Exploring The Most Intriguing Disney Urban Legends, Both True And Untrue

We've all heard the myth about Walt Disney having his body preserved in cryonic storage. In some tellings, it's just his disembodied head that gets cryonically frozen. If you came of age in the 1990s, during the Disney Renaissance, you might also be familiar with how a bevy of inappropriate Easter eggs are said to be laced throughout the animated features of that period.

But Disney urban legends go deeper than that. If you go looking for urban legends, prepare to be sucked into stories of scary abandoned theme park islands and mayhem aboard mountain rides, including bared breasts and decapitations. You might also encounter a few fascinating fan theories that will change the way you look at certain Disney films.

Let's unlock the proverbial Disney Vault and start raiding it for riches in the form of some of the most intriguing apocryphal stories that have grown up in and around the Happiest Place on Earth. This is where The X-Files meets Mickey Mouse.

Myth of the Villain-Themed “Dark Kingdom” Park

The idea of a theme park built entirely around Disney villains is so cool that it is really no wonder this has turned out to be such an enduring legend online. Back on October 1, Thrillist ran an interesting feature by Drew Taylor essentially busting the myth that Disney ever had any kind of "Dark Kingdom" park in the works. Bolstered by the expertise of Disney historian Jim Hill, what Taylor found in his research was that an array of villain-themed concepts over the years had snowballed into the idea of a full-on villains park that never came to be.

Disney California Adventure, for example, once had a preview center where they showcased the concept for an area within the park called Villain Village. At the Magic Kingdom, too, there was once a proposed Villain Village that would have featured a Caterpillar-type Ursula ride, as well as an "Unhappy Hour" show in a beer garden outside Gaston's Tavern, where villains would nurse drinks and trade their woes in song, similar to how Batman's rogues gallery gathered around the card table to tell "Almost Got 'Im" stories in one memorable episode of Batman: The Animated Series. According to Hill, the centerpiece of this version of Villain Village, a ride called Villain Mountain, would have put guests on the underworld boat of Hades from Hercules and let them drift through a succession of Audio-Animatronic villain encounters, all culminating in a run-in with Chernabog, the bat-winged monstrosity from Fantasia's "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence.

The earliest genesis of the Dark Kingdom idea appears to have come from Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, a walk-through attraction that operated for ten years at Tokyo Disneyland. For the last three years, Tokyo DisneySea has let villains take over the park as part of its "Villain's World" Halloween celebration; alas, this and other Halloween events at Disney parks worldwide seem destined to remain the only real-world analogues for the Dark Kingdom. Unless you were one of the "bemusement park" goers who got to experience Dismaland, street artist Banksy's twisted 2015 pop-up exhibition in England.


Various Mountain Legends with Some Basis in Truth

While Villain Mountain never made it beyond the concept stage, there are numerous other mountain rides at Disney parks around the world, and those rides are often the setting for some pretty gruesome and sensationalistic stories. Despite frequenting Walt Disney World as a child, I never remember riding Space Mountain, for instance. What I do remember is hearing that someone had died on Space Mountain, giving the herky-jerky, pitch-black ride an almost verboten quality. Legend holds that a man was once decapitated after standing up in his seat on the ride.

Snopes reports that the earliest recorded death of someone on a Disney ride was a 15-year-old Californian who stood up on the Matterhorn Bobsleds, hit his head, and died. This may have gradually morphed into the Space Mountain legend. Two other Californians were also killed in separate incidents on the PeopleMover, which did once pass through Space Mountain at Disneyland Park.

One of the rare deaths not brought about by a guest's own safety negligence happened on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad when train cars separated in a dark tunnel and a man was killed. Adolescents have also drowned in the Rivers of America as they tried to cross the river from Tom Sawyer's Island on their own. When I was young, this made me fear I would get stranded for the night; my late grandfather and I once got so caught up playing hide-and-go-seek in the caves that we almost missed the last raft of the evening.

If all this talk of death is getting to be too much, Snopes also verifies the claim that certain free spirits have chosen to affirm life by flashing their breasts on everyone's favorite log flume ride at Disney, thereby turning the wholesome Splash Mountain into an indecent "Flash Mountain." Disney Cast Members reportedly now screen ride photos for flashers before allowing the photos to be displayed.


The Abandoned Island in Bay Lake

Discovery Island was once a wildlife sanctuary, but now it sits abandoned in Bay Lake, which is connected to the Seven Seas Lagoon, the same body of water where ferries transport guests to the Magic Kingdom every day. Boats still ride past Discovery Island all the time, on their way from the Contemporary Resort to the Fort Wilderness Campground and other places. I was recently on one of those boats, and someone pointed out to me the obscure Bay Lake Shoe Tree on the opposite shore, where Disney's old River Country water park also sits abandoned. Since closing in 1999, no one in the general public has set foot on Discovery Island ... except for one small expedition party led by a guy named Shane Perez.

As detailed in a post on his blog, Perez and his fellow trespassers loaded up some waterproof bags with equipment and snuck onto the island, ignorant of the fact that they were swimming through alligator-infested waters. This is no joke; it made serious headlines last year when a boy was snatched by an alligator down on the beach at the nearby Grand Floridian Resort. Perez and his party lucked out and managed not to get attacked by gators, or infected by some of the brain-eating amoebas that may have had a presence in the water, as well.

What they found on the island was a derelict site with noises in the trees, empty cages, haunting old Cast Member photos, snakes preserved in jars, and attacking baby vultures. Unless you are negligent of your own personal safety, like some of the guests who died in those mountain legends, you will probably want to refrain from repeating Perez's quest.


Get Rich Quick with Disney’s “Black Diamond” VHS Tapes

Election-influencing in Anaheim. Raising up false corporate idols for our children, as parodied in the film Dogma by Mooby the Golden Calf. Inculcating consumerism in people with merchandise, even turning a blind eye while scores of sellers hawk fake merchandise at Shanghai Disneyland. If there is one thing any of these things teach us, it is that even in the wonderful world of Disney, human avarice — greed — is alive and well.

For years, the Home Entertainment division of the Walt Disney Company has engaged in the frustrating business practice of putting Disney animated features on moratorium, meaning they are available to own on home media for a short time only before going back into the dreaded Disney Vault. The point is, there already exists a well-known precedent for out-of-print Disney titles fetching higher prices than usual.

This may have laid the groundwork for what happened last year, as a sort of bubble market popped up around old Disney VHS tapes, with claims spreading online that the Walt Disney Classics series — known colloquially as the "Black Diamond" collection — could essentially fund people's early retirement. Sites like Movie Pilot zeroed in on the fact that copies of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and other titles in white clamshell cases were being listed on eBay for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

Having once made a good amount of money auctioning off all my old comic books and Star Wars toys on eBay, I have to admit that even I was duped. "You might be sitting on a goldmine," I said as I started digging through what remained of my family's old Disney VHS library. Little did I (or other gullible types) realize that it was fool's gold we were sitting on.

Again, Snopes helps debunk this particular myth, simply by pointing out the huge disparity between what sellers were charging and what buyers were actually willing to pay for these supposedly "rare" Black Diamond tapes (which were, in fact, not at all rare, as the tapes were mass-produced from 1984 to 1994). Most of those thousand-dollar auctions ended without any bidders. It was only when you got down into the $25 range that any of them were receiving active bids. As is often the case with rumors, however, all those widespread reports had already helped the false claim achieve undying status.

Even today, sellers continue to list Beauty and the Beast tapes on eBay at astronomical prices. If you were planning on holding an online garage sale, banking on that "Black Diamond" collection of yours being worth a mint (not unlike Stinky Pete's complete set of "Woody's Roundup" dolls in Toy Story 2), you would probably be better served investing in gold bullion.


Inappropriate Easter Eggs in Disney Renaissance Films

Speaking of VHS tapes, if you ever tried to slow one of those down so you could catch one of Disney's alleged subliminal messages in the 1990s (as kids in my high school Pre-Med class were wont to do), you may have come away convinced that the Mouse House was doing the Devil's work. The subliminal messaging assertion has been repeated by way of so many infamous examples that we would just be trotting out the usual suspects here if we delved into it at length. For the benefit of the uninitiated, however, let's give (dis)honorable mention to the films involved. Keep in mind, Disney has since re-edited most of these films to remove any of the offending material.

In the 1988 pre-Renaissance film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the sultry Jessica Rabbit is said to have appeared naked from the waist down for a few blink-and-you'll-miss-them frames of film. Controversy also surrounds the drooling Baby Herman and his penchant for walking under women's skirts with his middle finger extended. Though he only makes a cameo in the film, Donald Duck's buccal speech patterns, which sometimes render him wholly unintelligible, almost make it sound at one point like he is hurling racial epithets at Daffy Duck.

Phallic symbols in land architecture are nothing new, but underwater structures are a different story. VHS cover artwork for The Little Mermaid (1989) once contained a purported penis tower in the background. Likewise, the knobby knees of clergymen in flowing robes are easily mistaken for erections.

In Aladdin (1992), the titular street rat turned prince may have snuck in a whisper adjuring "good teenagers" to take off their clothes. In The Lion King (1994), Simba sends up a cloud of dust in which the word S-E-X is allegedly spelt out in airy letters. (Actually, despite Dan Brown repeating that one in The Da Vinci Code, it was meant to be S-F-X, a nod to the special effects department.)


“It’s All Connected” Fan Theories

When you start to get into the realm of fan theories, it opens up a whole new frightening frontier. Granted, some of the theories out there are fun and harmless. Back in 2013, there was a theory circulating that all Pixar movies exist in the same universe. That theory is neat, whereas the theory that Carl died in his sleep at the beginning of Up has a darker tinge to it. (At least Carl had a chubby little guardian angel to accompany him on his journey through the afterlife, whereas we still seem to be stuck on the same Hades boat, drifting down toward the center of a Charybdis-like whirlpool inside Villain Mountain at the imaginary Dark Kingdom.)

Disney loves to kill off parents in its animated movies; it has been doing it in new and ever more traumatic ways since Bambi's mother. But according to one theory, which E! Online details here, the death of Anna and Elsa's parents in the mega-hit Frozen actually crosses that computer-animated film over with two hand-drawn animated features: namely, The Little Mermaid and Tangled. In a nutshell, this theory — which originated from a fan on Tumblr — states that "the king and queen of Arendelle were on their way to Rapunzel and Eugene's wedding [in Tangled] when their boat sank." And "that sunken ship in The Little Mermaid is the king and queen of Arendelle's."

So you see, in the Dark Kingdom, even the province of princesses is not safe. An alternate version of the Frozen theory, which is again detailed by E! Online, states that Anna and Elsa's parents never sank to the bottom of the ocean, but rather, "washed up on the shore of a jungle and the queen later 'gave birth to a baby boy' and built 'a treehouse' before getting 'eaten by a leopard.'" This would mean Tarzan is none other than Anna and Elsa's long-lost brother. For what it's worth, Chris Buck, one of the co-directors of Frozen, actually put forth this theory himself in a reddit AMA.


In the Shadow of Parade Dragons

All this talk of Frozen now gives us the perfect segue for putting Uncle Walt's head back on ice. We've really only scratched the surface here. There is probably a whole host of other intriguing tales that we have excluded from our case files. What about that old story of a guest falling to his death from the Skyway in Tomorrowland? What about the claim that Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom can be disassembled in the event of a hurricane, like the one that hit Florida back in September?

In August, after passing through a metal detector to enter the Magic Kingdom, I personally witnessed a rather nasty fistfight spill out into the street, right in front of the closed Hall of Presidents attraction as the Festival of Fantasy parade was rounding the corner to Liberty Square. That seemed somehow symbolic of the state of the world in 2017. As the parade's black dragon loomed large over us theme park guests, it left me feeling there definitely was a dark underbelly to the Most Magical Place on Earth.

As Josh Spiegel recently noted in his look at two Disney-tangential festival films, The Florida Project and Escape from Tomorrow, the Disney experience is in many ways predicated on "an agreed-upon lie," whereby we surrender ourselves to escapism. The same could be said for urban myths. If you want to go deeper down that Black Rabbit hole, to Bizarro Wonderland, there are scandalous sites with punny names like Mickey-Leaks, not to mention prurient tell-all books like Cast Member Confidential. Before you go venturing off your Disney park map into the dangers of uncharted territory like that, however, just remember one thing. As they say in the song "Heffalumps and Woozles:" Beware. Beware. Be a very wary bear...