Scary Movies Survive Disney+ Purge… For Now

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Nightmare before christmas Jack Skellington danny elfman

Credit: Disney

Disney will forever be associated with magic and wonder, but when their movies go scary, they don’t skimp on the details. If you’re a Disney fan tired of watered-down movie lists, give these dark delights a try.

Billy-Butcherson-Rises-From-The-Grave-In-Hocus-Pocus
Credit: Disney

Every year, dozens of fans brave their video collections or streaming services for truly terrifying movies for Halloween. However, the house of mouse has been haunting our dreams for decades.

While they will always be Halloween favorites like Hocus Pocus (1993),The Nightmare Before Christmas(1993), and so on, the studio is known for a truly terrifying selection. But why would a company like Disney ever want to scare its consumers?

Mickey and Minnie dressed up in their Halloween costumes during Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.
Credit: Disney

Disney has been the brand almost everyone has been associated with since infancy, which in itself might be a scary thought. However, it is through the studio’s beloved movies and TV shows that many of us can wrestle and overcome challenging subjects like fear and death.

Related: Swearing, Body Horror, and Evil Entities Fill Disney+ Show

Although it’s true that audiences have arguably grown more sensitive these days, there is still a need for this occasional brush with darkness. In this writer’s opinion, I would much rather overcome conflict with characters like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh by my side than go at it alone.

A Darker Shade of Disney Movie

jack skellington snowflake nightmare before christmas
Credit: Disney

With the spooky season well underway, multiple publications like Parade, Collider, and WatchMojo recommend what they consider to be the “scariest Disney movies.” However, an issue fans might find with these recommendations is that very few of them are particularly scary.

Related: Disney Horror Cinematic Universe Reportedly in the Works

Multiple lists of recommendations will mention movies like Halloweentown (1998) or Under Wraps (1997), movies that definitely project more of a Disney image. However, there are a few consistencies when it comes to genuine horror. For a while, the studio had a mindset of “children like to be scared, they just don’t know it,” which resulted in several scary projects from the wonderful world of Disney.

With so many original films and projects under extreme censorship these days, it might be time that fans remembered when Disney had bite this Halloween.

Fantasia (1940)

Chernabog in Night on Bald Mountain
Credit: Disney

It might not be the scariest on Disney+, but it might be the most at risk of being censored or canceled. Fantasia (1940) was Walt Disney’s arthouse piece and a trailblazer for the medium of animation.

Related: Most Iconic Disney Fairy Tale is Getting Two Horror Adaptations

As pivotal as the film was for the Walt Disney Company for introducing Mickey Mouse back into the public consciousness with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” it was infamous for its grand finale with “A Night on Bald Mountain” and the “Ave Maria.” A horrific bacchanal with Chernobog and the spirits of the underworld is undoubtedly a hefty helping of nightmare fuel, but it gets so much darker than that.

How Disney Scares Us

Artists have had vivid depictions of Hell since time in memoriam, but to see something so graphic from Disney today would be absolutely unheard of. Even Deems Taylor, the film’s host, outright describes Bald Mountain itself as “the gathering place of Satan and his followers.” Demons, ghosts, and monsters of all kinds terrorize the souls of the damned in this hand-drawn horror.

Related: Beloved Disney Film, ‘Fantasia’, Celebrates Milestone

Not only that, but this might also be the biggest example of nudity in a Disney movie, as the topless harpies literally flash the camera as they drop their victims into the abyss below. Additionally, the brief amount of time it lasts, paired with the juxtaposition with the Ave Maria, is enough to get it to stick with viewers in both an artistic and psychological manner.

Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)

Larry becomes a Boogeyman in Don't Look Under the Bed
Credit: Disney

Say whatever you want about the Disney Channel Original Movies, but they knew how to make unforgettable TV specials every Halloween. Although they might be better known for such classics as Halloweentown (1998), Under Wraps (1997), and the oh-so-campy Mr. Boogedy (1986), Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999) had young viewers shaking in their PJs.

Related: Disney Censors Stephen King’s ‘The Boogeyman’

At first glance, this weird and wild DCOM might just look like an oversaturated piece of ’90s cheese, but that’s only a deception used to disarm an unassuming audience. What might appear to just a playful romp with an over-serious teen and her brother’s imaginary friend soon takes a nosedive into a world of terror as the pair do battle with a prankish, yet fearsome, boogeyman.

How Disney Scares Us

There have been several adaptations of the Boogeyman story, and this isn’t the only version Disney has produced. However, while the movie might start out corny and cliche at times, things take a sharp left term once the Boogeyman gets actual screen time. His actions might not be fatal or violent, but the slow-burning scares paired with the obvious gaslighting metaphor make for an exciting case of Disney-made psychological horror.

Related: Top 5 Disney Channel Halloween Movies

It’s one thing to have a scary monster in a Disney movie, but becoming one is a different matter altogether, and watching the lovable Larry Houdini transform into a bonafide boogeyman himself is all sorts of unsettling. Additionally, this movie’s creepy imagery and effects are more than enough to eek some ’90s kids out.

The Black Cauldron (1986)

Horned King in the Black Cauldron
Credit: Disney

How scary do you have to be to not only nearly warrant an R rating in the original drafts, but nearly kill the entire animation department of the Walt Disney Company in the process? As scary as the black sheep of the Disney brand, The Black Cauldron (1986).

Related: Everything to Know About ‘The Black Cauldron’

Inspired by the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, Disney’s take on a Dungeons-and-Dragons-type dark fantasy truly laid the dark elements on thick in this chunk of ’80s nightmare fuel. Dragons, warlocks, witches, and the living dead claw their way out of this animated feature that (until Strange World (2022)) was Disney’s biggest box office bomb.

How Disney Scares Us

The Black Cauldron is definitely one of the darkest things to ever come out of the Disney brand; that’s not up for debate. It’s intense, it’s violent, there’s blood, death, and jumpscares, and even one of the most terrifying villains under the studio, the Horned King. And this was the Disney-approved version.

Related: Rachel Zegler Stars in Disney’s New ‘Black Cauldron’

Film buffs will know that the film’s original version was so violent that it nearly warranted an R rating from the MPAA, and the infamous Jeffery Katzenberg left most of the project on the cutting room floor. Simply put, it’s Disney at its most intense, and it’s since become one of the studio’s original cult films.

Pinocchio (1940)

Pinocchio smoking a cigar
Credit: Disney

Where The Black Cauldron was in-your-face dark, Pinocchio is a slow-burning type of scary. It’s the kind of movie to lure viewers in with “When You Wish Upon a Star,” then rip the rug out from under them with the donkey-powered freakshow on Pleasure Island.

Related: Tom Hanks to Play Geppetto in Live-Action ‘Pinocchio’

Walt Disney had just come off the heels of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), a smash hit that jumpstarted his career. Where that film was one that toyed with one end of the emotional spectrum, Pinocchio kicked things into overdrive in terms of both laughter and scares.

How Disney Scares Us

In Disney’s defense, the original Pinocchio story is already pretty creepy. It really didn’t need much help from the house of mouse, and yet we have scenes like the one in the video above.

Related: Disneyland Announces Horror-Nights-Inspired Event

Pinocchio’s fear factor works best when it disarms the viewer first. Even the Disney animators admitted that it lives by its dark fairytale origins. Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the optimism of Jiminy Cricket, the entirety of the film would be more than a few shades scarier.

Return to Oz (1985)

Wheeler in Return to Oz
Credit: Disney

Although multiple fans and official publications have different definitions of what scares them, the most consistent film at or near the top of every list of scary Disney movies is 1985’s Return to Oz. In this sequel to the original MGM classic with Judy Garland, Dorothy Gale returns to Oz, and it is far from somewhere over the rainbow.

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Horror Status Confirmed by Disney

Inspired more by The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum than the movie from the ’30s, this adaptation replaces the Munchkins and musical numbers with witches and weirdos that have corrupted the Emerald City and turned Dorothy’s friends into stone. Believe us when we tell you, you’ll beg for the flying monkeys after watching this.

How Disney Scares Us

When you think of an adaptation of one of the Oz books, do images of psych wards, shock therapy, headless witches, and “Wheelers” come to mind? Dark fairytale re-imaginings are definitely more commonplace nowadays, and to say Return to Oz hasn’t had something of an influence since then.

Related: ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’: Disney’s Forgotten Horror Movie

Although it’s certainly different from what fans might expect from the Merry Old Land of Oz, it’s still an adaptation that recognizes that it’s a book first and a movie second, and the books get incredibly weird. One of the primary reasons this adaptation is so shocking is that it takes something incredibly familiar and comforting, giving it a dark and twisted edge. Of course, most Disney adaptations come from somewhere dark and twisted.

Could Disney Really Cancel Them?

Nervous Mickey Mouse from the mickey mouse shorts
Credit: Disney

While these movies might have something of a niche following these days, Disney would rarely repeat the extremes given the recent change in audiences. Especially with the major content purge that’s hit the streaming service.

Related: Tim Burton Shuns Disney, “Impossible to Work With”

If fans are too sensitive to handle something as minor as the off-screen death of Bambi’s mother, there’s no way they’d be able to handle some of the previously mentioned imagery. But in the end, isn’t that kind of the point of some of these movies? Yes, Disney is responsible for some truly terrifying movies, but there’s something satisfying about being able to handle some of these creepy creature features.

Did these movies scare you as a kid? Tell Inside the Magic what you think in the comments below!

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