There’s a few essential qualities to every Disney movie. There’s always a sense of adventure and a certain unquantifiable magic. Oftentimes, catchy musical numbers are enlisted to make sure the film sticks with you for he foreseeable future. One of the most inescapable elements of a Disney movie, though, is death.
Disney films are usually made for a family-friendly audiences, and accordingly, they often appeal mostly to children. Yet for whatever reason, Disney movies, especially those of the animated variety, are filled with death.
It’s not just simple death scenes either. Sometimes the kills in Disney movies are so brutal, they’d be unwatchable for children if they weren't presented in their cartoon-y light. Even it’s happening to an evil character, a Disney death scene can be downright horrifying. None of these deaths make the movies they’re in any worse (or better), but they are just plain creepy.
We’ve already covered some of the darkest moments in Disney movies. We’ve also covered some of the most heartbreaking scenes. While there’s some overlap, obviously, neither angle is what we're aiming for with this list. These deaths are the ones that did cause (or could’ve caused) nightmares when you were younger. In one way or another, these death scenes made us confront our own morality in surprising and unexpected ways.
Here are 16 Horrific Deaths In Disney Movies That Scarred You For Life.
16 The Original Mother Murder - Bambi
Bambi isn’t the first Disney feature film. It’s not even the first movie to feature a big (and terrifying) death. Nevertheless, the death of Bambi’s mother is the one that most people think of as the foremost Disney tragedy.
She doesn’t even have a name, but Bambi's mother set the stage for the many parental murders to follow in Disney movies. The deaths of Mufasa, Anna and Elsa’s parents, and countless others all started with Bambi’s mother being gunned down by a hunter. Besides its historical significance, the death itself is horrific. It might happen off-screen, but the frantic chase scene that precedes it is one of the darkest scenes Disney ever put to the screen. It certainly doesn’t help that Bambi's made to look as fragile as possible when it all goes down.
15 Scar Finally Feeds His Subjects - The Lion King
Certainly, Mufasa’s murder is the well-known death scene in The Lion King. And there’s no getting around the fact that the death of the king is one of the most heartbreaking moments in a Disney movie. It’s just not exactly terrifying. The death of his murderer, Mufasa's brother Scar, is the real nightmare fuel.
After he loses his battle with Simba, Scar is thrown into a crowd of hyenas. Though the hyenas have been Scar’s most loyal subjects for most of the movie, they've now turned on him. This is all after the villainous lion has called them, "the real enemies," of course. As retribution, the hyenas slowly gang up on Scar, and in the shadows we see the hyenas rip Scar to shreds.
It’s a fate that Scar deserves, and it does fit into the underlying circle of life theme. But it's also straight-up murder, and shadow play murder is just as creepy, if not more so, as any other.
14 Sykes is Run Over by a Train - Oliver & Company
Oliver & Company isn't the most popular movie in the Disney vault. This is mostly down to the source material. Oliver Twist is not nearly as fitting for a Disney film as your standard fairy tales classic. The movie lacks a certain amount of Disney magic, despite the talking animals.
This realism does explain, at least in part, why the death of the villain is so absurdly dark. In the climax of the movie, Bill Sykes, reimagined as loan shark in the film, is run over by a train. The movie doesn’t show Sykes being turned into a bloody mass by the locomotive, but it does show nearly everything else.
It’s a toned-down version of the death of the character’s counterpart in Dickens’ novel (although the death of the literary Sykes, spelled Sikes on the page, is similar to another Disney villain’s demise). Death by train is still a ruthlessly bloody way to go, though.
13 Casual Minion Murder - A Bug's Life
The villain of A Bug’s Life, the cricket Hopper, goes out in a rough fashion. Hopper’s eaten alive by birds, and there’s not much effort put into trying to hide his death. Ultimately, Hopper is a very ugly and evil looking bug, so it’s hard to feel that bad for him. An early death in the movie is far more unsettling, however.
Hopper doesn’t just meet an early horrible demise, he has a horribly short temper. In one relatively early scene, Hopper gets fed up with a hapless cricket minion. The solution Hopper finds for the problem is to casually murder the underling, burying him alive.
The murder is quick, brutal, and incredibly casual. It’s this last bit that makes it so freakish. There’s no preparation or build-up, it just happens. The cricket who dies isn’t a character meant to inspire empathy, but their death is still tremendously harsh.
12 The Cave of Wonders Gets Hungry - Aladdin
After the introduction by the merchant, the opening of Aladdin is essentially a horror film. Even though the scene takes place at night, Aladdin still finds a way of draping the villain Jafar, in menacing shadows. Jafar is terrifying to behold as he forces the thief, Gazeem, into the Cave of Wonders, but that’s when the horror show really starts.
The Cave of Wonders initially lets Gazeem enter. Quickly and without warning, though, the invitation is closed. The Cave collapses and consumes Gazeem into its gaping mouth. It’s the Disney equivalent of a jump scare, as Gazeem is murdered by an uncaring and unfeeling supernatural force.
This does set up the threat of Aladdin entering the Cave later, but it’s a terrifying way to begin a movie aimed at children.
11 Blender Disassembly - The Brave Little Toaster
It’s easy to forget, but The Brave Little Toaster is, in fact, a Disney movie. The realization is even more surprising when considering how many similarities there are between Brave Little Toaster and Toy Story. For example, both movies involve an ignorant owner carelessly dissembling a living being.
Sid’s Frankenstein-esque creations in Toy Story are creepy, but they at least happen in the backstory of the movie. In Brave Little Toaster, the live dissection happens in real-time. Towards the end of the movie, a hapless blender is taken and broken apart while the Toaster and his pals watch, aghast.
The movie has the good sense to remove the blender’s human features as it’s dissembled. They’re no blood curdling screams either; it’s just a blender coming apart. This is immediately undercut by the knowledge that in this world, appliances are living things and Disney had literally just chopped a character into bits.
10 An Explosive Ending for a Hun - Mulan
Mulan is a Disney movie that’s about a war, so it’s not that surprising then that there are multiple deaths. In fact, about halfway through the movie, Mulan commits mass murder when she causes an avalanche that wipes out an entire enemy force. Still, it’s the end of the villain Shan-Yu that stands as the most shockingly violent act.
During the climax, Mulan and Shan-Yu engage in a sword fight, and that’s frightening enough for the little ones. It’s rare to see characters fight with weapons in Disney movies, and even rarer that’s a battle to the death. At the last second, Mulan serves a curveball to the audience and has Shan-Yu killed, not by a sword...but by a firework.
Mushu, the tiny dragon, shoots a firework rocket at the villain and it connects. The rocket doesn’t just explode Shan-Yu, it sends him into a stockpile of other fireworks and they all explode. It’s a death that’s as colorful as it’s horrendous when you put any thought into it whatsoever.
9 Hellfire for Frollo - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s most disturbing bad guys. He’s not so much straight-up evil as he is violent, selfish, and sexually frustrated. It’s only fitting then that Frollo suffers a death that’s as ghoulish as he is.
When Frollo doesn’t get his wish to burn Esmeralda at the stake (it’s possible that no part of Hunchback is suitable for children, come to think of it), he decides to kill her himself. The villain chases Esmeralda and Quasimodo outside Notre Dame, which is engulfed in flames, wielding a sword and looking possessed. It all culminates with Frollo getting a little too zealous on one of the cathedral’s gargoyles. The gargoyle breaks with Frollo on top of it, and he goes crashing to the fiery mass below.
Frollo’s big villain song is called “Hellfire”, and in the end, he’s literally consumed by fire. It’s not subtle but it’s certainly terrifying.
8 Oogie Boogie Inside-Out - The Nightmare Before Christmas
Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the more overtly creepy Disney movies, which makes sense, as it's a film primarily set in a place called Halloweentown. The main villain Oogie Boogie, however, isn’t exactly the stuff of nightmares. He appears to be nothing more than a lumpy worn pillow with a face. At the end of the movie, Oogie Boogie cruelly dissuades that notion with his death.
The final battle of Nightmare Before Christmas sees Oogie Boogie’s fabric outer layer undone. His true form is revealed as a mass of creepy-crawly, horrifying bugs. If that wasn’t bad enough, Nightmare Before Christmas goes the extra mile. Oogie Boogie is killed by having every one of those bugs burned alive. It's almost vomit-inducing.
If you didn’t have a fear of bugs before Nightmare Before Christmas, it’s almost impossible to not have one after it’s over. Thanks, Tim Burton.
7 Undersea Infanticide - Alice in Wonderland
Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland cut a lot of material out of the Lewis Carroll's tales. Most of it was the stuff that involved the really creepy or disturbing imagery. Yet the animated movie did keep one horrifying story of Wonderland in the film - the story of Walrus and the Carpenter.
It’s easy to get sucked in by the quaint animated style of old-school Disney and the cutesy rhyming that recounts the story, but the Walrus is undoubtedly a monster. He convinces a bunch of baby oysters to leave their home, all so that he can eat them alive. It’s not only mass murder, it’s the murder of infants.
There’s a moral to it all about not listening to strangers, but that doesn’t keep the Walrus from being the animated (and aquatic) John Wayne Gacy.
6 Clayton's Accidental Suicide - Tarzan
In 1987, when the aforementioned Oliver & Company was released, Disney evidently wasn't ready for the villain to accidentally commit suicide like he did in the book. But in 1999, when Tarzan premiered, that was no longer an issue, apparently. Tarzan's an underrated Disney gem, but considering the way villain Clayton goes out, maybe it's best that not many kids have seen it.
Everything about Clayton’s final moments are creepy. He spends a good five minutes pointing his shotgun and shooting at Tarzan and his ape family. Eventually, Clayton finds himself tangled up in some vines, and rather than keeping his head, he becomes incredibly aggressive. Clayton hacks and slashes, trading his shotgun for a machete. This causes the baddie to lose his balance, and he ends up hanging himself on a dangling vine which wraps around his neck.
The movie doesn’t show Clayton’s neck snap or the breathe leave his body. They do, however, show his corpse's limp shadow, and that’s more than enough.
5 Surprise Fratricide - Big Hero 6
When Big Hero 6 begins, it would seem that the hero, Hiro, is in the clear. Before the movie even starts, Hiro’s already gone through the Disney prerequisite of losing his parents, as our protagonist is living with his aunt and older brother. Yet Big Hero 6 offers a gut-punch of surprise to the audience when they kill off Hiro’s brother, Tadashi.
Tadashi’s death comes out of (relatively) nowhere. Everything seems fine one second, and the next, it's all literally on fire. The death is made even worse because for a large portion of the movie, Hiro blames himself for his brother's death, and he falls into a deep depression as a result.
Tadashi’s death stands apart from most Disney movie demises because he is so young and his life so unfinished. This means the death serves as important lesson about the fragility of life, but it also makes it terrifically tragic.
4 Syndrome Learns About the Danger of Capes - The Incredibles
There are number of quotable and memorable moments in The Incredibles, and one of the best has to be Edna Mode’s rule about no capes and its accompanying montage of cape-related superhero deaths. The montage is played mostly for laughs and leaves a lot to the imagination. The subsequent callback to the "no capes" rule, however, is much less reserved.
Syndrome isn’t just the villain of The Incredibles - he’s the ultimate example of a fan that’s gone way too far. The Incredibles proves time and time again how naive and dangerous Syndrome is, and his death is no different. When going after baby Jack-Jack, Syndrome’s cape gets sucked into an airplane engine. The Incredibles almost takes pleasure in the villain's horror, with a close-up on his terrified face as he's about to be cut into pieces. Then, for good measure, the plane explodes entirely. It forever changes the way we view capes. Superman better watch his back.
3 Stabbing by Warship - The Little Mermaid
The villain almost always dies in a Disney movie. The actual moment of their death is usually never seen though, thanks to a clever cutaway at the very last moment. This isn't the case in The Little Mermaid, however.
When the sea witch Ursula turns into her monstrous kaiju form at the end, she must be stopped. So the heroes take a ship and drive the mast directly into Ursula, impaling her completely. The entire act is shown from start to finish. There’s even a close-up for the moment of penetration.
It’s beyond aggressively violent, and that’s precisely what makes it so terrifying. Ursula was evil incarnate, but watching her getting impaled to death is something that belongs in a Quentin Tarantino movie, not a flick from the House of Mouse.
2 The Evil Queen's Deadly Double Whammy - Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
There was precedent for all this death and destruction, and it was established in Walt Disney’s very first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The movie that launched Disney into the mega entertainment corporation it is today, ends with a shockingly brutal death that still holds up decades later.
When the Evil Queen is discovered to be behind Snow White’s (seemingly) eternal slumber, the dwarves go bananas. They enact a literal witch hunt as they chase after The Queen in her Peddler Woman disguise. The image of the pint-sized heroes' righteous rage is scary enough, but the death of the queen puts it all to shame.
The Queen dies by first having the cliff she's standing on get struck by lightning and falling off said cliff. This should be enough. But Disney, as should be obvious by now, likes to make really sure people are dead. So, a gigantic boulder then falls on top of the queen, crushing her to death. It's a moment that's as iconic as it is harrowing, and one that surely left its mark on the kids watching at home.
1 The Tragedy of Old Age - Up
Every other entry on this list has been a sudden death, a quick passing of either a hero or a villain. No matter how violent or scary they might be, they're all avoidable. The worst death in a Disney movie is neither violent, quick, nor avoidable. It’s heartbreakingly normal and brutally grounded, and that’s why it tops the list.
The opening of Up is one of the most tragic openings of any movie in history, Disney or not. The love story of Carl and Ellie Frederickson is a beautiful, poignant, and vital way to start the movie. It also introduces the concept of death in a terrifying simple way. Ellie grows old, she gets sick, and she dies.
There’s no avoiding Ellie’s fate. She dies of natural causes, and that’s why it’s so scarring. It’s a reminder of everyone’s mortality … nestled in a colorful kid’s movie.
It's Disney's weird and open relationship with death in a nutshell.
Which Disney death scene scarred you the most? Which one is the most horrifying to you personally? Sound off in the comments!