When you think of Disney films, you imagine primary colours, cheerful songs and talking critters. But you’re remembering it all wrong.
Scratch the surface of Disney and you’ll find surprisingly dark themes underneath including rape, murder, torture, and drugs.
These are the Disney moments that gave us nightmares.
The death of Bambi’s mum in ‘Bambi’
This heartbreaking scene is one of the most famous Disney moments ever. “Faster! Faster Bambi! Don’t look back!” Bambi’s mother agonisingly cries out as they scamper away from hunters before a crack of gunfire echoes through the forest.
Upsettingly, there’s a theory that says Disney films are fixated on parental deaths because Walt blamed himself for the death of his mother. She died from monoxide poisoning after a furnace malfunctioned in the house he’d bought for his parents.
The Pleasure Island in ‘Pinocchio’
This whole sequence is hugely disturbing. Honest John and Gideon help the coachmen to kidnap waifs and strays that he then turns into donkeys for slavery.
The awful reality of Pinocchio’s situation plays out before his very eyes as his new pal Lampwick turns into a beast of burden. His anguished cries of “mama” as his hands turn into hooves will haunt us forever.
The hanging in ‘Tarzan’
Disney loves offing its villains in gruesome ways, most commonly by flinging them off a tall building from a great height. What better way to teach kiddies that being bad doesn’t pay?
This death in Tarzan though strikes us as being particularly grim though as we see Clayton plunging to his death with a vine wrapped around his throat like a noose. You even see his lifeless body swinging from the trees.
Heffalumps and Woozles from ‘Winnie The Pooh And The Blustery Day’
This nightmare sequence from 1968’s ‘Winnie The Pooh and the Blustery Day’ is just plain weird. The psychedelic musical number, written by the famed Sherman Brothers, sees Pooh haunted by phantasmagorical visions of strange shifting creatures with manic eyes who just want to steal his beloved hunny.
We’ll never sleep again.
The bubbles scene in ‘Dumbo’
The spiritual successor to the Heffalumps is undoubtedly this notoriously weird sequence in 1941’s ‘Dumbo’. The big-eared elephant gets drunk from drinking champagne-spiked water (which in of itself is pretty odd) and proceeds to hallucinate dancing elephants with black lifeless eyes.
It’s like Salvador Dali animated your worst booze-induced nightmares. Horrific.
The awful deaths in ‘The Lion King’
With Disney’s 1994 animation taking direct inspiration from Hamlet, it’s not surprising that it features some rather grisly deaths. Mufasa’s murder at the hands of Scar who whispers, “Long live the King” as he sinks his claws into his brother’s paws, is particularly affecting, but it’s Scar’s death that disturbed us the most as children.
After tussling with Simba, Scar is left cornered by the hyenas who proceed to tear him to pieces while he cries out “no!”
Cruella De Vil lusting after fur in ‘101 Dalmatians’
Puppies are cute right, everyone loves puppies, so what does Disney do when it makes a movie about 101 of them? Makes the villain a fur-obsessed maniac who wants to kill and skin them.
When makes her grand entrance at the Radcliffes, blowing noxious smoke everywhere, Cruella exclaims, “I live for furs, I worship furs!”. Then she leers at a portrait of Pongo and Perdita lustily stating, “I must say they have perfectly beautiful coats.” Her macabre plan makes this one of Disney’s most disturbing plots ever.
The Rape Song In ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’
Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ is a cruel, dark novel that ends with Quasimodo and Esmerelda dead in each other’s arms so it’s incredible Disney even considered making it as a film for kids.
Frollo’s controversial song ‘Hellfire’, which features the line “Choose me or your pyre, be mine or you will burn” vocalizes his lustful desires for the gypsy princess and is the main reason the film earned a PG rating at release.
The ‘Savages’ Song In ‘Pocahontas’
This song from Disney’s 1995 film ‘Pocahontas’ is supposed to address themes of xenophobia, but it feels massively misjudged.
With lyrics like, “What can you expect, from filthy little heathens? Their whole disgusting race is like a curse”, ‘Savages’ is a grim entry in Disney’s musical back catalogue.
Hopper’s death in ‘A Bug’s Life’
Pixar seems to have learned a thing or two about horrific villain deaths from its Disney stable mates. Hopper’s final moments in Pixar’s insect comedy sees the villainous grasshopper fed to a bird’s hungry chicks.
It just conjures up images of being pecked to death, which is gruesome whatever your age.
The cape deaths in ‘The Incredibles’
Even though this sequence is supposed to be funny (which it is, riotously so), Edna’s cape death montage is actually massively disturbing when you stop and think about it.
If this were live action, the grisly deaths wouldn’t seem out of place in a ‘Final Destination’ film.
Rattigan feeding a henchman to a cat in ‘Basil The Great Mouse Detective’
‘Basil The Great Mouse Detective’s villain bad is a nasty piece of work. In ‘The World’s Greatest Criminal Minds’ song, his henchman sing of “the orphans and widows” he’s drowned (this is a kid’s film remember), but most distressingly is the scene where he willingly feeds one of his poor henchman to a cat… just for calling him a “rat”.
Image credits: Disney