A Celebration Of The ‘Walt Disney Frozen Head’ Joke’s Enduring Appeal

I’ve never been good at picking out birthday gifts. I usually get something the person doesn’t need or something they already have. But when I saw that it was Walt Disney’s 113th birthday, a thunder strike of thought went through me: why not celebrate the creator of Mickey Mouse and over-priced theme park fun with a retrospective on some of the greatest “frozen Walt Disney” jokes that have appeared in pop culture? Because if there’s one thing that everyone knows about Walt Disney, it’s that his frozen head is hidden away in the Disney vault waiting for someone to come up with a cure for lung cancer… and death… and head seperation.

The thing is, that isn’t actually true. No part of Walt Disney is frozen. He died of lung cancer almost 48 years ago and was cremated. This according to the man’s family, a group of people who probably aren’t thrilled with the impressive life-span of the cryogenic urban myth. And while I can’t blame them, how about the life-span of that urban myth, huh?

As I said, it’s been almost 50 years since Disney lived, and the lie has overtaken the truth to a lot of people who seemingly assume that Disney was a mad futurist who put his head into a guillotine and his faith into the hands of science.

Maybe the willingness to believe in such things is triggered by our inherent need to seek out contrast in the lives of those who bring wholesome and bland things to life. Or maybe it’s our desire to chase immortality and our want to know that someone else may have found a loophole in our unbreakable contract with grim death. It could be those things, or it could just be that it’s an awesome f*cking fairytale.

Whatever the motives, that narrative has been kept alive by jokes about Walt Disney’s frozen head, and consequently, they’ve helped turn a living giant into a giant in death whose intriguing end continues to make him relevant. Not, you know, in the best way possible, but my point is, they could say worse things about you five decades after your death. Like nothing at all, for instance.

Walt Wakes Up — Family Guy

Oh, yeah. They could also say that you’re an anti-Semite.

In this clip, the usually restrained and respectful entity known as Family Guy threw Walt Disney under a bus for a 6-second cut scene. It’s a really easy joke, but it earns a smirk because of the rumors about Walt Disney’s views with regard to women, black people, and jews. Like the cryogenic rumors, these have persisted for quite some time. Is there any truth to them? I don’t know. There have been many conflicting reports, but Vulture has a helpful breakdown.

The repeated pairings of the frozen Walt Disney jokes and jokes about the man’s alleged anti-Semitism aren’t as helpful, but some of them are awfully funny and well represented on this list.

Walt vs. Elian — Robot Chicken

This isn’t really a Walt Disney frozen head joke, but it does imagine a world where Disney’s head was severed after his death and attached to a mechanical spider-body that lives within the Matterhorn and feeds on the bodies of Cuban children.

Why does Disney only eat Cuban children? Apparently forbidden fruit tastes the best, hence Disneyhead Spiderbot’s freak-out when he learns that Elian Gonzalez has returned to Cuba.

The Re-Animation of Walt Disney — Robert Selander

Robert Selander’s lengthy and amusing sketch about the un-freezing of Walt Disney adds jokes that Disney hated children and Mickey Mouse to the already too-tall pile while also doing his part to live up to the legacy of the “Walt hated jews” jokes.

I laughed the loudest when Selander’s thawed Walt Disney showed his disappointment with our resistance to monorail technology and our decision to elect Barack Obama.

I’m pretty sure that if we thawed out any 65-year-old dead man from the 1960s after 45 years, he’d be as confused and angry as Selander’s recovering Disney-sicle is, but I doubt that they’d close with the line, “You can all suck on Donald Duck’s cloaca for all I care! Wake me up when everyone is white!”

High School Musical 4 — Saturday Night Live

This sketch is more about taking down the High School Musical franchise by having Zac Efron recount the horrors of life outside of East High, but at the very end, Darrell Hammond stops by to play a thawed Walt Disney who has stopped by the East High auditorium to offer Efron’s character another chance to go back to high school.

Why does Disney actually appear in this admittedly funny sketch? I really don’t know. It seems like they just needed an ending and someone in the Saturday Night Live writer’s room shouted out “Frozen Walt Disney!” before they collapsed into a plate of pasta during a Tuesday night marathon writing session and died. That writer is now frozen.

Starting cryogenics rumors is easy and FUN!

Disneyland — Mad TV

Sticking with sketch television shows that used a frozen Walt Disney bit to get a few cheap laughs, this Mad TV sketch tells the story of an innocent father who is trying to locate a Mickey Mouse for his kid to meet. In the process, his helpful and human guide gets shot down and replaced, thus kick starting a parade of hench-people who keep the forced tranquility of Disneyland alive and well while filling the world with lies.

Was there a need for the floating head bit at the end? Not really, but again, the sketch just needed to end and frozen Walt Disney jokes are so very easy. Trust me, I love to make them.

Appolo Appolo — 30 Rock

I searched the internet for video of Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy telling Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon that he had not only been to Disneyland (thus fulfilling a childhood wish), but that he had held Walt Disney’s frozen head in his hands. But I couldn’t find it. The episode is available on Netflix, though.

To me, the best use of a cultural reference is a simple remark laid down in passing. That’s exactly how Tina Fey deploys it here, and Jack Donaghy is the perfect character to sell the frozen Disney head notion in a “no big deal” kind of way.

Walt Disney’s Video Will — Hal Rudnick and Justin Donaldson

Rudnick makes a much more unsettling Disney than Selander and Hammond did, but it works for him. Specifically when he has to sell a line like, “I leave 10% of my fortune to my old pal Anton LeVay, to continue his research into the dark arts with his Church of Satan. That’s gonna buy a lot of goats.”

We’re ending on a high note as this video, which was created as part of UCB’s This is Your Life: Walt Disney stage performance, touches on almost every single Walt Disney rumor with a creepy smile.

Then again, maybe that’s not a good thing.

To some, laughing about Walt Disney’s distorted legacy is tantamount to sacrilege. To others, Walt Disney’s fame and the distance between his last breath and today insulates them from feeling bad about having a little fun with the fantastical stories that have sprung up about him.

To me, this is a man now composed more of myth than anything else. He’s a folk villain, the inverse of someone like Johnny Appleseed, a man who accomplished great things in life that were magnified in death. Disney’s great deeds have been distorted by the years and the stories about him, but that’s what happens sometimes. As was stated at the start of Disney treatment of Appleseed’s life: “With the passing years […] reality has given way to legend.” Ain’t that a b*tch?