There’s nothing quite like sitting down — even as an adult — and watching your favorite kids’ movie. With the adorable characters and nostalgia, there’s a certain comfort associated with childhood movies and shows. However, some cartoons know how to tap into our darkest fears and their scenes stick with us for entirely different reasons.
#1 Mindless Husks
There’s that one episode from Courage the Cowardly Dog where they go 50 years into the future and TownsVille is a ruined hellscape populated by mindless husks and him. Why don't they make cartoons like that anymore? I admit, I barely actually watch cartoons anymore, I was just saying that. But, Courage was on another level.
#2 Monsters are Real
I actually vividly remember my dad being really angry after watching Scooby Doo in Zombie Island with me once. He always loved watching Scooby Doo with my brother and I because the ultimate moral was that monsters weren't real and that the bad guys will get caught. It bothered him that they switched up and actually made the monsters real.
#3 Phone Home
I was going to say, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was terrifying as an entire movie. It wasn’t just E.T. himself. I don’t know about anyone else, but the humans are nightmare material in that movie as well. The noises are honestly pretty freaky, too. Oh, and when E.T. has the dress and wig on? Terrifying as a child.
#4 Alien Present
The episode of Spongebob where Squidward time travels scared me. First, he's frozen for centuries, then he travels back to before people existed, then he breaks the time machine and ends up in a white void populated only by solitude and madness. There's a similar episode of The Simpsons where Homer keeps traveling back and forth from prehistory and keeps coming back to somewhat familiar, yet terrifyingly alien, versions of the present.
#5 Laughing to Heaven
Tar pits in the Land Before Time movies. The bulldog from All Dogs Go to Heaven being dragged down to the underworld at the end of the movie. I also have to mention the cute little shoe toon getting the dip in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Pair this with the fact that the souls of the weasels laugh themselves until they pass away and ascend to heaven. All the while, the soul of the one who gets kicked into the dip apparently gets destroyed along with his body. I guess you get no afterlife if you get the dip. Poor shoe.
#6 Pink Elephants
I’m honestly still terrified of that scene from Dumbo with the pink elephants, even 30 years later. When I watched it as a child, it was like having a bad trip before I even knew what a trip was. And then the scene in the beginning when his mother is legitimately taken away from him… yikes. I had so many feelings.
#7 We Toys Can See… Everything
Every time someone brings up that demon spider baby from Toy Story, I always have to bring up this story. When my brother and I were younger, Burger King had a ton of Toy Story prizes in their kids’ meals. One of them was that demon. We were scared of it, so we did what any kid would do and buried in the backyard. The next spring, that creep emerged looking for revenge. I’m pretty sure at that point we smashed it with a shovel and threw the remains away. It’s probably plotting its revenge at the dump.
#8 Brave Little Viewers
The Brave Little Toaster has some crazy scenes. I’m talking about the scene where Toaster literally causes a flower to pass away of despair. Or the evil homicidal firefighter clown. Or the air conditioner ending its life by overheating. Or the old cars losing their lives thanks to a giant magnet and getting turned into cubes.
#9 Neverending Nightmares
As a kid, the Atrax scene in Neverending Story was very upsetting. As an adult, the Rock Biter scene destroys me. It gets worse as you’re older because then you start experiencing the passing of loved ones and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Nothing comes for them and strength and preparation don't matter.
#10 Haunted Forever
That tapeworm episode from Mr. Meaty horrifies me. Because of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Coraline, Mr. Meaty, Chicken Run, and Wallace and Gromit (yes, I said that), I’m horrified of claymation. As a 20-year-old male, I will full-on break down and cry if I’m forced to watch pretty much anything claymation.
#11 People in Paintings
If anyone has seen the movie Witches, the whole thing is horrifying, especially when Anjelica Huston peeled her face. It’s so scary. The part where Erica got trapped in the painting scared me too. Back then, I would wave at any paintings that had people in it just in case someone was trapped in there as well.
#12 Shadow’s Pit
For me, it’s the scene in Homeward Bound when Shadow was stuck in the mud pit. My family had a nearly identical golden retriever. According to my mother, little four-year-old me was having a full-blown meltdown in the theater when we went to see it. I watched that movie recently and had to fast forward through that scene.
#13 Kids Scaring Kids
There was a scene in Rugrats that I don't remember too well. But, Tommy has a dream about this older, bigger baby that bullied him and was about to eat Tommy or something. I just remember being scared completely of that scene as a little kid. Rugrats is messed up. The "I'm not Stu" scene, dust bunny, the monster bed, and Tommy ripping his leg were messed up scenes, too.
#14 Incoming Comet
Quite a lot from Adventure Time. One of the most disturbing and sad scenes was the origins of the Ice King’s crown. To summarize what happened, there’s a primordial comet that's going to hit Earth. Evergreen, the elemental of ice, wanted to create a crown that would wish the comet away. Beside Evergreen was his assistant Gunther, who wanted to become like his master. Although, his Evergreen is neglectful and abusive to Gunter.
At the climax, they successfully made the crown but Evergreen was stuck and incapable of wishing the comet away. Coincidentally, Gunter got the crown and was ordered by his master to wish the comet away. But the crown only answers to the wearer's deepest wish, and Gunter's wish was to become like his master. The episode ended with Gunter becoming like his master and everyone from that era losing their lives.
#15 Large Marge
The first disturbing scene that comes to mind is from the Pee Wee Herman movie. It’s that scene that had Large Marge in it. Also, another one that sticks out is the scene in Goonies where they were going to put Chunk's hand in a blender. That and when he was stuck in the freezer with that guy who wasn’t alive anymore.
#16 Catching Children
If I had to say one, it would be that child-catcher scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that’s the big one. Specifically, when they're hiding in the basement and he looks through the bars in the window. I'm honestly not even sure if that scene's in the movie or if my childhood imagination put that scene in the movie.
#17 Beata Maria
My significant other played the scene where Claude Frollo sings “Hellfire” in the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I couldn't believe how disturbing it was. It’s legit something that a child certainly couldn't understand. It's so vivid to me now, but when I was a kid I just brushed it off as spooky. It's kind of gross.
#18 Monkey Disease
There was an episode of Hey Arnold! where Helga thinks she contracted some monkey disease. She then had this horrifying nightmare where she turned into a monkey and had to dance for an organ grinder. There was another episode where there was a legend about a train conductor who drives the train to the underworld. Then there's the episode about the headless cabbie that ends with the lady from the story getting into that one guy's carriage.
#19 Wondrous Boat Ride
I’d have to say it’s that one famous scene from Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory where everyone’s in the tunnel. It went from "happy candy growing on trees and chocolate waterfalls" to "why am I watching a horror compilation?" As a little kid — and even as an grown adult — it completely threw me off guard.
#20 Counting Crows
A few scenes from We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story. The first part that horrified me was when the dinosaurs became evil somehow. The last part, which haunts me to this day, is when the crows devour Professor Screweyes completely to the point where only his screws were left. I understand the symbolism of it now because he was supposedly devoured by his fears. It was still creepy as a child.
#21 Don’t Lose Your Head
I sort of remember my mother being shocked with the reveal in Scooby Doo in Zombie Island. She thought it was a little too extreme for Scooby Doo. When she told my dad about it, he laughed since the image of Fred ripping a person's head off was pretty funny to him. Although past me was terrified at that scene, present me repeats the scene, laughing. My dad was right, it is pretty funny when you're older.
#22 Is This a Kid’s Movie?
When I was a kid, they gave away Disney toys at Burger King and Roger Rabbit was one of them. They also mentioned the movie in a trailer that appeared on one of the old Disney VHS tapes. It may not have been a kids' movie, but Disney certainly didn't think so, at least for a time in the 90s.
#23 Lock Him Up
I’d have to say it’s that one episode from Thomas the Tank Engine where Henry doesn't want to come out of the tunnel in the rain for fear of ruining his paint. So, Sir Topham Hatt (or the Fat Controller, for our UK friends) has him literally bricked up in the tunnel like it’s "The Cask of Amontillado" or something.
#24 Competing Idiots
There was one episode from Ren and Stimpy that was seared into my memory as a child. Stimpy competes with the village idiot to see who is stupidest. The village idiot takes a cheese grater to his forearm and squeezes lemon juice into the wound. Stimpy freezes his tongue to a pole and yanks his head back until it snaps in half. Just brutal.
#25 That’s Not the End
When I was maybe eight, my grandma took me to her friend’s house for a birthday party or something. The kids were watching Fox and the Hound, which I had seen several times. They turned the movie off before the bear came out and pretended that was the end of the movie. Since I was so young with no filter, I was like, “Wait… that’s not the end!” and the adults kept trying to shut me up. It was so crazy to me.
#26 Barnaby Jones
There was an episode of Rugrats where Chuckie was scared about a monster living under his bed. There's a part where Angelica tells the story of poor little Barnaby Jones who was eaten by the monster. The scene then cuts to the monster telling Barnaby that he was cake and ice cream under the bed. This gets Barnaby excited, so he jumps off the bed and the monster grabs him. He's slowly pulled under the bed while screaming. You then hear the monster start eating him as he screams until there is nothing left except for Barnaby's comic book.
#27 Return the Slab
The thing about Courage the Cowardly Dog is it scared me when I was a kid, but as an adult I've rewatched those episodes and thought they were hilarious. Give the “King Ramses' Curse” episode a rewatch sometime. It's so much less creepy than I remember it being, but that “return the slab” moment gave me actual nightmares as a kid
#28 Jafar’s Slave
When I was a kid, I was pretty disturbed by the whole "Jafar making Jasmine his little scantily clad slave" plotline in one of the Aladdin movies. I remember her in her little red outfit and big thick chains getting yanked around. She was also forced to feed him while he leered at her. He was generally a big creep.
#29 Baby Carriage
Any scene from Witches. If I have to pick the most traumatizing, I’d say the scene when the witch sends a baby carriage careening down a rocky hillside. Also, the scene when the little girl gets stuck in the painting. I’ll never understand why I insisted on watching this movie on almost a daily basis at the age of six. Also, why did my parents allow this?! I should probably bring this up in therapy.
#30 Children Watch This?
Invader Zim was just bizarre. I was watching closely to see if it would be canceled for how dark and weird it was. I'm not saying I thought it was a bad cartoon, I watched it when it was on. But as I got a bit older and I saw reruns, I just thought, "Wow. I cannot believe that children watched this show." That was some seriously dark stuff.
The sky was always red, pretty much everyone in the show was a brain-fried shell of a person or morally corrupt in some way. Plus, there was very little to be happy about without Gir providing comic relief. I'm not a prude by any means. I'm a huge fan of South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, etc. But, Invader Zim was just disturbing. I'd be hard-pressed to think of an odder cartoon that I've seen in my lifetime.
#31 Oogie Boogie
As a child, I always found Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas to be really disturbing. It also didn't help that he was holding Santa Claus, of all people, hostage. The scene when he fights Jack then gets ripped open to reveal his insides were bugs before they start falling into a pit of fire… phew. It creeped me out.
#32 One Henchman
There’s that one scene from Mulan where Shan Yu tells the imperial scouts to send a message to the emperor. When the scouts were running away, he asked his henchman, “How many men does it take to deliver a message?” and his henchman simply said, “One.” Then he took out his bow and the scene just cut to black.
#33 Kali Ma
I’d have to say that it’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I will always remember that one scene where the guy got his heart ripped out of his chest and then got submerged in hot lava. I couldn't watch the rest of the movie, so my dad had to turn it off. If I’m being honest, I haven't watched the movie since.
#34 Keep Your Mouth Shut
In the movie Hocus Pocus where the witch sews the zombies mouth shut. Something about that level of dehumanizing is just horrifying to me. Similar levels of anxiety were experienced when Willow did the same thing to Zac Efron in Buffy, and when Deadpool’s mouth was exposed as being sealed up in Wolverine.
#35 Not for Kids
There was a Disney movie from the '90s named Iron Will. A dad passed away along with his whole dog sled team when the ice they were on fractured and the sled went in. Because of the weight of the sled, the dad went in the water immediately and the sled dogs slowly got pulled in with him while they whined. The son tried to stop it all but obviously didn’t have the strength or ability to prevent it.
My mom rented it for me at the grocery store, thinking it was a heartwarming tale like Balto. Instead, my seven-year-old self was sobbing within the first 10 minutes because I had to watch dogs slowly getting pulled into freezing water. Then, there was crippling silence. She came in, heard me screaming and crying, and was horrified that it was a plot point in a kid's movie.
#36 Heads Off
For me, it would have to be David Bowie's bulge in his catsuit in Labyrinth. It honestly creeped me out so much as a child. Also in the same movie, the bit where the pink animal things take their heads off and start throwing them around. That film gave me some seriously messed up nightmares for a little while.
#37 Sudden Silence
That one scene just after Aurora comes back to the castle in Sleeping Beauty. The fact that it was made in the ‘50s didn’t help. The combination of the sudden silence, the creepy chanting and Maleficent's eyes appearing in the fireplace had me bricking it as a kid. I still feel slightly uncomfortable watching that bit now.
#38 Canadian Shows
I'm from Canada and we had some very odd shows. Jacob Two Two had very unsettling animation. Mona the Vampire and her friends, I swear, were on a trip every episode. Then there was Yvon of the Yukon… the whole show was strange, but I loved the crudeness. Of course, there are our commercials like the "Don't you put it in your mouth" ad.
#39 Purple Monster
Ghostwriter was such a ridiculously benign show except for that one episode with the purple monster. I had a friend over to watch it. Her parents called my parents the next day, angry because we'd let their daughter watch some terrifying horror movie and she hadn't slept at all that night. My mom was so confused. "They were just watching PBS!"
#40 Can’t Catch a Break
Witches was a movie that had tons of scary stuff in it. First of all, a kid's parents randomly passed away in a car accident! Then the grandma scared this boy who just lost his parents with horror stories of girls that got stuck in paintings and witches. Then, the grandma got sick and almost passes, so they go live in this creepy hotel run by Mr. Bean. Then, some witches turn this kid into a mouse! The luck of this kid. He can't catch a break.
#41 Butterfly Face
The episode in Spongebob when Sandy had the pet worm. When it eventually showed the close up of the butterfly's face, it scared me so badly as a kid. So much in fact that I still have an intense phobia of insects in that regard. I can’t stand close-ups of them. Whenever I'm scrolling online or reading National Geographic, etc., I'm always cautious of turning the pages. God, I hate it.
#42 Button Eyes
In Coraline, when her "fake" mom tells her that if she wants to stay in that world, she'd have to sow buttons in place of her eyes, just like her fake parents had. That is one of the scariest scenes, but that whole movie is a mess 11-year-old me was traumatized for life. That movie should not be labeled child-friendly.
#43 A “B” Movie
The terrifying “It’s a ‘B’ Movie” song was the clip that messed me up the most in The Brave Little Toaster. But, whenever this movie is brought up, people usually just talk about the clown, the air conditioning unit, the vacuum climbing its own cord, or the lamp getting struck by lightning. My God, that movie was dark.
#44 Family Dog
Old Yeller. I didn't think it was odd when I saw it 30 years ago, but a five-year-old watching a "children's movie" where a kid has to end the life of a family dog is extremely messed up. You don't really have to think about it. There isn't a lot of grey area in that conclusion. I had nightmares about it for a while. I didn't have another non-monster related nightmare until I got into high school.
#45 Pounamu Stone
In Moana, the grandmother gives Moana the Heart and then passes away a short time later. The stone is used to create life itself. I think her life was prolonged in order to be able to pass on her knowledge and the truth of the ocean, choosing Moana. Once she served that purpose, she handed off the stone knowing she would pass soon without it.
#46 Pool Ghost
The episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? where there was a malicious ghost in a swimming pool in a high school. Towards the end of the episode, the kids investigating this poured some red chemical inside the pool. Then, this creepy, red zombie-like creature appeared and started walking out of the water. It was the creepiest thing I ever saw on that show.
I’d have to say that it’s Pinocchio for me. It was the scene when all of those children were being turned into slave donkeys. Then their cries of "mama" and "I want to go home" slowly transformed into nothing but braying. I remember the terror on the kid's face as his hands and feet were turned into hooves. It's horrific.
#48 Everything is Food
There was a scene in the old Garfield and Friends cartoon where Odie turned into a garden salad inside of the refrigerator. The whole episode was pretty oddly terrifying; it took place at night and seemed to involve Garfield tripping out and seeing everything as food. For some reason, Odie as a salad, and the implications of Garfield eating him in that form, stick with me.
#49 Resigned Acceptance
Toy Story 3 when the toys get thrown out. They were on a conveyor belt, headed into an incinerator. They struggled for a while, trying to escape, then realized they weren’t going to get away. They exchanged looks of resigned acceptance and prepared for an unbelievably horrible end. That's some stuff straight out of an R-rated drama.
#50 In the Walls
The Gate. A corpse worker pulls a kid into the wall of the house and the wall seals up as the kid is screaming. Funny story is I rented the movie a few years back when my son was little. This same scene sent him running and screaming into his room. That same part that freaked me out 31 years ago! I didn't mention that scene at all.