We’ve all got our favorite kids’ movies. Whether it comes from the depths of the Disney vaults or somewhere else entirely, there are usually a whole host of classics and forgotten gems locked away your mind and the minds of your friends and family.
We hold a lot of fond memories for them, but when we look back and truly delve into the madness of each film’s storyline, morality, and duelling themes, we often come to the conclusion that there were some dark and unsettling scenes that children should never have been subjected to.
Whether it’s to do with the imagery being shown, the direction a story takes, or something that’s shoehorned for unknown reasons, there are plenty of terrifying, spooky and dark releases out there that had a young target audience.
With hundreds to choose from, here are some of the most memorable moments we can recall. Here are the 20 Times Kids’ Movies Were WAY Too Dark.
Roald Dahl’s stories are about as dark as they come, but the world of Matilda certainly stands out. As if having two parents that couldn’t give a damn about you wasn’t bad enough for Matilda, she was then sent to a school where the Headmistress enjoyed a reign of terror not only over the students, but the teachers as well.
With such a strong hatred of the children, Miss Trunchbull denies ever being a child and deals out harsh punishments to students who don’t adhere to her rules. When Amanda Thripp wears pigtails to school, she swings her round like a shot put and sends her flying through the air.
When she feels disrespect from children, she throws them in "the chokey"-- a narrow cupboard filled with nails and glass. It's even revealed that she broke Miss. Honey’s arm when Miss. Honey was just seven years old.
He may be the friendliest ghost you know, but when the 1995 movie delved into Casper's past, it was revealed that he died as a young boy of pneumonia. This is pretty dark for a film aimed at children.
The revelation came in a scene where he showed his new and still very much alive friend his mother’s dress, and that’s where things got incredibly emotional. Casper recalled how he had begged his father for a snow sled, but he had refused... until one day, when it appeared in their house with no explanation.
On his first outing, he didn’t listen to his father’s warnings and got sick due to the cold. He eventually passed away. This is heavy content that gets even heavier when he’s asked what it’s like to die.
“Like being born, only backwards,” he explained, adding that he stayed behind so that his dad wouldn’t be alone. It's tragic, as Casper was forced to stick around in the house after he died, and even after his father’s passing.
18 James and the Giant Peach
The animation in James and the Giant Peach is something that has disturbed many of those who have watched it, but delving into the story also unearths a treasure trove of darkness and content that’s not entirely suitable for kids.
As is often seen in children’s movies, James is orphaned when his parents are killed by a ghostly rhinoceros in the sky and is sent to live with his two aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who couldn’t care less about the child.
Forced into slavery by the pair, he’s relentlessly tormented psychologically by the two who are consistent in their threats of the deadly rhinoceros, with regular beatings scheduled for when he even shows a hint of disobeying their orders.
At the end of the film, the pair even try to murder James in front of a crowd of New Yorkers. They get their comeuppance, but for the younger audience members the damage is already done.
17 The Rugrats Movie
There are plenty of dark theories surrounding Rugrats doing the rounds, but what many people seem to forget is just how crazy The Rugrats Movie got, especially between Tommy Pickles and his younger brother Dil.
Lost in the forest alongside Phil and Lil, as well as Chuckie, Tommy’s jealousy surrounding his new sibling became too much, as rain poured down and lightning struck.
Pinning his younger brother to the ground, he held a jar of baby food above his head and seemingly looked poised to bring it crashing down onto Dil’s head. Fortunately, he caught sight of his murderous intent in a puddle and stopped himself from going through with the act, but the fact that filmmakers thought this appropriate for the movie in the first place is wild.
16 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory
From the outset, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory looks like a lovely family film. Young Charlie Bucket and his family are living in poverty and can barely afford to live from one day to the next, but there’s a true spirit and heart within the story that cannot be denied. Then comes the re-opening of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and the opportunity for five children to visit it.
Charlie is one of those five children, and once you’ve gotten over the initial shock of grown adults trying to snatch his golden ticket away from him, it looks like there’s a lot of good ahead for the youngster.
One of the most terrifying sequences happens as he and his fellow golden ticket holders are taken on a boat journey that tests all of their composure. The group even see a chicken beheaded. It’s a strange yet mesmerising scene.
A little later, things get dark once again, when Charlie and his grandfather take it upon themselves to try one of Wonka’s latest inventions, sending them soaring towards a huge ceiling fan that almost cuts them to pieces. We understand the need for danger in movies to move the story along, but things seemed to go a little far with this one.
15 The Witches
Roald Dahl’s work makes a return here, with one scene in particular made up of sheer nightmare fuel. When a young boy and his grandmother decide to go on holiday to England, they find themselves staying in the same hotel that is playing host to a witch convention.
Anjelica Huston leads the witches as Miss Eva Ernst, aka the Grand High Witch, in a stunning performance, but one that has burned itself into the minds of children all over the globe.
Imposing in her stature and scary enough when she’s using her pseudonym, things get even more terrifying when she and her coven of witches find themselves in the privacy of the hotel’s grand hall.
It is there that they remove their masks, revealing their truly hideous real selves, and reveal a plan to rid England of all children by turning them into mice, using poisoned chocolate. After seeing this movie, kids made sure to double check their candy bars.
14 The Care Bears Movie
Those who have seen The Care Bears Movie in childhood will never forget the film’s primary antagonist, The Spirit. In the form of a spell book, she’s incredibly powerful and uses her charm to gain power and manipulate those around her. Simple enough, but when she used Nicholas Cherrywood for her evil means, she went darker than anybody could have expected from a kids’ movie.
Making him feel terrible about himself, she consistently pushes the notion that Nicholas has no friends and so he should try and get revenge on the world. She says he should do this by getting rid of his emotions and by no longer caring about those around him.
While Nicholas does eventually see her for the evil that she is, we imagine there were thousands of children complaining that there was a monster in the family bookshelf after watching this one.
13 Tom and Jerry: The Movie
Left homeless after the destruction of their home, Tom and Jerry go through their most traumatic journey of all time in Tom and Jerry: The Movie. Before too long, they’re given a new lease of life when they meet a young girl called Robyn Starling.
Strangely enough, filmmakers decided to add in the plot device of deceased parents, as it is revealed that Robyn’s mother died in childbirth and her father is said to have been killed in an avalanche.
Forced to live with her evil aunt, she ran away from home but is then convinced to return by Tom and Jerry, who are taken in as family pets. Soon, it’s revealed that Robyn’s father is indeed alive, but her aunt is keeping it a secret so she can get her hands on the family fortune.
With evil around every corner and a finale that sees a cabin set on fire and the titular characters nearly losing their lives, there’s almost a happy ending to ease the darkness. Of course, Tom and Jerry resume their tradition of hating one another despite finding a new home, teaching kiddies that you can go through a series of major traumas and still not work out your differences.
12 The Harry Potter Series
When we’re first introduced to the boy wizard in Harry Potter, we see his parents murdered by Voldemort and the youngster forced to live with relatives that don’t have a single shred of love for him.
Living in the cupboard under their stairs, he has a tragic childhood which looks to be on the up when he’s invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Unfortunately for him, things get worse when he gets there, as it’s revealed Voldemort is back, gaining power and has murdering Harry Potter high on his list of priorities.
Friends fall, mysterious voices convince children that they should murder those around them, and Harry, when reunited with his uncle Sirius Black, isn’t given the long-term happiness you would hope for after all he has been through, with the two stripped apart when Sirius is killed.
Honestly, there’s so much mental torture for Harry throughout the Harry Potter series that it’s a miracle he actually made it through to the end of the story.
11 The Home Alone Series
We’re focusing mainly on the first two films of the Home Alone series here, starring Macauley Culkin, as Home Alone 3 and Home Alone 4 tended to veer in differing directions (and weren’t that great). In Culkin’s films, he played Kevin McCallister, and wasn’t just left behind by his family on one occasion, but two times.
While he had a lot of fun being away from his family and enjoyed spending their money on lavish hotels and gourmet food, the idea that his mother and father could forget to check on him for two straight years running when they’re heading on vacation is shocking at best, and that’s without mentioning the pair of burglars that wanted to murder him.
The impact that would have had on Kevin’s psychology for his future is monumental and we imagine that if we caught up with him now, he’d still be suffering from the emotional abuse of his childhood.
Based on Neil Gaiman’s children’s book, those who were familiar with the story of Coraline before its movie release knew that they should expect a dark and frightening tale.
Moving from one state to another due to her parents’ jobs, Coraline is brought away from everything she had ever known, and soon becomes enraptured by a place known as The Other World. In The Other World, everything seems better than reality, but there are evil underlying intentions by those she meets there.
Coming face-to-face with The Other World’s version of her parents that are loving and doting on the outside, it soon becomes clear just how empty of a person Coraline really is. She doesn’t feel affection from her real-life parents and would do just about anything for a shred of a relationship with them. This is some extremely deep stuff for a film aimed at young kids.
9 The Wizard of Oz
There are many dark scenes throughout The Wizard of Oz, but the one we want to focus on here is when Dorothy and her friends make their way through a field of poppies to try and find the all-powerful Wizard.
History has often seen poppies used as representations of sleep and death, and that’s exactly how they function here in this film. If it wasn’t for Dorothy’s close friends the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man, she would have slept forever in that field.
A completely different level of darkness is exposed when the quartet finally find the Wizard, only to discover that he’s a man who was at one point so unhappy in his life, that he decided to put on an act and claim power through fear and misunderstanding. An early lesson was learned here by children – if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
8 Return to Oz
With an entirely new cast, the world of Oz was brought back to life in Return to Oz, but things instantly took a darker turn than anything we had seen before when Dorothy was placed into a mental institution, because of her ramblings about the magical place she had visited before taking down the Wicked Witch of the West.
As if that wasn’t all alarming enough for a kids’ flick, when Dorothy does make her return to Oz, she discovers that all of her friends have been harmed in one way or another, with the terrifying Wheelers working on behalf of an evil witch called Mombi and the power-hungry Nome King.
Mombi is arguably the scariest character in the film, as it’s revealed she collects the heads of women she finds attractive, killing them but taking their beauty in the process.
7 All Dogs Go To Heaven
Dogs are affectionately known as man’s best friend. So, what better way to celebrate them by showing them being murdered, threatened with being sent to Hell, and befriending an orphan who then goes on to contract pneumonia?
All Dogs Go To Heaven has opened the door for some heavy conversations to take place. The religious tone of the film is obvious from the get-go thanks to the title, but parents weren’t expecting their children to be confronted with such huge moral dilemmas throughout the movie.
Watching the film’s protagonist die, but then be resurrected and forced to be constantly overlooked by a giant watch that ticks down just how long he has left to live surely left those youngsters watching at home feeling a sense of crisis. The movie told them that life was fleeting and so they’d better be damn sure they do something worthwhile with their own lives.
6 The Lion King
As one of the most beloved Disney classics, The Lion King will be returning to the big screen in 2019 for a live-action release, and we’re sure all of the darkness that was embedded into the original will be making its way to the reboot.
Simba enjoyed his life as a young Prince and heir to the African Pridelands throne, before his evil uncle Scar murdered his father and blamed the young boy for it. Abandoning his family and all those who loved him, Scar manipulated the pride of lions and worked his way to leadership, caring only about his own power and failing to serve as a true leader. Simba, meanwhile, grew up in the jungle before being convinced to return by his childhood sweetheart, Nala.
It’s upon his return to Pride Rock that some of the scene’s most disturbing scenes take place. In a ferocious battle to the death, he gets the upper hand against his uncle Scar, who is thrown to the legions of betrayed hyenas that he promised a life of riches to. Though we don’t see it actually take place on screen, Scar is ripped to shreds by the hungry pack as the circle of life continues to flow.
Now this one was always going to be a little scary, but since the target audience is kids, we didn’t expect it to get as dark as it actually did. Norman Babcock is the lead character in the film, but things take a drastic turn when he experiences a vision of his town’s past and has to deal with the ramifications of his ancestors playing host to the murder of a girl his age, because of their fear that she may have been a witch.
Audiences discover that the youngster was in fact just different-- she wasn't at all a witch with evil intent. Fortunately, the overriding message of the movie here is to not judge people at face value and to give everybody a chance, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that a girl was murdered for reasons beyond her control. Parents were no doubt left uneasy by this one.
4 The Brave Little Toaster
This is an odd premise to base a film on, but one that captured the imagination of audiences no less. When five electrical appliances are left abandoned by their former "master," a toaster must lead his friends on a journey to find them.
The scares start early on in their journey, where Toaster is tortured in its sleep by an evil clown dressed as a firefighter, and the appliances in the real world are constantly under the threat of losing power and being left in the wilderness forever.
Making progress in their journey, they face constant attacks from those who would rather dismantle and sell them for parts, all while their previous owner Rob is living life as a young adult preparing for college.
The film comes to an end when Toaster decides to sacrifice himself for the sake of his friends, jumping into the gears of a crusher that would see the end of all of the appliances. Deep stuff for a film about some kitchen appliances.
3 Addams Family Values
The Addams Family Values adds a lot of humor throughout its eerie storytelling, but the overriding narrative of the family nanny hoping to woo, wed, and then murder Uncle Fester is surely one of the darkest storylines to work its way into a kids’ movie of this type.
Not only is that her plan for Fester, but it has been a success of her past, with previous husbands falling victim to her wicked ways and the authorities dubbing her The Black Widow.
If that wasn’t enough, children Wednesday and Pugsley Addams are sent to a summer camp, where they’re forced to take part and engage with other children who have sunnier outlooks on life.
Though they seem like nice kids on the outside, they’re relentless in their bullying of the Addams duo, which leads to Wednesday eventually forging a plan to ruin the summer Thanksgiving play of Pocahontas. It’s there that she stages a coup, captures fellow child Amanda as well as Gary and Becky, before subjecting the latter to being roasted over an open fire.
2 Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure
A rather gloopy looking character left kids feeling dizzy when they watched Raggedy Ann and Andy. Called The Greedy, the being admitted that he could eat forever, but the one thing he was looking for was a “sweetheart.”
The scenes were visually stunning but tiring to watch. They worked their way into the minds of children with ease, emotionally scarring them and leaving them worried that they’d fall into their own pit full of taffy, with a monster willing to devour them because they simply can’t help themselves.
No resolution ever came for The Greedy, but some darker theorists would suggest that he’s the embodiment of those who are unlucky in love, and thus uses his power and greed to take over everything in his sights.
1 Space Jam
With Bugs Bunny and his Looney Tunes friends making their way onto the big screen for Space Jam alongside a cast of real-life basketball talent including the film’s leading star, Michael Jordan, the stage was set for a fun and monumental blockbuster. That’s mostly what viewers got, but when you scratched away at the surface, there were a couple of themes running through that probably shouldn’t have made the cut.
The first is simple enough. The all-star basketball players were sapped of their talents, leaving them feeling worthless, depressed, and willing to give up. It’s the second scene that raised more eyebrows, when a psychiatrist asked Patrick Ewing if he was impotent during one of their sessions.
An odd inclusion for a movie of this type, and one that was obviously there to give the adults watching a laugh. In the modern day, however, stuff like this just isn’t funny-- instead, it feels exploitative and unnecessary.
Can you think of any other kids' movie scenes that are extremely dark? Let us know in the comments!