4 of the Most Depressing Disney Movie Moments

The magical world of Disney has been enchanting children young and old with its animation since 1923. From cute baby deer to adorable dwarfs it’s no wonder Walt’s works are constantly coupled with childhood.

There is, however, a darker side behind those oversized mouse ears, and every now and then a smidgen of macabre seeps through the cracks. Even if only for a scene, there will always be a bit of Dickensian in the Disney. What did we expect from a studio that famously stakes its claim on Grimm’s fairytale adaptations?

So, steamboat your willies and bibbity bobbity brace yourselves, as The Film Magazine counts down the most depressing Disney movie moments.

Have an opinion? Let us know in the comments!


1. Simba Wishes His Dad Dead

Depressing Disney Moment 1

The year was 1994 when a sandy coloured lion cub named Simba stole our hearts with his sticky juice-smeared forehead.

We felt for his plight when evil Uncle Scar convinced him to run away from home.

We rejoiced when he found solace from his misplaced guilt in two unlikely friends, Timone and Pumba.

We whooped and hollered victoriously when he took his rightful place on the Iron Throne… I mean Pride Rock.

Unfortunately, this baby cat had pulled a Britney over our Spears, as it turns out he’s not so innocent. Remember the catchy ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ ditty? Yeah, well, it’s really an ode to his father’s death.

Think about it for a second, there ain’t no abdicating from a lion pride. All Simba wants is to be the “main event, like no king was before” but this childish wish fulfilment fantasy takes on a life of it’s own when you look into the dynamics of how lions become king of a pride.

Younger males are driven out by their parents. During this time of self-discovery they grow stronger, until one day they’re strong enough to return and kill the king. Also, a quick Google search has told me that male lions don’t have a great life expectancy… they tend to die a lot from fighting their dad.

That tragic stampede moment we’ve all been crying about was built on a big pile of putrid murderous deception.

How could you do this Simba? It hurts my childhood.


2. Elsa’s Parents Push Her Into A Mental Breakdown

Depressing Disney Moment 2

Disney’s very own metaphor for depression herself, Princess Elsa, was always going to make a top-ranking appearance on this list. ‘Let It Go’ already…

Blessed with the magical gift of conjuring ice whenever she pleases, one might say Princess Elsa was born with a natural frosty persona. However, when she accidentally hurts her little sister Anna by blasting a beam of ice into her skull (her skull), Elsa is locked away leaving her persona to go liquid nitrogen.

Elsa’s parents come up with the perfect brainwashing motto “conceal, don’t feel.” A curious message that leaves her exasperated when she can’t do either of those things, and eventually brings on anxiety attacks. You’d think that powers heightened by emotions need to be harnessed differently, but instead a hormonal and lonely Elsa must shut off her humanity to avoid shaming the family.

Princess Freak (as she may as well be called) lost connection with her sister as a result of this imprisonment, and was tormented on a daily basis by her confused sister’s torturous song ‘Do You Wanna Build A Snowman’.

Imagine that. Your emotionally fraught younger sister at the door singing about hang time, but you’re confined to a room, numbed to all emotion thanks to your dead parents.

When you put all that into perspective, the song “Let It Go” is basically a musical suicide note.

(That splat sound was my mind blowing wide open and all my happy memories hurtling themselves at the wall screaming “the vessel is impure”.)


3. Belle Has Stockholm Syndrome

Depressing Disney Moment 3

Epic song by Muse, not so epic plotline for a children’s movie extravaganza – but here we are, $425m later. Stranger things have happened.

It boasts a tale as old as time, and that’s certainly what we are getting, any copy of Take A Break will tell you that.

A hideously spliced and isolated beast-man, who was punished by a witch for being a superficial and utterly horrible person, kidnaps Belle’s father. This absolute humdinger of a bloke appeases Belle’s plea for her father’s freedom, in exchange for her eternal incarceration inside his castle.

Bloody idiot Belle agrees to this and spends the coming weeks trying to avoid having this nightmare creature screaming in her face, as she finds he is prone to psychotic and violent tempers.

Eventually the shock of seeing her father in peril and her own kidnapping leaves her mind, thanks to a singing wardrobe and dancing candle stick. Finally Belle begins to take pity on Beast because he gives her a few books.

A spoonful of literature helps the emotional blackmail go down.

The two fall in love and she trades her freedom for the bonds of matrimony – the only legal slavery available.

To conclude, I’m telling you she has Stockholm syndrome and that will have to be enough. In my defence, it has been written about extensively online and I’m struggling to deliver an original angle here.


4. Mulan Stops Her Dad From Committing Masculinity Suicide

Depressing Disney Moment 4

“I know my place. It is time you learned yours,” Mulan’s dad screams at her when she protests him going to war. This gender-bending bride turned war hero is probably one of the more emotive of Walt’s collection, and pin-pointing just one depressing moment was a tough job.

The Fa family are called to war and Fa Zhou (Mulan’s dad) limps over to the Imperial Army to collect his papers. Having already fought in one war, Fa Zhou is injured and spends most of his days praying to the ancestors and drinking tea. Mulan cannot understand why her dad is committing suicide by going into a war he cannot fight, and this is when he delivers the crushing blow of “knowing his place”.

Earlier that evening, before the mad confrontation and crying in the rain, Mulan catches her dad practising out his swordsmanship. To our total surprise Fa Zhou is a double ‘ard bastard, with swordplay that would put Arya Stark to shame. He wields his weapon like it’s an extension of his body, with elegance and, let’s face it, damn stylish finesse.

Then he lets out a cry and falls to the floor. Fa Zhou. The guy we just saw handling himself like a pro falls down clutching his injured leg, and struggles to get back up. Mulan knows in this moment that her dad will surely beef it against the Hun army, but what a way to find out!

Mulan witnesses how her dad would die, and it was in this glimpse of his grisly fate that she decides to face them herself, and risk high treason in the process.

Thank God for Eddie Murphy or that film would have been a total downer.


Featured Image Art: Wit & Wander



Elizabeth Howlett

Multi-platform journalist and film psychoanalyst who loves 80s films, but doesn’t think much of John Hughes. Horror and fantasy theory is her jam and she can quote anything at the drop of a hat. Her brain holds more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at and she hums the theme to Jurassic Park without realising. Heir to the throne and rightful queen of puns – you owe her your allegiance.
Elizabeth Howlett

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