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Dark Disney: 9 not-so-upbeat movies from the Mouse House

Pass the Kleenex…

Don't let the big ears and goofy smile fool you....
Don't let the big ears and goofy smile fool you....
Image: Damian Dovarganes/AP/Press Association Images

IF YOU THINK Disney is all about enchanted roses, glass slippers and princess rescues, you’re kind of on the wrong track.

Come on, we all cried when Mufasa is killed in The Lion King (but more on that later).

Looking more closely at Disney’s productions – they go deeper than your average children’s storybook. Behind the fairytale facade, some dark and dreary thoughts are manifesting in the minds of the scribblers, scriptwriters and moviemakers.

And why not, the Brothers Grimm didn’t exactly stick to happy themes and cookie-cutter characters.

Like the fairytales that they are based on, some of the films produced at the magical house are riddled with miscarriage, bloody endings, family heartaches and animal cruelty.

All you childhood favourites contain scenes of death hidden or belittled in song, off-screen animal shootings and, even occasionally, a mass slaughter.

In one move, the entire cast is killed off.

Want to take a trip to the dark side?

UP (2009)

A childless widower, 78-year-old grump Carl Fredricksen literally ups and leaves, house and all, to get away from the big city expansion that has plagued his neighbourhood. He also wants to finally fulfil the wishes of his late wife – something he didn’t do when she was alive.

The film starts on a sad note and, although it is a delightful piece of work, those depressing undertones never really fade.

The opening sequence is one of the most moving pieces of cinematic footage in an animated film. In just four minutes, Disney and Pixar tell an entire love story – complete with marriage, dreams of children and travelling, broken spirits after a miscarriage, an illness and death.

(YouTube credit: xXJEashXx)

THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981)

Tod, the fox cub, is abandoned at a farm by his mother at the beginning of the film. She runs off and a short time later, shots are hears in the distance. Tod is comforted by an owl named Big Mama and a clueless woodpecker before an elderly widow – Widow Tweed – comes to the rescue.

Tod quickly befriends the neighbour’s dog Copper. As they frolic in the woods, we discover the horrifying detail that Copper’s owner Amos is the man who killed Tod’s mother.

The film then pits the two friends against each other as Copper becomes a hunting dog and Tod, the game. Tweed realises that Tod will no longer be safe with her:

(YouTube Credit: Clubpenguincrazy11)

BAMBI (1941)

Yes, it was first made in 1941. Those big sad eyes, the raging forest fire, the murdered mom and that heartbreaking line from the Great Prince of the Forest, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.”

(YouTube credit: mightymouse8d)

THE LION KING (1994)

Another Disney movie, another baby loses a parent. This time, Disney ramped up the stakes and showed us the death on-screen. In this one, King Mufasa is thrown off a cliff by his brother, the evil Scar.

To twist the metaphorical knife in Simba’s back, his uncle blames the young lion cub and betrays him to a lifetime of guilt and sadness.

(YouTube credit: wetrzwqgrh)

THE LITTLEST HORSE THIEVES (1976)

Disney blamed the British for this film’s “classic sense of impending doom and gloom”. Foggy marshlands, overcast skies and a dark coal mine are the primary settings against which a mass killing of horses is set.

The plot follows a Yorkshire coal mine and focuses on its working ponies who are fated to the slaughterhouse when the owner decides to mechanise the operation.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996)

In which we see a person murdered on-screen. Yes, there is plenty of farcical and fancy fun in this colourful feast from Disney, but there is also one of the production house’s bloodiest scenes.

Judge Claude Frollo kills Quasimodo’s mother and then leaves her in a puddle of blood on the steps of Notre Dame. He then attempts to dump baby Quasimodo in a well but is stopped by a member of the church. When asked what he’s doing, he actually says:

“This is an unholy demon. I’m sending it back to Hell where it belongs.” Ok then kids, sleep well.

(YouTube Credit: Draculica)

DRAGONSLAYER (1981)

Well before teenage girls became angst-ridden over young and handsome vampires, Disney tried its hand at a virgin sacrifice plot. Quite ahead of its time, as usual.

Disney’s Oscar winning Dragonslayer touts the bravery of a young apprentice sent to kill a dragon. Why? Because it’s been eating young girls, obviously. Awesome.

What the trailer didn’t tell us is that this dragon is being offered virgin human sacrifices from a King, many of which are burned at the stake in too-much gory detail. There is also a cross-dressing subplot, in case you missed that as well. Other than this, the wizard from the beginning of the film turns out to be a sham. His untimely death results in the dragon’s demise.

(YouTube Credit: GLaDOSrev2)

THE BLACK CAULDRON (1985)

This film was so dark that it gave the studio its first ever PG rating (do not leave your kids alone with this movie!)

In fact, 10 minutes of footage had to be cut out to ensure it attained the rating and not anything more severe. One of those deleted scenes saw a magic mist dissolve a person’s flesh. Pretty grim stuff.

It follows the adventures of Taran and his gang as they attempt to prevent a villain from raising an army of the undead. Skeletons, black magic and the Horned King appear throughout. One of the most controversial scenes involves one of the villain’s minions slicing a person’s neck and torso (killing him, obviously).

Explainer: Tim Burton did concept art.

THE BLACK HOLE (1979)

In this one, the entire cast are doomed and end up in Hell. Literally.

Cheery.

(YouTube Credit: SpideressUK)

-Additional reporting by Sinéad O’Carroll

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