10 Kids’ Movies That Are Actually Deeply Disturbing
May 17th, 2011 by Julian
Its difficult to decide whether or not we should be grateful that at some point during our youth there was at least one movie director happy to teach kids some real life lessons – that life is not as easy as we thought it was and that bad things will happen. It certainly toughens you up, but it also means a lot of nights spent underneath the bed covers trying desperately not to envision bad guys creeping up the stairs to do bad stuff to you. At one point or another, we probably watched movies that shouldn’t have been aimed at our shaky, little, premature selves – but we should have known better. What was worse were the films that were absolutely aimed squarely at us youngsters. Sure, they were a rite of passage, but the therapy bills really add up after college. Here we celebrate the 10 most surprisingly disturbing children’s movies.
Perhaps the greatest accolade one can bestow upon Jim Henson and his Muppets is that most kids born after the early ’80s learned – at one point or another – something profound from his fuzzy brethren (this is the man that made Yoda, after all). In the case of Sesame Street this lesson would probably be profound and meaningful, but in the case of his more sinister works such as The Dark Crystal or Labyrinth it was way more likely to involve learning how quickly one can race from the TV to behind the sofa.
Perhaps controversially, Labyrinth gets our vote as the scarier of the two. Yeah, The Dark Crystal has slightly more disturbing characters in it, but the idea of a goblin king David Bowie stealing a baby and physically throwing it around in his weird castle, whilst Jennifer Connolly fights through his freaky maze in order to rescue it, was a little too much for kids to handle. This kid, at least.
9. Old Yeller
Becoming an adult blows. Previously deep-rooted beliefs in immortality develop into a slowly creeping anxiety heading towards the truth that one day you will be dead in the cold ground; happy endings are replaced with empty grief; and the jolly old people you knew as a kid become senile, melted versions of their previous selves. Life is not a gooey perpetual cycle of building bases and seeing what happens when you poke that with this; it is cruel and hard and people will leave you, dammit. Kids are not supposed to know this, yet at the end of wholesome Disney live action dog-a-thon Old Yeller – when the main protagonist Travis has to shoot his beloved pet in the face in order to take his first steps to manhood and protect the family from rabies – every hideous detail of adulthood was crammed into our tiny little baffled brains, as if Walt had done it himself with a hypodermic needle. Why, Disney?”¦ WHY?!
8. Return To Oz
The Wizard of Oz might have been a little freaky – the Wicked Witch of the West and her flying monkeys certainly were – but kids who were around back in the day can thank their lucky stars that they were all grown up when the second installment of the Oz series was brought magically to life on the silver screen. No amount of optimistic childishness could erase the deep-seated trauma caused by the characters in Return to Oz. Not only were the Wheelers – the rolling, evil-faced bad guys – the single most messed up creation ever allowed into children’s minds ”“ even the heroes were freakish. Walking nightmare Tik-Tok was a golden robot that helped the movie’s protagonist through her adventure, and was more unnerving than a Tin Man rape scene in Hades.
The jungle may not be the spookiest environment in which to set a movie, but try bringing it to the city and it’s another kettle of fish entirely. Not even an early appearance from Kirsten Dunst could detract from the unnerving and often petrifying scenes of jungle animals taking over a town in the ’90s classic, Jumanji.
Throw into the mix a deranged British hunter with an elephant gun and a lust for human blood and you have one traumatizing movie. The storyline concerns a young boy who is sucked into the jungle by a cursed board game as a child, returning as an adult when the game is rediscovered and the curse transposed. Cue tarantulas, floods and giant jungle animals. The word ”˜disturbing’ doesn’t do justice to the emotional roller coaster on which we embarked, shaking us to the very core of our being. Think Hellraiser with giraffes.
6. Hocus Pocus
Meant to be lighthearted, and indeed genuinely funny in parts, Hocus Pocus was a Halloween flick for youngsters which starred Bette Midler and the horse-faced Sarah Jessica Parker as two of a trio of witches who terrorize a town after being awoken from their eternal slumber. Yet, if this movie was meant to be watched with a smile, as events unfolded and cackles filled our ears, the corners of our young mouths soon crinkled and frowns furrowed our tender brows. And scenes involving such incidents as the resurrection of a 17th-century zombie (who was poisoned and had his lips sewn shut) and a cat being graphically run over by a bus meant that the laughs quickly turned to tears if one was of a nervous disposition.
There really isn’t any more frightening a prospect on Earth when one is a child than the notion of being stolen away from your parents/television/sugary cereals by a cackling stranger with an erection. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the cackling stranger is the Victorian-themed, self-proclaimed Child Catcher, and the erection is his nose.
With a persona so terrifying it could put you off lollipops forever, the Child Catcher – devised for the screen by professional toddler terrifier Roald Dahl – infamously captured kids in his horse-drawn cage, resplendent in misleading colors with the promise of free candy. If only they’d had To Catch A Predator in Vulgaria”¦
4. The Rescuers
The key to what made The Rescuers so unnerving was the subtle blending of a sinister, melancholy atmosphere with a crazy red-haired bitch teetering on the brink of child abuse. The storyline itself is far into the dark side of kids’ movie themes, with the main protagonist, Penny, an orphan from New York, now abducted and imprisoned on an abandoned river steamer, sending a message in a bottle in a desperate bid to be saved from her captors ”“ said evil woman and her two pet alligators. The message is picked up by two mice who are members of the Rescue Aid Society (look, it’s a cartoon, OK?), and they embark upon a mission to save her. One of the most frightening scenes is the one in which Penny is dropped into a dark, rapidly flooding cave in order to rescue a diamond from a dead pirate’s skull. Alongside the movie’s content is the score – surely Disney’s creepiest – which instilled terror in us when we were little.
Firstly we’d like to mention that within an abundance of stinky movie scripts designed to peddle the enjoyment-sapping phenomenon that is CGI, Up stands head and shoulders above the rest. Its touching storyline, depth of character and genuine humor makes Avatar look like a couple of poorly paid actors with blue plastic grocery bags on their heads masturbating for coins. It’s also the first time that Pixar called on the traditional Disney magic of lavishing tragedy upon its heroes: think back to Simba’s father, Bambi’s mother and the line of Disney orphans heading back to the ’40s.
Perhaps its the quality of writing that made the truth of the old man in Up”˜s predicament so heart-crushingly realistic that it gave us adults a lump in our throats, never mind the kids. Never since Old Yeller has a kid’s movie so explicitly demonstrated that, contrary to the received benchmark, not everything in life ends with a fairytale wedding. For wide-eyed little innocents, this does indeed truly disturb.
2. Jurassic Park
You can argue all you want that technically this Spielberg epic wasn’t a children’s movie, and we’ll simply ask you to find a single person born after 1985 that didn’t watch this when they were still at elementary school. Jurassic Park almost single-handedly managed to make a generation of kids terrified of a species that was wiped out before humanity was even a glint in God’s eye.
We cowered with fear when the T-Rex attacked the cars, we moistened our PJs when the raptors attacked the kids in the kitchen, and we lavishly wept when Newman from Seinfeld was blinded in the rainstorm. In short, we were terrified, and it was awesome.
1. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Yet another instance in which Henson Productions encouraged the rapid expulsion of fluids, The Muppet Christmas Carol should never, ever have been shown to kids. Notwithstanding the sinister overtones of a bleak, impoverished Victorian London (even if the ragged inhabitants are fuzzy puppets with hands up their asses), the piÃ¨ce de rÃ©sistance of scary moments comes when Michael Caine’s Scrooge meets the last of Dickens’ ghosts. The child-like floaty hell that was the Ghost of Christmas Past was bad enough, but the hooded monstrosity representing the Ghost of Christmas Future was so eye-bleedingly traumatizing that no amount of Christmas chocolate could coax us back into coherence. One humdinger of a humbug.