Disney movies are a staple of growing up. With the classic stories, the heroes and princesses, the villains that made us tremble, and the songs that got stuck in our heads, most of us came of age on Disney films. Disney is known for taking original fairy tales—most of which are actually much darker and sinister than we might expect—and turning them into stories that have true love’s kiss and happily ever afters. But behind the jovial songs and uplifting storylines, there are moments in Disney that were less than happy. When we look back as adults at these movies that defined our childhood, we notice the darker tones that run through the animated pictures. Family members die, outcasts are shunned, friendships wither, and sometimes the hero suffers more than we think he ought. Re-reading through our list, you might find yourself recalling the pain from when you first watched, so grab a tissue and get ready to feel it all over again.
10. Elsa and Anna’s Parents Die At Sea (Frozen)
Elsa and Anna already have a tenuous relationship when their parents set sail in the first 15 minutes of the movie. Elsa has kept Anna at arms length to protect her, and Anna doesn’t understand why Elsa’s door never opens to let her in. The death of Anna and Elsa’s parents is a brief moment on screen; the ship carrying them across the sea succumbs to a storm and high tidal waves. What is devastating about this moment is, yes, the death itself but more than that, the way it fractures what little relationship Elsa and Anna have left. As Anna laments, “we only have each other.” Elsa, scared of the outside world learning about her power, shuts herself up and the real heartbreaking moment is seeing Anna and Elsa sitting on opposite sides of the door, unable to comfort each other.
9. The Furnace (Toy Story 3)
When was the last time you played with one of your childhood toys? We are supposed to put away childish things as we age, and so our much beloved toys become oddities on shelves, collecting dust. In the final movie of the Toy Story trilogy, the toys that had taken root in our hearts, almost as if Woody, Buzz and the others were actually ours, find themselves about to meet their end. The fires of the furnace rage below and hope of survival is lost. In that moment of despair, the toys show the kind of love and heart we have come to expect from them: they reach out and take each other’s hands, determined that they should die together. The poignancy of Woody taking Buzz’s hand, once his sworn enemy in the fight for Andy’s affections, tugs at the heartstrings of the viewer no matter what their age. While the toys do survive this brush with death, it reminds the audience how much love we had for our favorite childhood toys.
8. Eric and Vanessa (The Little Mermaid)
Ariel gave up her family, home and tail to be with Eric. The little mermaid with the big voice only has three days to get Prince Eric to fall in love with her and give her true love’s kiss in order to break her curse. For the first two days, everything is going swimmingly; Eric is obviously taken with the mute redhead. They have adventures in town, dance in the town square and at night are serenaded by Ariel’s sea friends and Eric almost kisses the girl. But underneath the murky water lies Ursula, the sea witch, and the last thing she wants is for Ariel to remain human and in love. Using her dark magic, Ursula changes her appearance to become Vanessa and enchants poor Prince Eric to love her. Ariel, happy and in love, wakes up on the final day to hear that Eric and Vanessa are engaged and that he has forgotten all about Ariel. Ariel’s devastation, and ours, is not only in learning that her true love is to marry another woman, but that now Ariel must give up her hopes and dreams of being human and will return to the watery kingdom, a slave to Ursula for the rest of her days.
7. The Feast of Fools (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Disney’s darker stories. Quasimodo had a hard life; his mother was killed and her murderer takes in the young half formed baby, locking him away in a tower to ring the bells. While Quasimodo grows up to be a good man with a big heart, he is also increasingly lonely. His only companion is the evil Judge Frollo (one of Diseny’s most vile villains). One day, Quasimodo finally decides to leave his tower to partake in the colorful and loud Feast of Fools. He tries to stay out of sight and just enjoy being free, but he is eventually discovered and crowned the king of the fools for having the ugliest costume. When the crowd learns that he is not wearing a mask, they turn on him. In a terrible display that shows just how ugly mankind can be, they tie Quasimodo up and pelt him with rotten fruit and vegetables, mocking him all the while. Off to the side, Judge Frollo declares it to be a lesson that must be learned and offers no assistance. It’s only when the gypsy Esmeralda steps in, is Quasimodo freed from his bonds to return to his tower and bells.
6. The Beast’s Death (Beauty and the Beast)
While this tragic moment does eventually result in a happy ending, we still tear up every time we see the Beast “die” in the film. Having fallen in love with the book-smart Belle, the Beast lets her go, even though it means that he will be cursed to remain a beast for all time. When Belle learns that the Beast is in danger, she comes rushing back to his side, only to see the villain Gaston plunge a knife in the Beast’s back. As the rain pours down and Belle tries to find the silver lining in this situation, the Beast tells Belle he is glad he got to see her one final time before dying. As Belle realizes she was too late, she whispers “I love you” and then—MAGIC. But before the magic, we can’t shake the image of Belle in the rain, clinging to the man she loves who has just died, denying them both a happy ending.
5. Friends Forever (The Fox and the Hound)
Tod and Cooper are unlikely friends. As a fox and a hound dog, respectively, they are supposed to be mortal enemies but instead a bond forms between them. Throughout Cooper’s life, he is told that his job is to track down and kill creatures like Tod, but the two animals have sworn to be best friends forever. Tragic events place Tod and Cooper at odds near the end of the film. While Cooper decides that killing Tod is not something he can do, this film serves as a reminder that not all friendships are meant to be. The devastating moment when you see Tod looking down at Cooper’s home, while the conversation they had as kids swearing to be best friends forever plays, is heartbreaking. They can never go back to what they once were; their natures won’t allow it.
4. Dumbo’s Mother (Dumbo)
Some of the most devastating Disney moments involve parents and their children. After being separated from his mother, Dumbo’s life is miserable. He is lonely, sad and forced to be part of a circus act. Noticing his heartbreak, Dumbo’s friend takes the elephant to see his mother. In a tear-jerker moment, Dumbo’s mother uses her trunk, through her cage bars, to rock her baby and the movie shows other mother/child relationships in similar fashion. This tender moment really squeezes your heart as the song “Baby Mine” plays. The hardest moment though, is that Dumbo must leave his mother again and that she will still be locked up behind bars.
3. Bambi’s Mother (Bambi)
Sometimes, villains aren’t mythical creatures that try to get what they want through magic. Sometimes, the real villain is man. In one instant, Bambi’s life changes forever as a hunter guns down his mother, leaving the adorable deer an orphan. There are few things sadder than watching Bambi call out for his mother, alone and cold as the snow begins to fall around him. And when you realize that humans are responsible for the little deer being all alone, it hits you even harder.
2. Mufasa Dies (The Lion King)
Speaking of parental death, not only does Simba’s father die but he dies before our very eyes. This is not a death that happens off screen but instead we witness the evil Scar toss the King of Pride Rock down to the stampeding herds below. The truly devasting moment comes when Simba finds his father and is unable to wake him up. This is further compounded by Scar showing up at just the right time and telling Simba that Mufasa’s death is all his fault and that if he wants to escape the wrath of the lion herd, he should run. Run and never look back. From that moment forward, Simba runs from his past, trying to leave behind his father’s lifeless corpse.
1. The Beginning (Up)
If you didn’t cry in the first 15 minutes of Up then you have ice water in your veins. Through there’s almost no dialogue, just the award winning soundtrack from Michael Giacchino, we see Carl and Ellie meet as children, grow up together and fall in love. It’s a beautiful story of boy meets girl that you are sure must have a happy ending. But like all human stories, Carl and Ellie have their ups and downs, like being unable to have children. Instead they focus on each other and their desire to have an adventure. The moment when you realize that Ellie dies before the two can go off together and that Carl is now all alone will break your heart into a million tiny pieces. There is no need for words, the image of Carl sitting at his wife’s funeral having lost the love of his life is tear inducing enough.
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