Category Archives: Disney

Disturbing Disney #15: Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia (1940)

*note: I’m only covering the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment, not the “Ave Maria” that follows

When I originally conceived of the Disturbing Disney series, I always planned on including Night on Bald Mountain from the finale of Fantasia (1940). It is well known that this segment is considered to be one of the darkest pieces of animation that Disney ever produced. But, and this might surprise you, it is also one of the few “disturbing” pieces that didn’t scare me as a child.

Night on Bald Mountain (1940)

Let me explain: if you haven’t seen the original Fantasia film, Night on Bald Mountain is based on the symphonic poem of the same name (and earlier referred to as St. John’s Eve on Bald Mountain) by Modest Mussorgsky, with an arrangement created by his friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. The segment takes place one night in an unnamed country village surrounded by mountains. The highest peak is revealed to actually be the massive body of Chernabog, a terrifyingly huge black winged demon, who uses his evil powers to summon all the dead spirits, witches and other lesser demons to attend him and perform for his pleasure. After wreaking havoc all night long, Chernabog goes toward the village itself, only to be stopped by the distant church bells chiming for Matins, signalling the arrival of dawn, and the end of Chernabog’s power for the night.

As I mentioned earlier, Night on Bald Mountain did not scare me as a child. I thought long and hard about it, trying to remember how I felt watching Chernabog reveal himself, but I cannot find a single memory where I quivered in terror. If anything, I was almost in awe of what I was seeing. I mean just look at the creature below:

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Chernabog is rightly considered a masterpiece of Disney animation. He’s a perfect example of the intensive labor that went into Golden Age Disney animation. In the opening minute, when Chernabog shrugs his wings open, you can feel the weight behind the motion, even though he’s nothing more than a drawing on the screen.

Now, on to the disturbing elements of this piece (and they are many). First of all, as I said before, this is considered to be one of the darkest (if not THE darkest) animations that Disney ever produced, because never before has such raw evil been depicted. In fact, in the earliest stages, Chernabog was intended to be Satan himself (and referred to as such) but such a blatant religious statement was deemed….unwise (that’s my assumption anyway). Even though he’s named differently, it’s not hard to view Chernabog as the Devil (he’s got horns, wings, big glowing eyes, if he were red instead of black he’d be a perfect likeness to traditional images of Satan).

Aside from being pure evil, what also makes Chernabog himself disturbing is his sheer size: he’s so large that his wings are viewed as a literal mountain top! Full size humans (I would assume) could stand on his palm with plenty of room to spare. Not that you would WANT to of course, at one point, the demon creates fire dancers that dance on his palms before being cruelly twisted into barnyard animals and finally morphed into blue demons that frantically dance to please their master.

Other disturbing elements include the various ghouls and skeletons that fly through the air when summoned. There are skeletons riding skeletal horses (a reference to the Danse Macabre), ghouls with glowing eyes, witches on brooms and other strange figures. By the final chaotic minutes of the piece, the disturbing factor is ramped up: there are harpies flying straight up to the screen (revealing they were topless in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment), skulls and weird masks, all moving in a frantic blur.

Funnily enough, even though Fantasia was released almost 80 years ago, Disney still receives complaints from parents of children traumatized by this particular segment. If you have young children, I would definitely be wary of letting them see this segment too soon, but don’t hide it forever either.

And that’s just a glimpse of my thoughts on Chernabog and Night on Bald Mountain, I hope you enjoy watching the segment in the above link. Let me know YOUR thoughts in the comments below.

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Disturbing Disney #14: The Salt Trap in The Jungle Book (1994)

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When Disney released a live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book last year, many seemed to have forgotten that this was the second live-action version of the story that Disney had ever made. The first was released in 1994 and stars Jason Scott Lee as Mowgli, Lena Headey (aka Cersei) as Katherine and Cary Elwes as Boone. I for one, can never wholly forget this film because it has a number of disturbing moments in the second half, one of the most disturbing coming in the Monkey City.

“The Salt Trap” from The Jungle Book (1994) (start at 1:01)

Unlike the animated film, where the Monkey City is just a pile of crumbling ruins, this version is not only loaded with treasure, but is also filled with booby traps of all kinds. Mowgli is forced by Boone and his compatriots to lead them to Monkey City so they can help themselves to the treasure (despite Mowgli’s warnings that the city is dangerous). By the time they get inside the city, most of Boone’s henchmen are dead, but a hunter named Buldeo (who incidentally left Mowgli’s father to die at the beginning of the film) is still alive and he is relentlessly pursuing Mowgli, intent on killing him. But this is complicated because Wilkins (another associate), accidentally shot him in the leg shortly before he was mauled to death by Shere Khan.

Limping all the way, Buldeo seemingly has Mowgli cornered in a sunken pavilion, when a stray shot unexpectedly causes a decoration to burst out of the wall, pouring salt out on the floor. This trips a chain reaction, where more and more decorations burst out, spilling more and more salt, and the reason why becomes clear; as the salt spills out, the roof of the pavilion is slowly lowering, meaning Mowgli and Buldeo are caught in a trap! Mowgli is able to leap out of the pit to safety, but Buldeo is hampered by his wounded leg and must hobble for the stairs, but he is caught in the growing streams of salt. I’m convinced it is salt and not sand because the material causes Buldeo intense pain in his wounded leg (and salt is very bad for open wounds). All this time the ceiling is slowly but surely descending, to Buldeo’s mounting panic as it becomes clear he will NOT be able to get out in time. By the end, he is futilely pressing against the ceiling in an attempt to stop the inevitable…with a final scream the ceiling clamps down on the floor, entombing Buldeo forever in that small pit, where he will quickly suffocate (unless that salt fills up the space first).

This scene terrified me as a child, because I would have nightmares of being trapped in that kind of a situation. To this day I can’t believe this film is ONLY rated PG because, in no particular order, we have: a man drowning in quicksand; a man being mauled to death by a tiger, people being shot, falling to their deaths, etc. But of all the deaths, Buldeo being buried alive in the Salt Trap is by far the most disturbing of all. I’d actually nearly put this scene out of my mind but I’m glad I remembered it so I could share it with all of you.

What do you think of the Salt Trap in this film? Does it disturb you? Can you believe they put this in a movie for kids? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it.

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Disturbing Disney #13: “Smoking them out” in The Fox and the Hound (1981)

So yesterday I shared with you the disturbing sequence involving a monstrous bear in the 1981 film The Fox and the Hound. But before we got to that point, there’s actually another equally disturbing moment that gave me chills as a kid.

The Fox and the Hound “Chase/Smoking Them Out” (1981)

After Todd is nearly lured into a steel trap, he makes a run for it along with his newfound mate Vixie. They run to their burrow and hide but are quickly cornered by the hunter and Copper. As there’s no way for the hunter to get a clean shot (and Copper is unable to dig his way in), the hunter gets an idea: he’ll “smoke” them out of their burrow by setting a clump of dried grass on fire and fanning the flames so that they roar INTO the burrow. With one exit blocked by flames, the hunter and Copper stand poised at the main entrance, ready to kill the foxes the moment they come out. Inside Todd and Vixie are cornered by a growing inferno and finding it hard to breathe with all the smoke. This moment scared me half to death because, as a kid, I had a fear of being trapped by fire, so this scene was somewhat traumatic for me.

Even how Todd and Vixie escape this trap is somewhat disturbing. They can’t go out the main way because they’ll be killed instantly. So the only other way out is the back entrance (which is currently surrounded by scorching flames). But since it’s their only option…the two foxes run THROUGH the flames and make it out, to the shock and amazement of the hunter, who resumes the chase that will lead him straight to the crazy huge bear.

The whole scenario is disturbing for me, but at least Todd and Vixie aren’t burned to death, and to be fair, it doesn’t look like they were burned at all (which is totally possible in the world of Disney). So while this is a disturbing moment, it’s not as disturbing as it could have been.

What do YOU think of this disturbing moment in The Fox and the Hound? Let me know what you think in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it 🙂

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Disturbing Disney #12: The Bear from The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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I think I’ve mentioned before that the Disney films made between Sleeping Beauty in 1959 (the end of Disney’s Golden Age) and The Little Mermaid in 1989 (the start of the Disney Renaissance) often get overlooked or underrated because they’re not quite up to the standards of either era (or at least that’s the perception). A classic example of this is 1981’s The Fox and the Hound, a good film that is criminally neglected and yet it has one of the most disturbing sequences I’ve ever seen.

The Fox and the Hound “The Bear” (1981)

In summary: The Fox and the Hound is about…you guessed it…a fox and a hound who become friends (despite being natural enemies). The fox, named Todd, is eventually set loose in a game preserve to keep him safe from a gruff hunter and his hound Copper (formerly Todd’s friend). But the hunter wants to kill Todd for nearly getting his other hunting dog Chief killed and so he trespasses onto the preserve to hunt the fox down, laying a series of steel traps by a secluded watering area. The trap nearly works, but at the last moment Todd senses the danger and runs for it. In the ensuing chase (including another disturbing moment I’ll cover next time), the hunter believes he has Todd cornered in some bushes, but he is so very wrong. Instead of the fox, the hunter has cornered THIS:

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Even referring to this bear as “a bear” is an understatement; he’s practically a monster in the way he’s presented as this huge snarling mass of muscle and teeth (the demonic red eyes add to the monstrous impression). And then there’s the SIZE of this beast; even though the bear is colored black, in size he’s really more like a grizzly bear (which doesn’t make sense as I believe this story is supposed to be set in Appalachia).

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The sheer viciousness of the bear’s assault is terrifying, and also not surprising, considering he’s been disturbed by this raucous hunter (and also shot). But the disturbing part comes when the hunter’s foot gets caught in one of his own traps and the bear comes closer and closer for the kill. Even though he’s an antagonist, this hunter is facing a pretty agonizing way to die and he can’t do a thing about it.

And then there’s the fight between Todd, Copper and the bear. This huge bear is just THROWING these two around like nothing, and it’s painful to watch. The entire sequence has me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, especially when the bear has Todd cornered on a fallen tree perched halfway up a huge waterfall (the ominous music tells you this will end badly). This bear is an excellent example of Disturbing Disney (I hope you enjoy the full scene up above).

What do you think of the bear in The Fox and the Hound? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it 🙂

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Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)

You know, it sure seems to me like a lot of “disturbing” moments in Disney films happen to coincide with a villain’s death.

Tarzan (1999) is considered to be the end of the 1st Disney Renaissance, and for this reason I think the film has become totally underrated. Which is really a shame because the animation is incredible, particularly the scenes where Tarzan is “surfing” through the trees. The (real) villain is pretty awesome too. For most of the film, the “enemy” has been presented as Kerchak, the leader of the gorilla troop that raised Tarzan, and the gorilla that should have been Tarzan’s foster father, as it is Kerchak’s mate Kaala that  took the young man in when he was a baby, but Kerchak could never bring himself to accept the human as his son. However, the actual villain of this story is the bloodthirsty and devious Clayton, who has hitherto been working as a bodyguard for the expedition of Professor Porter and Jane. But in reality, Clayton has come because he wants to capture the gorillas for the handsome price they will fetch back in England.

Clayton

Behold the villainous Clayton, even before he’s revealed he kind of looks like a villain already

At the last minute, Tarzan is able to thwart Clayton’s attempt to kidnap all of the gorillas, but Clayton is not giving up just yet. After fatally wounding Kerchak, Clayton chases Tarzan up into the trees, figuring that if he can get Tarzan out of the way, rounding the gorillas back up should be easy. But despite his injuries (Clayton shot him in the arm), Tarzan has a distinct advantage: he was raised in this jungle, he knows how to navigate the trees with his eyes closed, Clayton is like a fish out of water. Despite this, he continues to chase Tarzan until the latter is cornered against a tree trunk. But then Tarzan uses the jungle to his advantage, ensnaring Clayton’s limbs in a tangle of jungle vines (to his mounting fury). At this point, Clayton fully snaps and begins to furiously hack at the vines holding him up, and a single shot forewarns what is about to happen: as the vines are cut away, one loop slips up to tighten around Clayton’s neck.

Tarzan “Clayton’s Death” (1999)

The first time I saw this film in theaters, I didn’t realize what was going to happen, but my parents did. To this day I remember my mom gasping at the shot and wondering what she was reacting to. I realize now that Clayton has a particularly gruesome and disturbing death scene, one that is pretty graphic if you think it through.

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As I’d said, Clayton is hacking away at the vines that are holding him up, not noticing one loop remains coiled around his neck. He is so frantic to get loose to kill Tarzan that he doesn’t notice there are fewer and fewer vines holding him up. Even Tarzan sees what is about to happen and tries to warn him, but Clayton doesn’t listen…and then it’s too late. Down to two vines (the one around his neck and the one his hand is clenching), Clayton hacks the wrong vine and begins to fall screaming, the vine still looped around his neck. This moment is terribly disturbing: not only is Clayton falling to his death, but he has enough time to know it and try desperately to avert the inevitable (see, as he falls, you can see Clayton’s hands trying to remove the loop before he runs out of slack). Maybe Tarzan could have saved himself, but Clayton is no Tarzan and in no time we see the vine go taught with an audible *SNAP* and then we see the shadowy profile of Clayton hanging by his neck…DEAD.

I’ll give Disney credit for one thing: at least they kept the actual moment of death off-screen and only showed Clayton’s dead body in silhouette. Still…watching a villain die via a broken neck is pretty disturbing, and thus it is here on the list of Disturbing Disney.

But I would like to know what YOU think of Clayton’s death; does it disturb you? Do you find it gruesome? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear about it.

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Disturbing Disney #10: The rat in Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp is another classic Disney film that is sadly falling by the wayside as more and more time goes on, but it has one of the more disturbing situations in the Disney canon.

Set in 1909/1910, the story follows Lady, a cocker spaniel, whose happy life with Jim Dear and his wife Darling is upended when Darling becomes pregnant and has a baby boy. With all of the attention focused on the new baby, Lady begins to feel neglected for the first time in her life. Not only that, but a brash stray named Tramp keeps nosing his way into her life as well.

Now, looking at this film, some might think that the “villain” of this film is Aunt Sarah, the mean lady with the Siamese cats, who muzzles Lady, and later locks her out of the house and keeps her tied in the yard. However, Aunt Sarah isn’t acting out of malice, she’s just being manipulated by her cats and what she believes to be right. No, the real villain of this story…is the RAT!

I can hear it now, “Rat? What rat??”

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THAT rat!! (He’s an ugly thing isn’t he??)

The rat first appears early in the film when Lady is seen going about her morning routine (before Darling becomes pregnant and has her baby). He keeps trying to get in the house, but Lady is always there to chase him off. However, at the end of the film, when Aunt Sarah has Lady tied to the doghouse, the rat is able to slip in with ease, despite Lady barking a frantic warning (that Aunt Sarah ignores). And where is the ugly rat going? To the baby’s room of course!! Yes, that’s right, there’s a disease-ridden rat headed for the baby’s room to do only God knows what. Totally messed up right? Just wait, it gets better.

Lady and the Tramp: The Rat Scene (1955)

Of course Tramp comes barreling into the yard a short time later and Lady is able to tell him about the rat. Tramp goes to make the save and then we see this:

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I wish I could get a zoom in on this rat perched on the baby’s crib, looking down at the infant like he’s going to.. *shudders* oh Disney  why do you DO these things??? It’s not that the rat actually does anything, it’s the implication of what’s going to happen that makes this moment so disturbing. (And there’s also that frightening fight between Tramp and the rat that is done mostly in shadow that is SUPER disturbing too.)

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What do you think about the rat in Lady and the Tramp? Do you find it disturbing as well, or is it no match for what we see in Disney today? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear about it 🙂

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Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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This is also my 600th post, how cool is that?!

After a long month of delays and “life happening”, I was FINALLY able to go see Beauty and the Beast in the theater and see what all the hype and fuss is about. The short answer is: I liked it!! The long answer…well, keep reading, because I have some thoughts about all of this.

First I will start with what I liked.

The casting: Disney nailed the casting in my opinion, especially with Belle, Maurice, Gaston and Beast. Luke Evans in particular was very believable as the egomaniacal and downright despicable Gaston, though his singing style caught me by surprise (more on that in a minute). I really liked Josh Gad as Le Fou too. And while I initially wasn’t too sure about Le Fou being the first gay character in Disney canon, once I saw it, I realized that it worked super well and it isn’t “in your face” at all! And Gaston is so oblivious to it all that it is really quite funny.

An expanded story: I absolutely loved that Disney filled in some gaps in the story with this version. Showing the Beast’s transformation (including what came immediately before) was well done, as it gave a good idea of what life in the castle was like before the Enchantress came. And speaking of, I liked that we see more of the Enchantress beyond the prologue. Of course in the animated film we don’t get to “see” the Enchantress at all, we only see her depicted in the stained glass pictures. But when “Agathe” rescued Maurice and took him to her home in the woods, I knew instantly that this had to be the Enchantress in disguise, because witches and other magical types would be living in the woods with owls and other magical things, and the only witch in this story is the Enchantress. But most of all, I really love that we finally got a backstory for Belle as to where she came from and why she and her father had to come to “this poor provincial town” in the first place. In this version, Maurice used to be a painter living in Paris with his wife and newborn daughter, when his wife contracted the plague, forcing Maurice to flee with his daughter so they didn’t all die.

Another added twist (that actually comes from the Broadway play) that I liked is that every time a rose petal falls, the castle crumbles a little more and the enchanted servants become ever more object-like. And I have to say that the scene where our enchanted friends momentarily become regular objects made me cry, because for a moment I thought they were going to give us an unhappy ending.

Homage to the past: As I suspected, this film pays homage to Cocteau’s 1946 version of the Beauty and the Beast story, primarily with Maurice’s initial encounter with the castle, and also somewhat in the look of the castle too. For example, those lights out front that are held by stone arms? That image comes straight from the 1946 film. The rose pavilion out front with statues of the deer and hounds on top? That too is copied almost exactly from the film. In fact, the entire arrangement of Maurice being allowed to come in and help himself to food and shelter, only being attacked when he dares to take a rose, is the exact set-up seen in the 1946 film.

The music: Of course I’m going to be all over this music, the original Beauty and the Beast soundtrack is one of my favorite film soundtracks ever, and I was happy to hear the music I loved largely unchanged. And the new songs were all beautiful, nothing felt out of place. I do have one gripe however; when Belle goes to the West Wing, the iconic “West Wing theme” is missing. I was really disappointed as that is one of my favorite musical cues from the animated film.

Now for what I didn’t like:

The fight between Gaston and the Beast: maybe I’m nitpicking, but the entire scene with Gaston, the Beast and Belle at the end of the film didn’t carry nearly the same emotional weight as the original did. I’m not sure why that is, but Gaston’s death didn’t feel nearly as satisfying, nor did his fatal attack on the Beast. For that last part, I think that had something to do with the fact that it was more shocking for the Beast to be stabbed in the side than to be shot in the back at a distance. Also, Gaston standing on the crumbling rampart felt something like an afterthought. Truthfully, when I saw that we were seeing more of the Enchantress, I was secretly hoping that she was going to punish Gaston by cursing HIM instead. Or, barring that, I was curious to see if Disney would use the original plan for Gaston’s death, which involved him being stalked and killed by wolves.

How Gaston gets Maurice locked up, and Belle’s attempted rescue: In the animated original, Maurice really does come across (a little bit) as an insane person raving about a Beast taking his daughter. But in THIS version, Gaston tries to have Maurice killed by tying him up and leaving him in the woods, thinking the wolves will get him. When Maurice makes it back to town almost a week later, he tells the townspeople exactly what happened and they are all suspicious of Gaston (and rightfully so). But simply because Gaston says it didn’t happen, the townspeople just take his word for it? I know everyone is supposed to hang on every word Gaston says, but this really is pushing it. And then there’s when Belle comes racing in, still in her ball gown, to rescue her father. You would think everyone would take one look at the sumptuous clothes she’s dressed in and realize, “Oh my gosh, I don’t understand how, but she’s telling the truth!” Nope! Belle gets thrown in the padded wagon too.

But these are really only minor nitpicks for me. While I do admit that I still like the animated film better, I can also say that this Beauty and the Beast was a well-done adaptation.

Final thoughts:

Le Fou switching sides during the fight in the castle was just epic, as was Mrs. Potts comment “You’re too good for him (Gaston)”

The transformation scene was just wonderful/amazing/spectacular. And I loved the shot where the castle is restored to its former glory.

Once again, I did enjoy Beauty and the Beast, it is a good film, if not quite the equal of the animated original.

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