When we think of a Disney movie, we all have our favorites, from old classics to new animated hits. We are reminded of wonderful times watching colorful animation or touching live-action tales with excellent storytelling, as we sing along to great music.
But when asked what specific memories pop up when remembering a Disney movie, the response might be something much darker. If we’re talking about Bambi, the mother’s death springs right up, or who can forget when Dumbo‘s mother is taken away from him and locked up? In The Lion King, Mufasa’s untimely demise hits hard, as does Scar’s pure evilness. And don’t even get us started on Pinocchio, which is actually one continuous horror show.
The same goes for some of Disney’s classic live-action movies. Say Old Yeller and we can hear the gunshot going off, or Mary Poppins and we think about that last image of her flying away from the family that loves her so dearly.
Disney’s Pixar films, however, are the best at leaving us in crumpled sobbing heaps with their poignant, spot-on endings about finding oneself, the loss of childhood, death and much more.
Here are 16 Insanely Dark Disney Movie Endings That Will Haunt You For Life.
16. THE FOX AND THE HOUND
Let’s start off with a heartwarming tale The Fox and the Hound about two unlikely childhood friends – a fox named Tod and his pal Cooper, a hound dog. The two meet when they are just pups and form a close bond – but then they grow up and become natural enemies because, you know, it’s Cooper’s job to hunt foxes like Tod.
Naturally, this can’t end happily. Cooper has to follow his owner, Slade, and go hunt for Tod. When they corner the fox and go in for the kill, a bear attacks and Tod ends up saving Slade and Cooper’s life. Slade still wants to finish Tod off, but Cooper realizes the fox is still a friend and stands in front of Tod to protect him. Slade lowers his gun, and as he and Cooper leave, the fox and the hound share one last moment together before parting forever.
15. OLD YELLER
Honestly, Old Yeller is one of Disney’s most heartbreaking movies ever because there’s nothing more devastating than a boy having to part with his beloved dog. The whole movie sets up this impossibly adorable bond between Yeller and his family, living life on the frontier with dangers and hardships but togetherness.
When they start talking about a spread of rabies in the local animals, you know you’re in trouble. Sure enough, Yeller ends up defending the family from a rapid wolf and gets bitten. The oldest boy, Travis, pens up his buddy, hoping against hope the dog isn’t infected, but when he goes out to feed Yeller and the dog starts growling and trying to attack, he knows it’s all over. He’s got to put him down.
One of Disney’s saddest movies is Bambi. It starts out with such sweetness and light, as Bambi is born, learns how to walk, and then meets his forest friends, including Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. But it all goes so, so wrong about halfway through, when Bambi’s mother is shot dead by a hunter in the woods. Bambi’s absent father shows up and tells his son the way of the world.
The movie tries to lighten our spirits by seeing Bambi grow up and fall in love, but then those hunters start a fire in the woods and nearly roast everyone alive. Thankfully, they survive.
Then the end shows Bambi, now a full-grown buck, having to watch from a distance as his own fawns are born, and he becomes the Great Prince of the Forest (and also an absent father). We’re still not really over the mom thing, though.
Walt Disney took a bit of a chance when he spearheaded the 1940 film Fantasia, which included eight individual animated segments, set to pieces of classical music and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Heralded at the time as innovative and unique, the film did showcase one familiar face: Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and it reinvigorated the iconic character.
The ending segment, however, is why Fantasia is on the list. “Night on Bald Mountain” is basically horrifying and if you were a kid watching it, it probably gave you nightmares. As the ominous music of Modest Mussorgsky plays, a demon awakens at midnight on top of a mountain and summons all kinds of ghouls and evil spirits from the town below to join him.
Speaking of mothers, Dumbo is another doozy. Here’s this little elephant with giant ears, brought by storks to his adoring mama in a circus, only to be made fun of and shunned. Then when a group of boys torment little Dumbo, mom loses her temper and fights back. She’s taken away from Dumbo, locked up and labeled “mad.” Poor little Dumbo can only be cuddled by his mom’s trunk hanging outside the cell. Again, this just tears us to pieces.
The kid’s miseries don’t stop there. His ears keep tripping him up in the elephant show, so he’s made to be a ridiculous clown – until his mouse friend, Timothy, finally gives Dumbo the courage to use those ears to fly and get back at those who tormented him.
11. THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME
Disney’s idea to turn the classic Victor Hugo novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame into an animated musical probably wasn’t the best choice. It’s a sad tale about Quasimodo, a deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame who falls in love with a kind and beautiful gypsy woman named Esmeralda. In the novel, he saves her from being executed by giving her sanctuary in the cathedral, but she is eventually hanged, and Quasimodo dies of a broken heart by her grave. Definitely not a Disney-type story.
Of course, Disney’s version isn’t nearly as dark as the source material, and Esmeralda is saved, but Quasimodo still doesn’t get the girl. Instead, Esmeralda falls in love with Phoebus, one of the guards, and Quasimodo sadly watches the two of them end up together. It attempts to make us feel better because, even though Quasi can’t have the woman he loves, he is now accepted by the Parisian people. It doesn’t work!
WALL-E has plenty of heartwarming moments that make us melt, especially for that little robot and his robot eyes. From the time we meet him on a desolate and polluted Earth, collecting trash and keeping mementos, we love him. As we see him falling in love with EVE and have an adventure on the space liner, Axiom, this movie grabs us by the hearts.
Then we get to the end. When WALL-E saves the green plant he discovered on Earth from being destroyed by Axiom’s AUTO-pilot, WALL-E himself is crushed in the process. EVE is able to put him back together once Axiom returns to Earth, but in rebooting him, WALL-E loses all his memories. One kiss from EVE, though, is all it takes to jump start our boy.
If we were to pick one Disney movie that is the darkest, Pinocchio would take the prize. The myriad of awful things that happen to the poor puppet is pretty horrifying, from being forced to perform and locked up; to almost turning into a donkey and sold into slave labor; to finding out his father, Geppetto, was swallowed by a scary whale while searching for him. Trying to throw in a cute cricket and a beautiful Blue Fairy (who, by the way, is a bit harsh) doesn’t erase all the terror.
So when Pinocchio saves Geppetto from the whale’s belly but drowns in the process, we’re done. Even if the Blue Fairy does finally do something nice and turns him into a real boy (because he finally proved himself in her eyes), we’re still upset by all that we just went through.
8. INSIDE OUT
Animating the inside of a kid’s brain is pure brilliance on Pixar’s part. Inside Out centers on young Riley, as she has to navigate moving from her childhood home to a brand new city and school, and her core emotions — Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness – try to help her do that.
But Riley is also on the verge of puberty, so used to work with her when she was a little kid doesn’t work as well anymore, which throws Joy for a loop. She and Sadness end up lost in the recesses of Riley’s brain, where they encounter some of Riley’s past – including her imaginary friend, Bing Bong, who ends up sacrificing himself so Joy can save Riley.
What throws us for a loop is watching how most childhood things have to come to an end at some point. In the end, Joy realizes Riley is growing up, and she needs both Joy’s optimism and fun spirit, along with some Sadness as well. We all do.
7. THE LION KING
Honestly, there’s a lot of insanely dark things that happen in The Lion King. Let’s start with Mufasa’s death at the hands of his brother, Scar, who then becomes the king of Pride Rock with his Nazi-like hyena minions. Poor Simba is driven away, guilty over his father’s death, and tries to live life carefree with Pumba and Timon but knows he has to return to Pride Rock and confront his uncle.
Then stuff really goes down. Simba is horrified to see the Pride Lands destroyed by Scar’s neglect, and when a sweeping fire erupts, it only makes it worse. In the midst of the flames, Scar admits he killed Mufasa, and Simba springs to action, eventually throwing his uncle off of Pride Rock.
6. MARY POPPINS
The ending to Mary Poppins is wistful. This exceptional nanny comes to a family when they are at a crossroads and need gentle guidance of some kind. In this case, it’s the Banks family, who need help because George Banks has lost touch with his sense of wonder, adventure – and his kids. So Mary flies in, and in between giving the children spoonfuls of sugar with their medicine and showing them the meaning of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” She brings the Banks together in marvelous ways.
But then the wind changes, and Mary knows she’s done her job and it’s time to bid the Banks adieu. As they are off flying kites, she flies away on her umbrella, and Bert says goodbye, telling her not to stay away too long.
5. CHICKEN LITTLE
Chicken Little could be considered one of Disney’s problem movies since it didn’t really hit home with audiences. It follows young Chicken Little, who, well, you know the story – hit on the head, alerts town of the sky falling, no one believes him, becomes a laughing stock, disappoints his father.
Jumping ahead a year, Chicken Little’s schoolmates still make fun of him, especially the town bully and tomboy, Foxy Loxy. It turns out, Chicken Little indeed may have been onto something when he freaked out because now it looks like the town is being invaded by aliens – except the aliens aren’t really invading, just looking for their lost kid.
In the mix-up, Foxy Loxy gets zapped and turned into a simple-minded Southern belle, and because Runt of the Litter falls for her, they decide to just keep her that way. What, she doesn’t have a say in it? Even if she is a nasty bully, that’s still horribly sexist.
4. MONSTERS, INC.
Ah, we finally get to the Pixar movies, all of which make you cry at some point. Many times it’s in the beginning, like when Nemo’s mother is killed or that devastating first 10 minutes of Up. Then there are the endings (and some are highlighting below). In Monsters, Inc. you’re laughing a lot more than you’re crying, but watching Sully have to say goodbye to his sweet little human friend, Boo, makes us tear up.
It’s unclear which is worse – Sully taking Boo back to her room and closing her closet door one last time, then seeing her jump from her bed and open it to find it’s now just a closet; or Sully seeing Boo’s door completely destroyed in the shredder. It does lift our spirits when Mike is later able to piece the door back together, and Sully hears “Kitty!” once again, but you know it can’t be the same.
3. BORN IN CHINA
The Mouse House has also produced a handful of excellent nature movies under their Disneynature banner, with each beautiful short film taking years to make, as the filmmakers spend countless months, observing, and documenting the environment and the wildlife living in it.
For the most part, the animals survive. These are Disney films, after all – but in their most recent film Born in China, they don’t shy away from a real circle-of-life scenario. The film follows three stories – a mama panda and her cub, a golden monkey, and a snow leopard mother and her cubs – all living in the Chinese terrain, but the elusive snow leopard trying to provide for her young in the rugged mountains has it the worst.
While catching a baby mountain goat for food, the snow leopard is gored by the goat’s mother, and eventually dies from her wounds. It’s especially traumatizing because we’re not quite sure what happens to the cubs.
Before Miley Cryus and Hilary Duff, there was Hayley Mills, one of Disney’s original darlings – and the 1960 film Pollyanna was the first film to introduce us to her. Based on the classic children’s book, the story is about a little orphaned girl who comes to live with her rich aunt in a small town and basically spreads joy and hope to everyone around her.
Then Pollyanna falls off the roof, injures her legs, and is paralyzed. It puts a major damper on her outlook on life, as well as the movie. The town does rally round her and makes her realize how much she changed their lives and how loved she is, bringing out her joie de vivre once again. But she still can’t walk. That’s not going to change at the movie’s end, and it’s a total bummer.
1. TOY STORY 3
On that same theme of letting go of childhood, there’s the devastating end of Toy Story 3. In the third installment, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of Andy’s toys are getting ready to say goodbye to Andy as he heads off to college – except Woody, who Andy decides to bring with him. Through a series of events, the toys end up at a daycare center and encounter a tyrannical and disgruntled stuffed bear who rules with an iron fist.
It’s another great Toy Story, but the true sobbing begins near the end, when Woody and the gang almost get incinerated at a trash dump, and doesn’t really stop until Andy hands off his toys to a little girl in the neighborhood so they can be properly played with again. As Woody and Buzz watch Andy drive away, our hearts quite literally break. You got us big time, Pixar.
Any sad Disney endings we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
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