Hypnosis in Disney: 11 Misconceptions Debunked

“You’re getting sleepy…You WANT to give me your stimulus check so I can go to Disneyland…”

Did you ever watch a movie or a show, maybe read a story somewhere, where something about it freaked you out in some weird way you couldn’t explain?  Usually when people ask this on Facebook about Disney movies, I often bring up Dumbo‘s “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence.  It’s not a lie: it really did scare me.  As I got older, I grew less scared and more fascinated at the uninhibited artistry.  I eventually came to terms with it, and analyzed why it had the impact on me that it did.  I still think it was a combination of the dark ambiance, the thundering music, the blank, expressionless, black eyes of the elephants, the eerie vocals, even the raucous, plodding beat.  I couldn’t have been the only one.  But now that I’m an adult and I watch so many horror and slasher movies with the wife, I’m thinking I was probably just a wee little scaredy-cat.

Pictured: childhood trauma.

But there was something else in movies, TV and books that never failed to set my terror in full swing: mind control.  It didn’t matter how, whether it was a magic spell, a microchip, or old-fashioned, real-world hypnosis, I was sure mind control would be the doom of us all.  Robot armies?  Yawn.  Stealing national monuments?  Lame.  Usurping sovereign nations?  Boring.  Hypno-rays?  YOU MONSTER!

These scenes in my Saturday morning cartoons terrified me for years.  Yet when I would look around at more real world examples of it, I was much more surprised at how…well, boring and unremarkable hypnosis actually was.  In ninth grade, I tasked myself to research the subject for a term paper and was blown away by what I was able to find.  I quickly discovered it was just as boring as well as fascinating as I could have ever imagined.  I hadn’t even graduated high school yet and I was already practicing it on fellow classmates.

Phineas and Ferb: “A Real Boy”

Now with my eyes opened and a generous stack of hypnosis books in my bookcase, I continued to watch Disney cartoons (Don’t judge me) and became gradually more aware of the exaggerated nature of animation and children’s media.  We knew, as kids, our eyes didn’t stretch to six feet in diameter with a klaxon ringing out when we were surprised, but our exposure to everything else was framed by what we saw on our television screens, movie theaters, and books.  Sure, real life helped, but how many kids grew up ever even seeing a single stick of dynamite, an anvil, or an actually-slippery banana peel?  It’s the same reason we grew up thinking of racist stereotypes perpetuated by writers who were more concerned about comedy than anything else.

I look back on some of these and I ask myself a lot of questions.  Like, was there any sort of attempt to capture the reality of hypnosis?  Did anyone actually care?  Was it just a wacky hijink to use as a plot device?  Or did a villain want to just use it to take over the world?  And how much should I let my suspension of disbelief go given the context?  So I pulled from various sources at Disney to demonstrate the division between fiction and reality when it comes to depicting hypnosis.

1. You can’t be hypnotized if you don’t want to be hypnotized.

Recess: “The Hypnotist”

In order to be hypnotized, you’d have to put forth a concerted effort…for the most part.  Hypnosis is scientifically characterized as a state of heightened concentration.  You’d have just as much luck stumbling into taking an algebra exam.  Whisking a fully cognizant person into a trance without their knowledge is borderline impossible, for the most part.  But to make hypnosis seem sinister, or sometimes just a contrived way to get someone to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, it becomes rather commonplace for people to zonk out with little to no effort.

In most of the examples of Disney movies and shows where people are hypnotized, this kind of shenanigan is frighteningly abundant.  The whole plot is often set in motion because – Whoopsie! – the wrong person got hypnotized, or someone was trying to do so for diabolical reasons.  In Recess‘s “The Hypnotist”, the titular character tries to hypnotize a very nonplussed Miss Finster, who is not interested in participating.  Realistically, she rejects his attempt and never even blinks.  Principal Prickly, on the other hand, watching in the wing, muses about the nice pen the hypnotist is using, and subsequently tumbles into a trance like Alice did down the rabbit hole.  This isn’t not impossible (More on this in a bit), but it is unlikely.  Most people of average intelligence who are watching a hypnotist onstage wouldn’t plunge into a trance because they’re too focused on the subject’s reaction.  That’s why when you go to hypnotist shows, no one has to ruffle up the entire audience because they were hypnotized right along with the subjects onstage.

Weirdly enough, Gretchen manages to break Prickly out of his suggestion by inducing hypnosis while he’s clinging to a pole on top of a jungle gym, eyes clamped shut, throwing a tantrum.  If you were in the same situation, you too would not be terribly concerned with the nine-year-old trying to calm you down with a pen, even if – unlike Prickly – you wanted to have the suggestion reversed.  Sure, the idea that enticing, repetitive, calming stimuli that draw you in seem plausible that they could make you slack-jawed, drooling, and foggy-headed, but give yourself a little credit.

2. Can you be unwittingly hypnotized?  “Yes, but”.

That’s So Raven: “Wake Up, Victor!”

The odds of someone hypnotizing you against your will while you are cognizant of them doing so is pretty much impossible.  But there can be times where it can be snuck up on you without your knowing.  The most common form of this you may recall from your DMV driver’s test: highway hypnosis.

Imagine you’re driving along an open highway at night.  It’s a long, straight road where nothing really changes, not even oncoming traffic. You’re mostly comfortable, there’s no distractions, and the only thing happening is the repetitive flashing of those yellow lines in the road.  If you’re not careful, that’s all it takes to lull you into a state where you’re not concentrating on the road anymore and you wind up in a terrible accident.  On a less dramatic level, hypnotists are happy to boast any time you completed a task that required little effort on your part and you barely remember even doing it, that’s considered a state of hypnosis.  So that time you wound up at the bank and was in line for the teller, and you can’t recall anything after pulling out of the driveway?  Boom.  Mind.  Blown.

But if someone were to jump in front of you with a hypno-disk while you were bingeing Netflix, nah.  There’d have to be something about you mentally that’d warrant concern if that were the case.  Basically your attention span would already have to be fixed on the stimuli that’d pull you in and your guard would have to be down.  In the episode “Wake Up Victor” from That’s So Raven, Raven’s dad is busy getting ready for his big TV appearance when he stumbles onto his son Corey and Corey’s friend Beans as they try to hypnotize Raven and Chelsea into loving them.  Predictably, Raven and Chelsea laugh it off, much less take in the suggestions, but Victor goes stone cold entranced, prompting a Weekend at Bernie‘s skit.  Ideally, given Victor was so nervous about his opportunity there’s almost no chance he’d just get distracted by a pretty pendant.  If he were, chances are he would have been distracted out of it just as easily.  It goes both ways.

3. You can’t be hypnotized to do anything you wouldn’t do if you were awake.

Lilo and Stitch: the Series: “Swirly”

Movies and shows LOVE showing the idea that hypnosis is so powerful you can make anyone do anything, laws of physics permitting (Sometimes not even then).  And sure, it’s pretty impressive, as you can tell from all those news stories you read about all those hypnotized victims murdering people and robbing 7-11’s.  Oh wait, you’ve never heard of that happening?  That’s because hypnosis doesn’t work like that.  Your moral compass doesn’t shut down the moment your eyes close.

So why do people onstage act like babies, milk cows, and do the funky chicken in shows?  Simple: they want to to do something silly, and have the excuse to do so without fear of reprisal.  You wouldn’t fall down intentionally, but it’s kind of okay to blame the alcohol if you were drunk, right?

In 1964’s The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, the title character is asked by the town judge Holmsby to hypnotize him to commit a crime so he can understand the mindset for his new book.  Merlin does so…and the judge kidnaps the school chimp. (It’s a weird movie.)  It’s been proven time and again that if you were to hypnotize anyone to do anything they weren’t already preempted into doing on their own, they’d either block out the suggestion or, if severe enough, stir from the trance entirely.  The judge would only do what he did if he were already intending to commit a little larceny, just needed a slight boost of confidence to follow through.

In Lilo and Stitch: the Series‘ episode “Swirly”, Lilo accidentally catches sight of the experiment’s suggestible gaze and is accidentally given the suggestion to “Be more like Mertle”, a girl from her hula she bit in the first movie.  While acting out as another persona is a common act in hypnosis, Lilo would have already wanted to, in some way, act like the kid whom she clearly despises.  On the more serious side, in the 1987 DuckTales episode “Spies in their Eyes”, Donald Duck is hypnotized to steal a remote control for a Naval submarine, which is more than grounds for a little court martialing, as well as a huge contrast to Donald’s ethics.  The Sultan in Aladdin, as we know, would never have handed his only daughter to Jafar, even before he realized he was evil.  But because hypnosis can do a lot of crazy things, it’s led people to believe a highly skilled and highly unscrupulous hypnotist somewhere can persuade anyone to do anything.  And it’s baloney.

4.  There are no set “rules” in place for how hypnosis works.

102 Dalmatians (2000)

This one’s weird, because in both real life and in movies, I’ve never heard the phrase, “Oh no, they’re hypnotized!  Quick, someone snap their fingers!”  Often the trademarks of hypnosis are things like spirals, pocket watches, metronomes, bells, or the snapping of fingers (Mostly because it’s film shorthand).  Really, to conduct hypnosis, nothing is required but one’s voice.  You can induce hypnosis in a million different ways, and there’s a million more how to bring them out.  If hypnotists do use the fixed gaze induction (The “look at a thing while I put you under” technique), literally anything can be used, like a spot on the ceiling.  To bring someone out of hypnosis, or to induce a post hypnotic trigger, literally anything can be used.  In fact, the most common method hypnotists use for bringing someone out of trance is not by snapping fingers, but by counting, while suggesting the subject awaken as they do so. It’s much less jarring that way.

I distinctly remember watching 102 Dalmatians, and the movie begins, of all places, in an asylum, where a Dr. Pavlov (Yes, really, but clearly not that Dr. Pavlov) has successfully found a way to treat psychological impairments in both humans and animals, going so far as to condition everyone’s favorite puppy-slayer Cruella DeVil to love them instead of their coats.  At first, she’s truly reformed, but Dr. Pavlov finds out the chiming of Big Ben jars his subjects into reverting back to their old habits, and demands this revelation be kept secret.  Cruella later overhears Big Ben, and her old obsession creeps back as her hair sproings back to life in an over-the-top fashion.  While an argument can be made that it’s clearly not hypnosis, but merely Pavlovian conditioning, as indicated by the doctor’s name, tell me: when has undoing a psychological treatment ever been done except in hypnosis-related plots?  Case in point, in the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy”, Stacy hypnotizes Candace to forget about obsessing over her brothers upon hearing “holy guacamole”, but relapse upon hearing “leaping lizard”.  In no way, shape or form is this kind of practice even useful, but it exists as an easy comedic opportunity for a character to go from hot to cold and back instantaneously.  While it’s rarely a bad idea to instill a suggestion to undo all previous triggers so they don’t affect the subject in the future, it’s done explicitly so, you know, it doesn’t affect them in the future.

And while hypnotic triggers can be inconvenient, they’re not padlocks.  For years, I’ve read this idea that subjects cannot be stuck in trances, I’ve never known anyone to think that to be the case. In “Wake Up Victor”, Victor is completely out cold from the moment he’s entranced and cannot wake up, per the misconception.  It’s revealed he was given the trigger to wake up when he hears the word “Okeechobee” a word no one but Beans can pronounce.  And as I said before, Raven conducts a Weekend at Bernie’s routine for maximum hijink outcome, which would jostle awake most anyone out of a trance.  Maybe this would be more likely if Beans said he could ONLY wake up upon hearing the trigger, but bear in mind, Victor’s mind would have to be completely shut off to ALL external stimuli, including touch, in order to stay hypnotized.  Yeah, you can jostle someone awake, but just counting backwards from 5 to 1 and coaxing them awake would do the trick.

Back to “Swirly”, how does Lilo revert back to being herself?  A snap of the fingers, of course.  Does this make any sort of sense if you’re not familiar with the common tropes associated with hypnosis?  Not likely, but it’s a comedy cartoon series where a genetically-modified creature from outer space can corrupt anyone’s mind with a simple glance.  Maybe I should give it a pass?


5. Hypnotists have no interest in being sued.

Suite Life on Deck: “Shipnotized”

No matter who you are or what you do, you never plan on getting legally called out on the repercussions of a sub-par job.  It’s either because you plan on doing a good job in the first place, or you’re a corrupt sleazeball akin to Max Bialystock and hoping you just never get caught.  If you’re the latter, shame on you.

But anyway, stage hypnotists and hypnotherapists similarly don’t want to be served with a court summons due to any sort of malpractice.  I can at least say Pavlov was negligent in his studies, however egregious.  But it seems to me a serious oversight that results in undoing all his hard work is grounds for a serious lawsuit, especially by someone as ruthless as Cruella.

In the Suite Life on Deck Episode, “Shipnotized” (Okay, that’s a good pun), Bailey and London attend a hypnosis show and the subjects, a married couple, are given a suggestion to act like each other. Like I said before, being suggested to act like someone else is fine, but this essentially is airing out dirty laundry in front of a crowd of strangers. Have them act like Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, or Kanye West, but no one really wants to see someone doing an impression of their wife mocking her constant nagging. Worse still, can you imagine the emotional strife of your spouse doing that to you, in front of a crowd like that? Yeah, even if there’s no real legal leg to stand on, you know a good lawyer could make a sound case.

In the episode, London, the Paris Hilton-parody character, accidentally gets hypnotized and accepts the suggestion, and acts like her country-born-and-raised bestie and roommate, Bailey, much to her annoyance. But she got off easy. Even if the hypnotist were negligent in not making sure only his subjects onstage were hypnotized, at least he was still around for Bailey to ask him to remove the suggestion, even though in reality, it’s a super easy fix Bailey could’ve done on her own. And, you know, not disrupt his show by shoving London onto the stage during a following performance.

Similarly, the hypnotist from Recess, who looks like the much-less successful brother of Professor Hinkle from Frosty the Snowman (And that’s saying something) isn’t seen or heard from after Prickly is made to think he’s a kid again. Miss Finster tells the staff he left for Peru, so calling him back to undo the suggestion is out of the question. But seriously, he couldn’t even recommend another psychologist in the area? Even if he awkwardly failed in front of a whole school to hypnotize Miss Finster, he couldn’t be bothered to make sure no one else got accidentally tranced? Again, he could very easily have been sued by Prickly afterward, claiming mental strife or lost wages or anything, really.

But again, these are kids shows, so litigation wasn’t really a concern.

6.  Hypnotizability is a spectrum.

Home on the Range (2004)

So if you cannot be hypnotized against your will, but you can unwittingly be hypnotized, and as we saw in the previous example, sometimes people actually CAN be hypnotized and accept suggestions without meaning to, just what the smoo are the circumstances in which people can just zonk out into a trance? Well, it’s not entirely up to the hypnotist. Like any talent, be it athletic or artistic, hypnotizability is a trait you’re born with, but can be enhanced with constant practice. Sounds nuts, right? Some estimates range between 5 – 10% of the population being highly hypnotizable, and roughly the same amount as similarly unhypnotizable, leaving around 80% to 90% of the rest of the population somewhere in the middle. The common idea is that dumb or otherwise gullible people are the easiest to hypnotize, whereas others are “too smart” to be hypnotized. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, champ, but the opposite is often true.

As I stated before, hypnosis is characterized by heightened concentration, so if someone is unfocused or unable to concentrate due to mental disability, alcohol, or drugs, the odds of them going under are next to zero, no matter how skilled the hypnotist. And because hypnosis often employs mental visualization, creative people are more adept at this. Too stubborn? That means you have a will to enforce your convictions, so if you’re given a suggestion, your stubbornness basically enforces it even more. The only grain of truth I can find to this is people like me, who overthink everything, with a touch of being on the autism spectrum, are unable to just concentrate on listening to the suggestions without my mind attaching itself to random words or phrases and losing track what told to me after that. But that’s what confusion inductions are for.

So might London be easily hypnotizable in real life? Probably. Principal Prickly? Maybe. Victor from the That’s So Raven episode? Not likely, considering he probably would have had A LOT on his mind at the time.

Oh, and you know who else you would have a heck of a time trying to hypnotize? Animals. In The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, Merlin hypnotizes a cat and Stanley, the chimp, which kind of weird. In Home on the Range, cows are rendered into slack-jawed, technicolor automatons by yodeling, but at least they’re cartoons with autonomy. In the classic Donald Duck cartoon The Eyes Have it, Donald hypnotizes poor Pluto into becoming a mouse, a turtle, a chicken, and a lion, complete with physical changes. If most humans can’t be hypnotized unwillingly, you can assume you can’t really do it the same way you’d hypnotize a human.

7.  You need more than a spiral, a watch, or your eyes to induce hypnosis.

The Eyes Have it (1945)

“But wait!” I hear you cry out, “You just said you didn’t need anything but your voice to hypnotize people!  Are you lying then or are you lying now?”  First of all, it’s very rude of you to interrupt me while I’m typing.  Presumably days or even months after I’ve posted this online.  Still rude.

What I mean is, just because you have a cool doodad doesn’t mean you’re a great hypnotist.  It’s a akin to having a cool set of gloves, a awesome leather jacket, and a sweet helmet and saying you’re a great motorcyclist.  You need the bike first, then you’ll know what to do with add-ons, if you even need them at all. (Okay, yes, you need the helmet, but the metaphor stills stands!)

So why are these things used for hypnosis?  Because repetitive, compelling stimuli can be very useful in allowing subjects to relax, let their guard down, and just look at something that fatigues the eyes.  Sleep has been associated with hypnosis for hundreds of years, even the term “hypnosis” is derived from the Greek God Hypnos, the god of sleep.  Similarly, those flashing yellow lines from highway hypnosis qualify.  Some hypnotists even use metronomes.  Sometimes even using multiple stimuli can overwhelm a subject into a hypnotic state, which can be effective for subjects that have a harder time concentrating, called a confusion induction.

Kim Possible: “Coach Possible”

In The Incredibles 2, Screenslaver uses giant spirals and flashing lights on screens to captivate their victims.  Corey and Beans used mail order pendants.  Señor Senior Senior in the “Coach Possible” episode of Kim Possible uses a big, flashy disco ball to subdue Kim and Ron. Cinnamon Teal from DuckTales uses her enchanting eyes. In the Gummi Bears episode “Music Hath Charms” a magic set of bagpipes used by Duke Igthorn enslaves the Gummis, save for a temporarily deaf Grammi Gummi.  In all these examples, all it takes is something captivating to reduce every subject into a stupefied zombie.  A very odd one is from the 101 Dalmatians: the Series episode “Howl Noon”.  In this one, puppy Cadpig uses hypnotherapy as a tool to help Lt. Pug overcome his fear of childhood bully Persian Pete.  However, when all else fails, and Cadpig tries to handcuff Pug to her to stop him, Pug eventually confronts Pete.  And by swinging the puppy from the handcuffs like a pendulum, manages to hypnotize Pete and scare him away.  Yes, pendulums of most any kind are helpful in inducing hypnosis, but that one is just absurd.  Maybe I have to chalk that one up to kid’s comedy trumping realism, I guess.

But what’s even sillier than needing the props is the idea that taking away the prop or hindering it dispels the trance.  The Sultan would still be hypnotized whether Aladdin smashed Jafar’s staff or not.  Both Cinnamon Teal and the Seniors are thwarted by their subjects…wearing sunglasses.  Donald Duck uses some hypno-goggles novelty, probably from a comic book mail-in order, but once they break, Pluto’s stuck as a lion.  Thank goodness Gregarius the robot was smashed in order to break the spell he had on Aladdin and the gang in Aladdin: The Series‘ episode “I Never Mechanism I Didn’t Like”. Imagine if I used a pocket watch and smashed it with a hammer to wake you up.  Sounds kinda dumb that way, huh?

The Jungle Book (1967)

By far the most renowned example of hypnosis in Disney is Kaa from The Jungle Book.  In the original Kipling novel,  Kaa hums and dances in the moonlight, his serpentine body captivating the bandar-log into literally walking into his mouth, which also affect Baloo and Bagheera, but Mowgli is clearly immune, further preserving the idea only smart people can’t be hypnotized.  For the Disney cartoon, the python was made a sinister antagonist instead of an ally to rescue Mowgli from the monkeys.  Here, the snake seeks to encourage Mowgli into a state of docility as he prepares to consume the Man-cub.  His famous looping eyes are his trademark technique, which draw Mowgli in, even when the boy actively resists in a later scene.  He also uses his cottony-soft voice (Courtesty of My Hero Sterling Holloway) to lull his victims into a state of sleepy bliss, exemplified best by his signature song, “Trust in Me”.  Mowgli, Bagheera and in the sequel, Shanti, all fall victim to Kaa’s gaze, but the only one able to resist is the highly intelligent and strong-willed Shere Khan. 

But if you watched any of these shows or movies and suffered no side effects as the spirals spun or loopy eyes whirled or the swinging pocket watches swung, then congratulations, you realized that just those things on their own don’t do squat.  And you didn’t even need sunglasses.

8. For hypnosis to be effective, it typically has to be BORING, REPETITIVE, and TAKE A VERY LONG TIME.

The Adventures of the Gummi Bears: “Music Hath Charms”

You’ve probably noticed movies have a tendency to emphasize or glamorize exciting things that don’t happen much in real life, or at least they happen a lot faster.  For example, from The Empire Strikes Back to Rocky, we get the montage, where our hero musters all their determination and hard work into a few minutes of onscreen progression from novice to expert.  In reality, this kind of dedication would take months, if not years, but as a now-ancient meme once said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.  It’s the same thing with depicting hypnosis in media.

While there are ways to induce hypnosis within seconds, or even ways to execute induction, suggestions, and awakening within moments, like all talents, they rarely happen without preparation and practice.  In order for hypnosis to be executed for maximum chance for success, you must take your time.  The induction is the trickiest, guiding a fully cognizant and usually willing subject from wakefulness to a state of quiet drowsiness.  Then next is the deepening stage, because for better results, subjects would need to be in a deep state of relaxation, often characterized by using peaceful imagery, fractionation, going down steps, or simply counting down.  Depending on the subject, this may be all that is necessary to execute suggestions, and then the hypnotist would resume with awakening, which usually involves counting upward.  This is by no means the only way to conduct hypnosis, but the goal is to get the subject as deeply entranced as possible so they can better absorb the suggestions given, and often require patience, minimal distractions, a relaxing ambiance, and a rapport between hypnotist and subject.  Does that sound dull and uninteresting?  That’s because it is.  And because movies and TV can’t waste time with long, drawn out sessions, they often use shorthand: edited clips, emphasis of prop iconography, or most often,  technological, magical, or otherwise generally fantastic circumstances, like loopy snake eyes, mail order novelties, yodeling, disco balls, bagpipes, or alien genetics.  It’s that much easier to use a prop to suddenly zap an unsuspecting victim into a drooling zombie.  And much more visually interesting.

9. Posthypnotic amnesia typically needs the prompting suggestion.

DuckTales: “Spies in their Eyes”

What’s funnier than seeing your friends acting like a monkey onstage?  How about that brief, bewildering look on their face when it suddenly dawns on them they’re crouched on a chair, clutching a banana, when seconds ago, they were sitting in a chair on the other end of the stage?  It’s like a great prank to not just warp their minds into making them think they’re seeing/doing/something no one else can see, but then have a minor mental crisis as they try to piece together what the heck just happened.  This phenomena is referred to as posthypnotic amnesia.  And it only sometimes happens on its own, but it typically happens when the hypnotist suggests it.

It’s not clear why it happens, but if a subject goes deep enough, posthypnotic amnesia happens naturally.  But chances are the subject didn’t go quite that deep, so stage hypnotists often like to add the aura of mystery by showing the gap in their memory.  Thus, they often suggest to their subjects to have no memory of being hypnotized or what was told to them under hypnosis. 

Sometimes the posthypnotic amnesia emphasizes comedic effect, like Principal Prickly howling in impotent confusion.  In the DuckTales episode, Donald insists he’s innocent of any wrongdoing, adding to the mystery.  The Jungle Book at least gets this right, as Mowgli is clearly aware of what Kaa does to him, trying to avoid his eyes in their second scene together and even chastising Kaa for lying to him. 

I really respect the Phineas and Ferb episode, “A Real Boy” for this.  Yes, Candace does clearly blank out on her obsession with her brothers mid-sentence the moment Stacy gives her the trigger (When in reality, she more likely would have simply lost interest).  But when Stacy suggests she get ready for her date with Jeremy, Candace asks “Who’s Jeremy?”  Though revealed to be a prank, it cleverly teased at another typical cliche we might’ve expected.

10. You wouldn’t be echoing suggestions in a robotic monotone.

Aladdin (1992)

Talking requires effort when you’re so deeply relaxed, and when your mind is so thoroughly engrossed in concentration, remember you have to form thoughts before you can express them verbally.  So if a subject is deeply hypnotized and the hypnotist requests the subject talk for any reason, chances are the response would be a drowsy mumble.  But of course, in family media, it’s not enough to have a character stand stiff, eyes wide with whirling spirals, arms outstretched like a sleepwalker.  No, they also have to repeat every command they hear, and acquiesce to every order with a monotone, “Yes, master.”

You’re still you under hypnosis, no matter how deep you go.  If your scruples stay in place, then there’s similarly no chance a switch in your brain goes from “Normal” to “Slave” when you go under.  And unlike posthypnotic amnesia, it’s rarely suggested upon.  In hypnotherapy, a client may be asked to state affirmations to boost conviction while under, or they may be interviewed as they explore their memories, but otherwise it’s not terribly useful.  Even less so if the stereotype were true.

“Coach Possible”, “Music Hath Charms”, “Aladdin”, and “A Real Boy” all had this in their plots.  The really odd one is “A Real Boy” where Candace is given her suggestions by Stacy, and when asked if she understands, Candace says no, adding “A brief recap might be helpful…”  definitely a line for comedy more than anything, but worth bringing up.

11. It’s a real therapy tool, you hacks!

I’ve had to come to grips recently that, as a millennial, the media of my childhood was mostly written by baby boomers.  Meaning, despite the push to have mind-altering substances and eastern concepts like yoga and meditation be normalized, psychology and psychiatry were thought to be the domains of quacks and shills.  This wasn’t helped by the eighties and nineties, when pop psychobabble became trendy.  So imagine how difficult it was (And frankly, still is) that a phenomenon popularized by carnies and barnstorming frauds had to push itself to have itself taken seriously.  Hence why it’s become a trope in media at this point that every conversation about using hypnosis for a real, therapeutic issue, the reluctant subject says something like, “You’re not gonna make me cluck like a chicken, are you?”.  Insert tepid, unamused “ha” here.

But before I refer to 101 Dalmatians: the Series‘ “Howl Noon” and Darkwing Duck‘s “Days of Blunder”, first I want talk about The Search for Bridey Murphy.

I didn’t see this on Reading Rainbow

Published in 1956, Bridey Murphy was a nonfiction account of author Morey Bernstein, a Colorado salesman who stumbled into hypnosis and studies of extrasensory perception (ESP).  He caught wind of an idea that instead of simply guiding a subject to go mentally back in time through their own past (a practice called “age regression”), what if they could go even further?  The second half of the book is mostly the transcripts of the six sessions Bernstein had with subject Ruth Simmons, where she began talking in an Irish brogue and began recalling a life in 19th century Ireland in alarming detail.  Bear in mind, this was an American housewife who had no ties to Ireland in the fifties, with no internet access, or even a library card.  The logical conclusion seemed to be that hypnosis could awaken the dormant memories of one’s past lives and support the theory of reincarnation.  Not long afterward, researchers dug into the details Bernstien published, and found A) there were several historical discrepancies that couldn’t be overlooked, and B) Ruth, real name Virginia Tighe, was a neighbor to an Irish immigrant as a young child, and unwittingly recalled long-forgotten anecdotes that came out as faux memories of a past life.  Whoops.

Now, using hypnosis in therapy is very, very real.  Hypnosis is the embodiment of “mind over matter”, so it can be extremely helpful with things like losing weight and quitting smoking.  Using age regression can be helpful in recalling memories with great clarity, or the therapist can restructure a past trauma into a more positive experience.  Of course, the human brain is fallible: memories aren’t perfect video recorders and memories are VERY easy to manipulate under hypnosis…but it does help.

In both 101 Dalmatians and Darkwing Duck, when Lt. Pug and Darkwing get hypnotized, they get indirectly steered back to supposedly past lives to gain insight on their current predicaments. Pug is facing a childhood bully, the cat Persian Pete, and Cadpig looks into his past lives in ancient Rome and the Pleistocene age showing he was beaten around by lions and saber-toothed tigers, which isn’t terribly helpful. A childhood bully returning doesn’t really require greater investigating. For Darkwing, villain Quackerjack is trying to get D.W. to switch careers away from being a superhero, and poses as a psychologist to do so. Once again, the use of past-life regression is supposed to help D.W. gain insight into why superheroing just isn’t for him, and he, too, flashes back to the pleistocene era, getting beaten up by a brawnier caveduck.

No therapist worth their salt would jump to past life regression as a therapeutic tool because there’s almost never any reason to think hang-ups from your time as a neanderthal would affect your ability to face a childhood bully or fight crime effectively. Both these plots wanted to use a quick-and-easy visual to demonstrate the characters’ traumas, and both, incidentally, use hypnosis to resolve their problems…not as therapy, mind you, but to hypnotize their foes. At least Pug just scared Pete away. D.W. sadistically mentally trapped Quackerjack in the same caveduck fantasy of being beaten up, and last we see of him is catatonic in the backseat of the Thunderquack, in a mental prison. Yikes, D.W., just…yikes.

Robin Hood (1973)

Give Robin Hood some credit: at least in their one and only hypnosis scene involved Sir Hiss (As much of a Kaa ripoff he was) trying to cure Prince John’s oral fixation, however unsuccessful as he was.

My last note on “Days of Blunder” is this: it became a cliche to have shrink characters named “Quack” or “Loon” to imply the regard the writers had for their profession (Also: THEY’RE DUCKS!! GET IT?!?!), but also have a thick German accent. This is, of course, a reference to the most renowned and controversial psychologist of all time, Sigmund Freud. However, Freud actually did try his hand at hypnosis…but gave up because he wasn’t very good at it.


So have I de-mystified hypnosis for you?  I kinda hoped using some of these examples would give you a starting point if you wanted to learn more, and if you made it all the way here, awesome!  Thanks for sticking with me.

Now, when I count from 5 to 1, you’ll slowly awaken, forgetting everything we just discussed, and you’ll want to read this article again.  5…4…3…2…just kidding!

Or am I?

Author: TAP-G

Writer, former podcaster, entertainment enthusiast. Movies and media have the power to shape our world and vice versa. Let’s take a deeper look at them.

One thought on “Hypnosis in Disney: 11 Misconceptions Debunked”

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