Disney Plus censors movies, and I’m determined to figure out which ones

April 13, 2020

The other day, I noticed Splash is included with Disney+ and since my little one is in a mermaid phase thought it might be worth watching. But upon starting the movie, we were greeted with a notice that the film had been modified for content, so we didn’t bother.

I haven’t seen Splash, but a quick online search suggests Disney+ only includes a version of the film that removes some non-sexual nudity. After further poking around, it became clear that there are a lot of movies on Disney+ that have been edited for content without an up-front notice.

We’re the kind of family that doesn’t mind exposing the five-year-old to a little bit of cursing or other harsh material so long as we can be there to talk to her about it. For example, the other night we watched Big, a movie (not on Disney+) that garnered a PG rating when it came out in 1988, even though it features the main character fondling a woman’s breast (in a bra) and a big ol’ “Who the fuck do you think you are?” in a climactic moment. We’ve also been watching a lot of The Simpsons and make a concerted effort to talk about which characters are being kind and which aren’t, and noting that Homer shouldn’t be strangling Bart.

On another level, I’m intrigued by the idea of film owners (not necessarily filmmakers) distributing versions that don’t match the theatrical, or generally-accepted canonical, versions. George Lucas’s tinkering with Star Wars films is probably the most prominent example, but there are plenty of examples, just within the Disney universe, of films being edited from their original theatrical versions for various reasons. Though most of the changes to movies I’ve noticed over the years don’t have a major impact on plot and meaning — and sometimes whoever manages the TV edit takes the opportunity to create some meta-humor — it’s a little upsetting to think that a movie I loved isn’t the same movie other people might be getting a chance to see, which erodes the communal experience of movie-watching.

Moreover, since Disney doesn’t tell us which movies on Disney+ are theatrical versions, which ones are TV edits, and which ones are something in-between, there’s no way of knowing in advance what you’re actually consuming. Worse, some rudimentary checks on various movies in the Disney+ catalog suggest Disney doesn’t have coherent blanket rules for which movies on the service have been censored and which haven’t, aside from not carrying anything above a PG-13 rating.

For example, The Ringer asked if Disney would edit out all nudity from movies on Disney+, but did not get a response. While Splash (rated PG) has been edited, and there’s a notice, The Simpsons Movie (PG-13) features Bart’s genitalia and has not been edited at all. Perhaps certain PG-13 nudity is allowed on non-”Disney”-branded content, but it’s also possible Bart Simpson’s junk is the only nudity on the entire service.

Cursing isn’t necessarily handled according to strict guidelines, either. While Iron Man 2 (PG-13) has a couple “shit”s uttered, that could be because, again, it’s not a “Disney”-branded movie. Three Men and a Baby (PG) characters also say “shit” in the version on Disney+, so I thought that perhaps it’s only the “Disney”-branded movies that have profanity edited.

However, while Flight of the Navigator (PG) and Blank Check (PG) are both “Disney”-branded movies with profanity dubbed out, The Journey of Natty Gann (PG) is a movie with “Disney” splashed at the top of the poster, and sure enough, at the 39:54 mark, a character crests a hill and says, “Oh shit.”

Again, ultimately, this is probably small potatoes, but it seems like Disney could very easily make both bowdlerized and original versions of movies available to paying subscribers and give us some choice on what we want to watch. I’m sure the corporate policy is based on a very Apple-esque argument that the walled garden is the walled garden, everything has been thought through and designed to make things simple to use, and if you don’t like it, you can go elsewhere for your content.

But Disney could also appease a lot of people by putting parental controls on this stuff, like requiring a code to unlock anything rated above PG (or TV-PG), and allowing users to set content availability as a default. Our family would just unlock everything, but other families might not want anything edgier than Mickey Mouse Clubhouse available in their household. Some people might want to be able to choose to watch an edited Flight of the Navigator, or let David say “Oh shit” as a very real reaction to seeing government agents coming after him whenever they come across a given movie.

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(Photo: The Simpsons Movie)