Death is no laughing matter, and teaching it to your children can be one of the most difficult aspects of being a parent. That said, it’s a part of life, and for the world to pretend that it doesn’t exist would be impractical and foolish. Disney is very well aware of this, and despite making films for kids of all ages to enjoy, surprisingly deals with death many times. As a matter of fact, it is often a tool that they use to bring the most tears and to pull the most emotions.
However, this trick would lose its impact if Disney kept using the same things over and over again. Because of this, they keep it unique by introducing new ways for their characters to kick the bucket. Naturally, this has led to some shocking and even scary deaths in films marketed towards children. Every piece of these deaths scenes leads into their impact. What is shown on screen? What is the tension surrounding the death? How does it impact the characters afterward? How does it push the story forward?
While not all of their deaths have been as well-executed (no pun intended) as others, Disney still has plenty of death scenes that left us emotionally scarred. As we normally do, we comprised a list of the 15 most emotionally scarring deaths in Disney films (in our opinion, of course). Spoiler alert I suppose, but these movies have been out for years, and if you haven’t seen them, that’s not really our fault.
Finding Nemo is a nearly perfect film for multiple reasons, but the one that sticks out the most is how it sets the stage. In the opening minutes of the movie, we see Marlin and his wife Coral as they gaze lovingly over their hundreds of babies that have yet to hatch. While Marlin wants to name his after himself and his wife, Coral states that she wants one to be named “Nemo.” Marlin quickly agrees to this, but it isn’t long before things turn for the worst. A massive barracuda shows up, so Coral goes to protect her babies, and Marlin gets knocked out cold. When we wakes up, he solemnly beckons for his wife, but there is no response. He checks on his eggs to realize that they too had also been devoured by the vicious predator. All that was left was one tiny little egg. In a moment of pure heartbreak, Marlin then names the lone survivor Nemo. It was a bold move by Pixar to kill off not only a wife but hundreds of babies at the same time. However, it helps us work to understand Marlin’s motivations going into the movie.
14. Kerchak And Kala’s Son
The next film to mention on this list is Tarzan (expect it to show up again). This film is one Disney film that is not afraid in the slightest to confront death and uses it multiple times in the movie. However, it is a death at the very beginning that takes the spot on this list. In the beautiful opening sequence, we see how Tarzan’s parents build a life for themselves on a remote island where they would raise their infant son. The movie then pans over to the apes that would eventually raise Tarzan, Kerchak and Kala. They were walking with their young monkey child, who gets distracted while playing, and strays far enough away to be easy prey for Sabor the jaguar. We see the child go into a bush and the jaguar pounce. Kala, the mother, goes to save her son, but Kerchak stops her, knowing that it was already too late. This led to Kala’s decision to save and raise Tarzan once she found him left alone after his parents were killed as well. Kerchak instead decides to grieve differently by distancing himself from the human: “I said he can stay. That doesn’t make him my son.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone quote that after The Incredibles came out, you’d probably be seeing a different byline on this article. A seemingly throwaway line, it was interesting to see that Pixar had some kind of payoff for it near the end. After the character Edna Mode states to Mr. Incredible about how capes actually harm rather than help a superhero, the Incredible family gets a different design. During the final confrontation in the film, the superheroes band together to take down a robot built to beat superheroes. Once they destroy the mastermind behind it, Syndrome, the Incredibles go back to their house only to discover that the aforementioned villain had kidnapped the youngest member of the family. He rockets away with the child and fights him in the air. Eventually the child breaks free, which leads to Syndrome getting a bit too close to an airplane. His cape snags in the jet engine and drags him right into it, causing a massive aerial explosion. In conclusion to this event, no capes!
12. Mr. Scroop
Out of all of the Disney films I’ve seen, I would heavily argue that Treasure Planet is the most underrated. It is a movie that has a lot of excellent plot points and scenes that should easily make it more memorable than some others that have come out in recent memory. One scene that was really impressive and fun to watch was when the main character Jim went up against the evil crew member, Mr. Scroop. This spider psycho fought Jim on their interstellar ship, and when the gravity gets reversed, that’s when things start to get interesting. Mr. Scroop, being much stronger than Jim, consistently tries to throw him off the ship, so that he would float off into the vacuum of space. However, with some quick thinking, Jim is able to turn the tables and send his adversary up instead. As an audience, all we see is the frightening monster scream as he flies out into space where he will eventually die a slow and painful death. Despite how scarring it was for us, it was immensely satisfying to see him die like that after he was responsible for the death of the first mate, Mr. Arrow.
This death in the context of the movie Aladdin is a bit small, as it’s only slightly dealt with until the film moves on to other important aspects. However, when we stopped to think about it, we realized that how Gazeem died is a pretty terrible way to go. After all, the item that everyone is after, the magic lamp, is stored in the Cave of Wonders. However, this place is more secure than Fort Knox, and with a magical detection system in place, will only allow one person to enter as they wish. The Cave is also a sentient tiger head, so I would probably do my best not to make it mad. That being said, when we saw what the consequences were for someone not being worthy it was truly horrible. When Gazeem (Jafar’s stooge by the way) enters in and is deemed unworthy, he tries to quickly escape, but before he can get out, the tiger’s massive jaw closes over him, burying him in an endless pit of sand, where he will slowly suffocate while he waits for Jafar to save him. Spoiler alert: Jafar never rescues his partner, and we are only left to imagine just how painful it was for Gazeem to leave this world.
10. Shan-Yu (And The Hun Army)
When it comes to war movies, Mulan is one of the best. Not only does it depict its theme very well, it also portrays the elements of early China excellently. However, the reason the film is on this list is because the entire Hun army that threatened China was killed in the field of battle. Granted, to see all of these powerful foes was a scary sight, and the world was probably better off without them, but it was still pretty awful. The entire Hun army attempted to ambush the Chinese soldiers, but Mulan was able to shoot a firework into the side of a mountain, causing a massive avalanche to sweep over the soldiers. Only Shan-Yu and a few of his men survived, but even they would get their comeuppance. They try to assassinate the Emperor, where Mulan aptly defends him. She beats Shan-Yu in a fight, but instead of killing him right then and there, she spares his life, only for him to die in a horrible fiery explosion of fireworks that everyone in China celebrates over. Just watch out for falling Hun body parts.
9. Poppa Henry
Out of all of the Pixar movies, The Good Dinosaur is not the best one, but it has some excellent aspects that if fully realized would have made a truly spectacular film. Other than the breathtaking visuals, the one thing that stays in my mind in the movie is when Poppa Henry, Arlo’s father, takes him on a journey to the mountains to track down the human that had been taking their food. Henry ends up pushing his son a bit too hard and they decide to simply head back home. However, the storm quickly floods the river so much that Henry cannot escape it. He simply gets Arlo to safety before we see a split second of the massive waters impacting him, leading to his horrible death. While the death loses its impact for those of us that grew up with The Lion King, the film is new enough that it’s geared toward a younger generation who likely hasn’t seen that movie. To them, that death is very real and heartbreaking. That being said, in the context of the movie, Henry should’ve lived- just saying.
Another relatively underrated Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a spectacular movie that has one of the greatest villains and villains songs in the company’s history. Frollo is a dark soul who was responsible for Quasimodo being in the bell tower to begin with. After being indirectly responsible for the mother’s death because she was a gypsy, Frollo grew to despise all gypsies. But when Esmeralda came into the picture, it became a bit of a different story. Frollo still wanted her dead, but had a sexual desire for her at the same time. Leading to the dramatic song, “Hellfire,” we get a true glimpse as to how screwed up this guy really is. Because of his dissonance, he decides to kill both Esmeralda and Quasimodo, leading to a brutal fight in the bell tower. Eventually, Frollo clings to life from a gargoyle that breaks off, and plunges him into the fire below. While kids won’t pick up on this, Frollo is metaphorically descending into the fires of Hell for his sins of murder and shameful lust while holding on to a gargoyle, which somewhat resembles a demon escorting him all the way down.
When it comes to some of the best Disney climaxes, you can expect a powerful battle with the villain dying at the very end. Some movies like Tangled rehash this without anything to make it stand out, but The Little Mermaid does it perfectly. Once Ariel and Prince Eric go up against the octopus monstrosity that is Ursula, she grows to immense size in order to crush them from ever defying her again. It’s far from your typical “love story” kind of climax, and Prince Eric does something very resourceful. As he sails his ship toward the witch, she fails to see it coming, and the bow of the ship comes in so quickly that it goes right through her, creating one of the largest stab wounds in cinema history. Ursula cries out in pain as she withers away and dies, leaving Ariel and Prince Eric to live happily ever after. Yeah, it’s an ending that fits every Disney trope, but the tension of seeing a monstrous Ursula wreak havoc before getting stabbed is something straight out of a Stephen King novel. That ends up biting the pair in the butt later as they end up having to deal with one of Ursula’s relatives in that stupid “direct to video” movie.
Never send a hyena to do a lion’s work. That was Scar’s only fatal flaw. The Lion King is an excellent Disney film from start to finish, and is the pinnacle of what animated movies should be. It features one of the most impressive villains of all time as well. Scar, being the brother of the “King of the Pride Lands,” selfishly desires his elder’s throne. He wants it so badly that he is willing to kill for it. His nonchalant and intelligent demeanor lead him to becoming one of the greatest schemers to ever grace the big screen, and every scene with him is truly unsettling. Utilizing the hyenas to take over the Pridelands, Scar is one of the few villains to actually succeed in his plans for several years, until being challenged by the banished Simba. Had he actually chosen to kill Simba himself, he would’ve completely taken over and the movie would have been done. However, because the true king returns, their ensuing battle is epic and intense. Eventually, Simba throws Scar off of Pride Rock, where he is met by the hyenas who turn on him (because he stupidly sold them out). Then in a rage of teeth and fire, Scar perishes horribly.
Beauty and the Beast never held a special place in my heart as it does for so many people, but the death of Gaston was always quite the shocker for me as a young child. After spending the entire movie boasting about his many strengths and trying to win over Belle, Gaston eventually leads the people of the town to take down the fabled Beast who lived in a lonely castle. Because we spent all of the time in the movie with Belle and the various members of the castle, this is a truly tension-filled final act. All of the sentient furniture bands together to make sure that no one harms the Beast, but Gaston makes his way up (as all good climaxes go). They’re battle is brutal, pitting a man who is a beast at heart against a beast who is a man at heart. It ends with Gaston falling off the edge of the castle to a quarry of spiked rocks below. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, just picture Saruman’s death to know what happened. While his death doesn’t occur on screen, it’s very clear just how horribly Gaston died. No one falls into spiky rocks like Gaston, I guess.
4. Bambi’s Mother
Disney has always been very good about portraying the wilderness for what it really is, and Bambi is a prime example. The story of a young deer as he grows up through the forest is as memorable as it is heartfelt. However, we all knew watching the movie that it couldn’t all be perfect. As Bambi spends time with his mother near the end of the winter, they begin to eat the first grass of the season. It’s not long until Bambi’s mother hears the sound of a hunter approaching, and she encourages her son to run and not look back. Together, they flee from the hunter through the snow as gunfire explodes behind them. Bambi, following his mother’s orders, runs and runs until he believes that he’s at a safe distance. He turns around and calls for his mother, but to no response. He continues to look for her but to no avail. At this point, the viewers know what’s happened, and it’s Bambi’s innocence in the situation that makes us wants to break down all the more.
I told you Tarzan would be appearing again on this list. While there are plenty of deaths in the film such as Tarzan’s parents and Kerchak himself, none is more scarring than the death of the villain Clayton. As Tarzan comes in contact with some human researchers, Clayton continuously encourages the ape-man to take them to his gorilla family. While he at first objects, he begins to trust them over time and allows them to meet the gorillas. While Jane and her father take the time to appreciate and respect the world that they were brought into, Clayton has different plans. He instead decides to capture the gorillas and imprison Tarzan. After breaking out, Tarzan manages to save his jungle family, but Clayton doesn’t give up without a fight. When Tarzan takes the fight into the trees, Clayton follows, but because the former is better in the jungle, Clayton eventually gets tangled in a number of vines. Angrily taking out his machete, he begins thoughtlessly cutting the vines as one slowly gets wrapped around his neck. Tarzan tries to warn him, but Clayton keeps cutting until the vine around his neck is the only one left. The image we are left with is Tarzan looking in horror as lightning casts a shadow of Clayton’s lifeless body.
While I’ve seen The Lion King so many times that I’m probably numb to this scene by now, there truly is nothing like it to this day. Scar’s intelligence led him to cause a stampede that placed Simba in danger. Mufasa obviously went to save his son, and he struggled to get himself to safety. However, he managed to climb up a cliff where he begged his brother to help. Instead, Scar simply threw his brother down into the wildebeests. When the dust cleared, Simba went down to check on his father. He eventually comes across the lifeless body of Mufasa, and it takes a while for the reality to sink in. He begs his dad to get up because they have to go home, but his father doesn’t move. Once the grief hits him, he simply curls himself up under his dad’s lifeless paw. Then to make matters worse Scar tells Simba that it was his fault and that he needs to run away, then sends the hyenas to kill him. If that doesn’t bring you any emotion, you’re probably a robot.
1. Ellie Frederickson
I love the film Up, the only thing that lowers its excellence to me is how people confuse it with the first 10 minutes of the movie, but it’s not hard to see why. The first 10 minutes of Up are perfect. They tell the short story of how Carl Frederickson came across the excitable Ellie and how their liking of exploration made them become friends. After they became older, their friendship quickly became a relationship and they were eventually married. Their story is full of ups and downs, but there’s no question throughout that they love each other. However, once they are much older, Carl remembers how Ellie still wanted to take the exotic trip they always dreamed about. Carl put his money together and managed to get two tickets for them to go. He took her out to a picnic and planned to present them to her, but her old age failed her and she couldn’t even get up the hill where they usually ate together. She collapsed and the end result was Carl sitting in front of her coffin, looking grim and brokenhearted. Then to make matters worse, Carl’s world crashed down on him as everything that he had built with his wife slowly crumbled to pieces.