Thursday, November 24, 2011

Disney Goes to Hell

What the hell? Disney has visited H-E-double-hockey-sticks more than a few times in animation, film, and even in theme parks, with varying degrees of horror and humor.

The first visit occurred in 1929's Silly Symphony short, Hell's Bells, in which the Prince of Darkness amuses himself with his menagerie of demonic animals.

The mythical three-headed guard dog Cerberus makes an appearance (although in this depiction, he's more silly than Satanous!)

The closest we get to genuine horror in this outing is this "udderly" bizarre dragon-cow, that gives liquid-fire instead of milk. Satan laps up a heaping bowl full.

Satan came back for more in 1934's The Goddess of Spring, where he erupts out of the ground to disrupt a pastoral scene and demand the Goddess join him as queen of his underground kingdom, Hades.

Even though this is no cause to celebrate for the imprisoned Goddess, the imp-like demons of the underworld throw her a reception party, with organ music and a fire-dance.

We get a dog's-eye-view of the not-so-sweet Hereafter in Pluto's Judgement Day (1935), when Pluto visits an afterlife dominated by cats looking for a little rough justice.

A loaded jury finds Pluto guilty of being mean to cats.

His sentence is being burned alive by the angry mob...

Of course, this visit to the hot-end of the Hereafter was all just a dream brought on by Pluto's guilty conscience, not unlike the brief glimpse of hellfire that greedy Uncle Scrooge tastes at the climax of Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983).

Although it's not on any park map, Disneyland guests have been able pass though Hell since day one, thanks to the final room of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, where the guests (as Mr. Toad's surrogate) are killed after colliding with a train and sent straight to Hell.

The event is not based on any scene from the ride's namesake film, The Wind in the Willows. Rather, it pays tribute to a classic dark-ride tradition of sending riders to the hot and steamy underworld. (Artist Kevin Kidney even created some artwork related to this portion of the ride that was subsequently banned!)

In 1979, Hell begins where everything ends... inside The Black Hole. The surprise climax to Disney's belated response to Star Wars sends evil scientist Dr. Hans Reinhardt to an alternate reality complete with ironic punishment (he is trapped inside the shell of his deadly robot sidekick Maximilian) that could only be interpreted as Hell itself.

We see Reinhardt's eyes peering out in despair from within his new robotic sarcophagus, in a shot reminiscent of 1961's The Pit and the Pendulum...

...before pulling back to reveal the full scale of the horrific landscape.

But Disney's most disturbing depiction of Hell has to be in 1981's The Devil and Max Devlin, in which a crooked landlord played by Elliot Gould goes to Hell after getting hit by a bus. He arrives free-falling amid other unlucky souls...

And we even get to experience a first-person, Max's-eye-view of the frightening plunge. Now there's a potential theme park ride... Soaring Over Satan?

The air is filled with the tortured cries of the damned as we watch Max land amid fiery lakes and rocky crags. And some of the mountain faces... have faces!

Satan and his minions have been reimagined as gruesome executives sitting around a conference table, with the Devil seated as Chairman. They rattle off a list of Max's sins, starting with cheating on a fourth-grade spelling test, and working their way on up from there.

When Max threatens to take soul-saving action that would deny him eternal membership to Club Hell, a demonic "Soul Manager" played by an unrecognizable Bill Cosby recites a litany of torments awaiting him for not complying.

"...Eternal damnation is yours! You’ll know the pain and horror of limbs being torn from their sockets! YOUR limbs! YOUR sockets! You’ll feel pain you never imagined in life. Flesh you’ll smell, burning! YOUR flesh! Rotting forever!"