The 10 Best Disney Movies That Get Surprisingly Dark

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Some audiences reject disney movies like harmless kids movies full of light magic and non-threatening fantasy. However, while the House of Mouse prides itself on offering great family-friendly films, many of their animated and live-action classics go to darker places than many choose to give them credit for.



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Whether it’s terrifying villains, more complex themes and ideologies, or inescapable danger, the happiest place on earth has gone to certain extremes. Some of them leave a bittersweet taste in your mouth, while others help make happily ever after even more interesting. But, like them or not, they have all earned their place in the company’s most important legacy.

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“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” (1949)

Whereas The wind in the willows the sequence is reasonably light, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow the sequence is a chilling delight. Ichabod Crane himself isn’t a very likable character, plotting to seduce a beautiful girl to get her father’s money.

Then there’s the infamously terrifying final sequence, where the Headless Horseman chases Ichabod through the woods. The next day, Ichabod is missing, only a broken pumpkin remains nearby, giving Ichabod an uncertain fate. In the end, even the narrator of the story, bing crosbyremarks that he has to get out of here.


“The Lifeguards” (1977)

Although the film tells a lighthearted story of a mouse coming to save a little girl, it is also quite bittersweet. The opening scene, where young Penny (Michelle Stacy) sends a message in a bottle to the sea, and it sails along the ocean, triggers an ominous and melancholic tone.

Madame Medusa (Geraldine Page) is quickly revealed to be quite a despicable villainess, kidnapping an orphan child to steal a diamond and threatening her life if she refuses. As the girl, the mice, and their new friends persevere, their lives are repeatedly threatened by bats, floods, and Medusa’s two pet crocodiles.

“The Fox and the Dog” (1981)

It begins as a story of friendship between two orphaned animals; a fox named Tod (mickey rooney) and a dog named Copper (Kurt Russell). They play together, but societal pressures force them apart until they grow up in separate environments. One in the free and resourceful desert, the other bred to hunt. Soon, the two find themselves as bitter enemies.

Then, when a big scary bear tries to kill them both, it’s not enough to make Copper’s owner stop trying to shoot Tod. Finally, after a tense moment, the two leave Tod alone, with only a small smile between the old friends hinting at the reconciliation.

“The Black Cauldron” (1985)

Although touted by many as the moment when Disney animation hit rock bottom, it nonetheless holds a notable place as a mature, dark film in the studio’s history. Young Guardian Pig Taran (Grant Bardsley) discovers an evil demon-like creature known as the Horned King who seeks to use a titular black cauldron to raise an army of the dead to take over the world.

It’s up to Taran and his new friends Princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), and Gurgi (John Byner) to find the cauldron before him. Unfortunately, when the power of the cauldron is revealed, it creates some truly gruesome views, some of which had to be edited by the studio before release.


“James and the Giant Peach” (1996)

This stop-motion classic is based on the children’s book by Roald Dahl and led by Coraline and Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick. A young boy, James (Paul Terry), raised by his abusive aunts after a ghostly rhino suddenly kills his parents, finds magic and uses it to grow a gigantic peach.

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But, while his aunts exploit it for profit, James finds a group of giant talking insects living inside and ready to escape. During a whirlwind adventure in New York, they encounter evil robot sharks, ghostly skeleton pirates (one of which has the head of Jack Skellington), and eventually the leviathan rhinoceros himself.

‘Fantasy’ (1940)

Considered by many to be waltz disneyA masterpiece, each musical sequence is animated to perfection, even if some are darker than others. The Sorcerer’s Apprenticewhile retaining the charm and whimsy of a mickey mouse in short, still has images and music straight out of a horror movie, with sentient brooms that multiply when chopped. The Rite of Spring sequence follows the evolution of the earth, ending on a rather austere note with the extinction of the dinosaurs.

It’s all about the weather Night on Bald Mountainwhere a creepy demon named Chernabog awakens from its slumber to unleash its horde of nightmares, and the only thing that can keep it at bay is the sound of a choir singing Ave Maria.

‘Pinocchio’ (1940)

On paper, it looks like the enchanting story of a young wooden puppet (dick jones) who wants to become a real boy. But this kid is in such danger that the real miracle is that he made it out alive. First, he is held hostage by a puppeteer who wants to exploit him for profit.

Then, on Pleasure Island, a coachman lures him and other stupid children to experience reckless destructiveness, only to turn them into donkeys and sell them to salt mines. After that, a giant whale swallows him alive and nearly kills him. A classic Disney movie moral is that good will conquer evil, but this film shows that sometimes you can only escape it, not necessarily defeat it.


“The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)

Based on an extremely dark book, this film has a reputation for having a darker tone than the typical fairy tale. Much of that darkness comes from the film’s cruel villain, Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay). He kills a woman in his first 2 minutes of screen time. He then raised his son Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) in secret, undermining his confidence at every opportunity, then begins to lust after his new friend Esmeralda (Half Moore).

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He then begins to burn Paris to pursue her, feeling that if he can’t have her, no one can. He commits dastardly deeds while proclaiming himself to be a man of God, using his power to persecute those he deems impious.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)

There’s a reason why Disneyland ride calls the first fully animated film of the events in the “Scary Adventures” storyline. White as snow (Adriana Caselotti) herself is in almost constant danger before she encounters the dwarves. The Evil Queen (Lucille LaVerne), already somewhat disturbing, becomes terrifying when she becomes an old hag. She plots to kill White as snow several times, and with the poisoned apple, she actually succeeds.

She nearly manages to crush the dwarves with a rock until the rock beneath her is struck by lightning, and she falls to her doom, with the ominous implication that vultures watching nearby will feast on her corpse.

“Return to Oz” (1985)

This sequel to The Wizard of Oz gives a whole new meaning to the term “we’re not in Kansas anymore”. Dorothy (Fairouza Balk) tells everyone she knows about her adventure in Oz, and everyone thinks she’s crazy. She is sent to a psychiatric ward to perform shock therapy before a storm destroys the place and drags her back to Oz.

But all of his friends are gone, his pet chicken can suddenly talk, and all the emeralds in the Emerald City have been taken. She then runs into creepy minions called wheelers, a witch who steals the heads of beautiful girls and must fight the monstrous Nome King (Nicholas Williamson) to free Oz from his control.

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