Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cartoons That Scared Me As A Kid

The recent theatrical re-release of The Lion King reminded me of how much it scared me when I first saw it. I was 10 years old when it came out, right at that liminal period of childhood when one is growing up and becoming rapidly inured to scary imagery but can still be frightened by things on a movie screen.

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):


My brother was obsessed with the Thundercats. He owned all the toys, which I eventually inherited. I wasn’t the biggest fan, although I do remember really wanting the Sword of Omens. The cartoon was mostly a fun-filled romp with lots of action…that is until Mumm-ra turns into his Ever-Living form. Then it gets positively nightmarish. It’s even a little freaky to watch today.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

This is an old Disney short movie (I guess it was paired with another short movie to fill out a full-length feature). It’s pretty silly and non-threatening for the most part but builds to a terrifying climax. The horror show begins at around the 25-minute mark. For a company that is synonymous with family entertainment, Disney sure made its share of frightfests.

Aeon Flux

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.

The Last Unicorn

My sister loved this movie. I don’t know how she made it through the Red Bull sequences without running out of the room, screaming. That thing was the scariest thing I had ever seen.

The Secret of Nimh

There were tons of scenes in this movie that made me want to hide under a blanket. The movie does such a good job of making you see the world through Mrs. Brisby’s eyes, which makes pretty much everything terrifying. The heart-stopping terror of the tractor, the fearsome owl, the ever-present danger of being attacked by the cat—it was almost too much to take. Added to all this, the art design made some of the characters look truly sinister—especially the evil rats like Jenner. The movie’s a classic though, as is the book it’s based upon.

The Black Cauldron

Another nightmare-inducer from Disney. This time the scares come directly from the villain of the story, the Horned King. Usually Disney villains have a silly or humorous quality to temper their horribleness. Not so with the Horned King. This guy wouldn’t look out of place in an R-rated horror movie. I had the movie tie-in paperback of The Black Cauldron and I was so creeped out by the Horned King on the cover that I always had to make sure the book was face down so I couldn’t see him.

The Dark Crystal

Strictly speaking this isn’t animated, but the puppets are plenty terrifying. The Skeksis (Skekses?) in particular were enough to make me cover my eyes and turn off the movie.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Another movie that lures you in with a cute premise, only to end in absolute terror. It’s interesting that the villain, Judge Doom, isn’t that scary until he becomes a cartoon himself. The psycho look of his animated form haunted me for years.


1 comment:

  1. Yes, I agree the given list of cartoons that scared me in childhood days. Thanks for Sharing.

    Cartoons for Kids