People in this country spend their childhoods reading and watching material aimed at their age group, but of course times change. What is considered quality or age appropriate during a certain period of time might not look so great to parents in ensuing generations. Books and films created for kids seem to have many functions besides pure entertainment. Many of them also attempt to pass along a lesson of some kind, as anyone whose ever watched Sesame Street can confirm.
Many of the really old fairy tales went to very dark places, when one thinks about it. For instance, Hansel and Gretel tells the story of two kids abandoned in the woods so their parents won't have to feed them during a famine. After finding their way home, they are left in the woods again, where they are eventually captured by a cannibalistic witch, using her candy house as bait, who enslaves Gretel and locks Hansel in a metal cage to fatten him up. Hansel tricks the witch for a few weeks by offering a bone he finds (presumably from an earlier victim) each time she asks to feel whether his finger is growing plumper. Soon though, she decides she'll eat both children regardless of how thin they are, and Gretel manages to push the witch into her oven, burning her alive as she screams in agony.
The kids then discover the witch's treasure trove and make their way home where they find their father. The stepmother responsible for sending them to the woods has died in the meantime, and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
Let's think about that. What would happen to me if I wrote a children's book today that involved sending young kids to fend for themselves in the woods because they had become inconvenient to their parents? Where they were captured by a cannibal and tormented for weeks, before they finally were able to burn her alive? I'm pretty sure every parents' group in the country would rise up to destroy me, although I read "Hansel and Gretel" as a young child and loved it. I still love the Grimm's Fairy Tales, although those often covered frightening and violent subject matter. I'm not a parent, and I won't take a position on whether or not certain kid's material is too harsh or scary for little kids. I was exposed to a lot of great stories that had really sad or scary moments in them as a child. These are a few though that often come up when I ask people I know what stories upset them as kids. Warning: This article will contain a few spoilers.
8. Watership Down
I loved this book as a child, and saw the animated film version when it came out in 1978, when I was nine years old. Inspired by stories about rabbits that the author Richard Adams would tell his daughters on long car rides, "Watership Down" tells the tale of a group of rabbits led by Fiver, who was born with the ability to see visions of the future. After experiencing one showing the destruction of their warren, he and his brother Hazel lead a band of rabbits in search of a safer home. They have many adventures along the way, including encountering a murderous group of other rabbits, and that's all I'll say. The book is great, and won several awards for best children's books, and is considered a classic. It also covers some pretty dark material, with a lot of themes involving death. The movie adaptation is also very good, and is considered a classic of its own. The movie in particular is violent, with lots of bloody fights, and I remember it scared my little brother when we saw it together.
7. The Plague Dogs
Richard Adams also wrote this 1977 novel, this time about test subject dogs that have escaped from a government research facility. If that sounds like a subject for a children's book, it's not really, but the book was adapted into a 1982 film that I'm sure a lot of kids got taken to or have seen since. The book and movie differ in many ways, but perhaps the biggest is in the endings. In the book, the dogs survive many awful experiences, but eventually find a safe somewhat happy end to their ordeal. In the movie? Their fate is never fully revealed, but its heavily suggested that they die, which was the original ending in the book, until Adams's publisher asked him to change it.
6. Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory
The early 1970s were a weird time for children's entertainment. I was a kid during that decade, and still remember watching H.R. Pufinstuf and other hallucinogenic kid's shows back then. It seems like a lot of the creative minds in Hollywood were also dead set on letting everyone know that they were "hip" and had experimented with drugs. "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" was not a huge success at the time of its release, but has become a cult classic over the years. It's not a scary film overall, but there is one scene that is, and anyone familiar with the film probably knows the one. The bad acid trip boat ride through a tunnel probably scared quite a few little kids the first time they saw it. It definitely spooked me.
5. The Neverending Story
The 1984 film adaptation of a 1979 fantasy novel has one scene a lot of people I know who saw it as children hate. In the film, the story's boy hero, Atreyu, journeys to save a magical land with his horse, Artax. That trip goes well enough until the pair enter The Swamp of Sadness (which I think I'd personally just avoid, but they enter the place anyway). Artax the fearless horse companion of Atreyu gets stuck in the swamp, and sinks to his death, because he gets too sad. Yes, sadness kills things there. So that's a heartwarming scene for little kids. The hero's horse friend is saddened so much he dies in a horrible swamp. There was even an enduring urban legend that the real horse died during filming due to equipment failure, but fortunately that seems to have been false.
4. Old Yeller
This 1957 Disney live action film is understandably famous. It's a great story of a boy and his dog, Old Yeller, who becomes part of a frontier family, and a boy's best friend.
And then the boy is forced to shoot his dog who has accidentally contracted rabies. This film is probably responsible for more spilled childhood baby boomer tears than any other.
Another Disney classic, and there's no surprise here, everyone knows Bambi's mom gets shot and killed by a hunter. That's a pretty rough scene to get through when you're a small child though.
2. The Return to Oz
Not exactly a sequel, but a Disney film adaptation drawn from several of original "Oz" author L. Frank Baum, this 1985 film is a few shades darker than "The Wizard of Oz." It has a much creepier tone than the earlier film, and is not a musical. The film was criticized for being bleak and too intense for children. Even Dorothy's companions are too bizarre to ever really win anyone over, but the film has developed a cult following over the years, often among adults who it scared half to death 30 years ago.
1. Charlotte's Web.
This tale of Charlotte, a kind barn spider who befriends a young pig named Wilbur and saves his life by weaving messages in her web that make him a local celebrity, worth more alive than dead, is a classic of children's literature. It's a wonderful book that's entertaining for adults as well as kids, but Charlotte dies in the end, and it was a sad day for me when I read that part at about the age of seven or eight.
There are lots and lots of movies and books made for children that have elements that might upset a sensitive kid. I'm not judging them, as I loved a lot of those stories as a child, but some of them spooked me, or made me sad. I still can't watch the end of "Old Yeller" even today.
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