Lightening Strikes, Maybe Once, Maybe Twice…

A Short List of The Most Traumatizing Moments in Kids’ Movies

Last night’s Facebook update that I posted really got me thinking. The post in question links to a list of hilariously strange, inappropriate and head-scratching books aimed at children that have actually been published. Obviously, what we’re exposed to as children really sets the stage for us as individuals later in life. While I’m lucky enough to, as a child, never have been read any of the gems on the list I’d posted, I’m convinced that I made up for it tenfold in movies.

Seriously – Thinking back on some of the “child-themed” movies that had been innocently enough popped into the VCR for me, it’s amazing I’m not rocking back and forth on a street corner somewhere mumbling about Jesus and aliens. I can’t believe the producers and studio folk who “greenlit” some of these movies actually sat back after reading the treatment and went “Oh yeah, this is great. Totally appropriate for our audience of wide-eyed, impressionable 3 – 10-year olds”.

I’m not just talkin’ the usual suspects, like Bambi or The Lion King. Oh no, although due to my mother’s proclivity for pressing play on the VCR so she could clean in peace, I was lucky enough to see those multiple times as well. It certainly didn’t matter whether it was a Disney movie; my innocent, sheltered little brain drawn in by cute, furry animals and catchy songs and then BAM! Horrible, sad and tragic death! Last night the more I thought – The more I realized just how many OTHER movies seriously screwed with my fragile, developing psyche.

To be fair, some of these weren’t kids’ movies or even marketed as such. But the majority are, and the more I explore, the more I uncover disturbing, long-forgotten trinkets from the movies of my youth. Almost like a terrible treasure hunt that you never want to go on. This could easily be an ongoing list, but the ones that stick out the most for me (and probably every other human being aged 24 – 35) are:

1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

THE GIST: Judge Doom is quite possibly one of the most FUCKED UP characters to ever grace a children’s movie. He mercilessly decides to execute a cartoon that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I know what you’re thinking – It’s a cartoon SHOE (and this was long before the shoe obsession that developed in my adolescent years), Ashley! How sad can it be?! To you, I say “Yes! It was a cartoon shoe! That squeaked and rubbed against Judge Doom’s leg seeking a little love much like the very dog or cat you may have at home!” Kids around the world, myself included, watched in open-mouthed terror as he picked up the cartoon (that sounded and behaved strangely similar to Fido), examined it and then EXECUTED it (actually using the word “execute”) by tossing it into a steaming greenish barrel of ACID. Did I mention, all the while, you listen to the cartoon squeak and scream as its being dipped into the acid, its eyes widening in terror before being fully immersed? Meanwhile, Judge Doom’s henchmen stand to the side and mumble about “killing cartoons”.

WTF!: People are evil! They are not to be trusted, especially with Very Important Things like toys, stuffed animals or cartoons. It’s not traumatizing enough to just kill a silly regular person – Let’s go all out and show youngsters the scary, untimely death of one innocent, cute cartoon that just didn’t know any better than to rub against the leg of the most SOULLESS man to grace Toon Town! Even the appearance of Jessica Rabbit couldn’t take away the sad feeling in the pit of my stomach after watching that scene as a kiddo.  Alas, let’s also not forget Who Framed Roger Rabbit’s honorable mention: The death of Judge Doom, in which we get to watch him scream as he’s run over by a steamroller. Apparently karma in Toon Town is a real bitch – And kids everywhere have now witnessed two of the most hideous, painful ways to die.

In case you’re wondering, after Judge Doom is run over, he becomes a cartoon, blows himself up with helium so he’s no longer flat after that steamroller incident, his eyeballs pop out and he goes absolutely apeshit. When I say apeshit, I really mean it – Flying through the warehouse with a chainsaw hand until he’s killed by the same acid that he murdered the cartoon shoe with. Lovely – Just another family-friendly escape to movie-land in the Quinn household! 

2. The Witches

THE GIST: Anjelica Huston, who I feel is quite scary enough all on her own, plays the Grand High Witch in this kids’ movie (!!) about a long-time secret society of witches that detest children and are generally a bunch of evil, insufferable bitches with no hair or toes and long claws for fingers. As an adult, I can now see that this is probably quite similar to a One Million Moms convention. It took me a LONG time to stop trying to figure out which kindly, lonely old women in the neighborhood were secretly witches after watching this movie.  While Anjelica Huston’s big “reveal” of herself is probably the moment that stands out the most, The Witches is like the traumatizing children’s movie that just keeps on giving. There are so many moments that are seriously fucked up – Shortly after revealing her true monster self, the Grand High Witch proceeds to burn one of her captive witch audience members alive for WHISPERING! All any of our grammar school teachers ever would have had to do is show us that scene to remind myself and my schoolmates not to talk during class. Much more effective learning tool than staying inside for recess or getting a checkmark next to our name on the blackboard.

WTF!: Seriously, whose bright fucking idea was it to create a KIDS’ MOVIE about a global network of women that not just HATED children, but spent every waking moment PLOTTING HOW TO ELIMINATE THEIR EXISTENCE?! Oh, Roald Dahl, you say? This is the same man that created Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (parts of which ought to be on the list too!), so I’m convinced that he didn’t really like kids at ALL. And you didn’t REALLY think the horror that is The Witches stops at the above-mentioned parts, did you? The lucky young viewer also watches:

  • Anjelica Huston push a baby carriage HOLDING A SMILING NEWBORN INFANT down a steep hill toward a cliff, all the while the mother is screaming in horror in the background.
  • A little girl that vanishes after crossing paths with a witch. She becomes trapped in a painting and AGES IN IT until she, one day, just inexplicably disappears from the artwork. What happened to her, you ask? Oh, we’ll never know! Just let your childhood mind run rampant with the possibilities – Ones you didn’t even know could exist!
  • Lastly, just to keep things interesting, the two main child characters get turned into mice that everybody is trying to kill for a good portion of the movie as well.

Just another fantastic kids’ movie to remind that special child in your life that no, the world is not just a shiny, happy place filled with singing woodland creatures and nice ladies who meet at hotels to discuss their childrens’ charity. Nope, don’t trust a soul, because those nice ladies are secretly bald, child-hating witches with clawed hands and feet that want to turn us all into mice…and then exterminate us. Sorry, kid.

3. Tiny Toons Adventures – “The Kite” episode

 (Quick hint: Fast-forward to 13:44 if you don’t want to watch an entire episode of Tiny Toons Adventures. But I won’t judge you if you do.)

THE GIST: Porky the Pig buys a butterfly kite and flies it on the beach. A lonesome moth sees the kite and thinks it’s a real butterfly, falling in love with it after it presumes the butterfly/kite saved him from being eaten by a large bird because the wind blew it in the bird’s way. Porky loses the kite in the wind and the little moth dutifully follows it everywhere, guiding it through the city and all of its perils. The moth is devastated when it spots people walking all over the kite, and drags it away before they are caught in a torrential rainstorm. The kite becomes more and more decrepit, but the little moth drags them into a cardboard box for the night to shelter them from the downpour. The moth tries to patch up the kite’s many rips and tears, bursting into hopeless tears when he realizes it’s a futile effort. Morning arrives, and Buster the Bunny finds the kite while the moth is still sleeping. He patches it up and runs off to fly it. The little moth wakes up in a panic without the kite, but spots it flying high in the sky again – As good as new. Overjoyed, the moth flies to the kite and wraps his spindly little arms around its new, smiling face. End cartoon.

WTF!: …And if you were a kid that wasn’t hyperventilating with tears by that point, I don’t know if I would have trusted you alone with my prized Lamb Chop stuffed animal (more on that in a second).

As sad as it was, at least this cartoon had a happy ending. I don’t know what I would’ve done if, say, Buster the Bunny ran home with the kite before deciding to fly it and the moth lost his buddy forever. Too tragic to consider. Thank you, Warner Brothers, for at least one sweet ending! 

4. The Velveteen Rabbit

THE GIST: Robert’s favorite toy is his old velveteen rabbit and the two love each other very much. After he becomes ill with scarlet fever, the rabbit is sent with all of the boy’s other toys to be burned per doctor’s orders. Robert’s mother outright LIES to him and brushes it off when he realizes that they “forgot” to bring the rabbit with on their trip to the seaside. The rabbit, thrown into a bag to be burnt with the other toys, watches Robert leave and realizes he is GOING TO DIE. Watching the other toy friends meet THEIR DEMISE by being tossed into the fire, the rabbit is understandably so distraught that he finds he is able to cry real tears. This conjures up the magical toy fairy. She explains that, before, the rabbit was only real to Robert. The rabbit is naturally devastated because he thought he was real all along and, OH YEAH, he’s in a burlap sack about to DIE. The fairy brings him into the woods and turns him into a real, live, flesh and blood rabbit. (At this point, I’m relieved but thinking “What about the other toys?! Can’t we save them ALL?!”) He runs off with the other rabbits in the forest but spots Robert weeks later, after he recovers from his illness and returns from the seaside. Robert is surprised by the forest rabbit’s likeness to his old velveteen toy, never knowing that it really was at one time. But, GODDAMMIT, the rabbit knows! The rabbit knows! He lets his friend go, warmly wishing him good-bye before hopping back into the forest with his new bunny friends.

WTF!: I can’t even. As a direct result of this movie, I not only refused to believe that my parents ever had the best intentions of my favorite toys at heart but my raggedy Lamb Chop stuffed animal (my very best friend for many years – Shut up) still resides in a hidden corner of my dresser. I’m just not quite convinced that the magical toy fairy really exists. Hell if my Lamb Chop will suffer as a result.

5. The Fox and The Hound

THE GIST: Tod the Fox and Copper the dog are become best friends as youngsters, after being adopted into their respective families, but meet constant resistance from others because they are supposed to be natural enemies. A series of events and misunderstandings occur, which pit Copper’s owners against Tod. Tod’s owner, the widow, is forced to leave him in the forest for his own safety, but he doesn’t understand why he’s being abandoned. Despite the fact that Copper is told to hate Tod and blames him for the death of one of his owners, he knows deep down that his friend could never hurt anyone and they miss each other terribly. Tod and Copper still risk their lives for each other when fighting off a bear in the forest, even though they know they can never be friends, and go their separate ways. The movie ends with Copper dozing off in the grass and Tod watching over the village from a hill in the woods, remembering each other. The scene closes as they reflect on their friendship and we listen to a flashback of them talking as youngsters.

TOD: Copper, you’re my very best friend.
COPPER: And you’re mine too, Tod.
TOD: We’ll always be friends forever, won’t we?
COPPER: Yeah! Forever.

WTF!: Um, did you SEE how the movie ends?! Why can’t the goddamned fox and dog just be friends, people?! Please?! I know they’re supposed to be enemies and yada, yada, yada, but come on! Just this once, they love each other, damn it! And not to mention the unnecessarily sad scene in which the widow has to leave the fox in the woods and he, not understanding, tries to follow her before realizing he’s been left for good. To put it lightly, this VHS sat and collected dust in our family room after one viewing. It was too damn heartbreaking and I was pretty sure I’d rather take a dose of cough syrup, get a shot, clean my room or do ANYTHING other than subject myself to this sad Disney tale again.

Finally, someone in the family added it to the pile of donations for Purple Hearts or the Salvation Army years later and mercifully put this movie out of its misery. Now some other kid can cry through it and wonder why the Disney movie about cute animals IS THE SADDEST FREAKIN’ MOVIE THEY’VE EVER SEEN. Just payin’ it forward, kiddo. 

6. Dumbo – The Pink Elephant Parade

THE GIST: Dumbo, sad after visiting his mother and returning to the circus, gets a drink of water with his only friend, Timothy Q. Mouse. What they DON’T know is that the bucket of water had a bottle of champagne knocked into it by accident, so they (presumably) get drunk (!!) and hallucinate a bunch of dancing, shape-shifting pink elephants. Then they wake up in a tree and wonder how they got there. Perfectly normal children’s movie, right?

WTF!: Apparently the two main characters, an elephant and a mouse, are just having a raucous Friday night. I mean, there have been nights where I, too, have had a bit too much champagne, but I’ve never had a full-on hallucination of multi-hued circus animals. I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that Dumbo and Timothy Q. Mouse probably also made a stop at the mushroom patch, but Walt Disney just decided to cut that scene out. Don’t do drugs, kids, and DEFINITELY don’t drink the water. Not only is it the strangest visual sequence I’d ever encountered in my young life, but parts of it were downright scary! In addition to the mean-looking ghost-like elephants, the entire thing is accompanied by a rather ominous-sounding song. It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t last nearly FIVE MINUTES. To a kid, that’s practically an eternity! Even as a youngster, I was always uneasy when this part of the movie played – As if I knew, somewhere in the back of my little brain, that this was probably similar to what they’d torture mental patients with a century prior. And definitely don’t do drugs (or drink champagne)!

7. The Twilight Zone movie – Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

(Until just now, I seriously only knew it as “the gremlin on the wing of the plane” part. Evidently this has quite the following.) 

THE GIST: Before there was the Twilight SAGA and its bevy of sparkling, lovesick vampires, there was The Real Deal. The Twilight ZONE, featuring none other than the guy from the Priceline commercials (kidding, of course – Or John Lithgow, if you watched the movie version) as a stressed-out passenger with a serious fear of flying on an airplane. Seeing something on the wing of the plane, he at first assumes he’s just seeing things. Then, he realizes it’s a creature, it’s alive and it’s messing with the wiring on the wing of the plane. The creature clearly sees him and taunts him, but each time that he alerts a flight attendant, the creature is gone. The flight attendants begin to worry and think that he is having some sort of dangerous mental break while the fellow passengers become alarmed and disturbed by his behavior. He becomes more and more belligerent and out of control as the creature continues to taunt him by methodically destroying the wing of the plane. They finally make an emergency landing to remove the now-violent passenger and take him away. The episode ends as the policemen and airline personnel on the ground comment that there is inexplicable massive damage to the engines on that wing of the plane.

WTF!: Most normal people would only ever show this to their impressionable 6-year old if they hated him or her. In my family, however, my father was the proud owner of a Lay-Z-Boy armchair that he would promptly fall asleep in after dinner, no matter what happened to be on TV at that given point in time. One minute, you’re playing with your dolls in the family room as your father dozes in his armchair. The next, you’re watching the goddamned Twilight Zone and can’t even move to turn it off because you’re FROZEN IN FEAR after seeing a CLOSE-UP of a gremlin after John Lithgow just can’t help himself and rips open the window shade after his in-air nap. Did I mention that, shortly after, my family accompanied my father on a business trip to San Francisco? Because it was a full flight, our family was split up across the plane and, perhaps in the earliest proof of its existence, karma stuck my poor father sitting with me. He thought I’d enjoy having the window seat on my very first plane ride. I begged to differ. Upon take-off, I screamed, tearfully asked if the plane was going to crash and immediately spilled my chocolate milk all over us both. If this hadn’t been 1991, I’m sure we would have never made it to the West Coast. I still can’t even hang and watch the full episode on YouTube.

While my mother and siblings, several rows over, spent the rest of the four-hour flight pretending they did not know us, I kept my eyes clenched shut and begged every higher power I could think of to ensure that no gremlins had hitched a ride on our flight. The window shade stayed closed the entire time. 



4 responses

  1. These are probably a little before your time, but they rank right up there.

    1. Bambi: His mother gets shot.

    2. E.T.: E.T. dies.

    3. All Dogs Go to Heaven: Well one dog goes to hell.

    4. The Never Ending Story: The Sinking Horse scene

    5. The Lion King: Mustafa’s death.

    6. Snow White: The Wicked Queen transform into a witch/crone

    7 Old Yeller: The dog gets rabies

    8. Fantasia: The whole Night on Bald Mountain Sequence

    9. Pinocchio: Children turn into Donkeys

    10. Roger Rabbit: Jude Doom’s reveal

    Love your blog.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:01 AM

    • I agree with jonathanmoya, the scene in Pinocchio when the kids start turning into asses is downright frightening for a child. Also, the scene in The Brave Little Toaster when the toaster has a nightmare in which he burns the toast and a big scary clown pops up and the toaster ends up electrocuting himself was extremely unnerving.

      April 20, 2012 at 3:20 AM

  2. You are right on the money with all of those! I haven’t seen The Neverending Story, but I whole-heartedly agree with the rest of your list – Makes you wonder about some of these movies we were subjected to in our younger years :).

    Thanks for the shout – I’m following your blog now too and can’t wait to check it out.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:13 AM

  3. Pingback: Arachnophobia « ThisIsAshleyQuinn

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