Films marketed towards families have to navigate a fine line– they must be as wholesome and inoffensive as possible – full of softball jokes kids can understand – while also entertaining their parents. It’s a tricky balancing act, for sure.
Sometimes even film designed to be as palatable as possible occasionally skirt the boundaries of what’s considered socially acceptable for a kids’ film. Sometimes questionable content slips through the cracks. And occasionally, no matter the filmmaker’s original intent, scenes in children’s movies are darker and more disturbing than they were intended in the original screenplay. Or maybe a director is being gleefully subversive and enjoys traumatizing children. It happens.
In other words, there are some overall sweet and touching family films featuring scenes that make you forget you’re watching a family film. Perhaps it’s a shocking moment of violence or disturbing emotional content. Or maybe it’s just an ill-advised cameo, or a plot-point that push beyond the conventional boundaries of good taste. Or maybe it’s behind-the-scenes drama that shatters suspension of disbelief.
With all that criteria in mind, here are 15 Jarring Scenes That Take You Out Of Kids’ Movies.
15. The Murder of a Living Shoe – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Director Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit? had several questionable moments for a movie that was clearly marketed towards children (a plot based on a murder, dialogue full of adult innuendo), but the most terrifying character was certainly the villainous Judge Doom (played by Christopher Lloyd) who kills cartoon characters with a corrosive liquid known as “The Dip.”
Judge Doom demonstrates the power of his lethal juice by killing an adorably anthropomorphic squeaking shoe, lowering him slowly into the acid bath. Seeing him executing the clearly terrified piece of footwear (as private investigator Eddie Valiant looks on in helpless horror) is the stuff of nightmares, registering as much visceral dread as any horror film. We’re getting all choked up just thinking about it. R.I.P shoe!
14. The Helping Hands – Labyrinth
Jim Henson’s fantasy musical Labyrinth is a touchstone of ’80s cinema, with audiences young and old drawn to its fanciful tale featuring the late David Bowie’s iconic performance as Jareth, the Goblin King. One of the most nightmarish, unsettling sequences in the film involved “helping hands,” disembodied appendages which exist in the corridor that Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) falls into over the course of the movie.
The gray-green hands hold her hostage until she decides that she wants to go down, at which point they drop her mercilessly without warning. While that’s unsettling in and of itself, the concept of a bunch of aimless arms pawing over a teenage girl is just a wee bit creepy (and who can forget the eerie “faces” they make?) in hindsight.
13. The Burning of a child witch – ParaNorman
Norman is a child who can speak to the dead– that’s already a morbid topic for a family film like ParaNorman, but the plot gets bleaker when he discovers his hometown harbors a dark secret: the town’s ancestors murdered someone they believed to be a witch. But it was actually just a young girl with the same supernatural powers he has.
A child murder in a kids’ film is rough stuff, made more awkward with the unsatisfactory life lesson crammed into the climax. Norman tells the girl to get over the fact that she was murdered and to quit using her powers to attack the town. This is done in such a glib and insensitive manner that it mitigates her trauma and the actions of those who killed her. It just doesn’t add up to a satisfactory conclusion, making the inclusion of such a dark plot point seem all the more pointless and out-of-place.
12. Bill Cosby Gets Killed By a Satanist – Ghost Dad
Okay, even if you can get past the fact that “America’s favorite dad” has been accused by multiple women of being a predator, Ghost Dad is also an off-putting family film for a bizarrely dark, totally messed-up opening sequence.
Before Cosby can become the “Ghost Dad” in question, he has to die, of course. And that he does, after taking a ride from the world’s worst cab driver, who picks him up, leans back, and utters “Do you accept the lord Satan as a supreme being?!”
In a failed attempt at reverse psychology, Cosby says that he’s actually Satan itself, which backfires when the cabbie loses it and drives the taxi over a bridge, killing them both. From there on, wholesome family fun commences! The film isn’t considered one of the worst movies ever made for nothing.
11. Crypt Keeper Cameo (Casper the Friendly Ghost)
Speaking of ghosts, we’d be remiss if not covering the most WTF scene in this 1995 film based on the classic cartoon character Casper yhe Friendly Ghost. Yes, it’s true, this kid-friendly film featuring the cute and harmless apparition includes a brief, bizarre and unanticipated appearance by the Crypt Keeper, the rotting corpse narrator of the decidedly un-kid-friendly HBO horror anthology Tales From The Crypt.
What’s even more WTF is what precedes his appearance, when actor Bill Pullman (who plays a “ghost therapist”) looks into a mirror, and sees his face morph into the likenesses of Clint Eastwood (who mutters “I’m gonna kill you, your momma, and all her Bridge-playing friends” in his classic gruff delivery), Rodney Dangerfield, and Mel Gibson, before resting on the Crypt Keeper’s crusty mug.
10. Paris Hilton Party Scene – The Cat in the Hat
Back in 2003, wealthy socialite Paris Hilton was everywhere, with her vapid “that’s hot” being a particularly cringeworthy catchphrase of the decade. So being the “it girl” of the moment, she was involved in a variety of high-profile projects.
One of the strangest was surely The Cat in The Hat, a film that came out just two weeks after her infamous adult tape hit the internet. This made for an unfortunately awkward moment for any family that hit the multiplex to see the Dr. Seuss adaptation.
It should be said, that as distracting and incongruous as her appearance was, she can’t be solely to blame for the film’s poor box office and terrible reviews. In fact, it was so poorly received that Audrey Geisel, the widow of Dr. Seuss, refused to allow any more live-action films based on his work.
9. Draining The Essence – The Dark Crystal
Jim Henson’s 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal shows the cinematic puppeteer at the height of his powers. For older viewers this registered as a thrilling genre film showcasing a classic battle between good and evil on a mysterious far away world. For younger kids it was a downright traumatic slice of horror that became the stuff of nightmares. And one part that freaked everyone out was the “essence draining” scene.
The evil birdlike Skeksis take a hapless, innocent Podling and strap him into a chair. He’s then turned into a barely sentient raisin; his essence and mind drained into tubes while his eyes turn translucent white. After his body is desiccated and turned into a soulless husk, he then becomes an unwitting, mindless slave, while a Skeksi swigs down the poor creature’s departed soul juice with gusto.
8. The Great Owl (The Secret of Nimh)
Picking one jarring scene from The Secret of Nimh proved a difficult task. The whole film seems jarring. In fact, it’s amazing that a film so dark and violent was actually marketed toward children (and received a PG rating). Between a sweet and lovable mice family almost dying by tractor, a deranged and disfigured cat, multiple bloody murders of beloved characters, and cruel animal lab experiments, it’s a relentless assault on the senses.
But the shocking intro of the Great Owl has to top the list: between his glowing soulless eyes, the way he slaughters a giant spider, and his Exorcist worthy head twist… it’s spine-tingling stuff. It’s worth noting “NIMH” stands for the National Institute of Mental Health. Kind of ironic for a film that wreaks havoc on your psyche.
7. The Incinerator – Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is arguably the best Pixar movie (and best third film in a trilogy ever), and it’s also one of the darkest films the studio has ever made. No scene signifies this more than the moment where Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest of the toy gang lock hands while they prepare for death as they head helplessly towards the incinerator.
It’s palpably chilling watching the extended toy family accept their grim fate, with so much CGI facial conviction that you actually ask yourself, “Are they seriously all gonna die? In a kid’s movie? They can’t do that, right? Right?!” Thankfully, the answer was no! But don’t deny it, you were sweating it, too (and don’t act like you weren’t bawling in the finale either. We all know the truth).
6. E.T. Dies – E.T. the Extraterrestrial
Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. may be one of the most iconic family friendly films of the 1980s, but it’s also one of the emotionally grueling films of all time. While it’s heartwarming watching Elliot (Henry Thomas) form a bond with the sweet and soulful extraterrestrial, their idyllic and innocent bond is shattered when the creature becomes ill and collapses by a river.
Things get worse after Elliot also grows ill and the two fall under observation by government scientists. And no scene is more gut-churning than seeing an emaciated and sickly pale E.T. flatline as Elliot screams in anguish.
Of course, he doesn’t stay dead for long, which makes the ending scene of him departing for his home planet all the more heartbreaking as Elliot must say goodbye to his alien pal. Pardon us while we grab some Kleenex.
5. Death By Bees – My Girl
As far as kid’s movies go, My Girl is a particularly cruel bait and switch. Sure ,it’s a sweet coming of age comedy on the surface, featuring a gentle rapport between lead actors Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky. But then it pulls the rug out from under you and attacks you with a bunch of bees. Those damn bees. Agh!
Culkin’s character goes out into the woods to find his best friend’s missing ring, where he absent-mindedly kicks a beehive and is attacked by a swarm of bees. Then he dies from an allergic reaction. It was one mighty sad emotional sucker-punch, leading to a funeral showing his young body in full view in a casket. A literal buzz kill. Sorry.
4. Old Yeller Gets Shot – Old Yeller
For a movie studio marketed towards children, Disney has never shied away from the dark stuff, and Old Yeller may be the most devastatingly sad movie it’s ever produced. It’s perfectly designed to make anyone who sees it turn into an emotional wreck.
First, it creates a wonderful bond between a young boy (Travis) and his dog (Old Yeller, of course) and shows their many adventures together in rural Texas. Old Yeller is as lovable, loyal, and protective as movie mutts can get. Then he gets rabies.
Disney sure knows how to twist a knife, and twist it does, with young Travis not only having to see his dog suffer from rabies, but then being forced to put his best friend out of his misery via a shotgun. Cinematic trauma at its finest.
3. Artax’s Death – The NeverEnding Story
The NeverEnding Story may be one of the most beloved children’s films of the 1980s, but it is mighty dark stuff. Exhibit A being the death of Artax, the gentle equine companion of the movie’s protagonist, Atreyu. During a scene where they cross the (appropriately named) Swamp of Sadness, Artax becomes so overtaken by sorrow that he basically allows himself to be drowned.
This was devastating for any young child (or adult for that matter) to witness, as the slow, mournful death seems to lasts forever (never-ending, indeed). Thankfully he’s resurrected in the finale of the film and reunited with an euphoric and relieved Atreyu, but it does little to negate the palpable trauma of seeing an onscreen horse drowning. Thanks for scarring us for life!
2. Harvey Weinstein’s Cameo in a Barbie Movie
The mere fact that disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein appeared in a children’s film is completely unsettling. Yet it happened. Weinstein appeared in My Scene Goes Hollywood: The Movie, a straight to DVD film starring Mattel toy icon Barbie. Weinstein’s company Miramax also distributed the film.
The 2005 release saw an updated Barbie who was a hip teen socialite, hobnobbing with the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Weinstein, who appeared (in animated form) as himself.
The plot revolves around Barbie and her group of friends, who appear as extras in a Lohan film, where they meet Weinstein on set. This leads to him placing his hand on the back of Barbie’s friend Madison, while uttering the lines “Good job, young lady!” With all the allegations that have come forward, this is just disturbing to see in a kids’ movie – or any movie.
1. Scenes of Animal Abuse – The Adventures of Milo and Otis
The Adventures of Milo and Otis was marketed as a heartwarming tale of a friendship between a sweet orange tabby kitten and the cutest pug puppy ever captured on film. But however adorable the animal duo were on-screen, there have been horrific claims of animal abuse on set, with the rumored death of at least 20 kittens during filming.
The outrage of Animal Rights activists over such concerns were exacerbated by the lack of the standard American Humane Society disclaimer in lieu of “The animals used were filmed under strict supervision with the utmost care for their safety and well-being.”
And while there was never actual proof of animal deaths on the Japanese production, scenes like a kitten falling off a cliff or a pug being attacked by a grizzly bear were clear signs of putting animals in harm’s way, making it difficult to watch today.
Which jarring scenes would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments!
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