8 Horrifying Moments From Classic Kids Cartoons
When most people picture classic cartoons, they think of cute characters, fun songs, and maybe some light, folksy racism. What you may not remember is how often they took careful aim at childhood innocence and shot it right between the eyes. Because those who do not study the past are doomed to repeat it, here are some examples of some truly insane, child-ruining pieces of classic animation.
Mickey Mouse And Pluto Become A Madman's Experiments
Mickey Mouse is the likable but otherwise nondescript ruler of the Disney universe. He's not a cauldron of rage lunacy like Donald Duck, a calamitous buffoon like Goofy, or a subtle reference to male erotica like Chip n' Dale. Mickey is just kind of there, waving and squeaking. It's almost as if he's suffered some kind of unspeakable mental trauma. And we think we found that trauma in the 1933 Disney short The Mad Doctor.
The story begins with Pluto being dragged away from Mickey's home by a dark hooded figure. The fear in Pluto's eyes and body language is so lovingly animated that it makes us wonder how an experienced dog murderer found the time to become a Disney animator, because that's clearly what happened here:
"I can't quite get the panic right. Bring in another model dog!"
After Pluto is captured, the abductor pulls off his hood to reveal himself as the Mad Doctor, a deranged man with plans to attach Pluto's head to the body of a chicken, a complicated surgical procedure requiring a bloody hand saw and absolutely nothing else.
Honestly, every part of this equation is equally confusing.
In one of the more surreal sequences of horror in the history of cartoons, the Mad Doctor hangs Pluto on a hook and cuts his shadow in half with a pair of scissors. Pluto is forced to watch as his shadow's corpse hangs limply from the ends of a fork, as if half of his soul is now dead. It's equal parts body horror and existential crisis, like Salvador Dali making a flipbook to describe weeks of penis torture.
Things don't turn out much better for Mickey, who stumbles into a trap and finds himself strapped to a gurney beneath a relentless saw blade, with a single blinding spotlight in place to illuminate his final shrieking moments.
Luckily, all those crunches paid off for Mickey.
In the end, it turns out it was all a dream, which honestly doesn't do much to soften the crippling blow Disney has dealt to the world's children. To give you a sense of how disturbed everyone was by this cartoon, The Mad Doctor was banned in Great Britain and Nazi fucking Germany. That's right, this cartoon was so terrifying that it freaked out the Nazis. The Mad Doctor character was brought back for the Epic Mickey video game series, but that seems less an artistic decision than the result of a failed exorcism.
Felix The Cat Knocks Up A Girl, Commits Suicide
Years before Mickey Mouse invaded every home in America and spent the next half century stoutly refusing to leave, like some falsetto vampire, Felix the Cat became the first cartoon merchandising bonanza. He was on everything from tie pins to bombers to radiator caps, an impressive feat made doubly so by the fact that Felix died a lonely, bleak death in his debut cartoon:
In the 1919 short Feline Follies, Felix (who at this point was named "Master Tom") looks more like some kind of dog monkey than a cat, so he has to game twice as hard to score a date with the neighbor's cat:
"Hey, baby. You like poorly drawn, indeterminable animals?"
While Felix and Girl Cat are out on their date, Felix's house gets destroyed by mice, because he left the door open or something:
Magical, color-changing mice.
Felix is ashamed at his failure as a mouse hunter, so he decides to move into his new girlfriend's house, where, much to his surprise, he is greeted by over a dozen of his offspring. Felix's first date went super well, is what we're saying.
This cartoon would later be adapted into a human in the form of NBA great Shawn Kemp.
Felix immediately books the hell out of there, partially to avoid responsibility and partially because he's clearly put his barbed penile spines into some kind of ultra-fertile witch cat and wishes to escape before the ritual is complete. Even after beating a successful retreat from his litter of bastards, the specter of fatherhood proves to be too great for this soon-to-be beloved icon. Felix, despondent over the prospect of raising all of these offspring, makes a decision. He finds a gasworks and a hose, then sucks down the darkest possible solution to all his problems.
Cut to black.
Okay, sure, 1919 was a bit of a depressing year, what with World War I and the Spanish Flu, so it's understandable that a cartoonist might be going through a bit of a Cure phase. Even so, who the hell thought an imitable, casual suicide was a fun way to end a cartoon? Was that the banana peel of 1919? Those kittens grew up seeing Felix on gum wrappers and billboards, thinking, "Hey, that guy looks exactly like my deadbeat father, who chose to kill himself rather than love any of his children!"
Betty Boop's Deathbed Hallucinations
In 1932, the Fleischer Brothers made a spoof of Snow White starring Betty Boop. If you're not familiar, Betty Boop was an octopus-haired sexpot who existed in a world where inanimate objects randomly came to life and humans could spontaneously turn into frying pans for no reason whatsoever.
After a while, you stop even noticing.
Besides the aforementioned lunacy, it's a pretty recognizable Snow White parody; there's an evil queen, dwarves, and magic mirrors. However, when the dwarves think Betty is dead, everything takes an abrupt left turn into Batshitsburg. As with most Fleischer Brothers cartoons, the plot comes to a complete stop to make way for a bizarre musical number. In this case, a devastatingly creepy clown begins singing a Cab Calloway song called "St. James Infirmary" as the dwarves carry Betty's frozen body away. For reasons that can never be explained, this is intercut with shots of dinosaur skeletons trying on pants, ghouls playing poker, and an anthropomorphic cow with giant breasts tickling the ivories on a melting hell piano:
Five aces? That ghost is cheating.
It quickly becomes some kind of Hieronymus Bosch tableau made of body parts and snot.
As the clown continues singing, the evil queen shows up out of nowhere and transforms him into a pupil-less banshee with a pair of towering spider legs extending all the way up into his brain.
Improbably, she made the clown creepier.
The spider banshee is locked in an endless struggle with his high-waisted pants, which fall down around his ankles only to be snatched back up by a separate pair of hidden arms, because this is what happens when you do tons of acid in a graveyard and then try to draw a cartoon.
Look closely and you'll almost certainly see a scrotum.
Then, as suddenly as this nightmare began, the magic mirror changes everything back to "normal" and the story resumes. None of it had any impact on anything. It was like the cartoonists were telling all the kids, "Terrors lurk in every shadow, and even we wealthy Hollywood animators have no control over them."
The cartoon ends with Betty's weird dog friend Bimbo defeating the witch by grabbing her tongue and pulling her inside out.
Yeah, we wouldn't want to go on living, either.
Our point is that 83 years ago, someone animated the inside of a serial killer's brain and showed it to children.
Hell's Bells Is A Surprisingly Convincing Hell
In 1929, Hell's Bells, a cartoon in the popular Disney Silly Symphony series, was released to remind children around the world what awaited them should they ever turn their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, if it's good enough for a sinner's eternal punishment, it's good enough for children's programming.
The cartoon barely gets started before a gaping spider monster swings onscreen and swallows both the camera and every child's next four months of healthy, restful sleep:
Behold your foul, burning reward, children!
Don't worry, though -- that spider is immediately consumed by a pit of ravenous fire tendrils, which suddenly turn into demon fingers in order to drag the spider down into gnashing, ashen eternity.
"SEE? FIRE CAN PROTECT YOU, KIDS! PLAY WITH MATCHES!"
A bat spits on a snake, who eats the bat and absorbs its wings. That sentence isn't a Japanese sex position run through Google Translate. It's the grim reality of this terrible place.
It's like if Ozzy directed a Red Bull commercial.
This cartoon Hell has everything, provided your definition of "everything" includes an infernal jazz band playing bone instruments:
These are the thoughts you start to generate when your animation studio is filled with lead paint and asbestos.
A giant demon cow having curdled, poison milk squirted into a cauldron by two adorable imps:
At this point, we're just hoping on it being milk.
And one of those adorable imps being fed to Cerberus as it squirms and protests for its miserable Stygian life:
To recap, this entire cartoon is about feral demons with giant ears eating each other in a boiling fever landscape. How badly did the Disney brainstorming session go if "a bunch of Hell monsters cannibalize each other" got put in any column higher than "MAYBE"? The thing ends with yet another demon getting yanked by a pair of fire hands down into the presumably worse Hell roaring below them.
Those fire hands are undefeated.
Hell's Bells was drawn by Ub Iwerks, the man who really got Disney started as a media empire and who went wildly underappreciated for his contributions. And judging by this orgy of fiery torture, he may have been a little bitter about it.
A Christmas Scare-ol
Most people in the Western world have seen some version of A Christmas Carol, because we are legally required to do a parody or reboot of it every few years. If you've never seen it, it's the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's transition from miser to philanthropist by way of ghost terrorism. But if anything was ever going to end our enthusiasm for A Christmas Carol, it would be Richard Williams's 1971 cartoon.
The first poltergeist to visit Scrooge is Jacob Marley, Scrooge's dead business partner. He's a decaying nightmare phantasm who, after Scrooge questions his existence, removes his jaw sling and lets out a jet engine of a blood-curdling shriek so intense that we're amazed Scrooge didn't immediately catapult himself through the roof of his house on a geyser of bathrobe-destroying terror shit.
"I am sorry for doubting you."
After warning Scrooge that three more ghosts are on their way, Marley floats away into oblivion in an ocean of thousands of howling spirits that are apparently outside Scrooge's window all the time.
"Wait, can ALL of you see me when I masturbate? W-would you like to?"
The Ghost of Christmas Past shows up next, a three-faced specter who looks like the combined ghosts of triplets who died in a sanitarium fire:
"Lady, you should meet my friend, Man-E-Faces. You guys would really hit it off."
The Ghost of Christmas Present is less obviously frightening -- a jolly, giant Santa Claus sitting on a mountain of unwrapped food and garbage. He's clearly naked underneath that robe, though, so you know his asshole is marinating in a bowl of figgy pudding.
"You just going to put your bare foot right there on that cake?"
So he's only creepy in a Piccadilly Cafeteria sort of way, instead of the more traditional "mortal terror" way. That is, until he reveals that he has a pair of ghoulish toddler goblins, named Ignorance and Want, living underneath his cloak.
"So ... they live in there? In a sweaty apartment with your dick?"
If there was an award for fueling childhood nightmares, Richard Williams' A Christmas Carol would've won it. Since there isn't, it had to settle for the Academy Award for Best Short.
A Toddler Learns Not To Fuck With Big Brother
Scrappy's Puppet Theater, a cartoon short from 1936, sees the titular Scrappy staging an elaborate marionette show for the entire neighborhood. He's happily collecting tickets from dozens of children until he catches his baby brother, Oopy, trying to sneak in.
Somewhere, a young Fred Rogers is inspired to do the exact opposite of everything in this cartoon.
It is right around this point that we are treated to three solid minutes of a baby getting punched in the face by an inexplicably hostile family member, because for whatever reason, Scrappy would rather fucking die than let Oopy glimpse even a single second of his glorious puppet show.
"Aw gee, Scrappy, you ain't really gonna slug me, are ya?"
"YOU BET YOUR ASS I'M GOING TO SLUG YOU, OOPY! YOU DIRTY SONOFABITCH!"
This chain of events is duplicated twice more:
After getting the shit kicked out of him, Oopy vows revenge. Or maybe he's trying to interact with a concussion-induced hallucination. With this level of brain damage, anything is possible.
His toddler skull may have been too soft and malleable for Act One.
After the show starts, Oopy sneaks in, casting a murderous shadow on the wall like a Victorian prowler ...
... and assassinates the marionettes with a blowgun.
"Sic semper tyrannis!"
After a wildly slapstick chase sequence, Scrappy finally catches Oopy and -- you guessed it -- punches him in the goddamned face again. After that, the abuse rapidly changes gears and becomes disturbingly psychological. Scrappy ties Oopy to a chair and lowers him into a puppet courtroom, where he is interrogated by puppet attorneys with propeller beanie heads and wobbling dildo fingers.
"This ... this seems planned. Was this puppet show's plan always to capture and torture me?"
A jury of puppets finds him guilty, and Oopy is sentenced to become a marionette. Scrappy laughs as he makes him dance, while a second puppet descends from the heavens and continues the hilarious "punching a helpless toddler in the face" gag from earlier.
This is your life now, Oopy ... and so it shall be forever.
Side note: This cartoon was made as an advertising tie-in for a mail-order Scrappy Puppet Theater you could get from the back of a cereal box. And in this cartoon, a baby is punched, tortured, and humiliated during a puppet show. We can only hope everyone involved in the promotion was thrown in prison for child endangerment.
War Is Hell, But Farm Life Is Worse
Between Wile E. Coyote, Elmer Fudd, and Tom & Jerry, most children grew up seeing more slapstick gun violence than books, but there's one cartoon that took violence to the next level. The 1930 Terrytoon Bully Beef was an animated fountain of war crimes.
Bully Beef begins the way most successful animated shorts do: on a slave plantation, with a mouse trying desperately to pull a plow while being whipped by an evil cat master wearing the high-waisted short pants that were standard issue for all cartoon characters of the era.
It's not the most productive way to plow a field, but it is the most evil.
War breaks out, and the cat and mouse (who are inexplicably now friends) run off to enlist, stopping at the same house to kiss the same mouse woman goodbye. This immediately raises at least two questions, neither of which are ever answered.
However, in case you were worried that this cartoon would gloss over the fear and anguish of a loved one going away to war, rest assured that the news utterly destroys Lady Mouse, and she breaks down in a torrent of inconsolable tears as the mouse skips off to the battlefield. If you filmed a real rat melting to death in a makeup research lab, it would be more lighthearted than this cartoon.
Please don't cry in front of the evil cat master. It makes him powerfully aroused.
Also, you might think that since this a war between cats and mice we're talking about, they'd be fighting using mouse trap landmines and cheese cannons, but the animators made the courageous choice to depict the European Front through an unfiltered lens of horror. Once they finally make it to the trenches on the front line, the cat is immediately decapitated by an artillery shell.
No. None of that.
It is important to note that, while the cat retains some of his cartoon character abilities and is able to reattach his head, several mice are later chewed up by machine gun fire and their heads remain severed.
The two other cats in the tree are too stunned to react.
Our mouse hero from earlier tries to surrender, but is pummeled with a barrage of gunfire to the chest and face, because mice do not take prisoners.
This technically counts as a Rule 34 bukkake image.
He comes back to life in time to see his cat friend(?) take another massive round to the head, at which point their joint mouse girlfriend from earlier races onto the battlefield to share an open-mouthed, face swallowing kiss for an unbroken four seconds on a depopulated landscape that's presumably littered with the corpses of hundreds of identical mice. This is somehow the most disturbing moment of the cartoon.
Critters Try To Build A Snowman, Summon Eldritch Horror Instead
The Snow Man, released in 1932 by Ted Eshbaugh Studios, is about a young Eskimo and his adorable critter pals building a snowman and accidentally bringing him to life. Here is the title card:
Now, you would be forgiven for expecting this cartoon to be about a jolly, good-natured snowman having adventures with his new pals. Very few of you read that plot description coupled with that image and thought "A mortal child, joining forces with the soulless creatures of the wilderness to create new life, as though they were gods? Such hubris will cost that child its innocence, and its flesh." Well as it turns out, this cartoon is 100 percent that second thing.
It begins with the Eskimo child and his pet seal bedding down for a lengthy hibernation to wait out the bitter winter months. It is important to note that the seal retires to its own private igloo to hibernate completely alone, but when summer rolls around, the seal exits the igloo with five baby seals and an adult pelican.
He fucked that pelican, is what we're saying.
The Eskimo child rallies his arctic critter friends together to build a snowman. If any of them are aware that the snowman can smell their sin, they never let on. But the snowman can.
You cannot hide anything from The Snowman.
They perform a joyful summoning dance to bring their new friend to life, and it is at this point that we would like to stress that absolutely nothing we have seen so far has indicated that this cartoon is, in fact, a mind-flaying horror story.
"Beasts! Join hand with claw and dance with me! No horror shall come from it!"
The Snowman comes to life, and as his face melts into a Kenny Rogers death mask, the Eskimo and his friends realize that all motherfucking bets are off.
"WHICH OF YOU FLESH NUGGETS HAS AWOKEN THE SNOWMAN?"
Presumably driven to instant madness by the shock of suddenly exploding into fully-sentient existence, the snowman goes on an arctic rampage, his fleshy nude form destroying everything within its clawed reach. We see it devour a painstakingly animated fish who seems to realize it is experiencing the worst death in recorded history:
"Aiieee! He's digesting ... MY SOUL!"
And you'd better believe he strangles that goddamned seal:
"He's! *hkk* Just! *kkk* Choking ME! *hhhkk*"
The young Eskimo runs away to form a plan (a term here meaning "stow away aboard the nearest whaling vessel and never look back") when he stumbles upon a machine that, somehow, allows him to control the temperature of the sun.
This cartoon seems like a sequence of unrelated events surrounding animal torture.
Thanks to the random appearance of an inexplicable mad science factory, the snowman is defeated as bafflingly as he was conjured, and dancing was banned forevermore from the Eskimo's tiny arctic village.
Adam Koski helped make a creepy cartoon himself which might have made the list if it were fifty years older. Vincent Pall's wife thinks he spends way too much time on Cracked.com. He disagrees, and thinks you should listen to his music.
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