In 2020, Disney is so synonymous with squeaky clean, family-friendly entertainment that anything even remotely outside of the boundaries of what a “Disney movie” should be is dismissed out of hand. But Disney has always had unsettling moments in its entertainment, from the early short films to some of the first features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the Evil Queen’s transformation into the old crone still rattles) and in their live-action work, which would regularly mix gentle fantasy with darker, more disturbing images and ideas. Darkness has always been a part of Disney, because it makes the light seem that much brighter. It’s a shame in recent years, those responsible for making Disney product have forgotten how important the edginess of earlier movies really was.
The 1980s is where a majority of the scariest Disney movies come from. And it makes sense – it was one of the most restrictive periods, politically, and one of the most uncertain for the Disney Company itself, which was under fire from hostile takeover attempts, green-mailers and corporate raiders. The studio was, in many ways, fighting for its life, and the need to diversify and expand the brand took hold. The inoffensiveness of the post-Walt period was shaken loose and some weirdness crept in.
But here we are celebrating the darkest of the dark, the bleakest of the bleak, the scariest of the scary, in Disney’s entire catalogue. The short films, features, and whatever “Frankenweenie” is, represent the company at its most fearlessly thrilling. Hang on tight (you might want to leave the light on for this one). Below are the scariest Disney movies ever made.