Disney used to be synonymous with family-friendly entertainment and cartoon animals. Sure, Scrooge McDuck was a mad old miser who wore no trousers and hung around with his 3 young 'nephews', but he was an outlier. When Disney+ launched, it largely continued this approach, although there are a few slightly more adult themes in more recent Star Wars films and some of the Marvel movies.
Disney has made some unsettling movies in its past. Connoisseurs should investigate The Black Hole, for instance: a disturbing and weirdly existential sci-fi flop. Disney made it in a misguided attempt to get on the original Star Wars sci-fi movie boom bandwagon, but audiences weren’t really ready for its bleak and talky approach to the genre. There are also plenty of older flicks from the House of Mouse that are now considered unsuitable due to their rather, shall we say, 'old fashioned' attitudes to gender and race. But at the end of the day, they're really just dumb and jolly movies about pirates, witches and self-aware Volkswagens.
However, since Disney started acquiring other studios and content owners like so many bits of popcorn it was munching through, a rather darker strain has emerged on Disney+. Disney has been at pains to trumpet its advanced features for parents, so that kids are spared all the murder and sexiness that lurks on Disney+, but for adults – and kids who are adept at hacking – there is now a wealth of grown-up entertainment on there. What would old Walt have made of this?
The torrent of filth continues: 3 more surprisingly adult films you won’t believe are on Disney+
127 Hours: amputation, threat, wound detail, watersports
This movie was made by Fox Searchlight, which is now a subsidiary of Disney.
So I turn on Disney+ to 'research' this piece and what is the very first thing I see in the 'New to Disney+' section? A film that actually made me faint when I saw it at the cinema. And I'm a large bloke of 6ft1, so that must have been quite disturbing for the rest of the audience. Hopefully nobody is going to get upset about spoilers here as the film is 12 years old, and the entire reason for its existence is for that one scene in particular.
Based on a horrible but ultimately uplifting true story, Danny Boyle's film sees James Franco trapped in a canyon with his arm stuck under a big rock, due to a rather hapless bit of potholing. Remember kids: always tell someone when you go out into the wilderness alone, as you may end up trapped under a boulder for 127 hours.
Long story short: several days of hallucinations, urine-drinking and regrets later, Franco decides to chop off his own arm with a penknife. Yes, those are all things you may have to do if you’re trapped in the great outdoors. It’s all fun and games until you have to sup your own urine and then cut your own arm off… with a penknife.
I actually rewatched this semi-recently and while there is almost no real gore, Boyle manages to make you feel every agonising moment of it. Watched on a TV instead of at the cinema, it didn't make me pass out this time, though.
Speaking of Danny Boyle, his high-speed horror movie 28 Days Later, and its similarly blood-soaked sequel, 28 Weeks Later, are also on Disney+. They're fun for all the family, at least until various members of said family are transformed into murderous rage zombies.
Speaking of me fainting at the movies, that also happened during Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, also during an amputation scene. I‘m happy to report that this film is not yet on Disney+ however.
Braveheart: wound detail, adult themes, violence, homophobia
This movie was made by 20th Century Fox, which is also now a subsidiary of Disney.
God help me, but I really am a big fan of the work of racist, misogynist, homophobic lunatic Mel Gibson. In fact I recently rewatched all the Mad Max films on Prime Video – they're great. So I was delighted to see that Braveheart is now on Disney+. It's possibly his magnum opus when it comes to extreme violence, although Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto are pretty full on in that respect as well.
Resembling the grimiest parts of Monty Python's The Holy Grail, but with all the humour removed, Braveheart is an extremely violent film. If you take a drink every time someone is impaled, gouged, burned or chucked out of a castle window, you will end up very drunk indeed. In fact, you may die, just like all the main characters in Braveheart do. Director and star Gibson mounts some unforgettable battle scenes, does some truly stirring speechifying, adds an unlikely romance for his character William Wallace, and even finds time to throw in a gratuitously homophobic subplot, just for the hell of it.
Watching Braveheart is like being bludgeoned around the head for 3 hours by an angry Scotsman and that's entirely appropriate, because that's also what happens on screen during that time.
Dopesick: drug use, corporate irresponsibility, adult themes
This series was made by Hulu which, you guessed it, is now largely owned by Disney too.
Like the films above, both of which were nominated for multiple awards – and Braveheart actually won Best Movie and Best Director in 1995, somehow – Dopesick has had widespread critical acclaim. Much of that was for Michael Keaton, who plays a doctor who starts out prescribing a new type of opioid painkiller and then becomes addicted to it. Horribly, horribly addicted. Seeing his slide into junkie squalor really is not the sort of thing people would have expected to see on a Disney-affiliated channel, 10 years ago. At one point, he literally sees bugs under his skin, which is perhaps a little on the nose, but it's more his moral disintegration that disturbs.
One quite old-school Disney thing about this mini series is that Perdue Pharma – the company responsible for the opioid in question – is portrayed as literally evil. The actor playing the head of the company plays it so evil, in fact, that the only comparison I can come up with is the Emperor in Star Wars. However, in a much less Disney-esque twist, it is made pretty clear at the end of the series that nobody from Perdue faced any significant consequences for ruining the lives of millions (and Michael Keaton).