Along with being the online home of Marvel and Star Wars, Disney+ has always been billed as the Mouse House’s more family-friendly streaming service.
The app’s trove of G- to PG-13-rated material has proved a remarkably successful draw, and a godsend for families stuck at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has also resulted in some curious examples of censorship on Walt Disney Co.'s Netflix rival.
Specifically, we’re talking about mermaid butts.
This week Twitter users went into a tizzy after Allison Pregler, who hosts a YouTube series about movies, posted a clip of the 1984 mermaid romance “Splash” that appears on Disney+. In the clip, star Daryl Hannah’s rear end (which is partially visible in the original version) is obscured by what appears to be a digital extension of the actress’s hair while she runs into the ocean and away from a love-struck Tom Hanks.
Parents Television Council, a group that frequently criticizes networks for exposing children to questionable sexual material, unsurprisingly praised Disney’s move in a Wednesday statement.
“Making those edits does not make the film unrecognizable or unwatchable,” the group’s president, Tim Winter, said. “Instead, the edits serve to ensure that children who may watch the film aren’t confronted by nudity, and ultimately this makes Disney+ a trustworthy streamer for families.”
Elsewhere, reviews were far less positive for Burbank-based Disney’s decision to cover up Hannah’s backside with a computerized wig.
Many viewers found the CGI jarring. Pregler, in her tweet, referred to it as “digital fur technology,” an unflattering reference to the much maligned special effects in the box office bomb “Cats.”
The online dust-up also revived broader questions about how the company defines “family-friendly,” and how that influences what gets censored for Disney+ and what doesn’t.
A Disney representative did not respond to a request for comment.
But Disney has long said it plans to reserve Disney+ for content up to the MPAA’s PG-13 rating, while anything edgier will go to Hulu, another streaming service Disney now controls after its acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets.
“Splash,” produced by Touchstone Pictures, was rated PG for its March 1984 premiere, though the ratings standards were different then. The MPAA introduced the PG-13 designation that summer.
Disney has made fixes on other shows and films. Disney+ also includes a version of the National Geographic documentary “Free Solo” with swear words removed and a cut of “Toy Story 2" that excised a post-credits “casting couch” joke. (Newsweek has a helpful compilation of other edits, which have been closely documented by Reddit users.)
However, many older classics appear in their original form, despite some questionable cultural overtones.
Animated titles such as “Dumbo” and “Peter Pan,” which have been criticized for their use of ethnic stereotypes, appear on Disney+ with a disclaimer: “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.” Disney’s notorious musical “Song of the South,” long criticized for its treatment of African Americans, does not appear on the app.
Disney+ includes plenty of non-kids-centric films and shows, including the PG-13 Marvel movies and “The Mandalorian,” which follows an interstellar bounty hunter. It also includes 30 seasons of Fox’s “The Simpsons.”
But it’s clear the general focus on family content has paid off so far for the company, which is counting on Disney+ to chart its future, especially now that other parts of the company are temporarily shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Disney last week said the service has surpassed 50 million global paid subscribers in its first five months. Previously, Disney executives projected hitting 60 million to 90 million by fiscal 2024. That goal appears to be easily within reach now.