Phallic symbol in ‘The Little Mermaid’ artwork was approved by execs, Disney artist says
Nineties kids may have been too young to notice it, but their “The Little Mermaid” VHS cover might have had imagery that was not G-rated.
Rumors have circulated that a penis-like spire on the castle found in the movie’s VHS cover art and promotional posters were made by an artist out of resentment or because he was about to be fired.
Fact-checking website Snopes claimed that it was able to speak to the artist, who was not named. He reportedly said that the artwork was rushed at “four in the morning” and drawing the phallic symbol was an accident.
Last Feb. 14, Disney artist Dave Woodman, who worked on the animation for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin,” shared the “truth” behind the art on Instagram.
He credited animator and producer Stephen Worth for the story, who worked in Bagdasarian Productions with the artist, who was identified as Ron Dias.
According to Worth, Dias told him that he was commissioned to do the artwork “at the last minute” and that he had to work over the weekend to finish on time.
“He was kind of punchy from lack of sleep towards the end and decided he’d put a little joke in it for himself, if you know what I mean,” said Worth.
When Dias looked at it on Monday, he realized that his inside joke was not “subtle at all.” However, he had no time to revise it with a 10 a.m. meeting with Disney.
Dias, probably feeling guilty about tarnishing a children’s movie, pointed out the spire to his contact who worked in production and said he would revise it for free. He was told that executives would go over it in the same afternoon and he would be advised for revisions.
After a week, Dias followed up on revisions since he was worried about his goof. The production person said the cover had been approved even after she told them about the penis-shaped tower.
“Ron shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘If they don’t care, I guess I don’t either,’” recalled Worth. “Disney gave him the lead stylist job on the Little Mermaid TV show around that time, so I guess they were happy with it.”
Dias, whose animation career dates back to the 1960s with TV shows like “Scooby Doo, Where Are You!” And “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” did become the art director for “The Little Mermaid” TV show in 1992.
His castle would be featured in promotional materials and posters during the movie’s theatrical release. It was used too in the home video cover—until about a year later in 1990, when complaints came in about the tower. Dias’ original artwork ceased to be printed on VHS tapes and was replaced with a more child-friendly version.
Dias passed away in 2013 at 76. According to Woodman in a comment on his post, “He was too afraid to take credit while he was alive.” /ra
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