There’s something about the children’s films from yesteryear that were unapologetically dark at times. While the current generation of kids have cute little Minions and talking Penguins to enjoy, we had stories about Goblins who abduct children, and David Bowie’s giant padded crotch.
Establishing ground rules is important, so let me state for the record that this countdown does not include horror films, rather these are movies legitimately intended for kids. And for those planning on crying sacrilege at the lack of Bambi‘s inclusion, let me also point out that we’ve chosen not to include sad death scenes, as it makes things a little too easy….and the majority of the countdown would end end up being Disney films anyway.
Lets kick things off with a few honourable mentions, then its on to the countdown!
The Flying Monkeys – The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Children Transformed into Donkeys – Pinocchio (1940)
Atreyu confronts G’mork – The Neverending Story (1984)
“Little Boys Love Snakes” – The Witches (1990)
It says a lot about the terrifying nature of The Witches that even a scene where Angelica Huston peals off her own face to reveal the hideous decomposing succubus beneath ISN’T the creepiest thing within its running time. That title belongs to this moment from earlier in the film, when young Luke Evisham is trying to enjoy a good old tree climb on a nice afternoon, when a particularly creepy Witch tries to lure him down using all manner of messed up tricks. Most child abductions involve candy or balloons, but ‘The Woman in Black’ prefers treats of the fully grown snake variety.
As you’d expect, poor old Luke calls for help, and bloody grandma takes her sweet time to answer said calls; while a seven year old me sits watching with mouth agape, just wishing it would all end.
Podling Torture – The Dark Crystal (1982)
We should probably have expected a movie called The Dark Crystal wouldn’t be all sunshine and rainbows, but nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught of nightmarish visuals Jim Hensen had in store for us in this brilliantly designed but incredibly unsettling fantasy film. Exhibit A) this scene in which one of the films cute ‘Podling’ creatures is strapped to a chair and given a life draining lobotomy by an incredibly not so cute ‘Skeksi’ creature.
The look in said Podling’s eyes as his life force is being drained is pure terror, and if it were live action this would surely warrant an M classification, but bafflingly this bad boy is rated G! I guess the classification board get a kick out of reducing small children to quivering heaps.
Its no coincidence that this is the second entry in this list based on a Roald Dahl book, as one of the reasons the legendary children author’s work is so well loved is because of its tendency to dabble in dark themes within otherwise happy stories, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is no exception. Over the course of the 1968 cinematic adaptation of the beloved book, we witness the near drowning of a boy, the disintegration of another, and a mysterious man named Slugworth who approaches children in back alley ways. However none of these match the mind fuckery that is Wonka’s psychedelic boat trip, in which the characters and the audience are submitted to all manner of nightmarish visuals while Gene Wilder shouts maniacally like the tour guide from hell.
The scene wouldn’t be out of place in an Alejandro Jodorowski film, but in a comedy musical predominantly aimed at children, this is the kind of adult imagery Hollywood steers well clear of nowadays.
Judge Doom’s Death – Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom is one of the most frightening villains your ever likely to see in a kids film. And his final scene of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is just about as disturbing as it gets for a PG rated film. Worst of all, the confrontation between Doom and Eddie Valiant only gets more horrific as it goes on. First with Doom being squished by a steamroller, then the revelation that he’s a toon, which gives way to a crazed serial killer version of himself and ending with a slow painful death by The Dip (acid for toons).
A good death scene to be sure, but one that will require years of therapy for those under ten years of age.
The Wheelers Attack – Return to Oz (1985)
“Beware the Wheelers…”
Never has a warning been more apt than with these truly terrifying creations, which single handedly fuelled an entire generation of kids nightmares. To be fair, this film teeters on the edge of what is generally considered to be passable kids viewing, with more than enough fucked up imagery within its running time to justify a hard PG or even an M classification. But like The Dark Crystal, Return to Oz was and is still considered a G rated film! I mean sure, The Wizard of Oz had the monkeys, but that doesn’t really compare with the sight of grown men in eye liner with wheels for hands chasing a child down dark corridors now does it?
Even to this day the screeching noise of The Wheelers is enough to get me in the foetal position, softly repeating the words “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”
Thats all folks! What scenes as a kid turned you into a broken shell of human? Let us know in the comments section below.