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Five Frightening Moments from Disney Animated Features

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This week, Disney releases MALEFICENT, a live-action take on the villainess from its animated classic SLEEPING BEAUTY—a reminder that the studio’s “family films” have sometimes included material not necessarily safe for kids. Below are five horrific highlights from the Mouse House’s cinema (plus one from competitor DreamWorks).

1. The Forgotten Prisoner (SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS)

Disney’s first feature-length cartoon isn’t all “Heigh Ho” and “Silly Song”; there’s genuine creep factor in the scenes involving the Evil Queen who’s Snow’s scheming stepmom. At one point, she descends into her dungeon, where a skeleton is sprawled on the floor of its cell, reaching vainly for a pitcher of water placed just out of reach. The implications of this are pretty nasty—and for a literal kicker, the Queen lashes out with one foot and shatters the bones.

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2. Lampwick and Other Jackasses (PINOCCHIO)

The puppet who wants to be human joins other boys in being lured to Pleasure Island, where they’re allowed free indulgence in sweets, vandalism and cigars (!). But it’s all part of an evil plot to transform the kids into donkeys, who we see being stripped of their clothes and hauled into cages bound for circuses and salt mines, as one who can still talk pleads for his mother. Pinocchio himself witnesses his delinquent friend Lampwick actually transforming, sprouting long ears, hooves and fur and trashing the room in a panic before Pinocchio manages to escape. This sequence would likely win at least a PG-13 if done in live action—and we can’t wait to see what Guillermo del Toro does with it in the new animated PINOCCHIO he’s developing with Disney.

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3. “Night on Bald Mountain” (FANTASIA)

Disney’s third movie was a bold experiment—unsuccessful at the time, now considered a landmark—that set animated sequences to classical music. There’s a lot here to unnerve little viewers, from the chores gone bad in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to the rampaging dinosaurs in “The Rite of Spring,” but the most horrific visuals accompany Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” (also pictured above). The top of the titular peak unfurls to reveal the demon Chernabog, who presides over a revelry of demons, spectral horses-and-riders and other phantasmagoric beings. The spell is eventually broken as the sun rises, Chernabog retreats and “Ave Maria” rises on the soundtrack—but not before the younger sector of the audience has been guaranteed nightmares after they get home.

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4. “Be Prepared” (THE LION KING)

Not so much scary as transgressive, this is a prime example of the adult aesthetics that slipped into Disney fare during its successful revival in the 1990s. Evil lion Scar (impeccably voiced by Jeremy Irons) exhorts legions of hungry hyenas to join him in overthrowing the rule of his brother, and as he sings, his newly recruited legions march in goose-step while the visual schemes directly reference the Nazi propaganda film TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. It may have gone over the heads of preteens watching it, but the number can send a chill up the spine of in-the-know grownups.

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5. “Hellfire” (THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME)

It’s said that internal turmoil within Disney’s halls allowed the team behind this adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic to get away with some pretty startling stuff while the executives were distracted. Chief among them is a setpiece in which the corrupt Judge Frollo (a marvelously insinuating vocal turn by Tony Jay) sings of his desire for the gypsy girl Esmeralda, condemning her to burn if she does not give in to his lust. As he fetishistically caresses one of her scarves, Esmeralda’s seductive form manifests in fireplace flames, faceless, red-robed figures sprout up to torment Frollo—and for a brief, wonderful moment, the spirit of European horror is alive and well in an all-ages animated musical.

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Bonus: The Pied Piper’s Entrance (SHREK FOREVER AFTER)

In the fourth and last of DreamWorks’ fractured fairy tales, wicked trickster Rumpelstiltskin employs the services of the Pied Piper, who can control and manipulate any being, human or otherwise, with his magic flute. He first enters Rumpel’s throne room apparently floating through the door and across the floor as he tootles on his instrument—until a change in angle reveals he’s standing on a pack of scuttling rats. Creepy!

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What Disney films traumatized you as a child? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor, the position he holds to this day while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews.
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