney has had a reputation for providing family-friendly entertainment ANYONE can enjoy. If there are portions of the movie-going family that are uncomfortable with nudes in a children's movie, then no nudity belongs in a family-friendly movie. HOWEVER, I do feel they could get away a bit more suggestion in movies such as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but certainly nothing like the traditional classics that are geared towards the whole family. If the animators MUST hide something sexy in their films, they need to get themselves on a film NOT geared for an audience that may be uncomfortable with it.

  • its kind of sad a little bit over kill by legal to by trying to keep disney rep as family friendly legal is going over bounds and not letting the animators be the one to do the animation and watch and make sure racy scenes like the mulan scene does not cause a pr storm for legal should just do legal and trust the animators of future disney cartoons to do their work and try and monitor themselves.

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