Sometimes, it’s good to scare the crap out of kids. While children should know that the films they watch will be appropriate for them, there is a lengthy history of kids’ movies that feature plenty of screwed up scenes.
The following 10 movie scenes are some of the most memorable and traumatizing in kids’ movie history. But they are also incredibly well done. They aren’t cheap shots and they aren’t the result of ignorant filmmaking. Have your own scarring childhood movie experiences? Let me know in the comments section below!
Judge Doom Revealed – Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
While there may be murder and madness throughout Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it’s mostly a lighthearted and fun time throughout, until the end. That’s when the creepy Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) reveals his true nature – a psychotic toon in the form of a man with insane cartoon eyes and a helium-filled voice. The blend of cartoon and real person results in an absolutely terrifying character that springs around, survives a steamroller flattening, and is generally murderous beyond belief. What kid could see this and not practically lose his or her mind out of existential fear?
The Wheelers Attack – Return to Oz
The original Wizard of Oz has some scary moments, but they’re balanced out by the wonder and brightness of much of the classic film. Return to Oz is nightmare fuel. Out of young Dorothy’s many frightening encounters, it’s the Wheelers who are easily the most traumatizing. Relentless and purely evil, these deformed humans have wheels for hands and feet and enjoy terrifying Dorothy and the other protagonists. Body horror in a kids’ film? That’s one surefire way to scare the hell out of anyone thinking they were going to the movies to have a nice fun time.
Hell – All Dogs Go to Heaven
There’s no better way to try to scare kids (and dogs) away from stealing and crime than by throwing them into hell for a couple minutes in the middle of a cartoon. When the recently deceased Charlie is sent back to Earth, he’s warned that his next death will result in him going to hell. What’s hell like for dogs? Well, it’s basically a lava-filled murderland populated by flying demon dogs itching to turn your insides into your outsides. It may just be a vision of what could happen, but seeing a lovable dog get sucked down into the fiery abyss will send any kid running for mom and dad. Don’t Bluth clearly loves the sound of children screaming.
Artax Drowns – The NeverEnding Story
A horse drowns in a mud-filled lake of sadness while the boy who loves him screams and cries while trying to save him. Who thought this was ok to put in a children’s movie? Sure, The NeverEnding Story isn’t a lighthearted romp, but it’s a little hard to feel excited about the rest of the adventure after this agonizing death that comes out of nowhere. Fun fact, the child actor who played Bastian was getting sucked down by the contraption lowering the horse into the mud. So that’s real fear you’re seeing on screen! Good times.
Boat Ride – Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory
One of the all-time great WTF moments in kids movies, Willy Wonka’s LSD boat trip is a freakout burned into the brains of any kid who watched this movie at a young age. While there may be several slightly disturbing moments throughout Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (it’s basically a family friendly version of a slasher film), the boat ride is somewhat out of place but it’s still incredibly memorable. As the kids and their parents travel through a darkened boat tunnel, trippy images of eyeballs, millipedes crawling across faces, and a chicken being decapitated all flash by while Gene Wilder’s Wonka manically recites a poem concerning a descent into darkness. It’s really weird, but Wilder’s performance makes it all kinds of awesome.
Creepy Clown Time – The Brave Little Toaster
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of frightening moments throughout the story of The Brave Little Toaster. It’s a tale about a cute and sweet little anthropomorphic toaster trying to get back home who runs into all sorts of terrible and deadly situations, which is scary enough. But it’s the Toaster’s nightmare that takes the cake. Not only does he dream of malfunctioning, fire, forks, and water, but a terrifying clown comes from out of nowhere to try and kill him. Why a clown? I guess because kids needed a reason to be even more frightened of them. Wreathed in smoke and flames and carrying the instruments of Toaster’s destruction, this clown is already pure evil. Then, the clown whispers “Run.” Wow. What the hell.
Crumbling Skeksis – The Dark Crystal
Jim Henson is known for creating vibrant and lovable puppets. But every single character in The Dark Crystal is some sort of uncanny-valley-incarnate, soul-searing devil creature. Even the elf heroes! So clearly, the villainous skekses are next level insanity. Early on in the story, the Emperor Skeksis lies on his deathbed, surrounded by vulture descendants waiting to claim everything he has. With plenty of gasps and shrieks, the fiendish thing dies in a most unflinching sort of way. Then, the ancient creature suddenly crumbles into dust. This is death, kids! And one day, it’ll happen to you, too.
Tell ‘Em Large Marge Sent You – Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
One good scare can do wonders for a film. When innocent Pee Wee hitches a ride with a truck driver on a dark and creepy night, something scary is clearly afoot. Large Marge tells him a scary story that ends with her contorting her face into a stop motion-animated mask of madness. Cue Pee Wee and every audience member pooping themselves at the same time. Who would possibly see this huge scare coming? No one forgets Large Marge once they’ve seen her.
Mom Dies – The Land Before Time
Most people think the death of Bambi’s mother is one of the saddest scenes in children’s movies. They clearly don’t remember the death of Little Foot’s mother in The Land Before Time. Of all the deaths in film, this one may be one of the most emotional – kid’s film or not! After saving Littlefoot and other young dinosaurs from the vicious Sharptooth, the mother Longneck dies in front of her young son, comforting him in the rain and letting him know she’ll always be with him, even though he won’t be able to see her. Cue every child and adult’s heart breaking simultaneously. It’s an incredibly sad scene that plays out in a larger scale throughout the film, with her spirit returning to guide Littlefoot and his friends to The Great Valley, which makes it a vital part of making The Land Before Time an emotionally resonant film. But I still can’t watch this movie.
Child Decapitation – Something Wicked This Way Comes
Kids being decapitated by guillotines is not something you usually see in a film. It’s a little off putting. But it’s especially shocking when it’s in a kids’ movie! Yes, this scene clearly takes place in a nightmare, but it’s an up close and unflinching depiction of a child getting his head cut off by France’s favorite method of execution. Seeing a boy’s head roll into a basket, blank eyes staring up at the sky and blood pouring from his freshly severed neck, may be a bit too much for most kids. Even ‘80s kids, who were seemingly being traumatized on a weekly basis at the cinema.