Disney Movies Ranked from Least to Most Childhood-Ruining
So. Much. Parental Death.
Images via The Little Mermaid; The Lion King
Disney (and to a certain extent, Pixar) movies have been foundational in many of our lives. These films have served a multitude of purposes: lessons in morality, sparking obsessions to fuel capitalism, and of course, to show us the horrors of the world. They’re a common thread, a parallel in so many of our upbringings.
Though Disney’s movies have arguably gotten considerably less dark as time has progressed, some of us are still understandably impacted by the ones we can’t forget.
So, we ranked animated Disney and Pixar movies from least to most childhood-ruining to try to make sense of it all. The “childhood-ruining” rank takes into account a number of factors, including key scenes that stay burned into your memory, instances of death, and troublesome themes.
Before we get started, some ground-rules on our methodology. We only included feature-length Disney animated films with a theatrical release, so our deep apologies to people that enjoyed their straight-to-video work in the 90s. Additionally, we decided to add the Pixar catalogue—even though it was only purchased by Disney in 2006—since Pixar has been the go-to for children’s movies for the last 20 years. This is a totally not-scientific ranking after all.
Spoiler alerts, obviously.
67. (Tie) The Reluctant Dragon (1941), Fantasia (1940), Saludos Amigos (1942), Victory Through Air Power (1943), The Three Caballeros (1944), Make Mine Music (1946), Song of the South (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Very few people alive have seen these films, so they all rank here.
66. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Back in our day, we had The Land Before Time. That movie caused many tears to flow upon the faces of doe-eyed children yet to understand the horrors of the lives they would live. (Besides, do you know the tragic story behind the voice of Ducky? Go ahead and look that up if you want to ruin your childhood even more.) Kids today apparently have wholesome, non-childhood-ruining dinosaur movies. Can’t relate.
65. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Yeah, a big, scary monster descends on an arcade, but there’s no way that this story measures up to most of the films on this list.
64. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
A little boy named Arthur who embarks on a path to become a squire gets the unlikely opportunity to be mentored by a wizard, Merlin. Not only does he get to be trained by a cool, weird wizard, but he also ends up becoming the King of England when he does the impossible: pulls a sword out of a stone. Not childhood-ruining unless child watching it thinks that they might get a deal as sweet as this in life.
63. Ratatouille (2007)
How could a rat with dreams of becoming a gourmet chef in Paris be childhood-ruining? Remy not only defies odds, but he overcomes his family’s and society’s expectations of him by entering the culinary world. Being a rat in such a world is not without its unpleasantries, of course—like being chased around a French restaurant’s kitchen by an angry chef, trapped in a jar, and having your life threatened after making critically acclaimed soup.
62. (Tie) The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977); Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Winnie the Pooh is not childhood-ruining; it’s childhood-making. All of that said, Everyone is the embodiment of depression, which children watching Pooh films will likely not realize until later on in life. Seriously, the fan theory surrounding Christopher Robin, mental illnesses, and his animal pals is hella dark. We wouldn’t suggest looking into it unless you want to ruin such a pure part of your childhood.
61. Fantasia 2000 (2000)
Honestly doesn’t seem to be anything remotely childhood-ruining about this other than the typical Disney themes of life and death, though it is a pretty intense film with epicly amazing music.
60. Incredibles 2 (2018)
Incredibles 2 is among the best sequels ever made (right up there with The Godfather Part II and Shrek 2). The film builds on everything we loved about its predecessor, namely Jack-Jack, featuring a fight in which the baby wields his newfound superpowers to playfully fend off a raccoon in the family’s backyard. It’s positively delightful. Baby battles aside, the film also centers around a strong female protagonist and antagonist, which is a nice (important) change. It’s a movie that feels reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons of yesteryear—like Jonny Quest, but far less problematic (remember Hadji? oof).
59. Moana (2016)
An epic story of adventure, demigods, and pure feminine badass-ery. Moana pursues an ancient quest and finds herself along the way. Way cooler than going backpacking in Europe.
58. Lilo & Stitch (2002)
Stitch is super cute and weird, as long as you’re not scared of aliens nor fugitive ones. This is a super heartwarming story about a little girl teaching an alien how to care for others. This may give children some unrealistic expectations because obviously you can’t change everyone, no matter how hard you try.
57. Treasure Planet (2002)
This film really didn’t get the attention it deserved. If you don’t remember it either: It’s an epic space adventure based on the novel Treasure Island. Pirates are pretty gnarly, but it’s unlikely many people remember this film enough to be ruined by it.
56. Robin Hood (1973)
The Disney adaptation of the classic tale about an outlaw stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is likely not as vibrant in your mind as the live-action (and there’s another one coming this year, as it would happen). In the animated version, a humanoid fox fights back against the royal rule of a lion, Prince John, when he tries to implement taxes that target poor people—landing those who can’t pay in jail. There’s some action, violence, and imprisonment, but the evils of over-taxation is likely to go beyond a child’s comprehension, minimizing the childhood-ruining effects.
55. Mulan (1998)
Everything about Mulan is so satisfying. First off, she’s a badass heroine who impersonates a male soldier to save her people. She has a dragon for a sidekick, who rivals the genie in Aladdin in terms of hilarity. And the soundtrack—”Make A Man Out Of You”—need we say more? This isn’t childhood-ruining; it’s inspirational.
54. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Basically harmless compared to the third instalment in the Toy Story series. If you didn’t cry during that scene with Jessie featuring a song called “She Doesn’t Love Me,” though, you have no soul.
53. Brave (2012)
This movie is super beautiful, set in Scotland, and Merida is inspirational. Of course a curse onsets, and there’s a horrifying bear attack scene, but ultimately Brave shows how important courage is. There are some fake Scottish accents though, which is damaging.
52. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
This movie literally dismantles the classic childhood fear of the monster under the bed. Assigning human emotions and comic relief to this common terror probably does some de-traumatizing for certain kids rather than traumatizing. Finding out that children are actually toxic to monsters is just the antidote kids who are afraid of what’s under their bed need. Not childhood-ruining.
51. Monsters University (2013)
Monsters University tells the backstory of monsters Mike and Sulley’s friendship, which was not always as it was in the original film. Turns out that you have to have a university degree to be a scary monster though, and there’s even frats in monster school. Who wants to live in a world like that?
50. (Tie) Cars (2006), Cars 2 (2011), Cars 3 (2017)
Personified vehicles—even when they experience violent crashes—can’t possibly be as scary as the films featuring people and human-like animals on this list. Cars are not human nor animal enough to provoke disturbance like so many others on this list are apt to do, so we’ll leave all three of these together.
49. Home on the Range (2004)
This movie starts with an eviction notice! That is super terrifying but likely to go over most kids’ heads. However, following the notice, a few cows decide to hold a cow thief ransom. Basically, this promotes vigilantism to get what you need (money), so take that as child-ruining if you must.
48. Oliver & Company (1988)
Based on Oliver Twist, an abandoned orange kitten named Oliver joins up with criminal street dogs in New York City. Confronting the reality of homelessness—which every child must one day learn about—and the constant struggle of survival is enough to make kids come up with tons of questions for their parents when and if they realize that it’s not just animals that have to go through this.
47. Finding Dory (2016)
Good, but not as good as its predecessor, Finding Dory tugs at your heart strings with its powerful message about family and finding your way home. But you know what tugs at you more? Thinking about how humans treat fish and other sea life. Shit is seriously fucked up. There’s actually a scene in which a whale shark bumps into the wall of her enclosure and smashes her face, which is a real thing that really happens to real sharks and really kills them. You ever seen Blackfish? Fuck, my dood. Humans are garbage.
46. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Tiana is just trying to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant when a man-turned-frog mistakenly believes she is a princess and kisses her, turning her into a frog too. Other than the time crunch of Tiana needing to figure out how to turn back both of them into humans before it’s too late (and the fact that this is based on a Brothers Grimm tale), this film ranks pretty low on the scale and has a happy ending.
45. The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)
Cockiness and selfishness could get you turned into a llama. An evergreen lesson.
44. Brother Bear (2003)
If you’re like us, you probably don’t remember this one. Apparently it’s set in the north, and the following chain of events happens: A dude named Kenai has beef with bears after one kills his brother. He then kills said bear, then turns into a bear himself. Kenai’s other brother then wants to murder him while he’s in bear form, not understanding what has happened. Potential sibling-cide is scary, and the scene above is sad af.
43. Bolt (2008)
This is honestly kind of a depressing story. It’s about a TV-famous dog who goes on a quest to find his owner. He experiences delusions and thinks he has magical powers due to his time on TV and finds himself in New York City after being accidentally shipped there.
42. Frozen (2013)
Disturbing due to dead parents but also because of how the obsession children who see this film experience, leading them to demand Elsa-themed toys, birthday parties, and clothing. What kind of capitalistic mind control is this?
41. Meet the Robinsons (2007)
This is a sci-fi cartoon about time travel that starts in an orphanage. The main character, named Lewis, is a precocious child inventor. In a sad twist, though, he is working on some sort of contraption to search his memory for his birth mother who abandoned him. That’s some really depressing stuff, especially if a child watching this has one or more parents absent from their lives.
40. Zootopia (2016)
An iconic furry film. However, despite how cool it is that this movie has a variety of animals akin to Noah’s Ark, it is basically about police. The film follows the main character, a rabbit named Judy Hopps, as she becomes a cop. No further comment.
39. Tarzan (1999)
Any children’s film that features predominant colonial themes is by default damaging. But, at least we get a bit of a gender role reversal here that is atypical for Disney films of this era: a woman (Jane, who is part of a British expedition) lures Tarzan away from his life when he realizes she is human and he is too. That killer Phil Collins soundtrack still bangs.
38. Inside Out (2015)
When Bing Bong sacrifices himself into non-existence, every adult in the room will burst into tears thinking of how their childhood innocence has been lost and how disappointing they must be to their childhood selves. But that said, this movie is way worse on adults and given that it’s only three years old, it loses points because many viewers are too young to realize this movie is gonna fuck them up.
37. Chicken Little (2005)
Chicken Little has to save his town from a goddamn alien invasion, no one believes him, and he is bullied at school. There’s also a dodgeball scene—in which a gym teacher splits the class into “popular” and “unpopular” teams—that is childhood-ruining because it’s so relatable.
36. Hercules (1997)
Depending on how you look at it, having to fight a series of terrifying monsters is a low price to pay for immortality. However, being separated from your family because of a power-hungry villain is not great.
35. Tangled (2010)
The Disney version of this story is based on a classic German fairy tale, so of course it’s gonna be a little unsettling. Surely a girl should not spend much of her life imprisoned in a tower just because she has some power she never even asked for.
34. Toy Story (1995)
The emotional effects of the original really can’t be compared to the widespread ruin caused by the third in this series. Still, that kid Sid is a sociopath and tortures his toys, including a terrifying mechanical spider thing with a baby head. Hell no.
33. The Jungle Book (1967)
There is a MAN-EATING tiger in this story that wants to eat the main character! The setting of a jungle is scary even without this factor, but the presence of a song-singing, knowledgeable bear named Balloo is quite soothing. It’s kinda traumatizing that Mowgli does ultimately decide to return to human life, though.
32. The Black Cauldron (1985)
This Disney movie is known for bombing at the box office. A movie that is so often accused of being boring is unlikely to be equated with ruining a childhood, pushing this one’s rank down. It’s still pretty spooky though, especially that demon skeleton dude villain, the Horned King. He’s likely to cause nightmares. The main character, Taran, also almost dies multiple times, and his animal friends are tortured!
31. The Aristocats (1970)
Kittens are drugged and abandoned so that some dickhead can claim a dead opera singer’s fortune, which she somehow left to her cat.
30. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)
Mostly childhood-ruining because it made kids want to go to a place that they’ll never get to go to and may not even exist.
29. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
A cocker spaniel has a lavish life until her owners decide to have a baby. She becomes homeless, eventually eating spaghetti with a fellow stray (Tramp) in quite possibly one of the most iconic romance scenes of any animated film. HOWEVER, those Siamese cats are conniving and creepy as hell—and maybe a little bit racist. There’s also some real slut-shaming in this movie. The 50s, man.
28. Peter Pan (1953)
This one is disturbing both for making children realize that being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and for normalizing a strange boy coming into your bedroom at night.
27. Aladdin (1992)
There’s so much to love about Aladdin, but good luck concentrating on any of it if you’re even remotely claustrophobic. From the Cave of Wonders melting with Aladdin inside, to Princess Jasmine being trapped in a giant hourglass filling with sand, to the genie literally living in a tiny-ass lamp, there are so many tense moments where our heroes come close to being smothered and suffocated. Having said that, as a young brown girl who was obsessed with Disney, this was the closest thing I had to representation. But I’m still holding out for a South Asian princess.
26. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
It’s impossible to scrub from your mind the evil that is dognapping villainess Cruella DeVille. What could be more terrifying to children than someone obsessed with using a nice family’s newborn puppies’ fur as fashion?
25. The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
This movie is about kidnapping, a fact only slightly dulled by the fact that the characters are mice and not people. When a toymaker is abducted by a bat on his daughter’s birthday, a mouse detective comes to the rescue. A sadistic, greasy, insecure af rat criminal named Ratigan (who doesn’t like being called a rat, btw) is behind the kidnapping and is sure to scare children.
24. The Rescuers (1977)
Yet another children’s movie featuring abduction! This time, a little girl named Penny is kidnapped, and a message begging for help reaches the Rescue Aid Society, located in the basement of the United Nations and run by mice. Penny’s kidnapping has a strange and terrifying reasoning: A pawn shop owner named Madame Medusa abducted her and has forced her to go on a quest to find the world’s largest diamond in a dark, dangerous pirate cave. Additional childhood-ruining factor: the pawn shop owner’s pet alligators.
23. The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
ANOTHER child abduction. This time, the victim is a boy in Australia named Cody who was just trying to rescue a trapped giant golden eagle. Instead, he’s taken captive by a terrifying, homicidal poacher, Percival McLeach, who wants the endangered-species eagle. Once again, the mice must come to the rescue to save both Cody and the eagle from a villain that is more frightening than in the original.
22. A Bug’s Life (1998)
This children’s movie is basically about food scarcity and war. Those grasshoppers still haunt me to this day even though I really liked this movie. While we’re here, I just want to say fuck Antz, which was definitely not as good as A Bug’s Life but came out the same year. Peace.
21. Big Hero 6 (2014)
May I direct you to the scary-as-hell scene in the clip above?
20. Cinderella (1950)
No story about orphanhood, confinement, and forced servitude is allowed to get a pass for childhood-ruining. This movie totally gave stepfamilies a bad reputation and gave kids false hope that a fairy godmother and/or a man could help make their problems go away.
19. Finding Nemo (2003)
Getting lost [and kidnapped] is one of the most prolific fears children have, so this one hits home. Also childhood-ruining because it permanently makes kids think that clown fish are all called “Nemo” and that blue tangs are named “Dory.”
18. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
You can’t consent when you’re in a deep in a curse-induced sleep, FYI.
17. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
A young woman must make her way alone in the woods and is tempted with a poisonous apple and has only the company of strange, small men and animals. With the tense relationship between Snow White and her step mom, this also introduces children to the concept of toxic familial relationships and jealousy—childhood-ruining, but necessary.
16. WALL-E (2007)
The future is scary and full of garbage, and WALL-E makes sure you know this. Even though this movie is almost silent, it has the power to make grown adults cry. When WALL-E is rebooted and doesn’t remember his loved ones after risking his little robot life to save the Earth—heartbreaking.
15. Pocahontas (1995)
This has to rank pretty high on this list due to historical inaccuracies and racism. This disturbingly sets up American children to completely misunderstand the United States’ history with Indigenous people by turning what is actually a really fucked-up story of kidnapping into a romance. As if how the public education system teaches the meaning of Thanksgiving to American children could use an additional brainwashing supplement. GTFO.
14. Dinosaur (2000)
Bruh, the meteor scene! No child wants or needs to see the world being completely obliterated, even if it is to make way for mankind.
13. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
Yet another Disney flick with parental death. Other than the fox losing his mom, this story is pretty tame and includes a not-so-terrifying moral lesson: Friendships with those who are different from you can be challenging but rewarding. However, it has a pretty devastating ending—our titular characters seem to be forever separated, and the movie ends with Copper dreaming about the day he met Tod. “We’ll always be friends forever,” dream Tod says. And that kids, is how you learned what bittersweet feels like.
12. The Incredibles (2004)
The dude who wanted to equal the playing field and give everyone superpowers is the bad guy and, for his belief in equality, gets killed after he’s knocked into a goddamn jet turbine. That’s horrifying!!! We even get to see him, while getting sucked in, terrified and trying to claw his way out of certain death. Thanks to The Incredibles we kids know the (animated) eyes of a man who knew he was going to die a excruciatingly painful death. On top of that the main characters are going through a midlife crisis and their marriage is collapsing. Fun stuff!
This 2017 Pixar movie is known to make grown adults cry (and surely kids, too). This movie fucked me up and everyone I know who’s seen it. A boy named Miguel goes to the world of the undead during Día De Los Muertos after he misunderstands his hereditary roots. He’s pretty sure a popular musician was his grandfather, but when he gets to the afterlife, he eventually realizes he was wrong. The reality is much darker—his real grandfather wrote popular songs for which he was not credited, and he was murdered by his “friend” who stole his music.
10. Up (2009)
This film is known for making adults emotionally wrecked more than kids, so for that anomaly it deserves a mention quite high up on the scale. Is there anyone who doesn’t immediately remember that they cried while they watched this portrait of love and mortality? Witnessing an elderly man and his wife try to pursue their everlasting dream of visiting Paradise Falls only to have the wife get sick and die is unbelievably upsetting.
9. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
You might not have known it at the time, but this film was basically a challenging acid trip. Psychedelics are not for everyone, especially not little kids who are terrified by smoking caterpillars and repeated threats of decapitation. This film can either traumatize a child or confuse them enough that they’ll later read the novel trying to make sense of what they missed as a kid.
8. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Quasimodo’s life is one of immense trauma. He was almost murdered as a baby and then lives out much of his life as an unpaid socially isolated bell ringer in a cathedral with a crazed religious dude as his boss, befriending personified gargoyles. This is plainly messed up. He then ends up meeting a Roma girl named Esmeralda in town and ends up having to defend her against the cruel man who both tried to drown him and convince him that he was a “monster” for the way he looked.
7. Toy Story 3 (2010)
There’s a scene in this Toy Story film so terrifying that it is referred to as “The Furnace.” In it, all of your favourite original characters almost die a painful, fiery death. Also, the ending is super sad and has sparked YouTube reaction videos of people crying to it, so how can it not be ranked high?
6. The Little Mermaid (1989)
An ocean-themed movie featuring mermaids and humanized sea creatures is eye candy for many feminine children, which is what makes it so messed up that this film has a lowkey troublesome theme. Are we really meant to think it’s OK that a 16-year-old girl would make a shady deal with a sea-witch to trade her talents (beautiful singing and also just talking ffs) to be with a man? Honestly any Disney film that puts marrying a man on such a pedestal deserves to be ranked as childhood-altering, but this one has to be one of the worst.
5. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
OK, this is straight up one of the best Disney movies of all time. Having said that, the beast was absolutely terrifying for the first half of the movie. That scene where he catches Belle looking at the enchanted rose and screams “GET OUT! GEEEETTTT OUUUUUTTTT!” still gives me chills, in a bad way. Also—is this technically a movie about bestiality? Or Stockholm Syndrome?
4. Dumbo (1941)
A baby elephant is separated from his mother at a circus—who is then locked up and whipped. “Dumbo” is called a fucked-up name because of how he looks and is ridiculed. Then there’s problematic alcohol use and hallucinations, not to mention racist stereotypes (including a bird character literally named Jim Crow).
3. Pinocchio (1940)
This film is just dark. Pinocchio’s entire existence is traumatic as he transforms from inanimate wooden puppet to boy trapped in puppet to circus donkey (wtf?) to puppet again, then finally to a “real boy” (whatever that is). First of all, he never asked to be made. Gepetto and that fairy are honestly selfish to want to collab on the creation of such a torrid life. This is basically a child horror movie.
2. Bambi (1942)
Surely one of the cutest Disney animated films, Bambi is full of adorable, wide-eyed and innocent woodland creatures. All is well and good as the animals frolic in meadows and munch on plants until Bambi must confront grief when a hunter named “Man” (wow, subtle) shoots and kills his mother and he is left alone wondering where the hell she went. To add insult to injury, a stag that is almost definitely Bambi’s deadbeat dad appears at the end of the film to save the day as a forest fire erupts. A violent parental loss and a theme of human’s impact on nature that will probably go over a child’s head until closer to adulthood make this almost just as bad as The Lion King.
1.The Lion King (1994)
If you grew up in the 90s, Mufasa not waking up may have been one of the first times your little child brain tried to comprehend the meaning of death. And if you’re like some of us, you watched this movie tearfully over and over trying to make sense of it all. Combined with how iconic this film is, the childhood-ruining is widespread enough to be a list topper.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.