“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you…”
Ah, yes. The blue print and binding verbal contract of the Disney world. Every child is promised that good shall always triumph over evil and true love will save the day. It’s pretty much written in Disney’s DNA. But hidden amongst all those rosy melodies and heart-warming cheer, good old Walt liked to make sure we had the bejesus scared out of us too.
Disney films may have a song in their heart and a spring in their step, but in between, they have always managed to squeeze in their fair share of sinister moments. Moments that shook our innocent little world as toddlers staring up at the cinema screen and ones that remain with us as grown-ups in our late-20s (just me on that one?). These films were meant for kiddies, Walt! What the hell?
To be fair to Mr. Disney, there could be a valid reason for his consistent use of dark themes and semi-orphaned characters throughout his films. Nerdy Disney fact: When Walt hit the big time in the early 1940s, he bought his parents a house. Tragically – due to a furnace leak in the house – Walt’s mother died and this left Walt feeling that his success was somehow responsible for her death.
Whether or not this directly inspired the darker moments in Disney’s repertoire, the scary scenes were certainly unforgettable and it’s a testament to Walt’s artistry and masterful storytelling that we still fear many of these moments. (I certainly do!). Here’s our pick of 15 truly haunting Disney moments.
15. Bambi Goes Badass – Bambi
After the sudden, tragic death of his mother, Bambi is forced to dry his tears and become the man (or rather, the stag) of the forest, pretty much overnight. “Your mother can’t be with you anymore” are the kind, consoling words a poor young Bambi gets from his father, the king of the forest, and the young prince quickly learns to man up.
Before long, Bambi grows into a strong and handsome stag and one day, he truly earns his badass credentials when a flirty and happy frolic with feline turns very nasty indeed. When a rival stag approaches, Bambi sees red and defends his girl’s honour by locking horns with the intruder in a dramatic fight. What makes this scene especially scary is the intense, jarring music and the creepy shadows that come in to replace the pretty colourful world of the previous scene. *Shudder*
14. A Lesson in Becoming a Jackass – Pinocchio
Upon being tricked and taken to ‘Pleasure Island’ (don’t even get me started on the creepy connotations of this place), an innocent and easily-led Pinocchio makes a new friend – a troublemaker called Lampwick. Because Lampwick smokes and drinks, Pinocchio copies him but gradually regrets his decisions – by then of course, it’s too late.
While casually shooting some pool, Lampwick laughs off Jiminy Cricket’s warning that bad behaviour will have consequences. All the while, Pinocchio recoils in horror as, bit by bit, Lampwick turns into a donkey. At first, Pinocchio laughs at his friend’s transformation, but is horrified to hear a ‘hee-haw’ at the end of his chuckle. Lampwick’s disturbing change in appearance gives Pinocchio a very graphic lesson about letting yourself become a jackass, and gave us the need for new underwear. Thanks, Walt!
13. A Walk in the Woods – Snow White
At the evil Queen’s request, a hitman makes his way towards a cheery and oblivious Snow White as she picks flowers and hums happily to herself. Just as he approaches her, he bottles it and instead warns poor Snow White about the wicked Queen’s jealousy. The huntsman implores her to run away and never come back.
He may have spared her life and all, but the huntsman isn’t the best at giving directions, as he sends an already petrified Snow White running into a haunted forest. Creepy faces appear in the trees, branches grab at her like claws and she falls into a swamp where the logs have turned into alligators. Snow White was already running for her life – she didn’t need this grief and neither did we!
12. Dumbo Can’t Handle His Drink – Dumbo
The world might get a little blurry and strange when you’re drunk, but how often do you find yourself blowing gigantic bubbles that take the form of pink elephants in a marching band? Maybe if you mixed in some LSD you would.
Upset about his mother’s imprisonment, Dumbo’s cries turn into hiccups, so Timothy the mouse suggests sipping from a nearby bucket of water. What neither of them realise is that the bucket is filled with champagne and the vision they both start to hallucinate could rival Salvador Dali for sheer disturbing creativity. Elephants splitting off into mini elephants, the heads of elephants making up one upright walking elephant and elephants ballroom dancing together?! We don’t envy that hangover.
11. Monstro Goes Mad – Pinocchio
In our second of Pinocchio’s scary-ass moments, Pinocchio and dad Gepetto find themselves in the mouth of Monstro the whale with no hope of escape. That is until our brave little Pinocchio decides they should light a big fire in the hope that the smoke is enough to make Monstro sneeze.
The good news is, their plan works and they manage to escape from his mouth. The bad news? Montero totally loses his it for having his sleep disturbed and chases them at breakneck speed. The chase scene in itself isn’t the scariest part of this scene, but rather the chilling build-up and that horrendous noise he makes before each sneeze. If that’s how all whales sound, I’m never taking strong-smelling flowers to Sea World. Just saying.
10. Tramp vs. Rat – Lady and the Tramp
The gorgeously dark animation style in Disney’s earlier films had a lot to do with the freaky factor in some of the more scary scenes and 1955’s Lady and the Tramp was no exception. When the horrid Aunt Sarah chains Lady to her kennel, Lady spots a giant rat heading for the open window to the nursery. Luckily, the Tramp hears her barks for help and faces the rat in an eerie showdown. (Did we mention this all happens during a thunderstorm?)
In between intermittent flashes of lightning, the widened eyes and bared teeth of Tramp and the rat are nearly all that is visible as they ransack the nursery in a terrifying fight to the death. Tramp emerges victorious, licking his badly-wounded paw. A Disney-animated rat and dog they may be, but there is nothing remotely cute about this fight.
9. Big Bad Ursula – The Little Mermaid
The boss fight to end all boss fights could very well belong to the final scenes from Disney’s renaissance starter, The Little Mermaid. After struggling during the 70s and early 80s, the studio proved themselves to be back on form with this modern classic and the villain certainly didn’t disappoint for hide-behind-the-couch factor.
Determined to rule over the waves, Ursula the sea witch seizes King Triton’s crown and transforms him and daughter Ariel into one of her ‘poor unfortunate’ worm things. As Ursula gains the power she always craved, she grows about 10 times in size to resemble a monstrous Kraken-like figure with a creepily deep voice to match her new scary-ass stature. While whipping up a storm of biblical proportions, she taunts her prisoners on the sea bed, booming “Insignificant FOOLS!” That is until Prince Eric saves the day by impaling Ursula with the splintered bow of a ship. Nasty way to go.
8. Aurora’s Trance – Sleeping Beauty
Often, the scariest and most unsettling scenes in cinema are the subtle and eerie moments as opposed to the chase scenes or jump scares – and this is perhaps Disney’s best example of this. For pure heart-stopping terror, it’s hard to match the sequence where Maleficent lures Aurora to the spinning wheel to make her prick her finger and kick off the whole sleeping curse.
The actual act of pricking her finger is the least scary part – it’s the way Sleeping Beauty is coaxed to her doom that makes this so nightmarish. A glowing green orb appears in the fireplace as a high-pitched voice sings her name, tempting Aurora to follow it zombie-like up a secret passageway. The accompanying music is especially chilling, putting a dramatic chord in every five seconds just to make you jump out of your skin. Don’t expect your kids to sleep after this.
7. Belle Trespasses and the Beast Loses his Cool – Beauty and the Beast
The recent teaser trailer for 2017’s live-action remake may look chilling, but the original packed a scary punch or two – notably when Belle’s curiosity gets the better of her and she wanders into the most forbidden part of the castle – the west wing.
After discovering a few broken mirrors and a curious torn painting, Belle comes across the iconic enchanted rose – only the Beast’s most prized possession. Unfortunately for Belle, this is when the not-so-understanding Beast shows up out of nowhere and bellows “GET OUT!” in his monstrous roar – causing Belle to flee the castle and 90s kids to pee their pants.
6. Alice Angers the Queen – Alice in Wonderland
“We’re all mad here!” Thanks to the cheeky capers of the Cheshire Cat, Alice accidentally angers the Queen of Hearts during a croquet match and boy do we feel the full force of her madness! Just as the Queen gets in position to take her shot at the croquet ball, the Cheshire Cat materialises on her backside and starts talking to Alice. Thinking Alice is talking back to her, the Queen warns her that “if she loses her temper then (Alice) loses her head.”
The Cheshire Cat only stirs things up further by making the Queen trip up on her makeshift croquet mallet – leaving her legs dangling and her petticoat on display. “Someone’s head will ROLL for this!” she booms behind the deck of cards desperately trying to protect her dignity. She emerges with the face of a pissed-off tomato and points the blame at Alice. If we learnt one thing in childhood, it was to never make our mom this level of angry…
5. The Bear Fight – The Fox and the Hound
Disney will sometimes use a very simple trick when it comes to making the bad guys look even scarier, and that’s to make them look as realistic as possible in comparison to other characters. Disney’s animal villains such as Scar and Rattigan are certainly menacing, but they’re still drawn in a very cartoony style. The grizzly bear in Fox and the Hound, on the other hand, is in a whole other league when it comes to menacing.
None of your cute little critter googly eyes here. The gigantic grizzly bear that Copper and Tod fight off has demonic red eyes and looks every inch the real deal (especially to a 6 year old!). This fight scene could possibly be Disney’s scariest, since it’s so utterly relentless. In the end, Todd and Copper survive battered and bruised, but be thankful Disney didn’t stick to the original story – Tod dies from exhaustion and Copper is shot by his owner!
4. The ‘Savages’ Song – Pocahontas
Love is complicated and just sometimes, it starts wars – especially in the Disney universe. In the most perilous example of star-crossed love since Romeo and Juliet, we find Pocahontas and her true love John Smith causing friction between the Native American people and the British settlers in an epic ‘this is my turf’ kind of song.
It’s not just the rousing chorus and racist lyrics that give this scene a haunting edge (#Dirty redskin devils/They’re different from us, which means they can’t be trusted#). The entire song is set against a blood-red backdrop to symbolise the horrific and unnecessary bloodshed of war. Both camps strongly believe the other to be ‘savages’ and it takes young love to make them see sense. Couldn’t they just have settled this over a spot of tea?
3. The Entire ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ Sequence – Fantasia
Noticing that Fantasia is a Disney production, your parents won’t have thought twice about putting this in the VHS player to keep you entertained for a while. As it turns out, your parents were very irresponsible people. 1940’s Fantasia was originally intended for more of an adult audience and it’s not hard to see why.
The ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ segment features the devil coming to life at the stroke of midnight as he summons all the evil spirits and souls of the dead out to play. The bare-breasted harpies and creatures of the underworld dance into the night, to the hauntingly beautiful score by Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky. At a time when some of us may have been too young to grasp the concept of heaven and hell, this scene might have given us an idea of the latter. Yikes!
2. The Cave of Wonders – Aladdin
Anyone who watched Aladdin for the first time in cinemas will back me up on this one. When a colossal tiger’s head rises out of the desert and booms “Who disturbs my slumber?” it’s pretty terrifying. When experienced in THX surround sound, it borders on the need for childhood therapy.
If the magical cave’s appearance didn’t freak you out (seriously?), then you surely will have been frightened when Aladdin enters the cave. When Aladdin is tasked with finding the genie’s lamp (and is instructed to touch nothing but the lamp), a bored Abu is tempted by the forbidden treasure. Upon feeling the cave rumble, a nervous Abu gingerly puts the treasure back in its place, but it’s too late and the cave roars that they shall “never again see the light of day!” *Hides under duvet*
1. Long Live the King (lol, jk) – The Lion King
Losing a parent is never gonna be a cheery affair, but if you ever lose one the way Simba loses Mufasa, we wouldn’t blame you for running away and completely cutting off from society to go to eat some bugs for the remainder of your days. Simba not only loses his dad, he actually gets to watch him die. Messed up, Disney!
You must already know how it all goes down, and if not – spoilers ahead! Having orchestrated a massive wildebeest stampede, Scar tells Mufasa that Simba is caught up in it. When Daddy dearest does his duty and saves his son, Scar waits by the cliff edge and watches as his brother struggles to clamber up the rocks. Mufasa pleads “brother, help me!”, at which point Scar sinks his claws into Mufasa and whispers those bone-chilling words ‘Long live the king’ before releasing him into the gorge.
We don’t know what’s more harrowing – Mufasa’s final screams to his death or Simba’s heart-breaking “NOOO!”. No matter how many times we watch it, it doesn’t make the scene any easier to bare. (And no, repeating ‘Hakuna Matata’ to ourselves doesn’t help with the pain!).