What happens when you take the incredible popularity of beloved Disney films, and add in the oddity that is internet culture? You get fan theories.
For those unfamiliar: fan theories are what happens when people start thinking about the worlds and characters in a movie, but they go beyond what happened on the screen and fill in plot holes with their own ideas or try to find new connections. They’re often creative, and sometimes quite strange. Some of them make sense, while others can seem like a bit of a stretch (sometimes a reeeeally long stretch). In rare instances these theories even get proven–or soundly dismissed–by the film’s creators, but mostly they just rattle around the internet for the amusement and consideration of other fans.
There are a ton of fan theories out there, and they cover just about every Disney film. Here are just a few:
Street Rat of the Future
This is probably my favorite fan theory, and I’m writing this blog post mostly so I could share it. The theory suggests that Aladdin, rather than taking place during some undefined timeframe in the past, actually happens about ten thousand years or so in a post-apocalyptic future.
The idea revolves around some of the things that Genie says throughout the film. When he’s first revealed, he states that he’s been in the lamp for ten thousand years. So, according to those that subscribe to this thought process, if Aladdin truly took place in the past (likely somewhere in the 900-1200 range, give or take a few centuries) then the Genie would have been imprisoned before 10,000 BCE. However, it seems unlikely that Genie was granting wishes to mammoth hunters and then somehow got trapped in a lamp that couldn’t have even been crafted in that prehistoric era, which forced theorists to rethink the timeframes.
Genie makes a number of “pop culture” references from the last few decades of modern times. How would he know all of these things if they all happened centuries after the movie supposedly takes place? To answer this, the theory suggests that Genie was in fact trapped in the lamp somewhere around our current time. The apocalypse then happens at some point during the ten thousand years in which he was stuck, and the world became a desert in which Middle Eastern culture survived. Even the name of the land, Agrabah, could be taken as a variation on “Arabia”, a change that might have occurred during the time that humanity was rebuilding itself. When Genie was freed by Aladdin, his most current memories would be from Earth circa 1992-ish (when the movie came out), hence his knowledge of references from then and the few preceding decades. But wait, there’s more! The theory even goes so far as to say that what Aladdin and his contemporaries see as magic–the flying carpet, the Cave of Wonders, Jafar’s tricks, etc–are actually remnants of technology that humanity had before the apocalypse wiped almost everything out.
I think my favorite part about all this is just that it makes so much sense (that, and I’m a fan of anything involving a far-flung future), and it doesn’t really do anything to change the ideas in the film, it just slightly alters the setting in which everything happens. Personally, I totally accept this theory as fact.
Many fan theories suggest connections between films, attempting to prove some sort of kinship between characters. Like, for example, this one: Jane, from Tarzan, is a descendant of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
Basically, according to this hypothesis, they look a lot alike and they both favor yellow outfits. They also have very little issue with being around feral guys. Additionally, in one scene of Tarzan we see a tea set in Jane’s camp that looks suspiciously like Mrs. Potts and her family, which theorists say is a china set that was passed down through the family. Which would make Belle Jane’s great, great, great, great, grandmother (give or take some greats) if the theory is to be believed. Sure, why not?
If we’re willing to accept that as fact, though, then how about if we throw Duke Weselton from Frozen into the mix? According to commenter Kate O’Gara’s thoughts on Disneytheory.com, this is a very plausible connection that adds a couple more branches to the family tree. Here’s how she connected the dots:
It’s estimated that the story of Beauty and the Beast takes place around 1740. When the French Revolution started in 1789, a rich family living in a castle probably wasn’t too popular with the angry townsfolk, so Belle and the prince hightailed it out of the country before they were led to the guillotine. They settled in Germany, prospered, and eventually their kid gave birth to a bouncing baby Duke Weselton. In Frozen, Weselton was pretty scared of Elsa’s powers, and according to O’Gara’s theory this is because he had heard stories about his grandfather’s ordeal with the enchantress that turned him into a beast. Since, by the end of the movie, he had botched the trade agreement with Arendelle, he was probably not too popular back home and as such packed up and headed to England in time to profit from the Industrial Revolution. Then his own grandson, Professor Q. Porter, used some of his family’s money to fund a trip to find gorillas in Africa.
A family tree that manages to encompass three different Disney films? Neat!
Do I buy this one? Sure, I think that I can accept it. Plus, I appreciate how the theory incorporates real-world events to craft a compelling history. Given that Tarzan is probably my least favorite Disney animated feature, too, I think the family saga that fans have created here is possibly more compelling than the movie itself. Plus, I’d love to hear Belle sing an upbeat tune while escaping an angry mob during the French Revolution.
Swinging From the Family Tree
Speaking of Frozen and Tarzan, how about a theory claiming that Tarzan is related to Anna and Elsa?
This one actually started with the co-director of Frozen, Chris Buck, who also worked on Tarzan. While spitballing stories with the other director, Jennifer Lee, he claimed that the king and queen of Arendelle didn’t die in a shipwreck like we’re led to believe.
From MTV.com: “Of course Anna and Elsa’s parents didn’t die. Yes, there was a shipwreck, but they were at sea a little bit longer than we think they were because the mother was pregnant, and she gave birth on the boat, to a little boy. They get shipwrecked, and somehow they really washed way far away from the Scandinavian waters, and they end up in the jungle. They end up building a tree house and a leopard kills them, so their baby boy is raised by gorillas. So in my little head, Anna and Elsa’s brother is Tarzan — but on the other side of that island are surfing penguins, to tie in a non-Disney movie, ‘Surf’s Up.’ That’s my fun little world.”
It’s hardly an official statement, of course.
I don’t think I can accept this one. There’s the fact that the king and queen of Arendelle look nothing like Tarzan’s parents (as seen in a photograph), and I don’t think the timeframes line up properly. So this one seems like just a flight of fancy and not really a plausible theory. I think I need to call shenanigans on this one.
Under the Sea
Remember the climactic scene in The Little Mermaid, when Prince Eric valiantly climbed up onto a shipwreck and used the broken bow to skewer Ursula and save the day?
Well, would you be willing to accept that the shipwreck was the same one that killed Anna and Elsa’s parents in Frozen? There are fans that say exactly that.
In this theory, Anna and Elsa’s mom and dad (do they have names? This is getting awkward) left their home with the intention of visiting Rapunzel’s family and celebrating the return of the princess. It was on this journey that their ship went down, only to be drawn up from the depths much later by a certain sea witch during her battle with a certain mermaid.
Theorists point to the locations of the different stories as evidence. Arendelle is based on Norway, so the assumption is that it would be in the same place on a map of the world. Corona, where Tangled takes place, is basically Germany. If they were sailing from Norway to Germany, they would pass the coast of Denmark, which is where The Little Mermaid is believed to be set (based upon architecture and clothing, plus the fact that Hans Christian Anderson was Danish). So, from a geographical standpoint, the shipwreck could be in the right spot to later be used as a lethal weapon. It’s also believed that both Frozen and Tangled take place sometime around the 1840s (using the fuzzy timeframes that Disney tends to go with), and while it’s harder to pin down The Little Mermaid‘s era it could still work.
Does it, though? I don’t think so. Observe:
The ships look nothing alike. The Frozen boat, at the top, has a large forward mast with a slightly larger mast behind that. There’s a third one further back. The one in The Little Mermaid appears to have a completely different configuration, and even has one more. Plus, the ship that Arendelle’s king and queen were on (seriously, why don’t they have names) has a raised stern that isn’t present on the one that killed Ursula. The bow is also quite different.
Sorry, theorists. It’s a great attempt at connecting three different films with one tragic shipwreck, but I think I need to say that this one doesn’t hold water. Like the ship did. Which is why it sank.
Here’s another theory that attempts to connect characters from two different films, in this case Hercules and The Little Mermaid, by claiming that the main characters are actually cousins.
This one makes sense, and to prove it you just need to look at Greek mythology.
Hercules is the son of Zeus. Poseidon is the brother of Zeus, making him the uncle of Hercules. Poseidon’s son, according to the myths, is Triton. In The Little Mermaid, Triton is Ariel’s dad. Based on that, it’s pretty clear that this theory works.
Of course, Hercules (who gave up his chance at immortality at the end of the film) would have died of old age long before Ariel was ever born. So it’s unlikely that they’ve hung out at any Olympus family reunions. Then again, given the fluidity of Disney timelines, who knows? The idea of Ariel and Herc eating burgers while catching up about their respective adventures is actually pretty entertaining.
Live and Don’t Learn
Instead of seeking out a familial connection between multiple films, here’s one that suggests two characters from two different tales are actually the same person: the Evil Queen from Snow White and Mother Gothel from Tangled.
Here’s how this story works: the Evil Queen didn’t die when she fell from the cliff at the end of Snow White, but instead she survived and ran off. Snow White takes place in a Germany-like setting, and Tangled‘s kingdom of Corona is based upon Germany, so the injured witch didn’t necessarily go that far before finding a new place to live (and, given the timeframe, it’s not like she could just call a Lyft, so her range was likely limited). At some point after she’s settled into her new home, she discovers the flower that grants her eternal youth. Both characters have a mutual motivation–beauty–and both are more than prepared to screw over a young princess to get it. Also, they kind of look alike and they both have a thing for wearing black cloaks. So maybe they’re actually one and the same?
I flip-flopped on this one, but ultimately I just can’t get behind this theory. Parts of it do seem to track pretty well, but the Evil Queen is a powerful sorceress and Mother Gothel seems dependent upon the flower (and later Rapunzel’s hair) for her magical needs. Unless… maybe she used up the last of her powers to heal her broken body after her little tumble?
I’m still going to say no, but it’s close on this one.
OK, so far none of these theories do much to alter the characters themselves or their motivations throughout the films. For the most part they’re all about finding (sometimes tenuous) connections between different movies, and even the Aladdin thing really doesn’t change much in the narrative itself. There are long-held beliefs by many fans that most/all of the Disney animated films exist in the same universe anyway, and in general these theories just try to establish more specific bonds within that larger meta-theory.
What about when fans come up with something that fundamentally alters the story in a film, though? When theories turn what you saw onscreen upside down and asks you to reconsider everything you thought you knew about the narrative?
It’s Good to be the King
Like most Disney animated features, The Lion King has been the subject of a few different fan theories. Unlike attempting to find familial connections between films (it’d be hard to prove that Simba is Mulan’s brother), what fans have suggested about The Lion King are a bit more… conspiracy-theory-esque in nature.
For example, some fans have surmised that Mufasa isn’t actually a benevolent king, but he’s in fact a tyrant. The proof, they say, comes from little things that they’ve noticed in the movie. The idea of the circle of life, they claim, is Mufasa and his family of lions keeping the “lesser animals” in their place by occasionally eating them and then passing it off as an honor to be returned to the earth to become grass for others to consume so the lions can then eat them. More than just being how the food chain works, theorists say that this could be Mufasa’s plan to keep the rabble in line. Plus, he’s worked hard to keep those he considers to be undesirables–aka the hyenas–out of his perfect little kingdom. In this version of the story, Scar is painted as a hero of the people, trying to free the Pride Lands from underneath Mufasa’s tyrannical leadership. Oh, and that drought/famine that happens under Scar’s reign? Totally a coincidence. It’s not like he can control the weather, after all (though there’s a theory that claims Mufasa can control the weather, which is too weird even for me).
I don’t know if I can accept this one. The whole good and evil balance in the film seems pretty straightforward to me. This is adding layers that stretch the narrative into some odd directions that I can’t get on board with.
How about going even further down this rabbit hole? According to some, Zazu was working for Scar the whole time to undermine Mufasa. They point to one particular moment as possible proof: when Simba and Nala sneak off to the elephant graveyard. It was Scar who put that notion in young Simba’s brain, but then the cubs say that they’re just going to the watering hole. Yet, later, Zazu seems to know exactly where to lead Mufasa to find them. How would he know that, unless he had some inside info and was a willing part of a larger conspiracy? Also, it’s frequently pointed out that The Lion King mirrors Shakespeare’s Hamlet in many ways, and this is also used to further the theory: in Hamlet, the king’s counsel is Polonius, who also happens to be a spy for Claudius (the bad guy). So if Zazu=Polonius, and Polonius=spy, then there are those who draw the conclusion that Zazu=spy. Then, when Scar is in charge, he keeps Zazu close in order to prevent the bird from turning tail (tailfeather?) and revealing what he’s done.
Again… wow. That’s some tinfoil hat territory (with Mickey ears, of course). Zazu can fly, right? Maybe when he noticed that the kids weren’t at the watering hole he flew around until he found them? I’m going on record to say that this is all madness.
Is it weird that people come up with these (often elaborate) theories about animated films? Maybe, but it also goes to show how beloved these stories are that fans want to delve deeper than what they saw on screen and come up with ideas about how their favorite tales may connect. Like how some folks put out there that Robin Hood is the medieval era of the Zootopia world, which I think I can agree with.
If you want to believe that Tarzan is Anna and Elsa’s brother, though, then director Chris Buck says to go for it. From that MTV interview: “I say, whatever people want to believe, go for it. If you want to tie them all together, then do it. That’s the spirit of Disney.”
With that in mind, I decided to take a crack at forming my own fan theory to close this post out (cracks knuckles dramatically):
Ok, let’s start with The Black Cauldron. In this film, which takes place in a medieval setting, a trio of witches have a habit of turning folks (like minstrel Fflewddur Fflam) into frogs. Late in the movie, the witches vanish in a dramatic fashion… only to return in 1920s New Orleans as Dr. Facilier’s “friends on the other side” in Princess and the Frog. I mean, he also has the ability to turn people into frogs, which was originally their hobby, so it makes sense that they could have taught him how to do it. Now, let’s take this even further and consider that there were several froggy victims of the witches’ magic in The Black Cauldron. It’s also likely that Dr. Facilier practiced the trick on others before using it on Naveen, so there could have also been some enchanted frogs hanging around New Orleans. Which leads us to the next connection: Meet the Robinsons. In that one, there are frogs who can talk and sing and even drive little cars. These are things that frogs normally cannot do, unless they happen to be descended from humans who were turned into frogs. So we have a whole civilization of magical frogs that have been around since the Middle Ages, got a burst of fresh blood in the early 20th century, and have survived well into the future.
Now, can we talk about how the weasels in Wind in the Willows and the ones in Who Framed Roger Rabbit are all a part of the same multi-generational crime family…