Children's movies don't always end up being light and fluffy. Sometimes, they end up being surprisingly dark movies. Weirdly enough, much of the surprising intensity rears its head during the climax of family-oriented movies. Remember the dog-filled fun of Beethoven? That film is best remembered for the goofy slapstick comedy of the early moments and the mountain of sequels it spawned. But did you remember that the antagonist of that film is a veterinarian who uses living animals to test out ammunition? Yep.
How about Christopher Lloyd trying to take off with a child at knifepoint in Dennis the Menace? Or that time nearly all the beloved toys from the Toy Story franchise almost perished in an incinerator? It also seems like almost every family comedy from the 1990s involved mobsters or crooks trying to swipe a bunch of money or slay a kid's parent in some vendetta. Some family comedies just seem to get far too intense in a way we just can't forget.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
1992's Beethoven ended up being a pretty big deal for Universal Pictures upon release. It was a hit, bringing back the production budget multiple times over, and it's easy to see why. With a cute dog, a script from '80s film king John Hughes, and a game cast featuring Charles Grodin, Bonnie Hunt, Oliver Platt, Stanley Tucci, David Duchovny, and Patricia Heaton, there was an undeniable recipe for success. And the Beethoven series would get four direct sequels and three spinoff films, so it's safe to say the first film struck a chord with audiences.
But, man, the final third of this film really takes a turn. The film's antagonist is Dr. Herman Varnick, a man who is involved in unethical animal testing. What kind of testing? Ammunition testing, of course. He uses large-skulled dogs for ammunition testing. He shoots dogs in the head. This is a kid's movie, people. At one point, Varnick even tells Beethoven's family that he has been euthanized! Between the villainous machinations in Beethoven and the harsh violence in Home Alone, it's clear John Hughes felt kids could handle emotional turmoil better than many parents think.
The Toy Story series is one of the most beloved children's franchises of all time. It is a rare feat for each and every film in a series to be great, but the wizards at Pixar have managed to create four fantastic films from 1995 up through 2019. It is clear they have learned to take their time with Woody and the group, only telling stories they really want to tell. Well, the hurried and haphazard production behind Toy Story 2 is another story, but you get our point. This group of toys put Pixar on the map, and they want to do them justice.
Toy Story 3 is no exception to this, but man does that film get dark during the climax. After all of the chaos involving the daycare has ended, the toys find themselves at a landfill, where they fall onto a conveyor belt that leads to an incinerator. The toys end up falling into the incinerator after Lots-O'-Huggin' Bear leaves them to perish. Our beloved toys seem to accept their doomed fate as they lock arms and close their eyes, but they end up being rescued by the claw-loving aliens at the very last second. It is a harrowing moment of children's cinema that sticks with you long after viewing.
- Photo: Universal Pictures
Problem Child was a bit of a controversial film at the time of its release. There were protests over the film's posters, which saw the titular problem child putting a cat in a drying machine, and the film's many "gags" - including setting numerous fires and almost offing his grandfather - sparked debate over what is acceptable for a child to do on film. The film also wasn't very funny, but that doesn't mean it didn't earn plenty of money at the box office. It even earned two eventual sequels.
But, why? Who decided it would be a good idea to make light of the genuine plight many kids go through during the often tumultuous adoption process? And why is Junior friends and pen pals with a serial killer in the movie? Is that supposed to be funny? Are we missing something here? The dangerous pen pal, played by Michael Richards (Kramer from Seinfeld), shoots the child's adopted father in the chest at the end of the movie. COME ON.
- Photo: Warner Bros.
In the years leading up to 1994's Richie Rich, Macaulay Culkin was riding high as the most marketable child actor in all of Hollywood. Films like Home Alone, Uncle Buck, and My Girl turned the kid into a household name. And so, when it came time to adapt the 1950s comic book character Richie Rich to the big screen, Culkin was the obvious choice. The film ended up failing with critics and struggled to make its budget back at the box office. Interestingly enough, this was the final film Culkin starred in during his child-acting days.
Instead of adapting the comic books more faithfully by choosing a delightfully weird villain like the Onion (a man with horrible onion-powered breath capable of rendering people unconscious), the film went with the obvious choice for villains: Rich Enterprises employees who want to pilfer the Rich family fortune. Could that choice be any more boring? And if you like your family film villains holding people hostage with lethal weapons, then Richie Rich is for you.