Disney Animation Studios is among the companies producing the world’s best-animated films. Many of these films go back to the early and mid-90s when most of us were children and binge-watched these animated films, memorising every line and singing along to every song. Although Disney films were addressed to children and young people, they still tackled some serious life issues.
If you go back to these Disney films to re-live some of your best childhood moments, you will start noticing the dark themes involved in the storylines. Some were even too vague for a little kid, but when you watch them when you’re older, the grim moments appear more transparent. We are not saying that Disney films will no longer bring you comfort and joy, but you will just start viewing them from a different angle.
1. Claude Frollo Singing “Hellfire” in the Hunchback of Notre Dame
Disney had moments where its animated films took a dark turn that wasn’t expected. However, the Hunchback of Notre Dame has grim feels from its very beginning. It starts with the gypsies running away from the authorities, unable to live even on the streets.
The following scene involves a murder scene where Quasimodo’s mother falls on her head on the church’s staircase and immediately dies. The top darkest scene is devilish Frollo singing Hellfire as the opposing song to the peaceful song “Heaven’s Light” by Quasimodo.
This song has an uninviting ambience, involving red effects that imply the presence of Satan in the background. It also recounts human desires like lust and greed deemed too dark for young children to grasp the concept.
2. The Massacre Scene in Mulan
Mulan is one of the greatest Disney films about feminism and women’s empowerment. It was a great story about the lengths we could go to protect the ones we genuinely care about. Despite the touching story and humorous scenes of Mulan trying to fit into the world of men, there were some grim moments.
Every time the Huns enter the screen, the ambience turns dark and depressive. However, there wasn’t a scene as depressive as the one with the massacre. To make things even darker, there was a grimmer scene that Disney had to cut out. This scene included the Huns and their evil leader, Shan Yu, taking down the entire town and slaughtering people in cold blood.
Well, the ancient Chinese folktale of Mulan was already too dark, but Disney always took the responsibility of adding a fairytale spin to every tragic story. However, they kept the story’s integrity by adding melancholic scenes here and there to keep things honest and exciting for both children and adults. At least we had our happy ending.
3. Clayton’s Fall in Tarzan
Tarzan is a classic story about a little boy who lives among the apes and grows as one of them, unaware of other human beings like himself that do exist. Well, although it is one of the most loveable Disney films, it has had its fair share of grim moments ever since the beginning. The film starts by having the leopard, Sabor, devour a baby monkey, which is quite sad.
This tragic beginning wasn’t enough to give the film its dark side. To add salt to injury, Tarzan’s parents were attacked by the same leopard and were seen lying dead inside the wooden house they had built. It is another sad scene, but bear with us because we still haven’t gotten to the darkest scene.
Clayton was a traitor, and he betrayed his friends. We could see his malicious nature right from the start. Although his death was a relief for Tarzan and his friends, we would have digested better if he had died more mercifully. His shadow casting over the tree, where he was hanged by the neck, was quite gruesome and too dark for young children to see. We’re glad it just lasts for a few seconds.
4. Scar Killing Mufasa in The Lion King
It doesn’t come as a shock that most of the grim moments in Disney films coincide with the villain’s presence. Most Disney villains die in a disconcerting manner, but this time, we are casting light on a death caused by a villain, Scar. And, even more distressing, he was killing his brother, Mufasa, in cold blood.
Scar is a sinister and mischievous being for planning the death of his brother ahead of time by stirring a mad stampede of wildebeest. When Mufasa gets out of the way, where the wildebeests are madly rushing, he slips off the cliff’s edge, crying out for help. The betrayal of a brother makes this scene even sadder than the tragic death itself.
Scar’s evilness doesn’t just end here. When he realises that young Simba survived the stampede and was mourning his father, he manipulates the boy and gaslights him into believing it was his fault. Pushing him to run away, he sends the hyenas to take him down before he gets too far, but they fail. It is a rather complex scene of combined darkness that you can barely get over.
5. The Toys Facing Incineration in Toy Story 3
Toy Story is one of our top favourite Disney films that seem to live with us for years now. The third part’s release was like an ignition to nostalgic feelings for the ’80s and ’90s babies, in particular. We were sad to see Andy grow up, go to college, and leave his old pals behind. But, if we are being reasonable, what would a college guy do with his childhood toys?
It was a normal development, but the emotional attachment made it a little hard even for us, the fans. Although we were happy to see the toys go into another loving home, where Bonnie takes care of them, we were also hit with some grim moments. The incinerator scene was deemed too dark for kids and adults alike.
We couldn’t bear the thought of the toys being crushed to nothing. It is a scene that stirs up so many emotions, but we are glad they could make it at the end. The most formidable part is that many fans have compared this scene to the ugliness of the Holocaust. It is a comparison that goes way south for a world that is supposed to be created for children.
6. Parent Loss in Bambi
Bambi is a classic Disney film that narrates a story of a young deer yet casts a light on the ugly side of humans, which is a dark fact to reveal to children. We grew up knowing that the villain in Bambi wasn’t a specific character but rather “the human.” It is an eye-opener to how humans can be destructive, killing innocent animals, setting forests on fire, and destroying nature.
This film also helps children see life from the perspective of animals and how they are just innocent beings that live in the wild, searching for food and shelter. But that’s not the only thing they learn from this film. They also know that death is part of life; it is inevitable, and we all have to face it someday.
The cruellest part is having to go on somedays without our parents. Bambi presents this truth when he loses his mother, who sacrifices her life to protect her young boy. This is just one of the most disturbing grim moments in Disney films ever. Nothing can hurt more than losing a parent and mourning them for the remaining years of your life.
7. Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island Segment
The classical version of Pinocchio’s story was already too dark to begin with, ending with the wooden boy turning into a donkey and having an enormous sea monster swallow him. If Disney had stuck to this version of the story, it would have created a horror film for kids, damaging their childhood forever.
We are glad Disney gave us the happy ending we all deserve, turning Pinocchio into a real boy. However, many troubling theories claim Geppetto was hallucinating and Pinocchio never turned real. Other theories claim that Geppetto went to the sea to find his lost son but died on the shores, and the whole whale thing never happened.
Well, we are not concerned with the reality of Pinocchio and Geppetto. We are more concerned with the Pleasure Island scene that gives you the creeps. Young boys turning into donkeys every time they act out is quite a grim moment. It is a profound metaphor, illustrating that those who give in to their temptations and succumb to every pleasure desire turn into animals.
We believe that adding grim moments in Disney films is a smart way to teach kids that real life is not a fairytale with fluffy stuffed animals and pixie dust. Yet, this doesn’t take away the sting of these dark scenes.