Remember that part in All Dogs Go To Heaven when the dog goes to hell? No, of course you don’t, because there’s scar tissue over that part of your brain. But it happened. There were little bits of secret trauma in the cartoons that kids of the 90s watched and those horrifying events are probably ruining your life right now as you’re sitting there reading this when you really ought to be having some dinner or calling your mom.
Toy Story established a fear of zombies. Someday, you’ll die, and your body will be harvested for parts just like the toys in the mean kid’s attic. You don’t really remember the mechanical spider/baby-head hybrid part of Toy Story, do you? This is mostly because Andy, your friend, found you to be outdated, throwing you aside on a whim for something shiny.
Snow White confused people about taboos like personal boundaries and necrophilia, upping our generation’s grope-quotient by 37%. No, it is not okay to hermetically seal a girl in a glass coffin, dwarf-cadre. Yes, it’s a mixed message that you can kiss a dead girl. Did you think it was odd that the motherly figure in your life secretly wants to (pay the hired help to) rip out your heart and put it on display? Blergh — the whole thing is going to confuse the sh-t out of kids.
The Lion King suggested that responsibility is something that should be shirked as long as humanly possible until your dad tells you to get your act together. Wait until after the drought-apocalypse to go and try to fix things, why don’t you, Simba? Family kingdom collapsing? Eh, no biggie. Mother in abusive relationship with her brother-in-law? Not even going to look up from your bong-rip. But if Ghost Vader tells you to do it, you stop pouting and go kill your uncle. Fear responsibility, but fear your father even more.
The Secret of NIMH reminded us that no matter how well-intentioned they might be, old people are still horrifying. Here, madam, wear this creepy Russian talisman and trust these genetically-modified rats to help you move your home with your sick kid still inside. This is the advice that the wizened old rat gives. And what happens? House collapse — ironically crushing the old rat.
Beauty & The Beast was an informercial for the benefits of Stockholm Syndrome. It was just… a weird time and feeling and… there was just a lot of confusing energy flying around with rose wilting and the pity and the magic… he gave her a whole library, okay, how bad can he really be? That whole bit with him mauling Belle’s dad really should be forgiven.
The Land Before Time forced us to cope with the idea of abandonment. For instance, what would happen if your single parent got mugged and killed by a fanged monster? In front of you. How did Littlefoot not turn into The Batman Of Dinosaurs? Whatever. Your parents are gonna die. And it’s gonna rain.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was basically about class warfare. Are you from a different part of town? Do you celebrate different things? Do you want to learn about other traditions? All that awaits you is ridicule from your peers and enemies alike. I also don’t know what the Oogie-Boogie Man is, but I’m still afraid of jazz-scat music.
Pinocchio made us fear leaving the nest. Any curiosity or trust in anybody besides dear old dad will get you in trouble. Everybody else in the world is a bunch of filthy, exploitative donkey-men. It’s no wonder Pinocchio ended up being the Buster Bluth of Disney characters. At the end he finally becomes A Real Boy. Nice. Well done.
The real trouble is that they’ve kind of filtered the trauma out of kids movies now. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it means things are really clean and saccharine, and characters have brief 90-minute emotional arcs that always end with things resolved, but the landscape is rarely different. Except for maybe Up or Wall-E, things aren’t that hard-hitting or life-altering. In most modern animated movies, nobody dies for real, there are always sequels, and if you look closely, you’ll realize that pretty much every Dreamworks movie ends with a dance number.
Except for How To Train Your Dragon. Toothless is the best dog you’ll never get to have.