In the lead-up to the release of the live-action The Little Mermaid, Consequence will be looking back at the Disney Renaissance and how it shaped our culture. This time, we’re digging into our collective personal damage with a look at Disney’s most traumatic scenes, streamable on Disney+.
How much childhood trauma can be tracked back to Disney’s decades of animated films? No quantifiable number exists, but certainly the related therapy bills add up to billions of dollars. Because while Disney’s entire thing is making family-friendly content (the company didn’t release an animated movie the MPAA rated higher than G until 1985’s The Black Cauldron), that hasn’t stopped its stories from terrifying young audiences over the years. Dead parents, violent showdowns, and horrific imagery — all of these have been proven to be essential elements of the Disney canon.
In looking back at Disney’s rich legacy of scarring the children of the world, Consequence decided to take a personal approach. There are dozens of scenes that could have made this list — and some of the most iconic, you will find below. Every person is different, however, and so we chose to spotlight the moments that still disturb us individually as adults, with the knowledge that we can’t be the only ones who found these moments troubling. Disney might be built on selling dreams, but it’s given us all nightmares at one point or another.
— Liz Shannon Miller
Senior Entertainment Editor
Fantasia (1940): Night on Bald Mountain
I absolutely hated Fantasia as a child. As an adult, I understand its cultural and historical significance (it resurrected Mickey Mouse’s career!), and appreciate the aesthetic wonders it presents. However, young me didn’t just think this was a bad film: It was evil. Again, now I understand its biggest crime is racist centaurs, but as a youth, the horror of “Night on Bald Mountain” burned my soul.
While Disney has always made its villains perfectly creepy, the Chernabog is straight demonic — literally. This towering Satan stand-in reaches his shadowy hands into a sleepy town and draws skeletal specters from their resting place — knights and hung men, witches and wraiths. He calls upon his demons to dance and transform before him, only to toss them into a fiery pit seemingly for his own amusement. Harpies pluck the creatures from the billowing flames as skulls and ghouls and disembodied heads rush the screen.
Set to one of the most terrifying pieces of music ever written, this nightmare-scape happens right after a scene of hippos and alligators dancing ballet. What was a little Jewish boy from Massachusetts supposed to think here? Sure, the whole thing ends with a bunch of people following the light of “Ave Maria,” sending the Chernabog back to sleep — but that demon is still there! Waiting at the top of a mountain to rally the dead around him and, what, grow more powerful by inhaling the fumes of his followers’ incinerated bodies? Nope, nuh uh, no. Dance your pretty dances, say all your little prayers, but there’s a monster up on that peak and I’m an atheist now. — Ben Kaye