Cute or Terrifying? Watching a Disney Movie


I am not writing about a very original thought today, but this one has been nagging at my brain lately and I can’t get it out of my head. We have a large collection of Disney DVD’s in our house, with favourites ranging from classics like Snow White to eighties and nineties hits like The Little Mermaid to more recent blockbusters like Frozen. These movies have been viewed hundreds of times in our home and in some cases I probably could silently mouth the whole script.

In recent weeks, as most people dive deeper into the digital age and watch movies online or download from iTunes, we have revitalized our Blue Ray and DVD player and pulled out our collection of films. The first up was Aladdin. This movie, about the “street rat” turned prince thanks to a loveable genie, is classic Disney, and even though I’d seen it dozens of times I happily joined the family to watch it once more.

I forgot how utterly terrifying this movie is! Oh my gosh. So it all starts with the cute and entertaining narrator sequence. But soon we see Jafar, the sultan’s most trusted advisor but also an evil sorcerer, who is scheming about how he will take over Agrabah. Jump forward a few minutes to the Cave of Wonders when an innocent no-name character is swallowed up by a pile of sand that has seemingly come alive as a giant talking monster. Then our hero, Aladdin, is introduced, as he sings about living life on the street and stealing in order to eat. He’s definitely likeable and sweet, but he is called a street rat. That’s not so sweet.

Aladdin has all the Disney fairytale flare: one poor or unlucky person who dreams of having it all, and he (or she) falls in love with the one who does, in this case, a princess. They change it up a bit each time, but definitely this movie sticks to the formula. I smiled and enjoyed the magic carpet ride and every line that came out of the genie’s mouth. But between the people-eating sand-monster cave and Jafar’s antics near the end as he went from sorcerer to sultan to sorcerer to genie, that may give me nightmares, never mind my children.

And yet this movie, like all other Disney movies, is intoxicating. You want to watch it again and again, even though there are some scary parts that could put a horror movie to shame. My two-year-old wanted to watch Aladdin over and over again last week, and I always knew that a scary part was on the screen when I felt a little person tugging at my legs. It was too much for her.

You will find a number of terrifying sequences in basically every Disney movie. Bambi’s mother is killed. Snow White takes an apple (and eats it!) from that horrifying looking old lady who is really the queen. The Sea Witch in Little Mermaid? Anytime she is on the screen I cringe. Mustafa unceremoniously lets go of his brother’s hand. The Lion King falls down a cliff and dies following a stampede of antelope. How revolting.

But how can any of us resist those oh so cute sequences in those same Disney movies, like meeting the seven dwarfs or the ceremonial introduction of a new lion cub? And the songs. I can’t get “Never had a Friend Like you” or “Part of Your World” out of my head.

Besides the scary scenes and sequences of scenes, as I alluded to already, there are some mighty scary characters. Is a movie (or even a TV show) ever complete without a good villain? I will give Disney credit that it’s subtle in Frozen. But it’s rather obvious in early films like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty or Jungle Book. I’d argue that it goes beyond Disney and that it’s not too hard to find what may be considered an evil character in almost every children’s show.

My two-year-old loves to watch Dora the Explorer, but again, there she is, clinging onto my leg every time Swiper the fox dances onto the screen. Supposedly my own husband was terrified of Sesame Street’s character, The Count. The character is a take-off on Dracula, so I can see how this seemingly cute Muppet was a source of agonizing fear for a three-year-old. David was obsessed with Sesame Street and didn’t miss an episode each day. But my mother-in-law recalls how in fewer than five seconds her little boy would tiptoe towards her, with that sheepish look on his face of, “Mommy, I’m scared,” every time the crazy character appeared on the screen and started to yell, “1, 2, 3….”

Swiper the Fox
Count von Count

So what’s the verdict? Cute? Terrifying? Something in between? No matter what, I will keep watching those Disney movies, over and over again, with my kids, or I will admit, even on my own.

Sing Like Annie


I share a theatre subscription with my mother. We have been attending live theatre together for many years and have enjoyed dozens of shows. Live theatre, musical theatre in particular, can be a transformative experience. For a few hours, as you sit in the dark theatre, your body and mind are transformed to another place. It is quite an amazing feeling. Even though what I see before my eyes is not real life, I always chuckle when the actors suddenly break out in song. When you are faced with a difficult decision or want to express your emotions to your friend or foe, do you begin to sing?

I started to think about this last week when I went to see the show, Annie. I didn’t have to do a Google search to figure out the plot and had seen the movie and various other live versions so many times that I could mouth the words to half the scenes. It was obvious to me when the big numbers would happen, like Tomorrowor NYC.

But still, I was so amused when President Roosevelt, surrounded by his close advisors, looked at them and firmly told them, “Sing like Annie!” Imagine if that’s how we lived our lives. If you can’t make a decision or don’t know how to express your feelings, just sing.

Imagine yourself at work one day. You are in a big brainstorming meeting. The group is frustrated and disagreeing on which direction to go. Then you stand up and belt out….

The sun will come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There’ll be sun!

Would your boss stand up and sing beside you? How about your disgruntled colleague who never smiles? Maybe the eager person who has been gunning for a promotion. But would it really ever happen?

How many men, once they are ready to take the big step to express love for a woman? Okay, there are probably a few of them who would get down on one knee and start to sing a corny love song. But most of the time, I doubt it. And would a woman answer in song as well and they would sing a beautiful duet? Wow, I’d love to see that.

Somehow it is perfectly natural in a play to break out in song. Would Jean Valjean’s soliloquy be the same if he did not sing Who am I?  Could the Reverend Mother have expressed her feelings about Maria in the Sound of Musicif she didn’t sing Climb Every Mountain?Even in a movie it just wouldn’t be the same. How else could Elsa have made the decision to live on her own and be her true self if she didn’t belt out Let it Go?

Some would say this is simply an expression of art and that I should just let it go. Theatre is designed to be a transformative escape, to take the audience away from everyday life and give them a special experience. It’s not meant to be real. People don’t really break out in song in the middle of the office or if they are down on their luck. But, it’s fun to day dream about what life would be like if they did. I will have to think about that some more. Maybe I should sing about it.

Nightmares from Bambi


I was horrified as I watched the movie. I almost couldn’t look at my TV screen. It was just too terrifying. When would she die? How would he react? It was too much for me. And it was a Disney movie. A really bad, yet classic, Disney movie. Have you ever seen Bambi?

I am quite sure I saw Bambi as a child, many years ago. Clearly I didn’t remember it at all. I watched it with my kids on Sunday night, and it was awful. Maybe the problem was that I knew the plot. Or to put it another way, I knew that Bambi’s mother would be killed during the movie. But I didn’t know when.

Would she die soon after Bambi was born, the first time in the meadow, or a bit later, when they nibble on the first grass of spring? I know his mother’s death, by the gunshot of a hunter, was not the only focus of this 1942 film, but it’s all I could focus on.

Bambi’s friends, the furry bunny named Thumper and cute little skunk named Flower, are adorable, sure. The singing birds are sweet too. And oh, his love and devotion to the fawn, Faline, is admirable. But that’s meaningless.

I sat on the couch with my kids, and even they knew, from the first scene when Bambi was born, that his mother would die. We even made jokes about it.  All we could think about as we watched this classic cartoon, when will Bambi’s mother die?

When it finally happened, when Bambi safely made it back into the forest and his little voice called out over and over again, “Mother,” it got even worse. Bambi’s father suddenly appeared, scaring the poor little deer, he said, in his strong voice, “Your mother can’t be with you anymore.” So we started to yell back at the TV, “Of course not, she’s dead.”


I guess we all tried to deal with our feeling of utter horror as we watched the movie by using humour that was even worse.

And this is a movie for children? What? This movie is dark and kind of terrifying. What about the scene with the birds in the trees? They talk about feeling that the hunters are near. One bird urges another, who is clearly very agitated, to just stay quiet and still. But to no avail.

This very anxious bird can’t take it anymore and yells, “We better fly.” And it does. It flies into the air, then we hear a gun shot. Then a blood-soaked, dead bird drops to the ground. All in cartoon. I was traumatized. And I’m 41 years old!


Why do people automatically think that if it’s a cartoon then it’s a movie for children? Or at least maybe they did 75 years ago? This movie tackles some very mature and disturbing issues, most of which are way beyond anything a child should learn about in a movie. If my 7-year-old wants to learn about murder and guns, she can watch the 11:00 pm news with me.

Thank goodness Bambi has a running time of only one hour and ten minutes. Even that was too long. I’m glad it all ended in the usual happy Disney way, as Bambi mates with his love, Faline, and his babies are born. But the trauma of waiting for his mother to be killed still haunts me. Maybe next time I will just watch an episode of The Simpsons. They are a nice, normal family.