The best children’s stories have a current of danger running through them. Hansel and Gretel are almost eaten alive by a witch; Rapunzel revolves around child kidnapping; The Three Billy Goats Gruff promises hideous monsters live beneath every bridge. All of these stories, delightful as they may be, are packed, too, with a message: the world is fucked up and frightening and you’d best learn this young.
Disney, whose most recent output represents the sanitized corporate alternative to these sorts of traditional, child-terrifying fairy tales, seems to have acknowledged the worth of scaring kids witless. A new, obviously intentional modification of its world-renowned Disneyland rides evidences this, ushering in a bold mandate to reintroduce fear as a crucial element of its attractions.
First up: the villainous Ursula from The Little Mermaid will now continue to perform dark songs for her audience with head hanging loose from a mess of wires.
Lulling in rhythmic delight, Ursula’s head sings songs of the deep with the stringy horror of an unsuccessful decapitation, promising the children of the world that death, for a monster such as her, is never final.
Before anyone mistakes this as a simple mechanical problem, never meant to be an actual part of the ride, it’s worth noting that Ursula’s eternal undeath isn’t isolated. Disney, in fact, seems to be establishing something of a theme with its newly enhanced robots.
A historically accurate look at the kind of punishment real-life Caribbean pirates could have expected if the law ever caught up to them, the leering, bearded noggin drooping in front of audiences is a suitably grotesque reminder of what awaits those who dare to live outside the law. Any kid who witnesses this sight is unlikely to illegally download a movie ever again.
While the robotics in play may be modern in a way the Grimms wouldn’t have envisioned, Disney should be applauded for finally deciding to do more than adapt and clean up classic works of children’s literature. Their commitment to showing the complexities of life, from the joy of music to the terror of medieval-style execution, is a welcome new step for the company.
Stay tuned for further rides, which sources indicate include an educational tour through key moments in the French Revolution, including the freshly severed heads of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, tyrants punished for growing fat on the toils of their people, singing “La Marseillaise” along with the crowd after the guillotine drops.