Some kids movies are pretty destructive. It’s often the weirder ones that feature obscure story lines or strange, fantastical elements. Talking animals are a safe bet for some alternative horror.
These movies may be laughable to the tougher kids who probably watched ‘real’ horror movies like Freddy Vs Jason and Jeepers Creepers. I watched these movie too, but I didn’t find them nearly as shocking as the ones on this list.
Although these moments destroyed me as child in some way, I look back on them fondly as a reminder of how sensorial and affecting the moving image can be. Here’s my top 7:
PINOCCHIO – The Donkey Transformation
Old Disney animations simply have a way of nailing unconventional horror. Most disturbing of all would have to be Lampwick’s donkey transformation in Pinocchio (1940).
On Pleasure Island, little boys are allowed to do anything they want. Enticed, they turn into hedonistic boozers, smoking, eating junk food, riding on merry-go-rounds, and not giving a shit. Sounds fun. It is, until they are all turned into anthropomorphic jackasses, locked in crates, and readied for slavery in the salt mines. Funny right? No, not really actually. As a little boy myself watching this unfolding nightmare and not understanding the underlying message against indulgence AT ALL, the entire scene shook me like no other. Most affecting has to be the cutaway shot featuring a quivering, twisted shadow of Lampwick’s complete transformation. From that point on it’s all screaming and pleading as Pinocchio, like I did, watches on in fear.
THE NEVERENDING STORY – Artax Sinks
The Neverending Story (1984), or as I like to call it, The Neverending Nightmare, introduced me to some pretty heavy ideas about life, perhaps 15 years too early. Despite the bizarrely camp puppetry, atmospheric weirdness, and Fantasia’s horribly existential enemy known only as The Nothing, the moment in this film that truly destroyed my innocence as a child was the death of Artax, Atreyu’s horse companion. Far out. The nihilistic tones of the synthetic orchestra, coupled with Atreyu’s look of desperate dread as he realises that Artax has succumbed to the “swamps sadness” is perhaps the most harrowing death I’ve seen on screen. Try not to cry again. I dare you.
JUMANJI – Crocodile Attack
Jumanji is a odd film. I would go as far as describing it as a soft horror. I don’t really know why it affected me so much when it came out in 1995. Maybe it’s this terrifying drum beat that cruelly pervades the entire score. Or perhaps this little freak who was the subject of some very bad dreams. Alan Parrish, furthermore, is such a horrifically nostalgic name. And the fact that Alan Parrish gets sucked into a supernatural board game is almost too much to handle. Anyway, there are many moments in Jumanji that screwed me over. But the moment that trumped them all was the crocodile attack. The instant when that giant, reptilian beast surfaces into view is not good, not good at all. Add to that a howling pre-teen wolfboy, some torrential rain, and you’re all set to scream.
THE JUNGLE BOOK – Baloo Nearly Dies
The aftermath of Baloo and Shere Khan’s fight left me entirely rattled. Not only are Baloo’s protective instincts chilling, but the actual backdrop and escalation of the fight is super intense. Set in an electrical storm, Baloo tries with all his might to fend off the vicious, inexorable attacks of Shere Khan. Eventually, Baloo is swiped across the face in what appears to be a deathly blow. Mowgli then jumps in again and cleverly fends Shere Khan off with fire. After, however, Baloo is seen slumped motionless in a dark puddle, underneath a sad-looking tree, an image of complete loss. When Bagheera says to Mowgli, “try to understand”, I’m pretty sure I broke down. It was like Bagheera was speaking directly to me, asking me to comprehend how complicated mortality is. Yet, perhaps more upsetting was the rollercoaster of emotions I felt as Baloo eventually opens his eyes, not dead, but merely unconscious. Too far Disney. Too far.
THE BFG – The Giants
The slobbering, lumbering, ugly-faced, cannibalistic giants in the 1989 animated film, The BFG, are disgracefully scary. They live in a barren wasteland that offers little sustenance for their ferocious appetites, so they perform night time raids of the human world, capturing and eating men, women and children. Their movements are clumsy and hostile and saliva strings from their mouths like melted cheese. Really gross. The BFG, on the other hand, is a friendly giant who bottles dreams and blows them into the bedrooms of children. Despite the BFG’s tender humour and good intentions being a welcome relief from the other giants, his dream catching routine is filled with some pretty druggy visuals. Also, the concept of dream inception is complexly manipulative. Just because he’s friendly doesn’t mean his weirdness didn’t got to me as a seven-year-old. However, it’s this guy who was the true horror, appropriately named Fleshlumpeater. An unrelenting, fucked-up brute.
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH – The Rhino
No one likes a monstrous, stampeding, demon-eyed rhinoceros who’s primary means of transportation is on the back of dark, swelling thunderclouds. Least of all me, aged five, trying to convince myself that this could never happen for real. Who gives a shit about the cutesy stop-motion animation and an eclectic string of supporting insects. Likes James, all I could really focus on was that colossal rhino that murdered his parents. All the singing and dancing and peach-sailing was always undermined, for me, by the harrowing imminence of that dark-ass rhinoceros. This 1996 twisted film version of an already twisted book by Roald Dahl, had an abnormally strong affect on me. Maybe others as well.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS – The Ghost Army
There is something aesthetically strange about old movies. Kids looks like adults and every actor seems to have a supernatural glint in their eye. Obviously it’s the different quality of the film equipment, but as a kid it was always an odd experience.
Anyway, in this eternally re-watchable 1971 Disney film, there is a scene in which Angela Lansbury’s character summons a castle of dead swordsman to take on an army of Nazis. The political and historical undertones of this scene were completely lost on me, but what I unfortunately retained was Lansbury’s witchy, quivering, voice as she utters the nightmarish incantation ‘Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee’. Also, the image of an awakened army of bodiless soldiers looming into view atop the hill was a daunting sight to behold. Ten times scarier than these guys.
Honourable mentions – Mufasa falls to his death in The Lion King, all those bloodied rabbits in Watership Down, that sheep getting mauled by a dog in Babe, Littlefoot’s mum dying in The Land Before Time, Bruce Bogtrotter eats that disgusting cake in Matilda.