Movies for children have long had their share of dark and even terrifying moments. In Disney’s 1937 animated classic “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the heroine ran through a hostile forest and ate a poison apple, while in 1942’s “Bambi,” a young deer’s beloved mother is shot and killed.
But Disney’s new adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” hitting theaters Friday, ratchets up the scariness by abandoning the usual format of children’s movies: animation.
And according to child psychiatrists, that can lead to even more nightmares for young audiences. “In a live-action film, humans give it another aspect of real,” Dr. Fadi Haddad, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in New York City, told TheWrap. “You see fear and sadness happening to real people. When the person is bleeding, you see blood; when they are sad, you see real tears.”
In “The Jungle Book,” a young boy named Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is orphaned in the jungle, raised by wolves and threatened with death by both the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and the orangutan King Louie (Christopher Walken).
Walt Disney reportedly considered the original Rudyard Kipling story too frightening, so the studio softened the tone for its 1967 cartoon version and added light-hearted songs like “The Bear Necessities.”
For kids, though, it’s hard to escape the underlying theme of abandonment that runs through “The Jungle Book” as well as some earlier Disney movies like “The Lion King” and “Cinderella.”
“Children relate and react most to separation from parents” said Dr. Haddad, who also works internationally in orphanages and with adopted kids. “In ‘The Jungle Book,’ the child loses his father and becomes very vulnerable alone. The concept is very scary for young children. That moment of separation from the dead parent provokes anxiety about ‘who is going to take care of me if my parent dies.'”
And live-action versions of these stories, including 2014’s “Maleficent” and last year’s “Cinderella,” can seem that much scarier for younger children because of how much more realistic they seem.
Disney did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
According to Haddad, even the darker animated movies like “Pinocchio,” “The Black Cauldron” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” can leave a mark on some very young children.
“If we see vulnerable kids watching these movies, they can be affected by them in a negative way because it’s very aggressive and kids remember those memories for a while,” Haddad told TheWrap. “It can cause trauma.”
Ultimately, it’s up to parents do decide what they think their children are prepared to see. And most children seem to bounce back from the frights of early moviegoing experiences just fine.
The new “Jungle Book” has gotten raves from grown-ups, with a “fresh” 95 percent Rotten Tomatoes score, and seems poised to scare up big box office on its opening weekend.
13 Other Dark Disney Moments Before 'Jungle Book' (Photos)
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937) First Snow White gets lured into the woods by a huntsman who wants to kill her, but he shows mercy. However, the scary moments aren't over as she walks through the terrifying forest, which becomes hostile towards her. Obviously, the whole Evil Queen thing is incredibly dark and sinister as well, as she tries to poison Snow White out of jealousy.
"Pinocchio" (1940) Well, Pinocchio's punishment for being a bad boy is to be turned partially into a donkey, or a literal jackass. Also, his father got swallowed by a gigantic whale so Pinocchio goes to rescue him and also dives into Monstro's mouth.
"Fantasia" (1940) "Fantasia" sets itself apart from all other Disney movies as it mashes together animation and famous classical music. However, at one point, a demon named Chernabog sits on top of a mountain and sends ghosts and unearthly creatures to the village below. Horrifying.
"Bambi" (1942) We all know this tear-jerker scene, in which Bambi goes on a stroll with his mother when she senses a hunter nearby. Her instincts prove correct, and soon shots ring out, killing the mother and leaving Bambi to call out for his mom.
"Alice in Wonderland" (1951) Many theorists have claimed that Alice's journey to Wonderland actually represents a trip on acid, and many have theorized that the movie is about drugs. Whatever the truth is, all the characters she meets are downright dark and scary, especially the Queen of Hearts.
"Escape to Witch Mountain" (1975) Two orphans who have psychic/telekinetic powers get chased by a millionaire, forcing them to go to Witch Mountain to find their "true" family. Scary stuff for young or sensitive kids. There's even a flashback in which someone drowns.
"Return to Oz" (1985) This film was actually criticized for being too dark and terrifying for children. The fantasy film has Dorothy getting electroshock therapy at the beginning, and the characters of the mental institution present themselves in the World of Oz. All in all, Dorothy explores some scary places.
"The Black Cauldron" (1985) This movie became the first Disney animated film to receive a PG rating. An evil Horned King seeks to obtain a magical Black Cauldron in the hope to enslave the rest of the world -- the King himself is a figure with a skeletal body, glowing red eyes and a terrifying voice.
"The Jungle Book" (1994) This first attempt to bring a live action Mowgli to the screen featured Cary Elwes getting devoured by a giant python.
"The Lion King" (1994) One of the most famous moments in Disney history is when Scar kills Mufasa while Simba is watching. The most heartbreaking moment, however, is when Simba gets to Mufasa's lifeless body and starts tugging at his fur, only to start crying and cuddling up against the corpse of his dead father.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996) Lots and lots of dark moments here: From a deformed boy being locked up in a cathedral, to being ridiculed in public, to the way gypsies are portrayed in the film, "The Hunchback" is one of Disney's darker offerings. And Frollo's thoughts about Esmeralda evoke Catholic guilt and he decides he would rather burn down Paris than let anyone else have her.
"Hercules" (1997) Filled with ancient monsters and the God of the Underworld, "Hercules" is another dark movie as the female lead, Meg, literally sells her soul to Hades and spends the rest of her life hating the concept of love.
"Finding Nemo" (2003) Yes, "Finding Nemo" is on the list. At the start of the movie, an entire clown fish population is devoured by a vicious barracuda. During Marlin's quest to find his son, Nemo (after he goes missing during a school day), he encounters dangerous-looking sea creatures and swims through shipwrecks and minefields.
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From ”The Hunchback of Notre Dame“ and ”Alice in Wonderland“ to ”Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,“ see extremely scary and sad plotlines from classic Disney films