Behind the fairytale facade, Disney has put out some truly dark films riddled with miscarriages, bloody ends and animal cruelty.
Even your childhood favorites contain scenes that include deaths belittled in upbeat songs, animal shootings off-screen and, occasionally, a mass slaughter.
In one movie, the entire cast is killed.
Here are the 10 films that pushed the boundaries of kids’ entertainment the furthest. You may never see them the same way again.
10. “Up” (2009)
A childless widower, 78-year-old grump Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) literally ups and leaves—he attaches balloons to his home—to get away from the big city expansion that has plagued his neighborhood and to fulfill the wishes of his late wife.
The film’s opening sequence is one of the most moving, albeit depressing, pieces of cinematic footage in an animated film. Through four minutes, Disney and Pixar tell an entire love story—complete with marriage, dreams of children and traveling, and broken spirits from a miscarriage—before the wife falls ill and passes.
9. “The Fox and the Hound” (1981)
At the beginning of the film, the protagonist, Tod, a fox cub, is abandoned at a farm by his mother. She runs off and shortly after shots are heard. Tod is comforted by an owl named Big Mama and a clueless woodpecker before an elderly widow comes to his rescue.
Tod quickly befriends the neighbor’s dog Copper. While they frolic in the woods, we later discover Copper’s owner Amos is the man who killed Tod’s mom.
Tod never has a clue. The film then pits the two friends against each other as Copper becomes a hunting dog and Tod, the game.
8. “Bambi” (1941)
Happy woodland creatures rolling in flowers and playing on ice? Sure. But what about the raging forest fire?
Before that, you have to make it through the scene where the title character’s mother is killed by hunters in the dead of winter.
We’re then forced to watch Bambi scramble around through the snow, calling for his mom until he runs into his father, the Great Prince of the Forest, who says, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.”
One of the film’s first trailers even ends with the movie title hovering over the rampant forest flames.
7. “The Lion King” (1994)
In this one, the King, Mufasa
, is thrown off a cliff
by his brother, Scar
, who then blames his nephew Simba, and sends hyenas to kill the young cub.
Although “The Lion King” is a re-telling of the Shakespeare play “Hamlet,” in which Claudius kills his brother, Hamlet, it was still shocking to see a main character brutally killed in a kid’s movie.
Earlier, during the number, “Be Prepared,” Scar sings about plotting the king’s murder. While standing over his hyena flock, their assembly march looks suspiciously like Nazi goosestep.
Near the film’s end, Simba returns to send his uncle into the depths of a fiery pit.
6. “Old Yeller” (1957)
No surprises here: Disney’s retelling of Fred Gipson‘s classic tale of a stray dog brought home by Travis Coates. After the family—and audiences—fall in love with the pooch, Old Yeller gets rabies and the family kills him.
The film spares us the visuals; however, we can hear the gunshot as Travis shoots his beloved dog.
5. “The Littlest Horse Thieves” (1976)
Even the artwork for the box art looks rather dark.
Forget off-screen shootings, in this 1976 collaboration between Disney and British filmmakers, children are subjected to ponder the mass killing of horses.
The film revolves around pony labor in the coal mines. When the workers are done with them it’s off to the slaughterhouse. The title of the film was changed from the gloomy “Escape From the Dark” to the sunshiny “The Littlest Horse Thieves.”
Here’s how Disney’s Movies Guide describes the flick:
“Filmed very darkly, which is understandable since a coal mine is the primary setting, this film epitomizes the classic British sense of ‘impending doom and gloom’ of foggy marshlands and overcast skies. The storyline involves a Yorkshire coal mine which employs ponies as labor, but the owner has decided to mechanize the operation, apparently dooming the ponies to the slaughterhouse.”
4. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)
If you get caught up in the farce of fancy fun the film offers—a colorful feast, the naive, but lovable hunchback, Quasimodo, and the whimsical gypsies—you’ll be quick to miss blood spilled early on in the movie. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” includes a song showing Judge Claude Frollo killing Quasimodo’s mother onscreen.
After leaving her in a puddle of blood on the steps of Notre Dame, he attempts to dump baby Quasimodo in a well, but is stopped by a member of the church. When asked what he’s doing he says: “This is an unholy demon. I’m sending it back to Hell where it belongs.”
3. “Dragonslayer” (1981)
Nothing like some virgin sacrifices for breakfast.
Disney’s Oscar winning “Dragonslayer” touts the bravery of a young apprentice sent to kill a dragon that’s been eating young girls. Awesome. What the box cover doesn’t tell you is that this dragon is being offered virgin human sacrifices from a King, many of which a burned at the stake in gory detail. There is also a cross-dressing subplot!
Other than this, the wizard from the beginning of the film turns out to be a sham. His untimely death results in the dragon’s demise.
2. “The Black Cauldron” (1985)
The villainous “Horned King” would be enough to give us nightmares.
By far one of Disney’s darkest films, “The Black Cauldron” was the studio’s first film to receive a PG rating.
It follows the adventure of Eilonwy, Taran and their gang as they attempt to prevent a villain from raising an army of the undead. The film is riddled with skeletons, black magic and a Skeletor-like villain dubbed the “Horned King.”
According to Slate, the movie was re-edited with 10 minutes of footage cut from the original to attain a PG rating. One of the controversial scenes involved one of the main villain’s minions slicing a person’s neck and torso, killing him in the process. There was another deleted scene where a magic mist dissolved a person’s flesh. Pretty dark stuff (Tim Burton did concept art).
1. The Black Hole (1979)
The Black Hole assembled a sterling cast—Maximilian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens—for a relentlessly depressing tale of mass-murder in space. It was Disney’s biggest-budget movie at the time it was made.
At the beginning of the movie, Perkins and his crew discover a long-lost spaceship, the Cygnus, mysteriously circling the rim of a black hole in an apparently stable orbit. Upon investigation, it turns out that the Cygnus’s captain (Schell) has killed his entire crew and turned them into zombie slaves. Worse, he intends to fly directly into the Black Hole to see what’s on the other side.
None of the cast escape their impending doom and they all end up in Hell. Literally, not figuratively.