Disney animation has many famous movie scenes that people describe as being disturbing or dark ‘for a kid’s film’. Clayton’s [Tarzan] accidental hanging seems to be the most popular death of a villain, although the actual body is only seen in shadows. Falling to death, such as what happened to Gaston [Beauty and the Beast] and Frollo [Hunchback of Notre Dame] is a popular way to kill people in Disney films because the ‘baddie’ simply disappears out of view. In addition to the method of their demise, there is often a callous indifference to the life that was lost that should really be acknowledged, especially in viewing for children.
Villains are not the only victims of Disney violence, however. The death of Bambi’s mother and Mufasa in the Lion King are often described as some of the saddest and darkest scenes in a children’s film. For a company often seen as rosy and innocent, there are some surprisingly violent deaths in Disney’s animated classics. In the following list are some less talked about displays of death in Disney animated films that all include letting the viewer actually see the death and the body that follows.
1. Dog Electrocuted in Oliver and Company
Oliver and Company was a ‘little’ Disney film released in 1988 with a non-grandiose story. It is one of the few animated Disney films that takes place in a modern era. In it, a homeless cat, the titular character named Oliver, is taken in by a homeless man and his pack of street dogs who live harmoniously together. Oliver finds himself separated from them and readopted by a rich little girl, to the dismay of his friends. This light-hearted story must contain more of a conflict so our protagonists are threatened by a crime boss, Sykes, and his two guard dogs Roscoe and DeSoto, and all of them meet a casual untimely end.
In a rather dumb conclusion where there’s a scooter and car chase on railroad tracks, one of the dogs, failing to attack one of our heroes falls off the vehicle and his body is shown flailing around in blue streams of electricity, presumably dead. The other Doberman suffers the same fate and Sykes is hit by a train—his burning car can be seen falling into the water below. Considering that the dogs were just following orders and obeying their master, Disney’s treatment of them is rather callous. These situations seem to teach kids that all crimes should be punishable by death.
2. Eels Obliterated in The Little Mermaid
Here is another example of loyal pets being disposed of like trash for their cinematic crimes of being associated with the villain. Ursula the sea witch has two eels that assist her with dastardly deeds. During the ‘final show down’ right before Ursula attains a massive size and is speared to death by Prince Eric, her buddies are accidently zapped by King Triton’s trident as her and Ariel tussle.
Ursula is pained by the loss of her friends and holds out her hands in futility as pieces of their bodies fall into them including one of the eel’s eyes. This scene is all the more frustrating considering it is done at the hands of Ariel, a selfish character that ignores warnings and signs a deal with the sea witch because she fell in love with a prince she never met.
3. Quail Shot Out of the Sky in Bambi
This sequence in Bambi seems to have been overshadowed by the death of Bambi’s mother even though she is never seen being shot nor is her dead body shown. In the second half of the film, anthropomorphic animals are being pursued by crazed hunters who seem to be out to shoot anything that moves (remember kids, all hunters are nature-hating destroyers!) In a tense scene, the woodland creatures are hiding as the hunters draw closer. One pretty dumb quail starts panicking and despite being told not to fly, decides she can’t take it anymore and flies straight up…only to be shot back down. Her body lands in front of her terrified companions and that is when all heck breaks loose (and the evil hunters also burn down the forest).
4. Stegosaurus Dies on Camera in Fantasia
As a kid I loved Fantasia but I would always dread this particular scene. The music is The Rite of Spring and it takes place during the time of the dinosaurs. A very crazed-looking Tyrannosaurs Rex acting like it hasn’t eaten in weeks barges on the scene and a fight ensues between the carnivorous avian relative and a stegosaurus.
Other dinosaurs watch in horror pending the outcome of the struggle. The stegosaurus puts up a good fight but is ultimately grabbed by the neck and shaken violently to death. Its tail eventually stops moving and its body falls limp, then its eyes slowly close. This was a very graphic depiction of nature with very effective music, but the contrast between the honest brutality of that scene and today’s tamer kid’s films likely has to do with Fantasia’s 1940 release date. These characters also do not speak so perhaps they didn’t think it was that bad.
5. Atlantis Villain Shattered to Pieces
Commander Lyle Rourke is a Clayton-esque villain in this unpopular Disney film that the bafflingly popular Avatar seems to have gleaned from near verbatim (much more so than Pocahontas and FernGully as it is often compared to). Atlantis: The Lost Empire was Disney's attempt to make a more mature action/adventure film. It amazingly has no cute characters or animal sidekicks.
Rouke's demise was as severe as his actions as the antagonist. After betraying his remaining accomplice, Helga, by tossing her out of a hot air balloon to save himself, she shoots the craft down with a flare gun. Enraged, he pursues Milo, who cuts him with a shard from the heart of Atlantis. This seems to painfully turn him into crystal form with beams of light protruding outward. As he continues to pursue Milo, he is struck by the balloon's propellers and shatters like glass. It's all relatively graphic for a children's flick.
Sabor The Leopard on October 25, 2018:
And I thought Tarzan's parents' death was disturbing, but in number 3, that's not a quail, that's a pheasant.
Clifford The Big Red Dog on October 25, 2018:
Ferngully is not a Disney movie but it is good to watch
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 28, 2017:
That poor little quail in number three is so cute and sad :( It's somehow more disturbing when you're an adult.
Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on December 28, 2017:
Yes Poppy, but that one is often talked about.
Poppy from Enoshima, Japan on December 27, 2017:
I always thought Clayton's (Tarzan) death was pretty dark as well, hanging from the vines with his corpse shadowed on the cliff.