Why do I turn the channel any time there’s a ventriloquist on America’s Got Talent? Why can’t I go on tunneled boat rides? Why do I duck down behind furniture so the meter reader knocking at my door can’t see me and I won’t have to let him in?
BECAUSE CHILDREN’S MOVIES HAVE SCARRED ME FOR LIFE.
I’ve been looking back on the movies I watched as a kid and it turns out that a good number of them range from mildly creepy to downright disturbing. I have a penchant for dark things, but even I have a limit, and the following movies cross it.
- Alice in Wonderland (1999), the one with the girl from Napoleon Dynamite. I was drawn to this movie in a can’t-look-away-from-the-car-crash kind of way and watched it often as a kid, even though it left me with a bitter aftertaste each time. Aside from the generally gloomy aesthetic, every character in this movie is either aloof or cruel or both, refusing to help Alice even when she nearly drowns or grows too big and gets trapped in a house. But what scarred me most is the scene where the Dutchess is beating this mechanical creepy freaking baby senseless because it won’t stop sneezing, while their cook smashes plate after plate against the wall.
That face! That wail! That song! Thank goodness the baby later turns into a pig.
If you care to scar yourself:
2. Also because of this movie (the scene where she gets trapped in the house), I used to have this recurring dream about getting trapped in the Chuck E Cheese tubes. Sometimes, like Alice, I’d simply be too big and be unable to move my limbs to get out. But other times I’d ride down this slide, thinking I was exiting the maze, but instead I’d land in a pit, and the slide was too slick and steep for me to climb back up.
3. Pinochio. Puppets turning into boys. Boys turning into donkeys. People getting swallowed by whales. I rewatch most Disney movies every year, but Pinochio is sitting at the back of the VHS cabinet.
As long as we’re on that, can we talk about how so many Disneyland rides have horrible endings? In Pinochio, you land in hell. In Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, you land in hell. In Snow White, you get crushed with a boulder and die. It’s like a real-life Wonka’s Chocolate Factory where kids get plucked off one by one. Speaking of which…
4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is one of my all-time favorite movies (and not just because it makes an appearance in Gilmore Girls). I don’t know what this says about me, but I think Willy Wonka is hilarious, and since he assures Charlie that all the other kids at least survived their heinous trials, it didn’t so much bother me that they got stuck, shrunk, and tossed in with junk. But what did disturb me was the psychedelic boat ride and the song that Wonka sings as a chicken’s head is chopped off in the background. There is no point to this horrific little journey and in fact, it’s often cut out when the movie is on TV, probably because I’m not the only one who was permanently damaged by it.
“Are the fires of hell a’glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing? YES!”
Daddy, I do not want a boat like that.
5. James and the Giant Peach. I actually loved this movie too, mostly for the centipede and the beatnik spider.
But you can’t tell me it’s not creepy. The black rhino was scary in its own way, and the scenery is pretty bleak, but to me the most horrifying part is the idea of being trapped with caretakers who despise you and actively take away any bit of joy that comes your way simply because they can. I mean, they literally rip up his dreams!
6. Care Bears Movie II. Okay, I realize I’m probably in the minority on this one. Most people probably took in Dark Heart’s snazzy outfit and gazed into those sparkling red eyes and thought, there’s nothing to fear here.
And true, he’s not the scariest of villains, even within the Care Bear franchise (Dark Heart is better than No Heart, for instance). I think I even had a crush on him at one point (something about that evil voice, maybe?). But he disguises himself as a meter reader in order to infiltrate Care-A-Lot, and that put the idea in my head that hey… someone could do that to me! Anyone could claim to be a meter reader and I’d welcome them and whatever evils they brought along with them right into my house. And so to this day, whenever I’m home alone, I refuse to answer the door.
7. Hunchback of Notre Dame. Yet another of my favorites. Esmeralda was super cool and sassy, and the Court of Miracles made me become obsessed with secret hideouts. I could handle the death of Quasimodo’s mother and his seclusion in a bell tower and the creepy gargoyles and even Frollo’s song about lusting after Esmeralda (which I didn’t fully understand back then anyway). What disturbed me was that HE DOESN’T GET THE GIRL IN THE END. Even after he joins Esmeralda’s hand with Phoebus’s, I still thought that her reaching back for him and pulling him into the light meant that she was changing her mind and picking him. I was so confused when she then went back to Phoebus’s side. My little child brain couldn’t fathom this. This is a Disney movie! Where is the happy ending? Who cares that society is no longer afraid of him? He’s in love with Esmeralda; his heart would still be shattered! It isn’t fair that after all he does to prove himself, he still isn’t even in the running for her love all because he’s not attractive.
That was a harsh wake-up call for me, the fact that even in a movie, it was possible for things to not turn out the way I wanted them to. And yeah, I knew about the sequel where he DOES get the girl, and I equally hated that movie because I felt like it was pandering to my childish need for a happy ending, and it didn’t ring true. So then I was full of angst and contradictions and despair and I became totally ready for adulthood.
So I guess disturbing kids movies are good for something after all. They steel you for all that’s coming, and they teach you to appreciate the fluffier bits of life, all those happily-ever-afters that you took for granted before.
What I’m Listening to: Lose My Cool by Youngstown (still on my 90’s kick)