The cinematographic offer dedicated to young audiences has existed for nearly a century. The first children’s film is hard to identify, but Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) more or less formalizes the genre. These stories usually take into account elements of child psychology, explaining why the themes that fascinate children tend to be structurally different from those designed for adults.
In short, children’s films are full of vivid visuals, light tones, and simple plots. On the other hand, there are a few examples of the genre that deviate from the norm, often by a huge margin, turning what should have been happy movies into unusually dark stories.
ten The Last Unicorn (1982) is imaginative, profound and downright terrifying
The last unicorn follows a female unicorn traveling the world to locate the rest of her kind, all of whom have been trapped by the particularly malignant Red Bull.
Critics called it “an unusual film in many ways”, referring to The last unicornthe film’s imaginative style and narrative depth, but also the film’s non-child-friendly scenes. For example, characters like Celaeno the Harpy and Mommy Fortuna are downright terrifying, and the torment the protagonist endures is best left unsaid.
9 All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) dives into some truly hellish scenarios
All dogs go to heaven is saccharine in places – adorable Anne-Marie befriends a pair of dogs who turn out to be her saviour, saving the little orphan from the villain’s ravenous clutches.
At the same time, the film delves into some truly gruesome storylines, like when Charlie takes a dream trip to Hell, a neon red nightmare filled with vicious demons and fire-breathing demons. Most important, All dogs go to heaven includes subjects that do not belong in a children’s film, such as gambling dens and torture sequences.
8 Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) borders on pure terror in several scenes
Something bad this way comes was written by Ray Bradbury, best known for his political criticism in novels like Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and The Illustrated Man (1951). The story borrows its title from macbetha Shakespearean play filled with overly morbid themes and imagery.
While critics have generally praised Something Wicked This Way Comes for “capturing[ing] mood and tone of the novel”, the tone of the film is nothing less than ominous. It borders on sheer terror in several scenes, like Mr. Dark’s gruesome fate.
7 Watership Down (1978) is a veritable buffet of cannibalistic brutality
boat down deviates from the original Richard Adams novel in complexity and plot pacing, but the film retains the grim, almost macabre quality of the book. boat down becomes so dark that contemporary critics have warned parents against allowing young children to see the film.
Modern critics have pointed to a similar view, with The Independent claiming that boat down “has traumatized an entire generation”. The cuddly bunny characters become enraged in the blink of an eye, foam at the mouth and attack each other – a veritable buffet of cannibalistic brutality.
6 Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) is not a comfortable watch in every way
Mickey’s Christmas Carol was adapted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a gripping examination of capitalist greed. Like the 1983 Disney feature, the short story ends on a delightfully high note. Unfortunately, Mickey’s Christmas Carol subjects its audience to a borderline hair-raising experience before reaching its climax.
Ebenezer Scrooge, played by his namesake Scrooge McDuck, has a series of grisly encounters that take him to hell and back. Most children may not be affected by Mickey’s Christmas Carolbut the film is not easy to watch.
5 The Secret of NIMH (1982) is positively sinister in places
The NIMH Secret was directed by Don Bluth, a groundbreaking animator who also worked on The land before time (1988) and All dogs go to heaven. The NIMH Secret received universal praise from critics, who called the film “an absolute rarity among animated features”.
On the other hand, many viewers found The NIMH Secret be positively disturbing: grotesque death masks, spooky vines, drowning rats, disembowelled spiders, to name but a few grim examples.
4 Coraline (2009) has far too many disturbing scenes for comfort
by Neil Gaiman Coraline starts innocently enough – a young protagonist travels through a mirror world where every character has buttons for their eyes. Coraline is an undeniably beautiful film, although there are far too many disturbing scenes for the comfort of the audience.
These include the taxidermy endeavors of Miss Force and Miss Spink to Beldam’s monstrous appetite for childlike souls. In fact, critic Roger Ebert applauded Coraline‘s complex outlook, but noted that it was “a nightmare for children, however brave, under a certain age.”
3 Dumbo (1941) is unbearably dark for most of its story
Dumbo contains no gruesome imagery, but most of its story is unbearably sad. The titular character gets his nickname because the other elephants consider him an inferior specimen (all because of his oversized ears). Mrs. Jumbo reacts like any mother would when her baby is teased mercilessly, but she is punished for standing up for Dumbo.
The film reaches its climax when Dumbo is forcibly separated from his mother. It is only with the unwavering support and encouragement of Timothy Q. Mouse that the little elephant finally takes control of his winged destiny.
2 The Dark Crystal (1982) incorporates horrifying subject matter and grotesque villains
The dark crystal is set in a dying world where vulture-like aliens known as Skeksis have hunted the innocent Gelfling to near extinction. The film’s creepy subject matter and hideous antagonists are hardly suitable for children.
However, The dark crystal was marketed to younger viewers, primarily due to Jim Henson’s earlier work on The puppet show. The film received a Netflix prequel in 2019, subtitled age of resistancewhich retains the melancholic spirit of its predecessor.
1 The Black Cauldron (1985) creeps dangerously close to horror territory
The black cauldron is a rough adaptation of Lloyd Alexander The Prydain Chronicles. The film follows a fairly basic fantasy plot, incorporating evil monarchs, brave princesses, and unexpected outsiders. The black cauldron received a PG rating, unprecedented for a Disney animated feature.
Many viewers might find this rating too moderate, even though a number of overly outrageous scenes were cut before the film was released. The black cauldron works for a teenage audience, but veers dangerously close to horror territory for small children.
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