Jokes like this may be funny between friends who share a similarly adolescent or twisted sense of humor, but then, that is where this kind of thing should remain. There is definitely a place for making fun of and having fun with the projects and characters we create. An off-color or shocking joke might lighten the mood on a grueling production schedule, or take a too-serious edge off the staff's mood, but it shouldn't go beyond the private joke stage.
One director, after a test screening with children, said to me, "I could make a movie where all they ever say is 'Butt.' And it would be a blockbuster hit." This brings up another question: Is it our job, as filmmakers, to simply give the children what they want? OR do we have a responsibility to engage their minds and help them develop an appreciation for artistry, storytelling, and good cinema? There's great pressure from executives to keep the kids laughing - silence in a theater is perceived as failure. But silence in a theater full of kids is the ultimate success - it means they're engaged in the film. Children's will take such films with them through their lives. They'll most certainly watch them again, and find inspiration from the characters they found so engaging. The film becomes part of their childhood. The gassy glib romps are forgotten before they've left the mall.
Some artists think its funny to mess with the kiddies. I worked on a feature where some sets seemed to have blatantly phallic shapes. I mad a joke about it to the designer, a famous children's book illustrator. He laughed and said, "I know! All my stuff's got dicks and c***ts in it!" (He really said that.)
A layman once asked me about all the subversive subliminal messages in Disney films. "In 'Lion King'," he said "the word 'sex' appear in the smoke. You can see it when you pause it." I was unaware of this. I told him it was probably a bored animator, but he chose not to believe me - it’s a conspiracy, don't you know. Please artists, don't feed the loonies!
Hell, I may even be guilty of it a bit myself, unintentionally, of course! Working with Gerald Scarfe's designs...everything was going fine on the character Pain in "Hercules" until he had to turn into a snake. My clean-up lead brought something to my attention and boy was it embarrassing. I realized I got caught up with performance and quota, I just wasn't thinking what I was doing. We re-worked and re-worked that thing over and over to get it to look "respectable" (I forgot what we ended up with) but I think it turned out okay.
I think the bigger picture is should we be putting ANY kind of subliminal imagery in at all (for running the risk of the 'Lion King' incident). Unless its an artistic choice for effect like scary faces in hollowed out trees, or putting a co-workers name on a sign in the background. That's different. That's okay (and fun).
Again, I would point out the good examples to model from more over the bad ones. My wife and I went to the Annie Awards and she noticed that there was no acknowledgment for genuinely good shows like "Charlie and Lola", "Little Bear", etc. Shows that actually have good content and are not sarcastic and mean-spirited. Shows that my children like to watch.
As to the subliminal jokes that some people had made in past - i think those are just pranks out of boredom - desire to spice up the sacharine that their job turned to be many hours a day many weeks in a year...
There will always be the little things that slip through---usually a prank, or a bitter/angry employee...I don't know if there's any way to stop THAT---it's usually pretty buried. On "Nemo", we had a scene make it all the way to Digital Dailies (final stop before being put onto final film) where someone had put a PLACEHOLDER graphic on a magazine the dentist grabbed as he headed to the bathroom. The temporary graphic was, to begin with, questionable. But it almost made it out the door to theaters. It was a silly prank NOT meant to go out...but it almost did anyway. The guy who did it did a major mea culpa, and worked on his own time to design a way to have a bright pink "temp. graphic" symbol on all graphics until they're final. If it's pink, work needs to be done. It's automatic. We use it to this day.
c.2010 Moore Studios