12 Scariest Moments in Kids’ Films – Rolling Stone
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12 Scariest Moments in Kids’ Films

From Oz’s flying monkeys to ‘Large Marge,’ these children’s movie scenes are the stuff of nightmares

12 Scariest Moments in Kids' Films

When it comes to the movies that petrified us as children, we tend to talk about them as though the frightening moments were some kind of mistake — the byproduct of a tonal miscalculation or the sick work of a rogue Disney animator bent on corrupting America's youth. But there's a certain subset of films aimed at the underage for which a short, sharp shock — or a long, nightmare-inducing set piece — is a key part of the package. Kids' movies can stimulate imaginations and offer thrills, spills and family-friendly chills. And, every so often, they're perfect for scaring the shit out of the young 'uns as well.

In fact, a startling number of the most beloved children's classics of all time tend to take detours towards terror, providing sudden jolts of horror before returning to their adorable tales of talking woodland creatures. (The traumatizing moments in Disney toons alone is enough to fuel therapist bills for decades.) And whether or not this weekend's No. 1 box-office attraction Goosebumps will ever be considered a "classic," the big-screen meta-take on R.L. Stine's popular YA-horror book series is a great reminder that a few well-placed scenes of ghosts, ghouls and creepy talking ventriloquist dummies in a kids' movie offer the perfect Fright 101 primer for middle-schoolers and tweens. 

So whether you're looking to relive the scenes that scarred your youth or simply looking for a step-by-step guide to safely instill your brood with a healthy measure of fear, check out our chronological list of the 12 scariest moments in the history of kids movies. From the Wicked Witch of the West's sky-high simians to Coraline's button-eyed alt-parents, these dozen scenes are chock full of the stuff that dreams are made of. Bad, bad dreams.

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‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ (1988): Judge Doom

This won't be news to anyone who lives in a world where American Dad! was just picked up for its 12th season, but even bad cartoons can be extremely hard to kill. And no toon has ever been worse or harder to stamp out than Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), who tries to bring both the live-action and animated sections of Hollywood to their knees from behind the bench of the District Superior Court. Masquerading as a man until he's flattened by a steamroller — "Holy smoke, he's a toon!" — Doom’s reveal comes in stages, but it's his red and unblinking eyes that truly convey the horrors of animation gone wrong. Very, very wrong.

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‘The Little Mermaid’ (1989): Ursula, Supersized

Disney's stable of canonized princess movies is filled with horrifying, blood-curdling moments, from Snow White's run through the dark forest to Maleficent's climactic Game of Thrones cosplay in Sleeping Beauty. But let's be real, people: The movie that kicked off the company's second animation renaissance featured one truly terrifying villainess. To wit: Ursula was not fucking around. A campy sea witch with an insatiable thirst for power — imagine the offspring between Divine and Donald Trump — Ursula is the baddest bitch in the seven seas, and after she finally gets Ariel's dad to fork over his magic trident, she grows to the size of a small kraken. Thanks to this one scene, The Little Mermaid nearly did for bath-time what Psycho did for showers.

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‘The Witches’ (1990): Behind the Mask

It's still hard to believe that Warner Bros hired Nicolas Roeg to direct an adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel (it's like hiring Dario Argento to direct Bridge to Terabithia). But if you've ever wondered what a YA movie would like if it was done by the guy responsible for the grotesque psychic nightmare that is Don't Look Now, well…you have your answer here. A quaint little boy's-adventure story before it becomes a non-stop parade of latex terrors, The Witches keeps things whimsical until Roeg reveals the truth behind the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children — at which point Anjelica Huston pulling back her scalp and we meet the child-eating ghoul that lurks underneath. All that's missing is an intertitle card that says, "Kids, you may run screaming from the theater now."

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‘Toy Story’ (1995): Spider Baby

Not every toy is lucky enough to be owned by a nice kid like Andy. Some poor, unfortunate dolls wind up with a serial killer in training like Sid Phillips, a local bully who moonlights as the Doctor Moreau of plastic. When Sheriff Woody and Buzz Lightyear are taken hostage and deposited inside Sid's house of horrors, they're greeted by a motley crew of mangled toys unlike any they've ever seen before — including a one-eyed baby's head moving atop six metal spider legs. The franchise has its share of unbearably tense moments (our nails have still not grown back after being chewed to the quick during Toy Story 3's furnace escape). But the appearance of this creepy monstrosity is arguably the single scariest thing that Pixar has ever done, their recent press release announcing Cars 3 notwithstanding.

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‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ (2005): Voldemort Strikes

As Harry Potter got older, things got a hell of a lot darker, and nothing was more shocking for the Boy Who Lived (or for the children who followed along with his saga) than the death of the handsomest guy at Hogwarts. In the flash of a wand, golden child Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) is reduced from an all-star quidditch player to a corpse with high cheekbones, which is a sure way to ruin a perfectly good Triwizard Tournament. Naturally, Lord Voldemort — he of the reptilian hiss, the lack of nose bones and the ability to magically make tween viewers wet themselves at will — is behind the carnage. He'd come back to increasingly haunt viewers' dreams as the series went on.

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‘Coraline’ (2009): Meet the Parents

The only way that Henry Selick could be better at terrifying children is if he worked a side job as a party clown. The twisted genius behind The Nightmare Before Christmas, Selick knows what kids are really afraid of — and his stop-motion version of Neil Gaiman's novel taps into fears they may not even know they have. Following a neglected 11-year-old girl into a parallel dimension where everything's a bit too good to be true, the film eventually turns into a through-the-looking-glass phantasmagoria, but it's scariest moment comes long before that when our heroine first meets her parents' bizarro doppelgangers. Complete with buttons for eyes and a permanent Stepford smile, her Other Mother is the unnerving answer to Coraline's prayers for attention.

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