It’s no secret that movies intended for kids used to be a whole lot darker. Main characters bit the bullet, often literally, and film studios dared to push the boundaries of the PG rating to its breaking point.
While some could argue that it’s brave filmmaking, others could argue that certain scenes were traumatizing -- especially if you were one of those kids who left the cinema trebbling.
From posing philosophical questions about mortality and trippy segments featuring psychedelic imagery to harrowing sacrifices and questionable moral moments, there are various scenes that stretched far beyond the limits of what should belong in a kids' movie -- some even provoking the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating.
The films in this list should simply not be shown to young children unless you want them to be scarred for life. They were created as entertainment for kids during a period where regulations were much more liberal, and thus the producers were, for the most part, unaware of the torment that these scenes would cause and the nightmare that they would induce.
Prepare yourselves. Here are the 17 Scenes That Don’t Belong In Kids’ Movies.
17 Gremlins - Kitchen Attack
Gremlins may not be considered a kids movie anymore, what with the excessive violence and long-winded monologue on how Santa isn’t real, but in 1984 it was sold as a PG-rated fantasy Christmas movie.
More horror than fantasy, it was one of two movies (the other being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating. One of the reasons for this must have something to do with Gremlins’ infamous kitchen scene.
Playing out as a tense horror sequence-- with jittering music and looming shadows-- Frances Lee McCain’s character blends the first gremlin to a gory mass of guts, stabs the second gremlin to death with gusto, and then, most gruesomely of all, stuffs the third gremlin in a microwave and watches it explode.
To put it politely, a PG film nowadays would never get away with a scene this overstuffed with grisly detail and bloody violence. It was a scene that belonged more in a Tarantino caper than a fun Christmas fantasy for the whole family to enjoy.
16 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - The Child Catcher
Enter your childhood’s most frightening villain: the Child Catcher, a boil-faced glorified henchman with some more than heavy allusions to pedophilia. For adults, Robert Helpmann’s hammy performance may make the character seem more comedic than scary, but for children, he is nightmare-inducing.
Just the general concept -- a man designed to appear friendly to youngsters, offering them sweets and ice cream for no price whatsoever, before snatching them away and locking them up -- is enough to send chills down the back of any kids' spine. It takes away one of the things they love the most -- candy -- and turns it into a weapon of deceit.
The character’s reputation speaks for itself -- despite not appearing in the original book, The Child Catcher was voted the scariest villain in children’s books in a 2005 BBC poll, beating out the likes of Cruella DeVil and Lord Voldemort.
He is instead the ghastly creation of Roald Dahl, so we have him to thank for causing so many nightmares among young children in 1968.
15 The Good Dinosaur - Drug Trip
In 2015, Pixar released two films in the same year for the first time. The first film, Inside Out, garnered critical acclaim and was a huge box-office success. Obviously this was good news for the animation company, but it did mean that their second film, The Good Dinosaur, was largely ignored.
Inside Out’s inferior cousin, The Good Dinosaur is largely a beautifully rendered but bland affair. Its drug trip sequence, however, is anything but.
In the scene, Arlo and Spot get woozy from fermented fruit, which induce hallucinations of eyes growing and heads enlarging. It’s a fun segment, sure, but it’s incredibly out of place in the film, and not just because of the shift in animation style.
With the two protagonists shown having a good time, it comes across as funny for young kids and worrying for their parents -- this is a Pixar film that’s potentially teaching kids, intentionally or not, that taking drugs is fun.
14 The Transformers: The Movie - A Slow Death
In 1986, kids around the world sat down to watch The Transformers: The Movie, expecting an action-packed "Autobots save the world" flick based off of the beloved animated television series and toys.
What they didn’t expect was the slow, ponderous death of one of the series’ most iconic characters, which came in the form of Optimus Prime’s dying moments at the end of the film’s first act.
As a botched marketing ploy by Hasbro to move on from their old collection of Autobots and to introduce their new robots, it was nevertheless a ballsy move that backfired, earning scathing backlash and a notorious reputation.
Fit with shots of the glow from his eyes dying out, and his vitals flatlining, it’s easy to see why -- children were traumatized by the scene, and resented Optimus Prime’s intended replacement, Hot Rod, thereafter.
13 Dumbo - Pink Elephants On Parade
Here’s a scene that’s all kinds of wrong in the context of a kids’ movie. The "Pink Elephants on Parade" sequence in Dumbo is a hallucinogenic odyssey jam-packed with traumatizing flashy imagery, managing to glamorise alcohol in the process (after all, without Dumbo’s drinking, he wouldn’t have been able to discover his ability to fly).
That’s not to say it’s a bad scene -- it’s a brilliantly constructed kaleidoscopic segment, a self-contained hallmark of Disney’s daring and creative period of animation. However, this is a scene for parents to enjoy while their children cower behind their seats, waiting for the visuals to return to normality.
The eye-less faces of the elephants that overcrowd the screen no doubt provides haunting imagery for all ages, so it’s a wonder the scene managed to be included in a Disney film. We’re happy it did though -- it may not belong in a kids’ movie, but it’s refreshingly daring considering the recent crop of Disney animations.
12 Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - Boat Ride
Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may have introduced a subplot on daddy issues, but 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory created a different set of issues all on its own with its infamous boat ride scene.
The boat ride progresses from a relaxing tour of the chocolate factory to a psychedelic, horrifying surrealist experience, rapidly descending into madness. It raises the question: what was director Mel Stuart thinking?
It has macabre images of beetles, eyes, and a chicken’s head being chopped off that are accompanied by a foreboding, incessant score and Gene Wilder’s fantastically delirious sing-song. If that doesn’t scream "inappropriate for kids" then who knows what does.
Roald Dahl has famously dismissed the 1971 adaptation of his book, and the differences between the two clearly extend beyond the name change. The boat ride is certainly memorable, but will perhaps linger unpleasantly in the minds of the youngsters who watch it, rather than be a fond source of nostalgia.
11 The Adventures Of Mark Twain - Meeting With The Devil
There have been many controversial, villainous characters put to screen in kids’ films over the years, but none have been quite as definitively evil as Satan himself. The devil incarnate made an appearance in The Adventures of Mark Twain, an animated 1985 film that was given a "G" certificate by the MPAA.
It may have been given a child-friendly rating but its depiction of Satan was no doubt unsettling. He urges the film’s protagonists to create clay models of humans, before destroying them and delivering a soliloquy on how pathetic they are. From an action viewpoint, it’s rather tame, but as a succinct piece of existential horror, it’s terrifying.
The foreboding, unnatural voice of Satan and his increasingly horrifying face adds to the terror, but its the surprisingly mature confrontation of humanity’s mortality that really pushes this scene over the edge.
10 Who Framed Roger Rabbit - Judge Doom's Cartoon Reveal
Who Framed Roger Rabbit is known for its negligence of its PG rating, and not just because of the raunch provided by Jessica Rabbit. Its rating, as well as the appearance of several well-known childhood-favourite animated characters, may suggest that this film would appeal to youngsters, but if its adult themes, strip-dancer caricatures, and surprising violence is anything to go by then those assumptions are false.
The film’s most shocking turn comes in the form of the main antagonist, Judge Doom, and his transition from threatening villain to downright terrifying cartoon monstrosity. Portrayed with gusto (and a keen lack of care for young, unsuspecting viewers) by Christopher Lloyd, he springs up from being supposedly steamrolled to death, inflates himself, and turns to face Bob Hoskins’ character, marking a menacing sight that can only be described as nightmare fuel.
The shrieky augmentation of Lloyd’s voice and the frenetic animation of his haunting red eyes create the bulk of horror that this scene provokes, and while the eye-to-dagger transition may prove a punchline later on in life, for a child, at least, it was traumatic.
9 Shrek - Lord Farquaad In Bed
Shrek is an animated film that’s loved by as many adults as kids, and with the amount of sexual references stuffed into it, it’s not hard to see why. Usually these references are sly and don’t take up the whole scene (Shrek’s “do you think he’s compensating for something?” when seeing Lord Farquaad’s oversized castle is a good example), but there are times when the film goes a little too far.
In one scene, Lord Farquaad, butt of many innuendos (just look at his name), is seen in bed preparing for some alone-time. He surfs his magic mirror like a porn channel, before embarrassedly looking down at what’s causing that tent in his zebra-print bed cover.
The magic mirror’s disgusted face is at first perplexing, but easy to sympathise with once you eventually realise what’s going on. It’s a risque scene that’s added to humor adults rather than advance the story -- take it out and you’ve still got plenty of dirty jokes left in the runtime (for example, the description of Snow White as “although she lives with seven other men, she’s not easy”).
8 Pinocchio - Turning Into A Donkey
In Pinocchio, a 1940 animation about a puppet that comes to life, Disney managed to stave children off drinking, smoking, and gambling the only way they knew how: by traumatizing them.
In a scene not unlike An American Werewolf In London’s transformation sequence, a terrified delinquent, Lampwick, calls to his "mama" as he gradually transitions from human to donkey, his shrieks turning into haunting baying.
This is made all the more brutal by the established fact that these donkeys are doomed to a life of slave labour. Director Joe Dante has cited this scene as a major influence for his werewolf transformation sequence in 1981’s The Howling -- if a Disney animation can inspire a horror film, then it probably doesn’t belong in a kids’ movie.
7 Bambi - Bambi's Mother Dies
Up until the halfway point of Bambi, the film plays out as a charming, saccharine adventure following the childhood of doe-faced Bambi. Yet, all of that is taken away once the film’s antagonist rears its ugly head.
The omnipresence of the hunter known only as "Man" looms large as he chases Bambi and his mother before firing his gun. In the chaos, Bambi is separated, and spends a good while calling for his mother in vain. The words that greet Bambi thereafter -- “Your mother can’t be with you anymore” -- are enough to reduce anyone to tears.
Capitalising on the fear of the unknown, which is a technique mostly associated with the horror genre, we never actually get to see the hunter as he moves in for the kill. Yet, perhaps the most harrowing facet of this scene is how different it is for a Disney film. Most Disney villains kill for a reason, whereas Bambi’s mother is simply killed for sport.
6 Iron Giant - A Great Sacrifice
Brad Bird’s critically acclaimed 1999 animation, The Iron Giant, received plaudits for its substance and charm. Parents expecting a typical animation to take their kids to were proven wrong, though perhaps their kids would have preferred it that way.
The Iron Giant culminates in an affecting finale, where the film’s titular character says farewell to the young, main protagonist before launching into Earth’s atmosphere to hurtle head-on towards a missile, sacrificing himself in the process in order to save others.
This is heavy stuff, and not what kids were used to considering the family-friendly roster of '90s animations. More psychologically harrowing than gruesome, the Iron Giant’s sacrifice is one of the saddest moments in animation history, and scarred many unsuspecting children upon release.
5 Labyrinth - Bowie And His Bulge
The 1986 fantasy flick Labyrinth may have its fair share of threatening moments hardly suitable for children, including a tunnel of talking hands, but nothing in the film is quite as persistently sinister as Bowie’s prominent yet proud bulge.
An intentional choice by the movie’s conceptual designer, Brian Froud, in order to substantiate Bowie’s image as a sex icon, his moose knuckle is boldly displayed for the world to see. Further flaunted in the song-and-dance sequence, "Magic Dance", there’s a reason that the height of all of his goblins are crotch-level.
The Goblin King does, however, have an infatuation with the young teen protagonist, played by a 15-year-old Jennifer Connelly, and so these shots of Bowie’s protrusion are more unsettling than they need be. While the intent is clearly harmless, there’s a case to make that Labyrinth’s sexual debauchery strays a little too far into adult territory -- or at least, away from its intended young target audience.
4 Time Bandits - Abrupt Ending
For almost the entire runtime of the 1981 fantasy Time Bandits, the film chugs along conforming to the expected level of thrills for a PG-rated flick. At times it’s threatening -- a glowing, floating face in the first act provides a large bulk of the scare factor -- but it’s never too shocking or dark. That is, of course, until its final moment.
Having finished his quest that may or may not have been a dream, the 11-year-old Kevin wakes up to find his house on fire. Kevin and his parents are rescued by firefighters and left to watch as their house burns to the ground. His parents find the cause of this evil: an alien-looking rock lodged in the toaster oven.
This is a piece of "evil" that Kevin encounters along his adventure, but his warning to his parents fall on deaf ears -- both of his parents touch the rock and subsequently explode into ashes. With the main protagonist becoming an orphan at the film’s close, this is a moment in a kids’ movie that’s as emotionally damaging as it is shocking.
3 Stardust - Voodoo Doll
Matthew Vaughn’s 2007 fantasy Stardust fell under the radar somewhat, but those who did manage to see it were met with a wonderfully camp caper involving witches, princesses, and pirates. That’s not to say, however, that none of the magic that the film mustered was sinister.
In the film’s darkest and most gruesome moment, Mark Strong’s charismatic antihero Septimus battles against each witch, before being stopped in his tracks by the film’s main antagonist, Lamia. She uses a voodoo doll to first snap one of his arms, and then one of his legs, before chucking the doll in the fountain so that it will drown.
It’s a horrific way to go out, and the brilliant undead fight Septimus has with Stardust’s main protagonist doesn’t quite rid the memory of his death -- Matthew Vaughn’s decision to change Septimus’ offing from death by poison in the books was a decision that earned admirers, but gave many kids nightmares.
2 All Dogs Go To Heaven - Dog Hell
Titles can be deceiving, but All Dogs Go To Heaven straight up lies to its viewers. Dogs can indeed go to hell, as this dream sequence proves. The scene follows the main protagonist, a German Shepherd named Charlie, as he traverses the depths of hell in his imagination.
It’s both literally and figuratively the stuff of nightmares, as Charlie encounters a brutalist hellscape fit with smoldering lava, skeleton dragons, and a doggie demon. It's not really explained why the producers thought that images of hell would fit right in to a family friendly animation is anyone’s guess.
The producers didn’t fully commit to its portrayal though -- several shots, such as the close-up of the demon, were removed from the final cut after being deemed too scary. This is strange, though, considering the fact that they kept the protagonist being tormented by miniature demons in the film, which left countless children traumatized.
1 The Neverending Story - The Entire Runtime
Has there ever been a film as insanely terrifying and psychologically destructive as The Neverending Story? Many children think not -- the film opens up with a father lamenting the fact that his son cannot get over his dead mother, and doesn’t let up thereafter.
Kids’ films released a decade or more ago have a reputation for being a whole lot more lenient than what we’re faced with now, but The Neverending Story takes this to the extreme, and then some.
There’s the infamous scene where a horse drowns in a bog because it’s too depressed to even think about moving. This only scratches the surface of the film’s chocolate-box assortment of terrors and traumas.
The main protagonist runs across strewn dead bodies as he narrowly avoids murderous sphinx statues. The wolf, G’Mork, is a terrifying feat of puppetry, and the narrative even manages to cram in a jump scare where he springs out of a painting.
There’s also a rock creature that succumbs to its fate of death because it blames itself for not being able to save its friends. Additionally, the all-consuming "Nothing" is a blustering force of evil that destroys everything in its wake. How The Neverending Story earned its PG rating is quite the mystery.
What do you think? Did any of these scenes traumatize you when you were young? Can you think of any other scenes that shouldn't have been in kids' movies? Let us know in the comments!
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