11 unintentionally terrifying children's movies from Watership Down to Dumbo

Many of these movies seemed innocent enough at the time but now they just creep us out

Jess Denham
Tuesday 29 March 2016 09:15
Some scenes from 1941's Dumbo probably still haunts your dreams
Some scenes from 1941's Dumbo probably still haunts your dreams

Channel 5s decision to air the famously bloody Watership Down on Easter Sunday last weekend prompted criticism from some parents, who had seemingly forgotten that the 1978 animation is far from a cute and cheery story about bunnies.

The reality is that often, adult scary movies aren’t half as dark, creepy and downright disturbing as the so-called ‘children’s films’ you watched as a youngster.

From the famous cold-blooded murder of Bambi’s mum and sheer apocalyptic trauma of Watership Down to the freaky Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the dancing pink elephants in Dumbo, some of these movies should arguably never have been rated U.

Let’s remind ourselves just how terrifying they really were:


Tiny Thumbelina is kidnapped by toads shortly after birth, nearly drowns in a waterfall, betrothed to a blind old mole who lives underground, forced to dress as a bug and dance at a freaky insect ball, spanked by Mr Beetle with a cane and her lover Prince Cornelius is frozen in an ice block. Oh and her best friend nearly dies. Lovely.

The Neverending Story

The beloved horse drowns in the ‘Swamps of Sadnes’, the Rockbiter’s friends are sucked into a void, there’s a huge wolf monster thing and then of course there’s ‘The Nothing’ which meant sleepless nights all round.

Watership Down

This ‘movie about bunnies’ may look cute enough but Watership Down is proof that animation does not equal adorable. It’s possibly the most traumatic film you’ll have seen in, well, forever. It’s really bloody in parts and should quite clearly never have been rated a U, even in 1978.

The Land Before Time

In a Bambi-style twist of horror, Littlefoot’s mother dies early in the film, and that’s before you have to spend the rest of it dreading Sharptooth murdering the cute dinos!


There are plenty of frankly horrifying moments in this supposed children’s film from 1941, but none so harrowing as the scene when Dumbo visits his imprisoned, supposedly mad mummy elephant and she sings him a lullaby while cradling him in her trunk.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

This Sixties movie certainly seems outdated when watched today, which might be okay, if it weren’t for the Child Catcher who kidnaps the children and hides them in a grotto beneath a castle. Fun fact: James Bond author Ian Fleming wrote the story and Roald Dahl the screenplay, so blame them


That fairground is enough to put you off any old-fashioned fun for life. It’s called Pleasure Island but there is absolutely zero pleasure involved whatsoever. Naughty boys are turned into donkeys and the whole wooden puppet coming alive thing doesn’t really do it for us either.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

There’s no escaping Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom and the list of horrific moments is fairly long. A man is run over by a steamroller and dies screaming in pain, to name just one. The combination of animated characters and real people makes us feel uneasy too.


This one is seriously trippy. It’s Disney’s third ever movie but instead of pretty dresses and Prince Charmings and happily ever afters, all we got was a visit to Satan’s lair in ‘Night on Bald Mountain’.

The Little Mermaid

Ursula makes a pact with mermaid Ariel that she will make her human in return for her voice. Her voice! She must then get a man to fall in love with her, without being able to speak. Every feminist’s nightmare.


Wong joined Disney as an entry level animator in 1938

Most people know to steer well clear of this one by now. If not, you obviously escaped one of the most scarring childhood memories, that of cute baby Bambi’s mother being shot dead by hunters, leaving him sad and alone in the woods.

This article was originally published for Halloween 2015

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