Ah Disney! No childhood is the same without it. Old Disney films are often close to the threshold of being downright inappropriate and the kind of scary that causes sleepless nights and endless floods of tears. But like adults, kids enjoy the thrill, and it is these unnerving moments that truly capture their attention. The classics are nostalgia inducing masterpieces of the highest order, and no modern animated film will ever be able to recreate the often disproportionate faces of some our favorite characters.
Although CGI has meant the end of these ridiculous yet endearing caricatures and a perhaps less restricted storytelling style, the rise of social awareness has meant the abolition of some rather shady writing, and we’re able to look back on the oldies with a fresh perspective. The Disney classics will forever provide us with a microscope into the past, as the films project previous attitudes and mindsets that today seem antiquated and ignorant. Furthermore, new animated favorites such as Toy Story are able to provoke open-mindedness and tolerance in children without being patronizing or preachy.
But let’s not dilly-dally any longer, for we are about to delve into the Disney repository to give you the 20 Times Disney Movies Were Way Too Dark For Kids.
20. THE INCINERATOR SCENE IN TOY STORY 3
Toy Story is an incredibly successful franchise, especially when you consider how often sequels go forgotten. But that’s certainly not the case for Toy Story 2 or Toy Story 3. Each gained critical acclaim, and the latter became the highest-grossing animated movie ever (until Frozen came around). It not only dealt with the difficulties of growing up and change, but also the impact these things have on friendship.
A highly emotional moment in the movie comes when Woody and the gang are stuck inside an incinerator about to get, well, incinerated. When all hope seems lost, the friends decide that it’s time to accept their fate and hold hands as they await their terrifying end. Never before had we seen animated characters give up and accept death; this level of hopelessness is an emotion usually only dealt with in adult films.
19. MUFASA AND BAMBI’S MOTHER MEETING THEIR FATES
The death of Mufasa in The Lion King and Bambi’s mother in Bambi are unequivocally two of the most saddest animated deaths in childhood memory. As a child, your biggest fear is losing a parent, as your sense of belonging revolves around the adult or adults who give you comfort. Consequently, the death of the parent in both films conjures up feelings of anxiety in children. Each time a kid watches these scenes, some part of them hopes the tragedy won’t happen that time around, but alas, it always does.
While Bambi walks through the snow searching for his mother, it brings up memories of losing a parent in a supermarket or a playground, except this time, Bambi is not reunited with his mom and is told by his estranged father that she was shot by Man. In The Lion King, Simba has to cope with his own feelings of guilt at having led his father to the stampede, as well as his own sadness at having lost the person whose companionship he cherished the most.
18. THE HORNED KING’S DEATH IN THE BLACK CAULDRON
This is pretty much The Lord of the Rings for kids, just not quite as good. Main character Taran has to find and destroy a black cauldron that, if in the wrong hands, is capable of destroying the world. The story is taken from the first two books in The Chronicles of Prydain, a children saga written by Welsh author Lloyd Alexander (although he claims the books are very different).
Its mixed reviews means that you probably only saw this film because you had a dusty VHS recording of the tape lying on a shelf somewhere. Perhaps its mediocre reception had to do with too many hands in the same pot. Tim Burton himself had been assigned the task of developing the character artwork before they were rejected for a more traditional approach. As it stands, many adults think fondly of this film, but grimace at the thought of the Horned King being obliterated by the cauldron, revealing his unpleasant skeletal body that turns to dust as he is burnt to cinders.
17. WHEN CLAYTON GETS HUNG IN TARZAN
Although Clayton was a wicked man whose sole intention was to capture the gorillas and take them away from their home, his death was a bleak event. As Tarzan and Clayton battle it out, Clayton becomes trapped in the tree vines. When attempting to release himself from their grasp, he cuts away at them until the only vine left is the one wrapped around his neck. At this point, it’s too late, and Clayton falls to his death, having been choked to death by the vine-made noose.
Although the body is never shown, this is an extremely morbid way to end a character’s life, especially for a kids’ movie. Funnily enough, the most memorable death in Tarzan is that of Kerchak, Tarzan’s surrogate gorilla father. Now that was sad – though it wasn’t quite as brutal as this.
16. THAT BERRY SCENE IN THE GOOD DINOSAUR
Although this is a recent movie, the drug innuendo here is fairly obvious. Old Disney classics are renowned for the odd puff or swig, but its a very rare thing in the modern era. As the focus on political correctness has sharpened, the use of any dubious substance in a kids movie is rare, if not impossible, to find in the present day. So it comes as a bit of shock to see Arlo and Spot trip balls on berries in The Good Dinosaur, and the film even goes on to show us their inevitable berry-come-down.
Although a lesser known Pixar effort, this is a heartfelt movie about the importance of acceptance. Much like Bagheera in The Jungle Book or Manny in The Ice Age, Arlo ensures Spot is taken back to his people, proving that love can conquer differences. But they totally tripped first.
15. WHEN DUMBO GETS SMASHED
If you ever watched Dumbo as an adult, you might have discovered that the movie was a lot more profound than you gave it credit for as a child. Dumbo is mocked as a baby because of his large ears, which in turn causes his mother to retaliate aggressively so as to protect her son.
When Dumbo’s mother is locked up, the little elephant goes to see her in her cage. Unable to be by her side, he has to be comforted by her trunk, which she is able to fit through the iron bars. The distance between the mother and child is deeply upsetting to any viewer, regardless of their age. When Dumbo gets the hiccups from crying, Timothy the mouse gets him to drink some water, unaware that it’s actually alcohol. This causes Dumbo to hallucinate a parade of pink elephants who look incredibly distorted and strange. No doubt most kids get creeped by Dumbo’s drunken stupor, but still, this makes for a very memorable Disney scene.
14. URSULA’S TRAPPED SOULS IN THE LITTLE MERMAID
The original Little Mermaid fairy tale written by Hans Christian Anderson is a lot darker than its Disney counterpart. The Sea Witch in that story gives the Little Mermaid legs, but each time she takes a step, it feels as though she is standing on sharp knives. Sadly, there is no fairy tale ending for the prince and the mermaid, for he ends up marrying another.
In the Disney version, Ursula is a vindictive yet flamboyant witch who, rather than kill her victims, condemns them to a torturous existence as greeny-grey blobs or sea-polyps. Her collection of countless captured souls look nothing like their former mer-folk selves, and one can only imagine the pain and utter hopelessness they are going through even if Disney chose not to dive too deep into this part of the story (sorry). The polyps in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale acted as the Sea Witch’s guards, so it’s nice to see some of his own more sinister elements make the cut – even if it probably horrified the kiddies.
13. ALL THE HOOKAH SMOKIN’ AND MUSHROOM TRIPPIN’ IN ALICE AND WONDERLAND
Alice in Wonderland remains one of the most imaginative children’s books ever written. Not surprisingly, this also translated into the Disney adaptation of the book. The animated effort was able to capture the eeriness of the wonderland that for many children was as captivating as it was haunting.
There’s no shortage of curious and unfriendly creatures here, such as the hookah-smoking caterpillar, who push Alice into making some terrible decisions. When Alice goes to the caterpillar (who is clearly high on his own supply) for help, the spongy creature offers her a bite of his mushroom, which gives her the ability to be as tall as a giant or as small as an ant. If this sounds an awful lot like she was given a certain hallucinogenic substance, then it looks like we’re all on the same page.
12. THE SLAVE DONKEY BOYS IN PINOCCHIO
There’s definitely a camp of fans that say Pinocchio was their least favorite Disney movie, and there’s a very valid reason for this: Pinocchio witnesses the unfathomable. This movie did not perform as well as other Disney classics of the era, and this may be down to its harsh representation of good and evil.
When Pinnochio and his new friend Lamwick are tricked into going to Pleasure Island, Lampwick and the other boys are transformed into donkeys to be sold as slaves, thus revealing the island’s true nature. Before their transformation, the boys can be seen smoking and drinking to their hearts’ content, but later we see Lampwick, depicted as a grotesque little boy, painfully devolve into a hoofed animal. He even loses his ability to speak, which prompts him into having an emotional breakdown. Although Pinocchio does escape before being completely transformed, Lampwick is forgotten about because he, unlike Pinnochio, strayed on to an “evil” path. It’s a rather unforgiving (and truly terrifying) way of preaching the importance of good behavior to a child.
11. WHEN THE BEAST TAKES BELLE AND HER FATHER HOSTAGE IN BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Let’s face it, the Beast is a bit of a douche. Considering that this guy is the supposed hero, there are a fair few people trying to run away from him.
One of the reasons The Beauty and the Beast captured the hearts of many came down to the complicated love story between the Beast and Belle. Unlike most fairy tales, the hero is an abhorrent creature. At the start of the film, we see a dozen saliva-spitting wolves chase down Belle’s father, Maurice, who quickly seeks refuge in the Beast’s castle. The Beast growls at the poor bloke before violently chucking him in a cell. He is only let out in exchange for Belle’s imprisonment.
Having the “good guy” keep the heroine hostage is a rather bleak start to any movie, let alone a children’s film. Nonetheless, their affection for one another grows like a blossoming rose, and unlike other Disney films, it displays an honest and complex side to love. Whether or not it sends the wrong message is up to you to decide.
10. WHEN JAFAR KIDNAPS JASMINE IN ALADDIN
Jafar is one of the more malevolent villains ever created by Disney. Not only does he imprison the Genie and the Sultan, but he pushes himself on Jasmine a number of times. Aladdin deals with a vast range of feminist issues, from arranged marriage to physical abuse, and Aladdin is also stigmatized because of his poverty-stricken background.
The idea of Jasmine being chained up and forced to marry an older man instead of the guy she loves is pretty messed up, but fortunately, most kids won’t read into it that much. Luckily, Aladdin does come to rescue the princess, saving children everywhere from the disturbing events that may have taken place had she remained under Jafar’s control.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this goes over in live-action.
9. THE WITCH’S DEATH IN SNOW WHITE
Snow White and The Seven Dwarves is a creepy Disney creation for many reasons, not least because the 1930s style cartoons have a kind of spooky quality about them. The queen who later transforms into a disturbing looking witch has only hate for the beautiful Snow White, and wickedly gives her a poisonous apple to munch on, casting her into an eternal sleep.
When the dwarves attempt to run after her, she reaches the edge of a cliff which is suddenly struck by lightening, causing the witch to fall to her death with a piercing screech. A pair of vultures gaze at her before proceeding to circle the fresh meat. She may have been the villain, but that’s still pretty dark if you ask us.
8. ANIMAL NEGLECT AND THE SIAMESE CATS IN LADY AND THE TRAMP
Unquestionably, Lady and the Tramp puts the treatment of animals under the microscope. Lady feels neglected when her owners have a baby, The Dogcatcher is in constant pursuit of our canine friends, and Aunt Sarah has an unwarranted repulsion towards them as well, making for an unfortunate trifecta.
Many of you will remember the scene in which Trusty dies under The Dogcatcher’s wagon from which he was trying to rescue Tramp, and Jock howls miserably at having lost his best friend. The mistreatment of the animals makes humans the ultimate enemy in this film; even Jim Dear and Darling are arguably lousy owners.
Another upsetting scene is that of the Siamese cats, Si and Am, who take it upon themselves to make Lady’s life a complete misery by wrecking the house as they attempt to snack on anything breathing. The cats pretend it was Lady who caused the mess, and Aunt Sarah decides it is necessary to get her muzzled. If those Siamese cats didn’t freak you out as a child, then you have no soul.
7. THE NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN FROM FANTASIA
Released in 1940, Fantasia was the third Disney film ever made. If you only ever fast forwarded this film to the ‘centaur song’ or “The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven, then we don’t blame you. However, Fantasia is a stunning visual roller-coaster and allowed children to become acquainted with classical music through its mesmerizing interpretations of popular compositions.
“The Night on Bald Mountain”, composed by Mussorgsky, can be interpreted in a few different ways, but it was intended to be a dark yet chaotic song concerning a gathering of evil beings on top of a barren mountain. Staying true to the song’s original intent, the Fantasia version includes a devil-like creature on a mountain, conjuring up spirits, witches, and other demonic entities so as to chuck them into a blazing fire! The little ones may or may not have nightmares for weeks as a result.
6. FROLLO’S OBSESSION WITH ESMERALDA IN THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
The original book dealt with genocide, racism, sexual repression, and religious denial. Surprisingly, the same can be said for the animated film version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, though it’s certainly a less morbid and diluted take on Victor Hugo’s classic. Claude Frollo is one of the more mentally unhinged villains. Originally an archdeacon in the book, Disney made him a mayor instead to avoid any backlash from religious groups.
The producer of the film admitted to having based Frollo on Ralph Fienne’s Nazi character in Schindler’s List, who has an unhealthy obsession with a Jewish girl. Although Frollo shows only hate for Esmeralda, he also displays an unrelenting lust for her, as we see him act erratically whenever she stops his advances.
When Frollo prays to the Virgin Mary in his song “Hellfire”, he blames the devil for his unruly desire and demands that Esmeralda either be burnt at the stake or be his forever. That’s just a tad intense for a kid’s movie, but thankfully, it stays true to Hugo’s masterpiece while also highlighting the hypocrisy that can be found in religion.
5. THE TIME UNCLE WALDO GOT WASTED IN ARISTOCATS
The drunk goose, Uncle Waldo, is one of most comical characters to ever grace a Disney film. When the cats meet Abigail and Amelia, a pair of posh geese, they bump into their Uncle, who has managed to escape a restaurant kitchen where he was about to be served up as a main course.
To make matters worse, Uncle Waldo is off his face on white wine; white wine marinated goose is a delicacy in France. Even if you didn’t get that Uncle Waldo was totally hammered when you were younger, there’s no way you would miss it now. The goose resembles pretty much any passer-by at 4 am on a Saturday night. Of course, Uncle Waldo makes a point of clarifying that he usually prefers sherry!
4. WHEN THE OYSTERS GET EATEN IN ALICE IN WONDERLAND
If you’ve ever read this book, you may have noticed the abundance of substance use and adult innuendo that appear throughout. Lewis Carroll was a…we’ll go with questionable…man who based his books on a girl called Alice whom he took an usual liking to. Despite this, he clearly had a knack for creating confusing yet colorful places and characters that were anything but boring.
Carroll also loved to turn things upside down, both literally and metaphorically. His seemingly innocent nursery rhymes would often reveal themselves to be unpleasant tales with little moral significance. You will of course remember the tale, The Walrus and The Carpenter, in which the walrus and the carpenter invite some baby oysters to tea, only for the walrus to eat them all himself. Pretty sadistic if you ask us, but the walrus was hungry.
3. THAT RACIST VERSE IN ALADDIN
Undoubtedly, there is a lot of racial controversy surrounding old Disney flicks. In the Aristocats, there is a cat who plays a piano with chopsticks while singing about fortune cookies. The writer of Dumbo confessed in his book, The Disney Version, to having portrayed the crows as African-American stereotypes after viewers deemed his depiction racist. And it you venture back to the ’30s, you’ll find even more extremely prejudiced material.
In 1993, one year after Aladdin was released, the film’s intro song lyrics were changed from “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face,” to “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense“. The original verse illustrates a barbaric and morbid picture of the Middle East, so it had to go. There has also been much criticism concerning the Americanization of the moral characters in the film, whereas the ‘baddies’ have foreign accents, farcical facial features, and darker skin.
2. THE AXE SCENE IN MICKEY AND THE BEANSTALK
Disney’s animated take on Jack and the Beanstalk makes for some great comedy. Its depiction of famine, while truly devastating, does not lack adult humor. Mickey, Goofy, and Donald have to cut up one slice of bread and a bean into three pieces. Their bean sandwich is so thin that it looks transparent. For this reason, we can forgive Donald for losing his marbles and wanting to kill their cow with an axe. After all, the cow would be a great source of protein.
1. PIPE SMOKING IN PETER PAN
Peter Pan has come under fire over the years for its racist representation of Native Americans. In the film, they are referred to as ‘savages’ and even the term ‘red-skins’ gets thrown about. While it may be down to the children’s lack of knowledge (they do eventually become friends with the Native Americans), there was a definite lack of sensitivity in their portrayal. Some of the creators have expressed regret over having stereotyped the tribe, and much can be put down to the general ignorance that prevailed in the ’50s.
As they sing “What Makes the Red Man Red?” (ahem) the children indulge in a few puffs of the Chief’s pipe. All we can say is that this film has its fair share of inappropriate moments.
What other Disney moments were way too dark for kids? Let us know in the comments.
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