Congratulations on finding the Pizza Planet truck in WALL-E! Pat yourself on the back for noticing Scar’s fur in Hercules! Go tell it on the mountain that you saw the back of Rapunzel’s head in Frozen!
All of those fun hidden gems in Disney movies have provided a wonderful and delightful diversion for the Internet over these past few decades, begetting many a “The one thing you never realized!” hot take and all sorts of lists of “Betcha never noticed” Easter eggs (that you probably always find yourself reading and thinking, “Did people really not notice this?”).
But those all pale in comparison to what I consider to be far and away the best secret hidden in a Disney animated movie — five movies, actually. I’m not here to tell you that it’s a secret you’ve never noticed; in fact, I hope it’s exactly the opposite. I believe there has only ever been — and will only ever be — one Easter egg in Disney movies worth discussing: Directors Ron Clements and John Musker putting themselves in almost every animated movie they’ve made.
Clements and Musker are the one-two punch team who directed a wide-enough variety of the studio’s late ’80s-and-onward animated films that there’s an extremely high chance at least one of theirs is a favorite of yours. Unfortunately, when their directing tenure began with The Great Mouse Detective in 1986, Clements and Musker had not yet stumbled onto what would become the legendary pair’s gleefully grand tradition of inserting ‘toon versions of themselves into their features.
Some have argued, admirably, that in The Great Mouse Detective, Basil of Baker Street bears a vague resemblance to the taller, lankier Musker, while Dr. David Dawson is more notably built like the shorter Clements. This, regrettably, is just coincidence (and a heck of a stretch anyway).
More inaccurate, though, is a widely misinterpreted pair of characters (below, on the left) in Clements and Musker’s 1989 classic, The Little Mermaid. The dead giveaway on both Mouse and Mermaid: a key lack of the “Clements” beard.
(Also, if you were going to put yourself into The Little Mermaid, would you honestly put yourself in a Vanessa scene?!)
The directors’ cameos truly began with 1992’s Aladdin, and they would only get more creative with every onscreen turn. In Aladdin, Clements and Musker appear early in the film, flanking Aladdin on the streets of Agrabah as he pushes his way through the crowd to confront a cruel prince in the street. We won’t talk about how Clements and Musker’s skin tone basically matches Aladdin’s here… but hey, that fez is top-notch.
Five years later, 1997’s Hercules would offer the duo an unexpectedly sexy makeover, casting them as pectorally-gifted manual laborers whose marble marketplace is destroyed by Young Herc.
Treasure Planet, that 2002 movie you obviously totally for sure saw, found the directors breaking from human form in a clever way: Clements became a furry little alien while Musker transformed into a rail-thin robot. Out of all the pair’s appearances, it’s these C-3PO/Ewok vibes that would definitely make for the most interesting backstory (to say nothing of the probably-hilarious concept art behind it).
By 2009, we revert to the most true-to-life iterations we’ll get of the two directors. In The Princess and the Frog, the duo is rendered quite realistically when they pop up as Mardi Gras celebrants — on a King Triton float, no less — and toss out beads. (One mystery we’ll never quite know is why Clements looks so excited to be there.)
Finally, 2016 brings us to the pair’s last collaboration, Moana. And yes, not only is there one perfect Easter egg appearance in plain sight, but there’s arguably a secret second cameo. You can see a surefire representation of the gentlemen in one of the many tapa cloths in the film — that’s the official one to note — but the directors have also suggested that their now-classic physiological juxtaposition served, perhaps jokingly, as the original basis for the rooster Hei-Hei and the pig Pua.
So, no, there is absolutely nothing wrong with geeking out at seeing a porcelain Beast in the Sultan’s toy pile in Aladdin or nabbing a glimpse at Mickey in A Goofy Movie — that indescribable euphoria of spotting an Easter egg, especially anywhere in the cherished Disney canon, is one of the purest little feelings a movie lover can have. But catch me at the next Clements-Musker joint checking that reel frame by frame for the two most bad-ass characters in the Disneyverse.