12 Disney Movies You're Still Having Nightmares About Even Years Later

by S. Atkinson
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney movies were meant to be for kids — so why were they so damn scary? While you might have been too cool to admit at the time that they gave you the chills, now that you're an adult it's OK to say that there were way too many terrifying Disney movies that kept you up at night. Let's be real. The bright colors and the major chord melodies were all just there to distract from the innate horror of some of those stories.

Trading your voice for legs and hoping a complete stranger would find your silent self attractive enough to kiss? Inadvertently contributing to your father's murder, raising yourself as an orphan, and having to defeat your wicked uncle to take back a throne? Sentient toys who move around your house and live full lives when you aren't looking at them? Honestly, these scenarios are enough to make your mind reel forever, and yet they still form the central story of some of the most beloved Disney movies of all time.

Make sure you've got a pillow to hide behind, because we're going to delve into some of the darkest moments in films that were at least theoretically made to delight kids.


'Toy Story'

One word: Sid. The braces, the sadism, his murderous pet dog, and the creepy toy experiment that meant he glued a one-eyed shaven baby doll head onto metal spider legs. Few horror movies can compare to Sid's plan to blast Buzz into space (and shreds) on a firework.


'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs'

The Queen is so insecure about growing older and no longer being the most beautiful that she orders the murder of her lovely stepdaughter. Maybe this wasn't the hiding-behind-your-sofa kind of terrifying so much as the slow, creeping build of paranoia that an adult women's worth was entirely measured by their looks.


'The Lion King'

Lion King was the film that took your crush on Jeremy Irons to a dark place when he voiced Scar. Wow, this movie had all the scary stuff. The hyenas were terrifying, it drove home that adults were mortal, too, and the fact that Simba kind of did help his dad get murdered created a whole new childhood fear (that somehow you'd help cause your parents' deaths). This movie got way too real.


'The Little Mermaid'

Ariel makes a binding contract with Ursula that, if she doesn't manage to share true love kiss with Eric in three days, she'll be turned into one of the writhing polyps that line Ursula's lair. Thanks to some scheming on sea witch's part, she doesn't get that kiss, and Triton ends up sacrificing himself for the sake of his daughter. Watching that ripped bod turn into a little wizened creature, recognizing that Triton is trapped in a strange form theoretically for eternity, and knowing that the sea kingdom is doomed because Ariel was restless is scary as f*ck. It says deny your teenage feels or world politics will be destroyed.


'Sleeping Beauty'

Maleficent was not a character for kids. She had horns, could change into green fire at will, and was the world's pettiest villain. Really? She's really going to curse a baby to die before she hits 16 just because she didn't score a party invite? Presumably, this filled kids with horror every time it came to figuring out who to invite to their birthday party. Also, her plot to keep Prince Phillip locked away until he's an old man and then release him, allowing him to gaze upon the face of the woman he fell in love with, who hasn't aged a day, is a whole new dimension of awful.



Watching the tiny adorable deer's mom get brutally murdered was really not OK. Not for kids, not for adults, not for anyone.


'Beauty and the Beast'

Theoretically, the Beast should have been the scary part. After all, he does hold Belle there against her will. But Gaston firing up the villagers until they form an angry mob and start marching on the castle with fire and pitchforks is freaking terrifying because, even as children, viewers probably knew talking Beasts weren't possible, but civilian stupidity was. This was made worse by the fact that the villagers had seemed so sweet and innocent in the opening scene, so you can't trust anyone.



Can we please talk about Shan Yu? The dude had the physical strength of ten men and a ruthless killer instinct. He was basically nightmare fodder for the next five years of your life.


'Peter Pan'

Captain Hook is literally trying to murder a child. Sure, that child can fly, but still. It's not great. It's just infanticide set to a catchy soundtrack.


'The Black Cauldron'

A band of plucky kids have to take on an adult, the Horned King, who has an immense amount of power and is set on world domination. So a totally chill scenario, basically.



The "Night On Bald Mountain" sequence is more goosebump-inducing than the first three Saw movies all watched one after the other. That devil god, the panicky music, and the souls of the dead being thrust one after another into the fire. Guys, this is awful.



This film feels like it was specifically designed to scar kids forever. For one thing, it suggests that all your lies will be found out. But so much worse than this is Pleasure Island, where kids get to have what looks like fun. Oh right, but nobody gets to smoke and gamble underage without consequence in a Disney movie, so obviously all these children get turned into donkeys and sold into slave labor. Creepy.

So, basically, Disney movies weren't always about delighting children with (mostly) animated versions of fairy tales. As the above shows, sometimes, their films were about creating fodder for lifelong nightmares.