Oh, Walt Disney – you imaginative innovator, who created worlds for children to lose themselves in, generation after generation. Every kid has seen a Disney movie, and every kid has either gone or really wanted to go to Disney World/Land. But sometimes, the animated films get a little dark. (And I’m not just talking about Bambi’s mother dying.) So, as I prepare for a Disney vacation this fall (at Halloween, of course), I decided to make a list of Disney’s scariest moments (in no particular order). NO, “Hocus Pocus” will not be featured, that movie is the best of the best in terms of Disney scares for kids.
“The Black Cauldron,” the Horned King and his army of darkness – Loosely based on the first two books in “The Chronicles of Prydain” by Lloyd Alexander, this 1985 animated film, which isn’t usually featured in Disney’s normal canon of animation, is set during the dark ages. It focuses on the evil Horned King, who hopes to secure an ancient magical cauldron that will aid him in his desire to conquer the world. The Horned King, a skeletal creature with green, rotting flesh and two gnarled horns from which he earns his name, looks like a villain straight out of He-Man, only scarier. And he has an undead army at his disposal. Totally scary.
“Pinocchio” (1940) – Pleasure Island is anything but. Even as a kid, Pinocchio getting eaten by the whale wasn’t scary. The naughty boys turning into donkeys, however, are terrifying. This scene mirrors werewolf transformations and, for many kids, this is one way they learn that they like horror.
“Mr. Boogedy” (1986) – For some reason, not many people are familiar with this gem of a little movie. Sure, it’s cheesy, but when you’re a kid, this film is awesomely scary. (It’s also available to stream on Amazon for pretty cheap.) This film tells the story of a gag gift salesman and his family moving into a new house in New England which they soon find to be haunted by colonial ghosts. A sequel, “Bride of Boogedy,” aired the following year. Scary and funny, this is a perfect chiller for children.
“Up”(2009) – Real life can be tragic. Everyone who has seen “Up” cried during the first fifteen minutes. This poignant piece of realism shows that not every scare has to be thrilling; sometimes devastation can be just as difficult to handle.
“The Princess and the Frog” (2009) – I know this movie gets a lot of praise for having the first black princess, which is awesome. But how did everyone skip over the fact that the “magic” that turns the prince/princess into frogs is VOODOO?! A horror staple, voodoo has intrigued and haunted audiences since the 1930’s. Putting voodoo in a kid’s film? That’s crazy! And scary.
Oogie Boogie – Everybody loves “The Nightmare before Christmas.” And in a movie filled with wonderfully scary things, it’s hard to find something actually scary. But our villain, Oogie Boogie, with his weird appearance, black light effects, and devilish demeanor, totally fits the bill.
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996) – Truth be told, I hate this movie. But when the villain, Frollo, launches into the epic “Hellfire,” complete with accompanying faceless monks and fiery apparitions, the movie got a little bit better. To put this in perspective, here are some of the lyrics: “It’s not my fault / I’m not to blame / It is the gypsy girl / The witch who sent this flame / It’s not my fault / If in God’s plan / He made the devil so much / Stronger than a man.” This is in a DISNEY movie.
“Snow White”(1937) – For his first feature length animated film, Walt decided not to skip on the scares, because he knew that all the original fairy tales were very dark. As such, when he delivered “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” he gave us an attempted murder, a gritty transformation scene, a ghastly death by poisoned apple, and a very scary trip through a haunted forest. All children have seen faces in trees at night, and this scene capitalized on that. The scares were real.
Haunted Mansion – My favorite classic Disney World/Land ride is The Haunted Mansion. Now, I get that it is gothic and dark, and a little campy, but can we be serious here? Let’s talk about how dark this ride actually is. You get in to the ride by way of a cemetery, there are ghosts everywhere (including sitting next to you in your “doombuggy,” and the mansion is a decrepit and deceitful as they come. As one fan theory I believe says, once you get on the ride, you have DIED. Once you enter, but before you take your seat, you are herded into the stretching room by your haunted host. A ghostly voice from above begins to spin terrifying tales about former guests, asserting that since there are no windows or doors, you have to find your own way out. He starts to reveal how he managed to escape and the lights suddenly turn off. With a flash of lighting, you see a corpse above you hanging from the raptors. That’s right – suicide is the only way out of the haunted mansion. Read the full theory here.
Dumbo’s hallucinations (1941) – “Dumbo” is an OK film (and it contains one of the saddest songs in any Disney film. But what makes this movie stand apart is that damned pink elephants scene. After drinking water laced with champagne, our big-eared hero blacks out in a drunken stupor and hallucinates a terrifying sequence where a marching band or neon-colored elephants petrifies everyone. Very dark for a kid’s film.
Chernabog – I know I said that this list was in no particular order, but these next three are definitely the scariest moments Disney has ever had. “Fantasia” (1940) is not that great of a film, but the final sequence, “Night on Bald Mountain,” is amazing. The film’s only villain, Chernabog (my favorite Disney baddie because he’s a DEMON), emerges from the peak of Bald Mountain to summon all of his ghosts, who dance under his command as he throws them into the mountain’s fiery pit. I don’t ever remember seeing this part of the movie as a kid, but I wish I had, because it is so scary, definitely the most sophisticated sequence Disney has every put to film, in terms of horror.
ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter – While the Haunted Mansion is fun for all ages, Disney decided to push the limits of scare with this ride, meant for teens and adults that ran from 1995-2003. I was lucky enough to get to ride it, and I still get goose bumps at the images my mind conjures up when I think about it. Originally this ride was supposed to be based on the “Alien” franchise, but since those films were rated R, Disney gave that idea the ax. Also, after initial viewings, the main narrator for the ride, S.I.R., was changed from being voiced by Phil Hartman to my main man Tim Curry, because they needed a more “sinister tone.” This should tell you the level of fear they were going for.
As part of Tomorrowland, this ride focused on teleportation. At the second pre-show area, S.I.R. attempts to teleport the cute alien Skippy from one side of the room to the other. The creature’s charred and disoriented appearance after being teleported a short distance across the room suggests the technology is flawed. While teleporting Skippy back across the room, S.I.R. pauses the process, demonstrating how the technology can be used to suspend subjects in teleportation indefinitely.
Here’s where it really gets good. Guests are seated in harnesses within a circular chamber surrounding an enormous plastic cylinder, the “teleportation tube.” Clench and two bumbling X-S Tech (“excess”) employees, communicate “live” from across the galaxy via video screens. Initially, a single guest is to be teleported out of the chamber for a meeting with Clench. Instead, Clench is “seized” by inspiration and decides to have himself teleported into the chamber to meet the entire group. Clench’s impatience and the unexpected change of plans cause the teleportation signal to be diverted through an unknown planet. As a result, a towering, winged and carnivorous alien is beamed into the tube by mistake. Chaos and confusion ensue and the technicians panic. The creature quickly escapes, however, as intermittent darkness and flashes of light reveal the shattered and empty teleportation tube. A power outage then plunges the chamber into total darkness as guests sit helplessly restrained in their seats. A maintenance worker attempts to restore the power, but is mauled as the alien’s shrieks resound throughout the room and a spray of fluid flies out into the audience hitting the guests’ faces. After the spray of fluid, the guests feel their seats rumble and shake as the alien makes its way swiftly through the crowd, during which time the guests also feel the “breath” of the alien on the back of their necks and drool dripping from its mouth. The power finally comes back, and with assistance from the two X-S Tech technicians, the ravenous alien is ultimately driven back into the broken teleportation device, but overpowering the tube causes the alien to explode right before the tube closes.
So awesome! The ride was closed and changed from a carnivorous, scary-as-hell alien to Stitch from “Lilo and Stitch,” in an attempt to appease parents who ignored all the warnings and brought their little kids in to the ride. Now it is still too scary for little ones, but not scary enough for teens and adults, and has become another lame Tomorrowland feature (which is probably why they have changed that whole area to “Star Wars”).
Evil Transformations – Disney loves for its villains to be terrifying and magical. Their most classic villains, Ursula, Maleficent, the Evil Queen, and Jafar, all possessed magical powers and used them for their evil deeds. They also liked to transform, either into a cackling old woman (The Evil Queen, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,”) a huge snake (Jafar, “Aladdin,”) an all-powerful, towering version of herself (Ursula, “The Little Mermaid,”) or, everyone’s favorite, a fire-breathing dragon (Maleficent, “Sleeping Beauty”). For larger-than-life tales, you need larger-than-life villains, and these baddies are happy to oblige. For children, they are terrifying visions of evil.