Disney’s original Dumbo is a notoriously heart-breaking film in many aspects, from the bullying of Dumbo to the often overlooked mistreatment of circus animals. The darkest of these scenes sees Dumbo’s mother locked in a cage for defending him against bullies, the pair only able to entwine trucks through its bars.
Based on the novella by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a cult horror classic. Despite being a children’s film, its use of stop-motion animation only adds to its creepiness. One scene shows the ghosts of Beldam’s victims recount how she lured them to the Other World with rag doll versions of themselves, convincing them to let her sew buttons over their eyes and steal their souls. Spooky!
How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
How To Train Your Dragon 2 was an immediate hit when it was released in 2014, boasting lovable characters and an incredible soundtrack. It had somewhat of a tonal shift from its predecessor, however, with the death of Stoick at the hands of a hypnotised Toothless. Coupled with Hiccup’s heart-breaking reaction, the scene was a hard watch.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, based on the book by Victor Hugo, is rife with serious themes. References to racism, religious corruption, abuse, and misogyny all reach a climax in ‘Hellfire’. This haunting song depicts Judge Frollo grappling with his sinful lust for Esmeralda, and vowing that “she will be mine or she will burn”. Ew.
Help! I’m A Fish (2000)
This Danish-German-Irish animated film depicts the oceanic adventures of three children’s quest to return home, after being transformed into fish by a magic potion. Despite the light-hearted premise, the movie has some darker moments. The most disturbing scene sees the villain goaded into drinking the potion’s antidote, causing him to gradually turn from fish to human and drown.
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (1998)
The sequel to one of Disney’s most beloved films, The Lion King II follows the forbidden romance between Kiara, Simba’s daughter, and Kovu, the son of Scar’s mate Zira, who has been exiled along with her pride. In the movie’s final battle, Zira refuses to accept Kiara’s help due to this lasting resentment. She falls to her death with a smile on her face.
Watership Down (1978)
Like Coraline, Watership Down is a testament to the fact that just because a movie is animated, doesn’t mean it’s kid friendly. The film is full to the brim with religious themes and graphic violence, the worst of which arguably being Bigwig being trapped in a snare laid by a farmer – who the rabbits believed had been protecting them.
Frozen II (2019)
Frozen II is the next adventure of Elsa and co, centring on the topic of self-discovery. In one of the film’s darker moments, Anna grapples with the harsh reality of loss, believing her sister and Olaf to be dead. Through the poignant lyrics of ‘The Next Right Thing’, she has to convince herself to keep on going despite her grief.
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (2008)
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, adapted from the novel by Irish author John Boyne, is a historical fiction film based on the Holocaust. It has been heavily criticised for trivializing and misrepresenting the atrocity, arguably creating a false equivalence between victims and perpetrators, as Bruno, the son of the camp’s Commander, is mistakenly killed alongside inmate Shmuel.
Based on the 1912 story of Tarzan of the Apes, Disney’s Tarzan is another beloved classic which has its fair share of dark moments. In the film’s ending, Clayton becomes tangled in vines during his fight with Tarzan, and in an attempt to escape accidentally hangs himself – giving the viewer a glimpse of the shadow of his body.