4 Disney Kids Who Should Have Been Traumatized For Life
The list of lost or dead parents in Disney movies is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the torment the studio dumps onto its child characters. But they always show us that there's a bright side -- that any amount of youthful trauma can be brushed off with a bit of song, dance, and finding your one true love.
It's just plain weird to pretend that these abandoned, enslaved, psychologically tortured, and/or abused children would all have enjoyed happy endings, when in reality, they would have endured years of therapy bills, marginalization by society, institutionalization, or even death. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Take, for example ...
Frozen -- Elsa Would Have Completely Lost Her Mind
Crazy Shit Elsa Went Through:
After Elsa's emerging powers nearly turn her sister into Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining, her parents decide it's best to keep the two apart. In fact, from the looks of one of the most depressing montages in Disney history, Elsa is locked away in her room not just from Anna, but from the whole kingdom for her entire childhood.
Hey Disney, any chance of us getting a CGI movie where we aren't crying inside of 10 minutes?
The movie demonstrates repeatedly that Elsa can barely spend five minutes in public without her ice powers threatening the sanity and physical well-being of those around her. And you kind of can't blame the kingdom for being afraid. Imagine how you'd feel, knowing that at any second, your entire world could turn into North Dakota.
On top of the isolation, Elsa is forced to repress her emotions. Yes, the parents make her do this in an attempt to help her control her powers, but holy crap, they quite literally teach her to fear herself. Yet she somehow turns out just dandy, despite this clear example of parental abuse. After taking a brief respite in a sweet-ass ice palace of her own creation and indulging in some infectiously catchy motivational tunes, she handily dispatches her enemies to take her rightful place on the throne.
No better career for someone with zero social experience than national diplomacy.
How She Should Have Turned Out:
Surprisingly enough, social isolation during childhood doesn't usually lead to a mature and well-adjusted adulthood. To see a terrifying real-world example of what isolation does to kids, take a look at the story of Genie Wiley, who was abused and sequestered in a room for more than a decade. Her horror-story treatment resulted in, among other things, physical abnormalities (at age 14, she was the size of an eight-year-old) and the inability to speak or interact in any sort of social situation. Genie was 13 when she was found, and she never recovered from her trauma.
Although we don't see any examples of physical abuse in the movie beyond the solitary confinement, this treatment in and of itself most likely would have resulted in extreme mental and emotional disconnect, speech problems, physical disorders ... think Tom Hanks from Cast Away, especially with the added guilt and shame of near-sororicide. Being without human contact until the age of 21, she should have been making grunting noises and building human-shaped statues out of her own poop. It's kind of hard to be a functioning member of society when your parents have withheld from you the most basic necessities of human interaction.
Pete's Dragon -- Pete Would Have Been A Self-Destructive Mess
Crazy Shit Pete Went Through:
There are plenty of Disney movies that try to wash away the horrors of child abuse with the gooey-warm feels of the good guys coming out ahead in the end. Few movies, however, are quite as blatant when it comes to systematic physical maltreatment as Pete's Dragon. The opening song to this movie sounds lighthearted, but if you actually pay attention to the lyrics, the message is pretty shocking. It starts off with "Gonna snag him, gag him, drag him through town. Put his head in the river, let the pup drown," and only gets worse from there.
Ah the good old days, when cannibalism threats could still make it into a family movie.
Actor Sean Marshall was 12 at the time of the movie's release, and the character was portrayed as about the same age. They don't say exactly how long Pete has been orphaned (and presumably abused), but if the only option for living was to end up with the deranged hillbilly Gogan family, he can't have gotten that great a start in life.
Good rule of thumb: A 12-year-old who still keeps an imaginary best friend is not fine.
Luckily for him, a couple of paranoid delusions and pratfalls later, he finds himself living happily with an alcoholic, an upstanding young woman with the patience of a saint, and her seafaring lover (who totally won't mind this random kid hanging around as they start pumping out hearty New England babies). Pete easily and confidently jumps into social situations with strangers (although with mixed results, due to his penchant for psychedelic and possibly schizophrenic hallucinations). It does take an oddly extended training session before he figures out how to properly move a paintbrush vertically instead of horizontally, but he sure does give a good ol' big-hearted grin when he grasps the concept.
How He Should Have Turned Out:
Sadly, there are plenty of abuse stories that paint a dark reality of Pete's outlook. A more likely result of his treatment would have been for him to withdraw and experience a lack of self-confidence at best. At worst, as in a case as reported by The Dallas Morning News, he would have faced " years of psychotherapy and hundreds of doctor visits ... Fits of rage, long nights of tears and terror, suicide attempts, fistfights, handfuls of mood-altering drugs."
Upbeat sing-a-longs, probably never.
Survivors of physical abuse have all sorts of problems to contend with, and don't turn into happy-go-lucky kids over the course of a few days of being coddled by a pretty lady with a beautiful voice. Some of the problems are physical, such as disabilities caused by beatings, which often aren't followed up with proper medical care in order to keep the abuse secret. Other problems are psychological, such as depression, paranoia, addiction, self-destructive behaviors, and aggression towards other children.
In other words, maybe we shouldn't be so hard on Pete for not having great painting skills.
The Lion King -- Simba Would Have Been Plagued With PTSD Flashbacks
Crazy Shit Simba Went Through:
Though the familial violence wasn't directed towards him, in one of the most heartrending Disney scenes of all time, Simba had to watch the death of his father at the hands (or hooves) of a mindless herd of wildebeests. Simba didn't know at the time (spoiler alert) that Mufasa's blood was on his uncle Scar's paws. Mostly because that dickhead convinced the cub that he was to blame for his father's brutal death.
Somehow, remaking Hamlet with a talking animals managed to make it even more brutal than the original.
Scar then commits a classic villain error, letting the young lion run away instead of biting his head clean off right then and there. Simba somehow grows up to be a powerful, fearsome jungle king, despite never fighting and spending years subsisting on bugs and grubs. After a love-romp and serious talking-to by his probably-sister/future-wife Nala, he takes his rightful place at the head of the pride, free to live a life of laying waste to all of Scar's cubs and mindlessly killing off any male lion dumb enough to court his bevy of lady friends.
"Chuck mine off the cliff, too. I don't like how he's eyeballing me."
How He Should Have Turned Out:
Children who witness abuse and violence live with the effects for the rest of their lives. Survivors like the ones mentioned in this article suffer from ongoing PTSD symptoms, which don't exactly make a good foundation for a kingly comeback.
Fear stays with us for a long time, even if it's just from watching a scary movie. The fear that comes from witnessing real attacks on someone you care about is hugely powerful, with long-ranging effects that don't go away. Simba is going to have a hell of a time performing his man-lion duties while he's cowering in a fetal position reliving vivid, inescapable flashbacks, avoiding all the places that remind him of his father (goodbye, Pride Rock!), and having a complete lack of interest in the activities he used to enjoy.
"Fast-tempo, multi-part musical numbers just don't thrill me like they used to."
Which is to say that he'll be one unfortunate Zazu-hummed "Can't Wait To Be King" chorus away from complete breakdown for the rest of his life. He'd be far more likely to dye his hair black and sing "Creep" by Radiohead until the rest of the pride just bugged out in the middle of the night.
Dumbo -- Dumbo Should Have Addiction-Enabling Abandonment Issues
Crazy Shit Dumbo Went Through:
Unlike some of the poor kids on this list, Dumbo at least got to know his mom. Of course, the fact she was in the slammer certainly tempered their family bonding time.
How many children's tears does it take before it's enough, Disney? How many?!
Dumbo is perhaps the most tragic character on this list, suffering through not only the incarceration of his mother and the absenteeism of his father, but also physical abuse, verbal abuse, and forced child labor. Then again, that probably came straight out of a 1940s guide on "Rearing Your Child the Right Way."
But the little elephant that could doesn't let a few setbacks keep him from achieving his dreams. He rockets to success as a unique and talented performer. His greatness is so awe-inspiring (and so profitable) that his mother is released from prison to enjoy the remainder of her plush circus gig from the comfort of a swanky private train car. If becoming so successful that you can literally get people out of prison is not a happy ending to be proud of, I don't know what more you want out of life.
How He Should Have Turned Out:
Dumbo's initial reaction to separation from his mother is accurately represented, but everything that comes after that is pure bullshit.
Yes, even by this standard.
There's very little chance that his litany of negative life experiences would lead to success and fame. The much more likely outcome -- one faced by millions of children every year -- would start off with what the US Department of Health and Human Services describes as " poorer peer relationships and diminished cognitive abilities." Other symptoms that Dumbo would be likely to experience are weirdly specific. According to this article, a frightening amount of kids develop a straight-up phobia of school, and stop going for a couple of months. Luckily for Dumbo, he had someone to physically and brutally force him to perform through his initial period of trauma.
Good rule of thumb: Unless his last name is "Jones," odds are a dude who needs a whip for his job is probably an asshole.
As with millions before him, Dumbo quickly turns to drugs to dull the existential pain of his miserable life. Again, in the Disney universe, this leads to a slap on the wrist (terrifying hallucinations guaranteed to ensure a life of sobriety) before the happy ending unfolds. In the not-bubblegum-sunshine-and-lollipops universe, early exposure to drugs lead to a lifetime susceptibility to dependence, and can also hinder or even halt development at certain stages.
Which all goes to show that baby Dumbo should have been shown either shutting down and retreating from public life, or taking the fast track to Juvie. Not passing go, not collecting $200, and certainly not returning to a blissfully ignorant, picturesque family life. That famous alcohol scene would have likely lasted well into his 80s, until he died of liver failure and shame. Thanks for the nightmares, Disney.
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