Sometimes, kids’ movies and TV shows take a bizarre turn into highly inappropriate territory. It could be a needlessly prolonged death scene, a gratuitously sexy character or a horrifying monster clearly designed to fuel the most potent nightmares. Here are ten of the worst offenders with video clips to help you relive the ghastly memories…
Working in kids entertainment must be a real drag. In addition to dealing with focus groups of squalling sprogs and complaints from overprotective parents, there’s the hollow realisation that you’re basically creating an automated baby-sitter for the living room. It’s therefore unsurprising that producers occasionally crack and decide to mentally scar their audience for life. At least, we assume that’s what happened. Why else would these scenes exist in something aimed at kids?
The Never Ending Story — Artex sinks.
The demise of Artex the horse is easily one of the most distressing scenes in cinematic history. It actually caused one of my childhood friends to vomit from stress at the cinema. Adding to the heartbreak is a persistent rumour that the horse got caught in the submerged lift and actually drowned in real life. (Thankfully, this is just an urban legend — although the child actor was badly injured by the very same lift.)
Suur Tõll — the battle sequence.
Suur Tõll (AKA Toll the Great) is a heroic giant from Estonian folklore. In 1980, a Soviet film studio made an animated short about his exploits that shifts from grim, to trippy to shockingly blood-thirsty. Suur Tõll is badass. (The orgy of battlefield destruction kicks in at around the five-minute mark: but the whole thing is worth watching.)
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory — the boat ride.
The 1971 musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a fun family romp for the most part — but at around the halfway point, things take a briefly sinister turn. During a boat ride down the chocolate river, the titular Wonka’s playful malevolence morphs into something creepy and unhinged. Gene Wilder plays the sequence terrifyingly straight as grotesque projections glimmer in the darkness (including what appears to be a corpse covered in worms). It feels like we’re staring directly into the mind of a serial killer which probably isn’t what Roald Dahl had in mind.
Return To Oz — the screaming heads.
Most people who saw Return To Oz at the cinema were expecting a warm ‘n’ lovable sequel to the 1939 classic. Instead, they got a nightmarish tale of childhood insanity and isolation that included everything from electroshock therapy to magical mass-murder. There are many terrifying moments in this movie but when it comes to sheer nightmare stuff, nothing tops the above sequence. What on earth were they thinking?
Dumbo — Pink Elephants On Parade.
In 1938 Albert Hofmann created LSD. A year later Disney greenlit Dumbo. Just sayin’.
Coraline — Coraline meets her new parents.
Coraline is a stop-motion animated movie that slithered out of the twisted mind of Neil Gaiman. There are some truly terrifying sequences in the film, but the introduction of Coraline’s “other” parents is arguably the most disquieting. (Later, the mum rips out a child’s voice box and stiches his lips into a forced, rictus grin. Whoever green-lit this project must really hate kids.)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit — Jessica Rabbit sings.
Okay, so it’s not strictly a kids film, but Roger Rabbit is rated PG and was aggressively marketed to families at the time of release (I’m pretty sure there was even a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in). When it comes to messed up moments, it’s hard to top the terrifying reveal of Judge Doom’s true identity. However, the sheer wrongness of Jessica Rabbit’s sexed up rendition of Why Don’t You Do Right? narrowly pipped it to the post. As a kid, I saw this flanked by my father and mother. Awkward doesn’t begin to cover it.
The Adventures of Mark Twain — Satan kills.
Gumby-style clamation is creepy enough without throwing Satan into the mix. Loosely based on Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger, this 1985 short follows a trio of the author’s most famous characters as they hang out with a mysterious robed figure with a penchant for play-dough genocide. The mayhem starts at 3:05.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang — The Child Catcher.
As an adult, this sequence is so farcically over the top that it can only be seen as hilarious. But to children in the 1960s, it was the stuff of nightmares.
Dark Crystal — Podling gets drained.
In 1982, Jim Henson decided to jump on the fantasy bandwagon with a bunch of Tolkien-esque puppets in tow. The end result was a surprisingly dark kiddie’s flick filled with nightmarish monsters and New Age mysticism. Despite clearly being made from bits of leather and fiberglass, the giant crab-like Garthim and murderous Skeksis are both terrifying creations. But by far the most distressing sequence is the lingering half-death suffered by a hapless Podling as he is drained of his life-essence in a Mengele-style laboratory. That Muppet’s eyes still haunt me to this day.
Watership Down — most of the movie.
Watership Down is based on a children’s book and stars a bunch of talking rabbits animated in the Disney style. And yet, you’d probably be better off showing your kids The Silence Of The Lambs. Seriously, this movie kills off more bunnies than myxomatosis, complete with gratuitous lashings of claret.
Which of the above sequences disturbed you most as a kid? Or is there something even more terrifying that we forgot to include? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!