These days it seems so easy for a person or group of people to find offense with something in mass media. Following a complaint from a concerned parent, the online streaming service Netflix has decided to pull one episode of a 3D-animated children’s series from their stream library. The reason: sharp-eyed audiences noticed how a drawn outline in the background of one scene of the episode in question looked like a simplified, yet obscene, drawing of a penis. It has not been determined if the offending imagery might be digitally removed to allow the episode to be returned to the platform.

Hidden obscenity

The computer-animated series is “Maya the Bee” from French animation company Studio 100. Based on a German children’s book published in 1912, it tells the story of Maya, a flighty and inquisitive young worker bee who bucks the rules of her society by leaving the hive to explore the world. The show has been part of Netflix’s streaming library since 2013, and only now has the said offensive imagery been noticed by a wide audience. In Episode 35 of “Maya the Bee” season one, the camera pans to a view of the inside of a hollowed-out tree trunk with the barely noticeable drawing of a male penis.

One mother who did see the startling resemblance wrote a post on her Facebook page commenting about the near-hidden penis shape in the show’s episode.

Several other people followed up with their own complaints, leading to Netflix deciding to pull Episode 35 from their streaming content. Not long afterward, the mother who started the furor deleted her Facebook post but left a reminder in its place. “Please be mindful of what your kids are watching,” she wrote. “I did NOT edit any images whatsoever, this is Maya the Bee Season 1, Episode 35.

I know I’m not going crazy and I know that something like this shouldn’t be in a kids’ show whatsoever.”

‘Dirty’ animation frames

The case of “Maya the Bee” is hardly unique in the animated media. There have been many instances when particularly risqué imagery has been snuck into certain frames of animation, often visible only for an instant.

Even Disney is not immune from these accusations. The most infamous example in their animated canon was a scene in “The Lion King” where a shower of stardust in the night sky supposedly spells out “SEX.” The animators insist that it was “SFX” (special effects), a deliberate Easter egg.

Interestingly, at the time that Netflix removed the “Maya the Bee” episode, it is also streaming a parody documentary series titled “American Vandal,” which focuses on a vandal spray-painting teachers’ cars with penis graffiti. Meanwhile, footage from the suspect Episode 35 remains available on YouTube.