Yes, I thought The Lion King was pretty scary. And before you call me a pusillanimous fraidy cat (which I probably was), I urge you to revisit that scene when Scar murders Simba’s dad and think about how traumatic it was to a young ‘un not prepared to witness such brutal fratricide. If you were either too old or too young to be affected much, you’ll just have to trust me: It was disturbing. I remember that I managed to stay in my seat with a frozen expression, but plenty of parents around me had to escort their wailing kids out to the lobby. You just can’t kill off a parent in a children’s movie without repercussions. I know it traumatized tons of kids; The Lion King is the Bambi of my generation.
The whole concept of scary cartoons and animated features is a little weird. There’s something strange about scaring the bejesus out of kids with something that is ostensibly made for kids. (I know things like the Pixar movies have done much to change the audience for animated features—not to mention the anime coming out of the Land of the Rising Sun. But cartoons are still mainly for kids, at least in the US.) But then again everything would be pretty boring if cartoons were all sweet and nice and benign. And sometimes there’s no telling what will scare someone. Like finding something funny, being scared is a totally subjective experience.
I watched a lot of older cartoons and movies when I was a kid because I had a brother and sister who were a few years older than I was, so I basically watched what they did. There were a ton of VHS tapes of Disney movies and TV shows lying around the house. A lot of this older stuff seems way freakier than the stuff made from about the mid-‘90s on. I don’t know if this is because I was older by then and things didn’t terrify me as much or what. Maybe there was a general effort to make things less frightening, like the people who were funding this stuff realized that movies that made people laugh and smile instead of scream and cry made a lot more money in the end. It’s also true that most of the kids’ movies today are made with computers and look really slick compared to hand-drawn cartoons. There is a kind of crudeness to traditional cell animation that allows it to be almost impressionistic at times, making it easier to infiltrate our dreams (and nightmares).
Or maybe I was just young and easily scared. You be the judge. Here are a few of the horrors (as I remember them):
This was more unnerving than it was jump-out-of-your-skin scary. I remember stumbling on this show while flipping the channels and just being utterly disturbed by it. It was so weird and the things I was seeing made me extremely uncomfortable. There weren’t any particularly scary moments in any given episode, but it induced a constant low-level dread within me. It was like a David Lynch movie in cartoon form. Watching it now, it remains a little creepy and very nonsensical.