I didn’t expect that I’d be doing a reading of a Disney AU book, that the company had released. Obviously, it grabbed my attention when I saw that it was compared to Goosebumps, one of the books that I loved a lot as a kid. It also mentioned that Ursula, the sea witch from The Little Mermaid, had made a deal with the protagonist.
Preposterous, I thought. And yet I clicked to find out more information about the series. The library had the books with Dr. Facilier and Captain Hook and punny titles related to the songs in each movie. Obviously, I requested them to use for reference in this article.
Disney Chills is an ongoing horror series by the author Jennifer Brody, writing under the pseudonym Vera Strange. Each one thus far has a 2020s protagonist encountering a Disney villain or interacting with objects that they desire. The protagonist uses the object in question or strikes a deal to get what they want, only to find that getting what you wish for can have dire consequences. Each so far has a cruel twist ending when the protagonist tries to undo the damage, even if they have allies that know the lore.
Each novel in the Disney Chills series seems to have its own continuity, though it’s highly possible that Brody may have a crossover planned in the works. Ursula is alive in one, and that’s the one I haven’t read, while Hook is revealed to be an immortal, and Dr. Facilier is a man who became inspired by the original “shadow man”. What’s more, there isn’t much mention of books or movies in this world, if the animation is the multimillion franchise that it once was.
One niggling question has come to my mind when hearing about this series: how do the characters not know that these classic villains are dangerous? When you watch the VCRs over and over again as a kid, memorizing the animation in Ursula’s lair, you feel like you could survive a Disney movie and not enter into a dangerous deal. There are some contracts you don’t sign, especially when you lack a lawyer to sift through the clauses. Yet the first two books have those sorts of deals. Book three has a theft, which is a little different.
The answer seems to be obvious: Disney animated films do not exist in this universe. We are looking at various worlds that are fundamentally different from ours. We have a completely alternate timeline, rather than one where the villains happen to exist or crossover into reality.
What Does An Alternate Timeline Mean?
It means that pop culture is fundamentally different, meaning the protagonists seem less familiar in their horror novels. When you have a world without Disney film, it means that you don’t have any culture inspired by them. This doesn’t matter much in the Disney franchise stories like Twisted Tales or Descendants, where the magic is ubiquitous and the set design is obviously inspired by the period pieces mixing with the modern.
A world like ours is a different story. Our society has smartphones, laptops, and data now. We have entire communities based on the stories we love, music that we share, and interests. Fiction can shape a portion of our identities, in addition to the music that we have, and influence what we create or how we behave. Having a world without that fiction means that it’s a world that lacks a fundamental part of your identity.
This also means that you don’t have the works that inspired them necessarily. Consider that Peter Pan first started as a stage play by J.M. Barrie, and the first Captain Hook was played by Gerald du Maurier, author Daphne du Maurier’s father. At the time, one man wasn’t satisfied with the rigging that would allow for flying onstage. Peter Foy would revolutionize the system, and that allowed for more detailed choreography onstage. If you don’t have Peter Pan, then you don’t have a catalyst for a special effects innovation onstage. Instead, in a world where Captain Hook was a historical figure, you have boy bands and maritime museums. Perhaps another play would have to serve as the catalyst.
Daphne du Maurier also wrote Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and many other novels. Part of the inspiration came from her father’s wealth and numerous affairs; she wrote about emotional abuse that can happen behind closed doors, and if someone could truly measure up to a paragon or a romantic partner that seemed to be perfect. One would have to question if she never wrote Rebecca and that means Alfred Hitchcock never made a movie based on the novel. That could change the genre of modern Gothic literature since Stephen King said that Rebecca inspired his novel Bag of Bones. The threads and connections are endless.
Music also has an impact; without Disney, you lack the Disney pop star machine where they find young kids to mold into performers and leave them to swim alone when they grow up. This may be a good thing, and it also changes the music industry within the world. The Lost Boys exist as a band in Second Star to the Fright; Barrie mentions that they’re his favorite band, and he can’t wait to see them on his birthday. He has the lyrics to their songs memorized. That’s all we know really, rather than their genres.
The Lack Of Pop Culture
What do you do with pop culture in a world without Disney villains? It means you likely have a world where Dreamworks doesn’t have an entire movie franchise dedicated to mocking the heck out of the Magic Kingdom, or Starkid Productions with its numerous parodies. Fleischer Studios probably never lost animator employees that dear Walt would poach, for the sake of sabotaging his rivals, and Warner Bros. would lack its parody of Fantasia. We could even consider that Walter Lanz may be the one releasing dramatic featured films. You probably don’t have as many animated musicals adapted into Broadway shows, or into ice-skating.
The other thing is that Disney films don’t exist to shape people’s mindsets, thus allowing the protagonists to fall afoul of the formerly fictional villains. This makes the kids’ seemingly impulsive choices more understandable. They didn’t grow up fast-forwarding through the scary scenes in a Disney film when we all had VCRs.
Watching Peter Pan makes you realize that animation can be racist even for the time period in which it was made and that staying a kid forever can be better than worse. Wendy learned this lesson the hard way after spending a few hours in Neverland when Peter’s fairy ordered an assassination, the mermaids tried to drown her, and the natives put her to work. Barrie, lacking that same movie in his watching queue, doesn’t understand. It takes being deemed “too young” to see The Lost Boys at a concert.
Fiends On The Other Side acts as a semi-sequel to The Princess and the Frog. Since the movie took place in the 1920s, the book obviously explains that it’s not the same shadow man that suckered Jamal into a bad deal. Instead, it’s a man who got inspired by him and took up the mantle. This guy also knows to close the potential loopholes and get exactly what he wants, unlike his predecessor. He just happens to be fine with scamming a child.
The story also reminds us why adults tell us about monsters under the bed; Jamal’s new friend Riley and brother Malik both chide him for dealing with the “shadow man”. They cite that their parents and grandparents warned them all about it. Because Jamal didn’t listen or consider that every deal has a price, he ends up scammed yet again.
In a cynical sense, you could argue that the series argues why we need fairy tales and Disney films. Fictional characters need to suffer for us to learn. We, fortunately, don’t have sea witches that prey on our insecurities or pirates that remain obsessed with eternal youth. Instead, we have people, life, and our flaws. When we have fiction that can guide us, then it helps shape who we are. We also know who we don’t want to be.
I am curious to see if the other books will follow this formula and confirm the alternate timelines since there are about twenty potential villains depending on how far back Brody is willing to go. The ultimate lesson is there is no such thing as a free lunch. Anyone who offers that is not to be trusted. That is why we keep reading, to remember that lesson.