Our childhoods were enlivened by stories of fairy tale princesses, magic lamps, golden tickets, and monsters who were maybe not as bad as they seemed. But while those movies could be sad or scary, it was usually nothing compared to what happened behind the scenes. There aren’t many happy endings here: Here are 42 childhood-ruining facts about classic kids’ movies.
Secretly Dark Kids’ Movies Facts
1. Sad Songs
Beauty and the Beast is an excellent film for showing the dangers of fear and prejudice. In fact, some have even interpreted the lyrics of many of the movie’s songs as ruminations on the stigma around AIDS. This may be because the movie’s lyricist, Howard Ashman was battling the disease himself when the movie was made. Ashman eventually passed in 1991.
2. No Laughing Matter
No one ever said The Lion King was a documentary, but one hyena researcher was so annoyed by the inaccuracies of the movie that he sued Disney for defamation, on behalf of hyenas everywhere.
3. No Glove, No Love
Take a look at all the Disney princesses. Each one is distinct, sure, but they’re probably all dressed the same: fancy gown, maybe a tiara, typical princess garb. Here’s a subtle difference you may not have noticed: some are wearing gloves, some aren’t. The ones who aren’t wearing gloves are commoners who married into royalty.
Who knows why Disney singles these princesses out this way.
4. Walking on Broken Glass
So many of Disney’s movies are based on fairy tales, and it’s not at all surprising that Disney would try and clean up the subject material to make it more family-friendly. Take Cinderella, for example. In the original version of the story, Cinderella’s stepsisters actually cut off their toes to make their feet fit into the glass slipper. Once Cinderella finally marries the prince, she has her revenge on her stepsisters by having their eyes pecked out by birds.
5. A Novel Idea
In the novel which inspired The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Esmerelda is charged with murder and hanged. Quasimodo lies beside her dead body until he dies of starvation.
Even the Disney movies inspired by real-life events are pretty grim. The real-life Pocahontas was captured and held for ransom by colonists. Then she was forcibly converted to Christianity and renamed Rebecca, at which point she was brought to England and put on public display. She died of unknown causes when she was incredibly young: Before her 22nd birthday.
7. Blink and You’ll Miss Them
Bored Disney animators have been known to occasionally slip hidden messages or images into the backgrounds of their films. These images are usually only on screen for a second, and definitely not meant for little eyes. Some notorious examples include the stars spelling out “S-E-X” in one Lion King scene (the animators later claimed it said “SFX” as in special effects), and a brief glimpse of a topless woman in The Rescuers.
8. History Lesson
For An American Tail, Steven Spielberg looked to his own family history for inspiration. The movie’s protagonist, Fievel, even shares a name with Spielberg’s grandfather. In fact, the scene where Fievel watches American “school mice” through a window was inspired by Fievel Spielberg’s recollection of being barred from schools because of his Jewish heritage.
9. The Greatest Place on Earth?
Following Snow White’s success, Walt Disney thought he’d reward his employee’s hard work with a little company picnic. What Disney had planned as a leisurely Sunday afternoon devolved into a drunken grope-fest, with employees going overboard on the drinks and hooking up in the pool.
10. A Dopey Idea
Disney had hopes of doing a sequel to Snow White that gave the backstory of the Seven Dwarves. In the movie, they would reveal the chilling reason why Dopey doesn’t speak: the traumatic death of his mother. This idea was quickly abandoned.
11. Oh Deer
The death of Bambi’s mother is a traumatic moment for many children. Some of those children may even grow up to suffer what psychologists and park rangers both call “the Bambi complex”—overly strong affection for wild, and sometimes dangerous, animals.
12. Based on a True Story
The motherless child is something of a trope in Disney movies. Bambi loses his mother, Snow White and Cinderella both have wicked stepmothers. Many believe that there was a disturbing reason for this—they think that Walt Disney was working through some of his own trauma around the death of his mother, a death that he felt responsible for.
13. This Old House
With his film earnings, Walt Disney bought his parents a house. He had some of his studio crew give the house a once over. Once it passed their inspection, Disney’s parents moved in. The crew had failed to notice, however, a gas leak. Disney’s mother passed away from inhaling the toxic fumes.
14. Grim Trademark
In fact, there are only four Disney movies in which the main character has two parents and keeps them: 101 Dalmatians, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Mulan. In every other Disney picture, a parent either dies or is dead when the movie starts.
15. Send in the Clowns
The creation of Dumbo was interrupted by an artists’ strike. The studio got its revenge by drawing caricatures of the striking artists as clowns who demand an undeserved raise from their boss.
16. Rubbing People the Wrong Way
Christian Rub, the actor who voiced Geppetto in Disney’s Pinocchio, was a hardcore Nazi sympathizer. Recording for the film was frequently interrupted while Rub went on lengthy diatribes about what a swell guy Adolf H. was. Ironically, Rub had replaced actor Spencer Charters, whose voice was deemed “too abrasive and unlikeable.”
Better an abrasive and unlikeable voice than person, in our opinion.
17. No Strings Attached
For the premiere of Pinocchio, Disney hired 11 little people to dress up as the titular puppet and stand atop Radio City Music Hall. They were meant to stand there and wave to moviegoers as they entered. To keep them fed and content, the actors were given a full day’s supply of food and wine. Frankly, they should have seen it coming—by mid-afternoon, the actors were completely drunk.
Many of them had stripped naked and were either brawling with each other or shouting obscenities at the crowd.
18. By the Numbers
Pinocchio contains 43 instances of direct violence, three acts of violence against animals, and two shots depicting male nudity.
19. Final Wishes
In 2015, Disney wanted to release a sequel to their classic Aladdin. There was just one problem: the star of that movie, Robin Williams, had recently passed away. Unperturbed, Disney made plans to cobble together archival clips of Williams’ voice, essentially casting a phantom Williams in their new movie. Thankfully, a clause in Williams’ will prevented any such use of his voice, and the plan was abandoned.
20. A Boy and His Dog
Jackie Cooper was one of the biggest child stars of his day, and the youngest person to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor. But there was more madness than method to his acting. While filming Skippy in 1931, Cooper was struggling to cry on cue. To bring on the waterworks, the film’s director took Cooper’s dog behind a truck and fired a shot into the air to make it seem like—well, you get where we’re going here.
A traumatized Cooper spent the rest of the day crying and vomiting, and had to be given a sedative.
21. A Golden Ticket to the ER
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is pretty unnerving for a children’s movie. From the eerie tunnel scene to the horrifying accidents which befall the visitors to Wonka’s factory, the sense of danger permeates the film. In one scene, a plane is shown unloading crates of Wonka bars. That same plane went back into service after filming. Just three years later, in 1974, it crashed, taking 107 lives with it.
22. That’s Not Very Sweet
On the set of Willy Wonka, injuries were frequent. For instance, Julie Dawn Cole, the actress who played Veruca Salt, badly cut her knee on a rock. The accident happened while filming a scene in which she smashes a giant chocolate egg. Cole and several other actors were also struck repeatedly by Willy Wonka’s cane, the result of Gene Wilder’s careless swinging.
Paris Themmen, who played Mike Teevee, was stung by a swarm of wasps on set.
23. Sugar Smacks
Willy Wonka’s eerie tunnel scene included some images which never made it into the final cut, including one of an arm being injected with a needle.
24. The Candyman
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is a profoundly weird movie, so naturally, it has spawned countless fan theories. One suggests that Wonka and his Oompa Loompas are actually cannibals. Another states that Wonka had every intention of killing children on the tour—how else do you explain that there were only enough seats for the surviving children on Wonka’s boat?
25. Matilda’s Mom
In 1996, another beloved Roald Dahl book was made into a movie, but behind the scenes, it was even more tragic than the weirdness of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. During the filming of Matilda, child star Mara Wilson’s mother was suffering from cancer. Wilson spent much of the production staying with co-stars Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. Wilson’s mother passed before filming could be completed.
26. Aw, Rats
The Secret of NIMH gave nightmares to countless numbers of 80s kids. Terror was hard-baked into the movie’s DNA: according to Robert C. O’Brien, who wrote the book the movie was based on, the story was inspired by the sometimes-horrifying experiments administered to lab rats. In fact, “NIMH” stands for the National Institute of Mental Health, an English laboratory where many such experiments took place.
27. Some Assembly Required
The scariest thing about Toy Story—beyond the idea of your toys coming to life when you aren’t looking—was the mutant toys put together by the neighborhood bully, Sid. Upsettingly, this part of the story was based on real life. Dismantling his toys and reassembling them into freakish monstrosities was a hobby of one anonymous Pixar employee when he was a child.
28. You Better Watch Out!
The original plan for Christmas classic The Santa Clause was that Tim Allen’s character would shoot Santa, thinking him to be a burglar. Obviously, the scene was revised to give St. Nick a (slightly) less traumatic demise.
29. Hot Line
Some adult details did make it into the final cut of The Santa Clause. In one scene, Allen’s character jokes that his wife’s number is “1-800-SPANK ME.” It turned out, however, that that was a real line that you could call and hear some naughty stuff—as many overly curious children found out. The line was removed from future releases of the film.
30. You’re a Mean One
Jim Carrey’s make-up routine for How the Grinch Stole Christmas was so intense, and his costume so uncomfortable, that he underwent training from the CIA’s torture experts. The special contact lens he wore were so uncomfortable that they were abandoned midway through shooting; his eyes were colored during post-production.
31. For One Thing, His Heart was Two Sizes too Small
As a sign of sympathy, director Ron Howard spent an entire day directing in Carrey’s Grinch costume. When Carrey saw it, he was furious, thinking Howard to be a very poor stunt double.
32. Defense Against the Black Arts
The Harry Potter franchise is famously unpopular with members of the Fundamentalist Christian community, who claim the books glorify Satanism and witchcraft. This antipathy extended to the films as well: when scouting locations for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, producers decided they wanted to use England’s Canterbury Cathedral for some of the Hogwarts scenes.
The Dean of Canterbury refused, saying it would be unfitting to use the location for a film that “promoted paganism.”
33. Putting the “Protest” in “Protestant”
The Dean of Canterbury’s counterpart at the Gloucester Cathedral was considerably more easygoing. He was a fan of the books and allowed the crew to film at the Gloucester Cathedral. Nonetheless, the Dean of Gloucester’s decision led to a huge public outcry, and he received bags and bags of angry letters in protest.
34. Hail César
For the Brazilian release of the Harry Potter movies, Daniel Radcliffe’s voice was overdubbed by an actor named Caio César. César became a military police officer; he passed away after being shot in the line of duty, patrolling a slum of Rio de Janeiro.
35. The Nuclear Option
The scenes of the ruined earth in Wall-E were based on Chernobyl, the site of an infamous nuclear disaster.
36. Nothing Funny About That
The success of Finding Nemo caused an explosion in the sales of clownfish, the type of fish that Nemo was. Not only did the population of clownfish drop 75% as a result, but many children, seeking to “free” their captured fish, flushed them down the toilet, killing them.
37. That’s Commitment
In order to make the scenes inside the whale more accurate, Pixar sent Finding Nemo’s head shader out to take pictures inside dead beached whales.
38. Smells Fishy
According to one disturbing fan theory, Nemo is dead throughout the entire film. Marlin’s search for his missing son is just a manifestation of grief over his dead wife and child, who perished in the same accident. For an extra layer of spookiness, proponents of this theory have pointed out that “Nemo” is actually Latin for “No one.”
39. Quit Your Wine-ing
As a marketing stunt for Ratatouille, Pixar partnered with Costco to sell a Ratatouille-branded wine. Using a kids’ movie to sell alcohol is a major no-no according to the California Wine Board, and Pixar had to pour their vino down the drain.
40. Crashing the Party
Cars was a big hit for Pixar in 2006, spawning three sequels. The co-writer and co-director of Cars, Joe Ranft, passed away midway through production—in a car accident.
41. Someday My Prince Will Come
The Princess and the Frog led to a salmonella outbreak in the United States. More than 50 children were hospitalized after the movie’s release when they attempted to free handsome princes with a kiss from what turned out to be perfectly ordinary, definitely-non-prince frogs.
42. Bursting the Balloon
It would take more than 12 million helium balloons to life the house from Up. This implausible math is just one reason why some fans think Carl and Russell’s journey is purely symbolic. According to one theory, Carl is dead, and Russell is a guardian angel guiding him to the afterlife—hence his “assisting the elderly” badge.