I’m not here to take a stand for or against the MPAA or anything like that—there is chatter enough about that subject on the Internet already. No, what this missive today will discuss is the phenomenon that often occurs in movies ostensibly made for children, or at least families, wherein one or more of the plot points seem to roll right off the backs of children but, when considered from an adult perspective, are goddamn terrifying.
Leave aside the fact that there are even examples of animated movies (Disney’s The Black Cauldron for one) that will leave you pulling the bedsheets over your head at any age, and let’s look at just a few mainstream films that are considered charming classics. If it has been a long time—especially if it has been since you yourself were a child—since you saw these movies, give them another shot and see if anything jumps out at you. Namely, of course, the things I am about to point out in lurid detail.
Let’s start by talking about the movie Beethoven. And I mean the original Beethoven, not the sequel or the spinoffs or the um, y’know, world-renowned composer or anything, I mean the 1992 classic kids’ film starring that loveable, huge, drool-factory of a pooch. The charming eponymous St. Bernard teaches his adoptive family some lessons about compassion, bravery, and of course forgiveness, and the whole film is a charming romp, except when you consider the fact that most of the story is predicated on the fact that Dean Jones’s character seems hellbent on going to any lengths necessary to kill the hell out of that dog!
As a kid, one could be forgiven for not questioning why the evil Dr. Varnick is so attached to the idea of killing Beethoven: that’s what evil “veterinarians” do; they kill your pet dog as part of some strange experiment, duh. But taken more objectively, um, why did he want so badly to kill our canine hero? Beyond being a plot device that creates tension and then action (which, yes, worked for me when I was 10) it’s pretty twisted business.
Next let’s look at Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Spoiler alert: it was the evil crazy terrifying guy who likes to dip cartoons in a vat of acid goo, that’s who it was. Christopher Lloyd shows his superb range when he transitions away from the loveable Doc Brown, from the Back to the Future series, and instead plays Judge Doom, a man who, if you see him coming for you, you might consider self-euthanizing right quick. Here is another film that is entirely based around something entirely adult, a murder, with this sinister, toon-slaying character laying waste to a world that should be full of wacky wonder. As a kid, the film kind of made sense (Jessica Rabbit still kind of makes sense). As an adult, it seems darker than Psycho. At least Norman Bates had a mother to keep happy. Judge Doom? He’s just a self-loathing muderaholic!
Let’s wrap this up with a movie that is a mix of live action, animation, and puppetry. And to top off those bundles of charm, it was made by Jim Henson! This is sure to be an adorable (and possible sassy!) romp, right? NO! We’re talking about The Dark Crystal, one of the most terrifying films of all time! (Yes, channel Kanye if you must.) Much of the plot revolves around the Skeksis, hulking cannibalistic evil vulture-like creatures sucking the life essence out of innocent little elfish Gelflings using death beams channeled through the awesome, awful namesake of the film. Yeah, maybe good prevails over evil, but man, you watch those scenes of the life essence stealing or of the rotting, dying Skeksi emperor… long story short? When they say PG, remember that that means Parental Guidance, and that said guidance may pertain to yourself, too. PG movies? They can be terrifying!
Steven John has been an avid reader for as long as he can remember, and has been writing for almost that long as well. Most of his early writing you will never, ever see. But as for some of his more recent writing, namely his debut novel Three A.M., he admonishes you to read it and force—er, ask—all your friends to do the same. He is currently at work on his third novel and a host of side projects. Track his wanderings at www.StevenJohnBooks.com.
Read all posts by Steven John for Criminal Element.