Witches, wheelers and pink elephants: the 7 scariest children’s films

Here are the films for children which have always scared me (see also my post about children’s TV programmes). There may be many other scary ones that I haven’t seen. Let me know if you agree with this list or if you’d add any!

Fantasia (1940). There’s a lot to be scared of in this pioneering pairing of classical music and animation. Crocodiles, hippos in tutus, Zeus, enchanted brooms, volcanoes, the T-Rex, earthquakes and of course all the demons and ghouls who dance to Mussorgsky’s ‘Night on Bald Mountain’.

Dumbo (1941). Unless you’re terrified of clowns, then the scene which frightened you most is probably the notorious ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ sequence, in which everyone’s favourite flying elephant drinks champagne (spiked with something, surely) and hallucinates freaky ‘technicoloured pachyderms’.

The Black Cauldron (1985). Fallen warriors are reanimated by the creepy Horned King using an evil cauldron, allowing him to command an army of zombie skeletons. The worst part is at the end when as a fitting punishment he’s sucked into the cauldron and seems to lose everything except his bones in the process. I kind of felt sorry for him.

Return to Oz (1985). Dorothy escapes from a sinister mental hospital and to a scarier version of Oz, encountering the Wheelers (a cross between clowns and hyenas, with wheels instead of hands and feet), headless Princess Mombi (who has a stylish collection of heads to wear and is lusting after Dorothy’s) and rocks with faces.

The Brave Little Toaster (1987). You may think that this tale of enterprising household objects going on a journey to find their master is rather sweet. However, maybe you’ve forgotten about the malevolent scrapyard magnet who chases the group of friends, depositing them (along with their human master) on the conveyor belt to be crushed into cubes.

The Witches (1990). This adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book is funny but the witches are necessarily frightening. Luckily, Luke and his grandma help to foil them. The scene in which Luke is trapped in a conference room with the witches is horribly tense. Their sense of smell is very acute and he has no chance of escaping before being turned into a mouse.

Spirited Away (2001). Seeing one’s parents transformed into enormous pigs is quite scary, as is the prospect of having to choose which two pigs in an enclosure full of them are your parents before you can leave this enchanted place. It’s also frightening to be followed around by a spirit, No Face, and allowing it inside the bath-house where it proceeds to eat every customer.


9 thoughts on “Witches, wheelers and pink elephants: the 7 scariest children’s films”

  1. I honestly didn’t expect Spirited Away to be here but I only saw it for the first time last year but now I can see how it can be scary for a kid! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And I have a friend who was traumatized by the original Witches movie. Have you checked out the new reboot with Anne Hathaway? ๐Ÿ˜›

    1. I find Spirited Away scary still, as an adult ๐Ÿ˜‰ I love the the original Witches film, I watched it a lot even though it scared me. I haven’t seen the new one, I’m always wary of remakes (The Secret Garden is another of these, the 90s film is one of my favourites). Not eager to see it but if it appears on Netflix any time I’ll give it a go.

  2. Oh, yes, Fantasia. Wonderfully weird and spooky! Such evocative music. One of my guys was terribly frightened by a children’s production of Peter and the Wolf, but more than the wolf, I think it was the music (really scary strings) that set him off. Good list!

    1. Thanks! Fantasia is one of my favourites! The first classical music CD I bought was the Fantasia soundtrack. I think that music, or at least sound effects, has a big role in whether something is scary or not.

  3. Great list! Return to Oz is definitely the top one for me – Deadly Desert, screaming disembodied heads, plenty of nightmare fuel!

  4. Great post! That No Face in Spirited away was pretty scary, even that weird sound it made, a sort of quiet “uh”. I weirdly loved films that felt a bit creepy. I definitely agree with Return to Oz, that one was just so good but creepy and a touch scary. I have to say that I felt a bit creeped out by Labyrinth when I was growing up too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thanks! Yes you’re right, it had a quiet sound which actually contributed to the overall scariness. I only recently saw Labyrinth for the first time, it didn’t scare me but I imagine it would have if I saw it as a kid.

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