Our ongoing look at traumatic moments in children’s entertainment.
Children are impressionable and we as parents and people who understand the nature of the world, must protect their sensitive senses, introducing harsh realities judiciously (if we can), wading them into the dark side of being alive.
But sometimes, when we trust that the entertainments made for them wont work counter to our plans, were duped, and these so-called childrens films end up shocking the shite out of the poor little snotters long before they’re emotionally equipped to handle it.
You have to laugh, really.
There are hundreds of kid flicks that historically dole out doses of trauma, from vintage Max Fleischer toons to THE WIZARD OF OZ and beyond.
Here, we choose five of our favorite freak outs, with many more to come.
The following selections are fun in that three of them come from the House of Mouse, the one place that is meant to stand as the gold seal of squeaky entertainment.
Tell that to the generations of tots who woke up in terror in the thralls of little league PTSD after watching them!
PINOCCHIO (1940): The Walt Disney droogs have long traded in trauma, seeing as many of their flagship titles are culled from the grimmest of fairy tales. Even the ones that arent, like BAMBI and DUMBO, exploit young childrens fears of isolation and parental loss in pretty ruthless ways. But the most alarming sequences in any vintage Disney joint, to this writer, are the scenes in the magnificent PINOCCHIO, the first wherein Pinocchio follows the horde of bad boys to the diseased Pleasure Island and then, after the lads indulge in smoking, fighting, gambling and other vice, morph into screaming were-donkeys! Its a surreal sequence but it pales in comparison to the climactic scene, when, after the heroes escape his dank belly, the roaring Monstro the whale crashes through the choppy waters to rip Pinocchio and his dad Gepetto to shreds; its like a junior version of JAWS.
NESTOR THE LONG-EARED CHRISTMAS DONKEY (1977): Theres a reason this Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas special rarely makes any sort of seasonal TV appearance to match R/Bs other favorites like RUDOLPH or FROSTY: its because NESTOR is a horror movie!
In it, a sweet little lop-eared donkey in a Bethlehem stable is tormented, tortured and beaten by his cruel, drooling master, with his loving, protective mother trying in vain to protect him from both these humiliations and the jeers of his arsehole stablemates. If this misery-porn wasnt enough, Nestor and his mom are exiled after an incident with a pack of sniggering, donkey-smacking Romans and, lost in the snow, mamma sacrifices herself to keep Nestor alive; the poor junior jackass wakes to find his only protector buried and frozen to death. Sure, he helps out Jesus at the end but WTF were R/B thinking? The weird mea culp coda is even more confusing as the malevolent donkey farmer who set the entire misery-opera into motion, welcomes Nestor back with a shrug and a hug! Kill the fucker, Nestor!
THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW/ICHABOD CRANE (from THE ADVENTURES OF ICHABOD AND MR. TOAD, 1949)
The second half of the odd literary hybrid animated feature is one of Disneys first stabs at adapting a real deal horror story, the spooky Washington Irving classic The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Titled ICHABOD CRANE in the film and later isolated on video and TV as THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, the meandering half hour adaption has a goofy, charming first half (narrated by the great Bing Crosby, who also croons the tunes), with drippy school teacher Ichabod Crane trying to woo his honey while running afoul of his fellow suitor. But that final 10 minutes, when Crane meets the cackling Horsemen in the haunted woods, is unrelenting and, for a kid, grueling to endure. The horseman indeed is headless and carries a flaming pumpkin and seemingly cannot be stopped; hes everywhere, inescapable. Hes like the screens first serial killer. And the finale of the film isnt sunny, with Crane essentially murdered by the monster (or spirited away, as Crosby soft-peddles his demise). Damn, those Disney kids were creeps!
THE LION KING (1994): More Disney sadism arrived in this, perhaps the last of their politically incorrect animated efforts. Indeed, contemporary Disney fare is, while beautifully produced, a mere shadow of the strong, violent and spine-shaking entertainments they once traded in. Witness THE LION KING and marvel. Here is a Shakespeare-tinted blood opera, with murder, treachery, child abuse and genocide the order of the day. The sequence where the demented, power-mad and sanctimonious Scar arranges for his noble brother, the Lion King of the title, to be murdered while pinning the rap on his tortured little boy is gut-wrenching, sad and disturbing. The icing on the bloody cake is when Scar then sets loose his starving, homicidal hyenas on the ruined child to rip him to shreds. Like one of my good friends once said after taking his daughter to the recent 3D re-release of the film, you might as well just take your kids to see THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE!
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015): Say what you will about these Adam Sandler-stained animated mad monster parties, but I love them lots. They have charm to spare, theyre stylishly animated and often very, very funny and never anything less than amusing. My kids love them too. But the sequel has a few stretches towards the end that even gave me the shudders. In it, the dreaded, exiled sadist vampire king Vlad (voiced by the great Mel Brooks) lives in a dank cave surrounded by a horde of mutant vampire bat monsters (that look like softer versions of DCs terrifying Man-Bat character), led by the roaring, drooling Bela. When Bela finds out that Vlads niece has married a human, the monstrous winged hellspawn rounds up his screeching troupes to kidnap and kill their hybrid offspring! The terror lasts only minutes here, before being extinguished by the expected vaudevillian laffs and gags, but seeing these hideous beasts flapping around on-screen in 3D, I was pleasantly astonished by how awesomely nightmarish they were, like THE WIZARD OF OZs flying monkeys, but undead and blood-hungry. And my kids still speak of them in hushed tones…
What are some of your most memorable traumatic moments in kid flicks?