Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Top 9 Most Emotionally Scarring Disney Animated Movies

I admit that I was a wimpy little kid, especially when it comes to Disney movies. Just about every one of them had a scene that I had to fast forward because I found it too intense. Some of these scenes I look back on and laugh to think that they used to bother me that much, but I still feel that there's a lot of Disney movie moments that are legitimately not kid-friendly. Thus I now create my list of the films that bothered me most as a child to honor the suffering of all the children who had to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous Disney movies. I realize that I don't include a lot of Disney Renaissance films on this list, and that's not because they don't have their disturbing moments but rather because I was too old when they came out for them to affect me as deeply as the ones I saw in my preschool days. Also I really feel that Disney had learned at that point to tone down their villains in comparison to their early work, so the level of terror in the newer films will never again reach the level that their forerunners possessed--although The Princess and the Frog seems to have made a decent attempt at it.

Of course fear isn't the only factor that puts movies on this list. Some of my deepest mental scars do not come from the villains themselves but rather from the suffering of the good characters. Deaths and unfairly cruel situations can be just as unsettling to children as the image of a scary monster. In fact I will contend that they are inherently more frightening than monsters because in the case of monsters at least parents can tell their children that they aren't real whereas suffering and death cannot be explained away because they are an inevitable part of every person's life.

There's a lot of people who are of the opinion that these kind of films toughen kids up and prepare them for the real world, but I think that's not necessarily true for all children. Honestly, some children just can't take that kind of brutality at a young age, and exposing them to it before they're ready will only result in more neuroses than if they'ed worked up to that level of intensity gradually. And unfortunately I fell in that category as did my brothers and many of my acquaintances. So in honor of all these casualties, here is the list of Disney movies I condemn as unsuitable for little kids:

Even the flowers in this film are ready to kill Alice
at a moment's notice.
9. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
This movie disturbed me as a kid because nothing in it made sense, and everyone, even the Cheshire Cat, seems vaguely menacing. The other awful thing about this film is that even though Alice is in distress, no one seems to even care, let alone try to help her. Also they all have sharp tempers and fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. Probably the worst point for me is when the walking pencil erases Alice's path and strands her, making her sit down and cry about never getting home. So even though the main villain of this film, the Queen of Hearts, doesn't seem that threatening, this remains a movie that's not at all designed to be comforting to kids. That's what you get from a movie written by a junkie while doing opium.

8. The Little Mermaid (1989)
I was only three when this movie came out, which meant I was still young enough to have my psyche injured by it. Ursula's lair is a profoundly dark and evil place, and when she gains the power of the trident, she's just as cruel and vindictive as any villain you can name. Surprisingly, though, I found one "good" character to be almost equally disturbing. The way King Triton flies into a rage and destroys all of Ariel's things scared me almost as much as Ursula herself. Talk about sending mixed signals to a kid. Still, I have to admit that I liked the music in this film so much that I continued to watch it despite the scary elements. So while this movie may be scary, it's not quite unwatchable most of the titles on this list.

These cats practically exude evil even in this picture.
7. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I haven't seen this movie in many years, but reading a review of it recently reminded me why I could never sit through it as a child. I hated how Lady gets neglected and mistreated after her owners have a child. I think this feeds into children's fears that their parents might stop loving them or that something might supplant them in their parents affections. Then there are some other dogs and dog-catchers who are scary, and Trusty's accident in the end is disturbing, especially when it looks like he could be dead. I haven't even touched on the Siamese cats yet, who are both cruel and calculating. And somehow I found their song really disturbing as a kid even though I didn't really understand what the were saying. Still, they make a bunch of trouble and plot for Lady to take the rap, which I found deeply unfair and unesttling.

6. Fantasia (1940)
For those of you who don't remember, the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment is about the devil. 'Nuff said. I can appreciate it now that I'm an adult, and realize how well they matched their imagery to Mussorgsky's music, and the fact it gets defeated by Schubert "Ave Maria" (Schubert for the win!!!!). But especially since I've believed in the devil since I was taught the concept, seeing such a depiction was horrifying, and the music feeds perfectly into the terror. I can understand why that segment was banned in many countries in its initial release. Fortunately I escaped without bad mental scarring by not being exposed to this film until I was six or seven. The fact that it still makes the list, though, tells you just how powerful the effect is. Also there are parts of the dinosaur "Rite of Spring" segment, especially when the T-Rex kills and eats a stegosaurus that made me want to run for cover. Little Foot's mom eat your heart out; that's a gruesome scene.

Maleficent is doing nothing in this frame, and she still
is frightening.
5. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
All I really have to mention is Maleficent and her army of orc/demons to get my point across. Man, is that a scary combination! Especially when she transforms into a large, toothy dragon. She definitely gave me more nightmares than any other Disney villain by far simply because of the physical design of her character. Her image literally became seared into my brain as the personification of pure evil. The fact that I was first exposed to her image at the impressionable age of three doesn't help either. I think Maleficent seems particularly menacing because she's so powerful, with seemingly limitless stores of malice and dark magic. The decent into her realm is literally a descent into hell on earth.

4. Pinocchio (1940)
This movie is just dark and disquieting. There's so many things I can complain about, but I'll confine myself to two instances primarily. The first is the part where all the boys turn into donkeys, and the second is Monstro the whale, who swallows all the characters except the good fairy. That thing was so huge with such monstrous teeth that there's no wonder he's been frightening children for generations. In addition I find the Pinocchio's whole world to be generally creepy. Think about it: does he actually meet any nice, kindly people on his whole adventure? If Pinocchio's world really existed, I would never want to leave my house. Then there's the suffering of Geppetto, who not only has the pain of thinking he lost his "son," but then gets eaten by a whale in his attempt to find him.

3. Snow White (1937)
I've already been pretty explicit about why I think Snow White is a horrible movie for children, but just to reiterate briefly, the evil queen really lives up to her name. The scene in which she descends into the dungeon to make her potions frightened me beyond belief with its symbols of death and evil. I remember being viscerally frightened by that scene to the extent of having a panic attack, and having to leave the room. I also find the queen's death to be excessive and cruel. Not only do they show her falling off a cliff, but she's then crushed by a boulder, and we see two vultures swooping down towards her remains, which is quite gruesome. Then there's our heroine in a coffin with everyone mourning her death. This is a case of a classic fairytale in which you know the ending going in, but they still play on your heartstrings so much that you end up crying in spite of yourself.

2. Bambi (1942)
Even though the Nostalgia Critic ranked this as number one on his list saddest kids' movies because of Bambi's mom's death, it comes in second on my list because it doesn't have the sustained angst of Dumbo. Really, Bambi is a mostly joyful movie apart from three instances: encounters with MAN, the death of Bambi's mom, and the forest fire. And while the death thing is really bad, feeding into children's fears of losing their mother on whom they depend for so much, it's not dwelt upon at all, so we really get only one scene of Bambi suffering from it. The rest of the movie he's fine. So it's a traumatizing moment, yes, but it's nothing compared to the tear-fest film released by Disney the year before.

1. Dumbo (1941)
I absolutely revile this movie because of the scars it left on my psyche. It is without a doubt the cause of unquantifiable anxiety in my early childhood. Most of the film is actually a double tragedy. First it's the tragedy of a deformed, mute baby elephant deprived of his mother and forced to be mocked in front of a live audience every night. Then it's also the tragedy of Dumbo's mom, Jumbo, who gets locked away from her child because she tried to defend him. How horrible is that? What always reduces me to a quivering puddle even to this day is the scene where Dumbo sneaks out to see his mother, but all he can see is her trunk, and she proceeds to cradle him in that appendage and sing him a lullaby. And if all that weren't enough, I haven't even touched the "Pink Elephants on Parade" part. Oh yes, this is the charming part where Dumbo gets his trunk on some alcohol and proceeds to have a really disturbing nightmare, complete with scary voices and weirdly morphing, threatening dream shapes. If you still don't get what I'm talking about, I invite you to go back and watch this movie again, and imagine it through the eyes of a three-year-old child. Horrible.


  1. I love pink elephants on parade. And I watched that around the age of three. I agree that some of these may be disturbing... But not unwatchable. I was the wimpiest kid I have met, but none of these scarred me. No offense, but I think you're exaggerating a little bit.

  2. um your really easily traumatized arent you