Kids these days have it so easy. They get cute minions, boss babies, talking cars, and utopian zoo animals in their movies—but back in my day? Cartoons were weird, sometimes morbid, and often totally disturbing. Who let these twisted minds make so-called “family” content in the first place? Like a swift punch straight to the childhood, here’s a definitive ranking of the scariest, saddest, and otherwise most totally kid-unfriendly animated movies of recent memory.
Yeah yeah, it’s cute and all, but don’t forget that this classic begins with a scene of straight-up mom-murder, which, when it comes to tragedy, is practically Shakespearean in scope. Oh, deer!
9. FernGully: The Last Rainforest
If this were a live-action film, it would be directed by Guillermo del Toro. ‘Nuff said. Every 90s kid I know is a fervent recycler, and this movie is a big part of the reason why.
8. The Land Before Time
Besides that whole narrative framing of the tragedy of extinction (go ahead, explain to little Sally why there are no adorable dino-babies stumbling around anymore), the mom-murdering (again), and the widespread famine, The Land Before Time is basically about a bunch of abandoned children who are stalked through a dystopian hellscape by a one-eyed monster who wants to eat them. Chill.
7. The Care Bears Movie
I still think about that evil kid magician glowing red eyes and shudder. For something that’s basically an hour’s worth of product placement, things get pretty dark, and if you think about it, we never do find out what becomes of Kim’s brother Jason! Yeah, that still kind of haunts me.
6. Oliver & Company
Ah yes, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, set on the mean streets of New York, and starring cats and dogs…what could go wrong? Terrifying scenes of animals trying to cross traffic aside, the 80s were clearly a decade that reckoned with greed, class-consciousness, and rampant consumerism, and those adult issues “trickled down,” so to speak, into kid’s fare, with this bizarre musical set in a shipyard and featuring dogs getting electrocuted on the third rail of the subway as a result. Jazz hands!
5. The Secret of NIMH
A potent mix of practical scares (predators, plow blades, pneumonia) and metaphysical ones (glowing eyes, strange talismans, magical powers) is what makes The Secret of Nimh so unsettling. As if that weren’t enough, it stars lab rats who were tortured in highly suspect “mental health” medical experiments. Actually, I guess these days you can get all the evil government conspiracy content your kid needs and wants free and on-demand from YouTube…
Let’s go ahead and just ruin the idea of a circus for children forever, shall we? Wow, this movie is a bummer and a half. Oh, and for those who think that the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is the most disturbing “trip” in a so-called kids’ movie, we humbly present: the pink elephants. They still make me vaguely uncomfortable, and I’m almost old enough to run for president!
3. The Brave Little Toaster
Everyone loves it when the household appliances try to commit suicide! You’re never too young to have your first existential crisis.
2. All Dogs Go to Heaven
For heaven’s sake, a chunk of this movie takes place in actual hell. Also, as an adult, I’m now realizing that the title is meant to be a little ironic, given that it’s about a small-time crook, a drunk, and maybe also kind of a skeeze who gets killed—because there’s nothing more fun for kids than dead dogs—by his even-less-scrupulous business partner. Not exactly Lassie.
1. Watership Down
Forty years after its release, this horrifying fantasy epic is frankly hard to stomach even as an adult, and as a five-year-old? When that cute little bun-bun began prophesying pastoral fields drenched in waves of blood, I hit the eject button on my VCR so fast that I may have sprained a finger. And because this is the only cartoon movie that, as a child, I wasn’t even able to finish, it has to claim top billing as the least kid-friendly. Now, who needs an adult beverage?