Over the years, Disney has become well known for traumatizing little children with surprisingly horrific bursts of shocking imagery. (See #1 for proof.) The following five scenes represent the most haunting interludes within Disney’s prolific body of animated work:
1. Bambi’s Mother is Murdered ('Bambi')
There are few moments in all of animation history that are as famous (and infamous) as the murder of Bambi’s mother, as children of all ages have been left traumatized by the character’s demise ever since the film first hit theaters back in 1942. It’s a testament to the movie’s quality that the loss has been felt so deeply by viewers over the years, since the killing, which occurs entirely off-screen, is explained to Bambi with only a vague bit of dialogue (“your mother can’t be with you anymore.”) And although many animated movies have attempted to match the film’s compassionate, artful handling of the death, Bambi remains the strongest example of how to weave tragedy into children’s entertainment.
2. Scar Kills Mufasa ('The Lion King')
Even though we know right from the moment that Scar first appears on screen that he’s up to no good, it’s nevertheless quite surprising when the character finally does follow through on his promise to murder his brother (James Earl Jones’ Mufasa). What makes the scene even more shocking, however, is the manner in which it unfolds, as Scar looks directly into Mufasa’s eyes, growls a key line of dialogue (“long live the king!”), and throws his helpless sibling into a stampede of wildebeests far below. It’s a brutal sequence that has justifiably cemented Scar’s place as one of Disney’s most fearsome villains, with Jeremy Irons’ deliciously evil voice work the icing on top of the cake.
3. Lampwick is Turned Into a Donkey ('Pinocchio')
There’s nothing in Pinocchio’s first half that can adequately prepare the viewer for the terrors of its second half, with the stretch set at Pleasure Island temporarily transforming the film into a full-fledged horror movie. As we quickly discover, Pleasure Island has a curse that changes naughty boys into braying, kicking donkeys – which Pinocchio’s newfound friend, Lampwick, unfortunately discovers first hand. The very idea of a young boy being violently altered into a jackass is terrifying in itself, but what really sells the scene is the brilliant decision to show much of the transformation in silhouette – which somehow heightens the inherently horrifying nature of Lampwick’s change.
4. The Queen Transforms ('Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs')
While we’re on the subject of transformations, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs certainly features one heck of a doozy – as the villainous Queen, in her efforts at tricking Snow White into eating a poisoned apple, concocts a bubbling potion designed to entirely alter her appearance. The scene is ominous and terrifying even though we don’t actually see much of the Queen’s change – her hair turns grey and we watch her hands grow old in seconds – yet, like Pinocchio, it’s the use of shadows and sound effects that really amplifies the creepiness of the scene. What we imagine is far more horrifying than anything the Disney animators could have shown us, and it’s because of that the sequence remains one of the most unsettling in animation history.
5. Ursula’s Death ('The Little Mermaid')
Disney has never exactly been shy about killing off its villains, yet it’s always shocking when any character in an animated film, heroic or not, is violently dispatched – with the most disturbing example of this coming near the end of The Little Mermaid. After using her newfound power from King Triton’s crown to change herself into a fierce giant, Ursula is all set to murder Princess Ariel using an oversized Trident when she’s impaled by the bowsprit of a ship being steered by Prince Eric. The suddenness of Prince Eric’s attack is shocking enough, but as she begins to die, Ursula’s entire frame becomes skeletal and translucent. Creepy stuff.