Disneyland is sixty years old, and the Disney brand itself is even older. While the magical world of Disney has striven to keep a squeaky clean image throughout its history, skewering their image isn’t difficult. With a history that dates back to the 1920s, Disney can’t always give us a happy ending with their projects. Unintentionally or not, Disney has sent us all some disturbing messages over the decades.
The Pied Piper is a perfect example of this. It’s a seven-minute “Silly Symphony” that was put out by Walt Disney in 1933. The characters merrily sing all of their dialogue. However, no matter how happy the characters may seem as they sing and dance with smiling faces, the sinister message behind the tale is clear: revenge is sweet.
“The Pied Piper” is a tale that was collected by the brothers Grimm in the 1800s, but the legend originated in the town of Hamelin, Germany several hundred years prior. It is said that a piper, dressed in colorful clothing, appeared in Hamelin in 1284. He agreed to get rid of the town’s rats for a specific amount of money. The rats were a plague upon the town, so the townspeople agreed to pay him for his services. The agreement was that he would only be paid once he got rid of the rats. The piper agreed and played his magic pipe. The rats were drawn to the music, and the piper led them out of town. Despite a job well done, the townspeople refused to pay him. He retaliated by playing on his pipe yet again. But instead of leading away rats, he led away the town’s children.
While Hamelin is an actual German town, no one is sure if the magical piper that is said to have appeared there is real. Nevertheless, the pied piper is very much a part of the town’s history. It was over 700 years ago that the piper was said to have appeared in the town and led away 130 children with the sound of his pipe, but Hamelin still has an eerie pride in the tale. The town’s website states this about the piper: “The puzzle of where the children of Hamelin disappeared to on 26 June 1284 remains unsolved to this day; a mystery that lends the legend, and thus the town, a special, mysterious air.”
Legend has it that there were two witnesses to the town’s tragedy who were not led away for all time. One was blind and couldn’t keep up with the other kids. He was an oral witness to the rest of the town. He followed the music of the pipe but couldn’t see where the other children had gone to. Another boy was deaf and mute, so he was a visual witness. He couldn’t hear the pipe, but he followed the other children. He pointed out to the adults where the children had gone: a mountain. It is believed that the children disappeared when they followed a piper into a cavern in the mountain. Unfortunately, mute boys tell no tales, so the only eyewitness to the event was never able to explain just what happened to the other children on that fateful day.
The Disney version of this tale is vile, but there is an attempt to make it seem happy. Before the piper leads away the children, he declares that it is for their own good. He shouts to the men and women of the town:
You’re dishonest and ungrateful! And it really is a shame that the children of this city should grow up to be the same! I’ll save the children from such a fate! I’ll pipe them away before it’s too late!
The townspeople think he is “bluffing” and begin chanting, “Blow your pipe until you burst!” The piper isn’t bluffing. He calls the children away from their chores by piping away. They happily follow him inside a cavern in a mountain. It turns out that the inside of the mountain is a giant playground filled with candy and toys. A wooden sign held up by giant candy canes reads: To HappyLand. In this version of the story, there is only one disabled child. He is on crutches, but he makes it into the mountain when the piper magically cures him of his disability. The piper then closes up the cavern in the mountain forever.
The Disney version shows these kids being saved from the bad influence of their rotten parents. Still, the glorification of child abduction is disturbing. Showing small children following a stranger with a neat pipe is already creepy. But then showing the kids being rewarded with candy and toys for straying from their parents is unforgivable.