Every kid who grew up watching movies with their family has that one unforgettable animated movie death that left an indelible mark on their childhood. There is something powerful and lasting about these moments, something that will never be erased from the psyche. We've moved on, we've seen scarier films... but nothing will beat out that first death that either broke your heart or scared you to death.
Remember Bambi's tears after the demise of his mother? Remember how Clayton was literally hanged at the end of Tarzan? How about that time Rasputin dissolved into a green skeleton during the climax of Anastasia? Or when the Iron Giant sacrificed himself to save thousands of people from certain doom? Let's take a harrowing trip down memory lane by looking at some of the most memorable cartoon death scenes, shall we?
- Photo: RKO Radio Pictures
This is the progenitor of them all. For your grandparents' generation, this was the defining death in all of animated cinema. Leave it to Walt Disney himself to take a delightful little story about woodland creatures and throw one of the most iconically sad moments in film history into the mix. It comes out of nowhere. It is harrowing.
It's not like the demise of Bambi's mother comes at the beginning or end of the film either - it is smack dab in the middle of that bad boy. After being introduced to the world of Bambi, Thumper, and friends, audiences are treated to a scene of a hunter slaying Bambi's mom during the winter. At first, Bambi keeps running to safety, not knowing his mother has been slain. His shouts of "Mother!" are forever etched into our brains. The icy flakes that drop around him are an obvious metaphor for the crippling loneliness the young doe feels. It is debilitating almost 80 years after release.5512Burned into your memory?
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Let's go back to a time where there wasn't an astonishing 14 Land Before Time films, as well as a spinoff cartoon series. Way back in 1988, beloved animator Don Bluth used the goodwill he built up with The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail to bring a dinosaur film to audiences across the world. And though the movie centered on a group of young dinosaurs with names like Littlefoot and Ducky, Bluth brought some of his signature darkness to the picture as well.
As if a frightening, red-eyed Tyrannosaurus rex wasn't enough to scare kids, they also get to confront the realities of mortality during a heartbreaking scene between Littlefoot and his mother. Surrounded by lightning and rain, the young long-neck and his mother have a last moment together where Littlefoot struggles to understand his mother will soon pass. "I'll be with you," his mother says. "Even if you can't see me." Have fun explaining life and death to your young children, parents!347Burned into your memory?
- Photo: Buena Vista Pictures
This isn't your average off-screen Disney death. The demise of Mufasa is burned into the brains of every kid who saw The Lion King in the 1990s. For starters, we have the kinetic wildebeest stampede that threatens the life of Simba. Then we have the dramatic visage of Mufasa attempting to climb to safety after saving his son. And finally, we have the dual images of Mufasa falling to his demise as Simba watches from afar, screaming.
Do we technically see Mufasa perish on screen? No. But we don't need to. Audiences feel the weight and the tragedy of this moment all the same. We're getting angry at Scar all over again, that duplicitous scamp. How dare you pull a fast one on Jonathan Taylor Thomas and James Earl Jones! What did they ever do to deserve such treatment?317Burned into your memory?
How would you like to start your family-friendly Pixar movie? With a Randy Newman song like in Toy Story? A 2D-animated sequence like in Monsters, Inc.? The retelling of a family's history like in Coco? Oh... you're looking for the tragic slaying of a mother and almost all of her children? We're not sure why you would want that, but that definitely is how Finding Nemo begins.
During the film's opening sequence, we are introduced to Marlin and Coral, two clownfish with a whole mess of eggs that are soon to hatch, giving them a huge, loving family to look forward to. But, wait... why is the scene so dark? And, wait... is that a barracuda in the distance? No. Don't do this, Pixar! And then it happens: Coral and all but one of the eggs perish during the barracuda onslaught, leaving Marlin alone with one damaged egg that ends up being Nemo. It is a debilitatingly dark scene to open with and somewhat of a masterstroke from those wild kids at Pixar.3418Burned into your memory?