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‘Sex’ Scene In ‘Lion King’ Upsets Group Conservatives Want Disney To Apologize And Edit Videos

It’s one thing for Walt Disney to squeeze the not-so-little mermaid into a barely there bikini. It’s OK for Disney to transform 12-year-old Pocahontas into a Victoria’s Secret model.

But for Disney to sneak a sex scene into “The Lion King,” a film adored by children around the world - well, for some people, that’s a bit much.

“It’s just appalling for them to do that,” said Tracey Casale of the Stafford, Va.-based American Life League. “To put a sexual message, no matter how subtle, in what’s supposed to be a family movie negates everything they claim to be.”

Casale’s organization is demanding a public … wait, wait, wait. You didn’t notice the sex scene? Well, fire up the VCR and prepare to hit “rewind.” The image lasts only a split second, and you’ve got to look closely. It also helps to tilt your head a little to the left and stand back from the screen.

Here’s where to look:

About halfway through the film, Simba, the hero of the story, is rolling around laughing with his buddies Pumbaa and Timon. He gets up, walks to the edge of a cliff and plops down on the ground. A cloud of dust rises above him and swirls into the air. Then the dust trails off to the left of the screen forming, it seems, the letters S-E-X.

It’s ephemeral, and one letter dissolves before the next one is fully formed. But it sure looks like “sex” is being spelled out, and that’s enough to prompt the American Life League, a conservative Christian group, to demand a public apology and request an expensive remedy.

“What we’d really like,” said Casale, “is for Disney to remove the movies (from video stores) and edit them.”

The organization says it first heard about the fleeting message in July when a Louisiana woman called to say her 4-year-old nephew had spotted it while watching the film. The group’s staff members viewed the video, saw the same thing and began encouraging readers of its newsletter to call or write Walt Disney Co. with their complaints.

At the time, the league was encouraging a Disney boycott over the film “Priest,” a drama about the priesthood released by a Disney subsidiary. “The Lion King” incident, said Casale, “just added fuel to the fire.”

“Parents should know about this,” she said. The company “should be held accountable.”

Despite a series of calls to several offices, Disney officials were unable Wednesday to find anyone to talk about the charge.

Animation experts, meanwhile, say it’s not unheard of for artists to draw in secret messages or inside jokes when working on cartoons or animated features. It breaks up the long hours of work and allows an otherwise anonymous artist to leave his signature on the final product.

Usually, said animation historian Jerry Beck, it’s a joke that only the crew will notice or understand - a colleague’s name on a saloon or a reference to someone’s family.

But every now and then, someone gets a little more daring. That happened a few years ago, according to Beck and Harvey Deneroff, publisher of an animation newsletter and columnist for Animation Magazine.

Beck and Deneroff said someone working on the Disney film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” slipped in a single frame of the buxom Jessica Rabbit sans panties. Because individual frames go by so quickly, though, viewers had to know where to freeze their videotapes or laser disc copies.

“That one was famous because it became public,” said Deneroff. “I’m sure those things may happen, but I don’t know how frequently.”

And even if a rogue artist sneaked in the word “sex,” Beck said, then so what? Does that single innocuous word, he asked, really pose a threat to the moral fiber of millions of kids? Shouldn’t the parent just sit down with the child and talk to him?

Sure, said Casale, but including “such perversions” in a family film, her group insists, is inappropriate.

“Our concerns are that we live in such a sexually oriented culture,” she said. And “The Lion King” exposes “little children … to messages they don’t need to get yet.”

But only if they tilt their heads to the left.