Disney filmmakers are notorious for slipping old movie references, in-jokes, and running gags into their projects. Most times even the avid viewer would never pick up on them, especially the younger ones, nor would the casual movie-goer.
So this post contains three of the best ones I have seen to date. We’ll start with the most obvious one first, and then move on to the most obscure.
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Wall-E: Hello, Dolly!
We all saw the film clips (via hi-tech VCR tape) that Wall-E played again and again of the man and woman who make a connection by holding hands. This becomes pivotal to his romance with Eve:
The film clips were from the blockbuster movie Hello, Dolly! starring Barbara Streisand, and the man who taught Wall-E to hold hands was Michael Crawford (the Phantom of the Opera). The movie is a 1969 romantic comedy musical. It follows the story of Dolly Levi (a strong-willed matchmaker), as she travels to Yonkers, New York, to find a match for the miserly “well-known unmarried half-a-millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. In doing so she convinces his niece, his niece’s intended, and Horace’s two clerks to travel to New York City.
But did you know that these two clerks, Cornelius (Crawford, below far right) and his friend Barnaby (below far left) weren’t interested in holding hands? In the song “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” (the first song you hear on Wall-E’s tape) the boys sing about visiting New York City, and they vow not to return until they kiss a girl. So although Cornelius does eventually hold hands with his lady fair (below, second from right), he succeeded in his mission only after he kissed her.
I guess the makers thought it would be easier to show robots holding ‘hands’ than to have them kiss without lips.
FUN FACT: “It Only Takes a Moment” is the second song from Hello, Dolly! that you hear on Wall-E’s vintage tape.
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The Emperor’s New Groove: The Fly
This movie reference is indeed classic, going all the way back to 1958 to the Vincent Price film The Fly. In this movie, an earnest scientist, intent on creating the first working teleportation device, gets over-confident and turns himself into a monster with a large fly head and one fly arm. In the process, he also creates a small fly with his head and arm on it. You can’t make this stuff up, folks!
The iconic scene from the film happens near the end when the scientist, now a fly, is trapped in a spider’s web. As the spider inches closer and closer, you can hear the famous “Help me! Help me!” plea that chilled audiences to the bone back in 1958. And it’s still one of the creepiest moments in film history today! If you dare, see it for yourself:
In The Emperor’s New Groove, Kuzco is lost in the woods and getting more creeped out by the minute, when he too comes across a spider’s web. He hears the famous “Help me! Help me!” line before witnessing, and hearing, the crunch of the fly’s demise. Ick. Want to see that too?
For the full impact, please pop in your copy of The Emperor’s New Groove. It really is more chilling if you hear the plea for help and the crunch!
FUN FACT: A theory about this moment in the film surfaced on Facebook. The writer postulates that the fly who dies in this scene must have been a human at one point in the film, and thus this was actually equivalent to watching a murder. He supposes that only animals that were once human talk in the film, like Kuzco (Llama), Yzma (kitten), and the guards (“Hey, I’ve been turned into a cow. May I go home?”). So if the fly is talking, it too must have been a human at one time. The writer goes even further to assume that it would be the old guy that Kuzco had thrown out the window earlier in the film (but that guy is seen by Pacha soon after, and returns in the end scenes).
Obviously, this theory is wrong, and the scene of the spider and the fly was only an homage.
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The Muppets: The Fork Dance
For this last example, we have to go back to the silent era of film, to 1925 to be exact. The movie is Gold Rush and it stars the immortal Charlie Chaplin. One of the signature comedy gags in the film is the famous ‘Fork Dance’, pictured below:
These dancing ‘feet’ become one of the funniest moments in silent film history! Have a look for yourself:
It’s a small moment in the movie, The Muppets, but Amy Adams rocks this homage to Chaplin during her duet with Miss Piggy called “Me Party”:
Again, this moment in the musical number goes by pretty fast, but it is very funny and stuck out in my mind, but perhaps only because I’m such a huge Chaplin fan and remembered the iconic scene from Gold Rush.
FUN FACT: Although Chaplin is accredited by many as using potatoes for his ‘feet’, Adams definitely uses bread rolls.
By now, I think it goes without saying, that we all need to pay close attention while watching Disney movies! Did you catch these brilliant homages to earlier classic films? Do you have a favorite that you like to point out to family and friends? If so, please leave it in the comments below and we’ll all look out for it the next time we watch a Disney classic!