Disney has a history of delighting children, but if you talk to anyone who grew up watching Disney movies, I guarantee you that you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t remember a moment that terrified the crap out of them as well. And that stuff sticks!cl
People also tend to forget that Disney went through a period of very weird, strange, classics, and genuine horror movies as well, such as Watchers in the Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Return to Oz. I felt like including those on this list would be cheating – they were, after all, intended to be scary. Instead, I have included some that personally got to me when I was younger (and in some cases still give me the shivers today!)
I would also like to add that Disney is full of traumatizing moments, as there is a surprising amount of death in most of these movies. I’m talking those moments that inspired genuine terror in me as a child, and that I still remember clearly today.
7. Medusa talks to Penny in The Rescuers
Ugh. Medusa. She is horrible. I think because her attempts to be so sweet with Penny are so two-faced. She is speaking so sweetly when she says horrible things like “Who would want to adopt a homely little girl like you?” to one of the sweetest little girls on the face of the earth. When she first talks to Penny about finding the diamond, you know just how horrible that this witch must be when all the girl wants to do is GO BACK TO THE ORPHANAGE. On top of the creepy, snaky, duplicity that Medusa exudes, she is also taking off her makeup in the scene that I am thinking of, very casually peeling off her fake lashes. As she slowly unpeels for the night, she looks even more horrifying than she did before, and your concern for Penny will instantly grow.
6. The demon segment in Fantasia
It’s a demon. Perched on a mountain top. Reaching his huge shadowy hands down to a village. Covering it with darkness. And ghosts. And vultures. And goblins. I don’t think I really have to explain why this one is pretty horrifying for children.
5. The Luring and Murdering of Emily Binx in Hocus Pocus
I love Hocus Pocus. It is a perennial classic that didn’t get enough love when it was first released. I remember having a blast sitting through it with some friends at a sleepover after trick or treating one year. It is a fun, family-friendly movie that is going to continue to stand the test of time. The witches are perfectly cast, with just the right combination to play irritation, thick-headedness and menace off of one another that is such a treat. The laughs come regularly, leaving no doubt that the bad guys are going to lose in the end. So what was the part that scared the poop out of me? The beginning. The beginning of this movie will have children second guessing starting this one on Halloween for years. As the tale of the witches is told, Emily Binx is lured out of bed by a witch singing a super creepy lullaby. She makes her way to the witch’s home where they suck out her soul and leave her little cryptkeeper-like body sitting in a chair. Her brother, Thackary, is watching from outside and they turn him into a cat. Shortly after, the townspeople catch up with them and they are all hanged. Not exactly child-friendly fare.
4. The pink elephants in Dumbo
Hooboy. Let’s try to unpack this one. This is one that a lot of people are disturbed by. Let’s start with the fact that a baby elephant is hammered in an animated cartoon. I think when you’re younger and watch this, it’s all very confusing. I don’t know that all five year olds really picked up on the fact that the drunkenness was causing these visions. They just look very sleepy when these trippy pink elephants start walking around the screen. Plus, as an adult I know that Billy Madison saw that giant penguin, but feel like this acid trip is more than a little bit weird. The elephants march around, distorting themselves and popping like bubbles as the multiply. It is very offputting, and because of this weird suggestion that the drunkenness has caused it that not all kids pick up on, I’m pretty sure that my child brain thought they were ghosts or something, and their perpetual, emotionless grins are super duper creepy.
3. Basically the whole chunk of Beauty and the Beast between when Belle sings and her father gets back to the tavern
First, Belle’s father gets lost in the woods and finds the creepiest-looking castle known to man. Seriously, I don’t think that if I came across that in a huge storm I would even go in. A wonderful cold, dark, damp cave would be much preferred, thank you very much. He is then abducted by a huge, scary beast that we haven’t really met yet so see mostly in shadow with huge claws and a storm raging in the background. Once Belle arrives it doesn’t get much worse, and as Belle takes her father’s place the only thing stopping me from total panic was the fact that there were some friendly little appliances running around. When the Beast invites Belle for dinner and loses his temper, snarling and yelling, “Then go ahead and STARVE!!!!!” it just about makes me pee my pants as an adult.
2. Any scenes with Ursula in The Little Mermaid
Ursula is an amazingly effective Disney villain. She is so transparently evil that I don’t think anyone but Ariel was buying her story about turning over a new leaf. This film did a great job of building up her power and villainy as well. You get a glimpse of what she shows Ariel will happen to her should she happen to shirk on their deal, but as the movie goes on and you see her anger grow, you know it’s just going to build and build. And itty bitty five year old me was not prepared for that enormous Ursula who popped out of the water after dowsing what seemed like the entire ocean with squid ink to make everything pitch black. Her villainous laugh in that moment is perfect!
1. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, 1949)
This was a classic that used to constantly air around Halloween. It tells the very creepy story of Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman. This is a classic for a reason, and I swear that Brom Bones, Ichabod’s nemesis who tells him about the horseman to frighten him, was seriously the inspiration for Gaston in the much later made Beauty and the Beast. Brom frightens the superstitious school teacher, attempting to make him look foolish in the eyes of his love, Clara. It’s all fun and games until Ichabod leaves the well-lit, cheery tavern, and hits the creepy dark road. His pursuit by the Headless Horseman is genuinely frightening, and the kicker? They did not childproof the ending on this one…Ichabod full-on disappears, never to be seen again.
I must confess, this article was completely inspired by the fact that at the age of 34, I am about to head to Disneyland for the first time ever! When I get back, I’d love to see your replies about which moments scared you when you were little! And yes, I will do the Haunted Mansion. 🙂