(A similar, but not as well written version, can be found here)
When you are feeling down, it isn’t uncommon to turn to cinema – children’s cinema.
However, this poses a serious risk. When I watch a film for children, I manage to interpret the messages differently – children’s films are actually just misery in disguise. The film industry is a cruel mistress, but is subconsciously teaching children that life is hard.
Looking at the classic Disney films, a frequent theme is that the main protagonist’s life is utterly miserable. Take Cinderella for example, both her parents are dead and then she is mentally abused and embarrassed for the rest of her life. Then there is, Simba. Poor little lion cub Simba, who watches his father die a horrific and brutal death and then has to kill his uncle after years of misplaced guilt and alienation from his mother and his true love.
Cryptic tales of woe are one thing but there are many of these films that are explicitly made with one purpose: to make you cry. So here are some sad kids’ films that you should definitely stay away from… unless you want to feel emotional and sad for the rest of your life.
Return To Oz (1895)
Given the Technicolor happy sing song land we have grown to love in The Wizard Of Oz (1939), you would think that the sequel would be a merry occasion to perk you up when you feel down.
DON’T DO IT! Put that DVD down and find a more constructive way to cure your blues, as soon as you press play you will realise you aren’t in Kansas anymore, you’re in hell.
The original Dorothy Gale (played by cutie-pie Judy Garland) found out that she is truly happy at home and left the Land of Oz feeling like a brand new girl, one with purpose and a solid sense of self. When Walter Murch took the reins and revamped this timeless classic he decided that Dorothy Gale (played by creepy Fairuza Balk) would be so scary she could chase Samara back down the well and eat her evil tapes for breakfast. The reimagined Dorothy is now helping her aunt and uncle rebuild the farm and the first sad bit is: natural disasters aren’t fun and they make your Aunt and Uncle depressed.
The bleak and broken farm house is no picnic and it’s no wonder that Dorothy’s mind occasionally flits away to Oz, the place where things were whimsical, but Aunt Em and Uncle Henry view this as a mental condition. Dorothy can’t sleep and is giving off all the tell tale signs of a child in trouble so…
They ship her off to a mental home where they practice experimental shock treatment.
There I said it; there was no easy way to say it so I just threw it in. Are you happy now? No, neither was I when I watched this movie.
So the second sad bit is: when the doctor tries to calm Dorothy down by pointing a funny face on the electric shock treatment machine that will fry her brain.
I won’t spoil The Wheelers or Princess Mombi who are a group of sadistic maniacs enough to give Freddy Krueger nightmares, you’ll just have to endure it and come away from this kid’s film feeling awful.
Adventures In Babysitting (1987)
Although some of you may disagree, there is no denying that once you notice the miserable undertones in Chris Columbus’ Adventures In Babysitting it is hard to overlook them.
The basic plot is that Chris (Elisabeth Shue) is stood up by her boyfriend and roped into babysitting by her mother and friend Brenda. Brenda has told Chris that she is unhappy at home and wants to run away to the city. Brenda does run away and gets herself stuck at the bus station, so Chris has to go and rescue her with the kids in tow.
First sad bit is: Brenda is desperately unhappy at home and nobody seems to care.
Brenda gets stuck at the bus station because she spent all her money. Stranded and hungry, she decides to try and buy a hot-dog from a seller who won’t accept a cheque. When Brenda explains that she has no money he replies: “Then I don’t have a weiner!” This is the only funny thing to happen to poor old Brenda. Apparently being deserted in a bus station means being heckled by the homeless denied a man’s weiner and threatened by a man with a gun – I won’t mention the kitten that she finds.
The second sad bit is: they make a joke about Brenda being dead because nobody cares about Brenda.
While her bezzie mate is stuck in a commuter’s hell, Chris is stuck babysitting Sarah and Brad. Sarah is a precocious little demon that finds joy and excitement in every bad situation that befalls them. Brad is in love with Chris so much he nearly cries at the mention of Chris’ boyfriend.
En route to save Brenda the tire blows out on the express-way and Chris has forgotten her purse, this is where the mayhem and misery really kicks off. Everyone they meet is dodgy and the film suggests that their lives are most likely made worse by Chris and the kids. Collateral damage means nothing to this merry gang of misfortune and soon people are being murdered off screen because they get mixed up in a world of organised crime and car theft.
The third sad bit: When the baddies say: “Take care of it.” And the scene cuts, you know someone is getting shot in the kneecaps.
Although it isn’t a tear jerker, Adventures in Babysitting is definitely a skim over the surface and enjoy. If you look too deeply, you get a bit upset by it all.
Ignoring the visual delights of Jim Henson’s Creature House and the amazing special effects, Labyrinth tells the tale of a lonely teenage girl who is struggling to cope with her parent’s separation.
Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a distant teenage girl who lives her life through escapism and fairytales; she lives in a suburb with her father, stepmother and her baby stepbrother, Toby. Sarah resents the new members of the family, but, one night Sarah wishes that goblins would take Toby away. Jareth the goblin king (David Bowie) takes Toby to his kingdom. The only way to get Toby back is to find get through the labyrinth in thirteen hours or Toby will turn into a goblin forever.
First sad bit: Sarah hates her baby brother and sends him off to a bunch of goblins.
Jim Henson cleverly placed ‘Easter Eggs’ all around Sarah’s room that allude to the darkest discovery of my life. Pictures in her scrapbook. The pictures show a woman called Linda Williams who is clearly Sarah’s mother and shows newspaper cuttings of Linda and David Bowie with the headline “On Stage Kiss”. What can be taken from that is that her mother left to go and seek a romance with David Bowie, which is why he plays Jareth in Sarah’s fantasy realm, but what is most disturbing is that in Sarah’s ‘fantasy’ Jareth/ David Bowie/ Home wrecker is in love with Sarah.
Second sad bit: Sarah has a strange sexual desire for her mums boyfriend, but in a super meta sense.
There is an alarming display of sexual tension between these characters throughout the film and the only reason Sarah is able to call the goblin king is because he had: “fallen in love with the girl.” That is fairly bleak, and is also a strong case for the Electra Complex (opposite of Oedipal Complex).
Sarah hates Toby and has to send him away to an imaginary world where she then tries to save him. While all that is going on, her mums creepy, David Bowie, big penis, new boyfriend is coming on to her.
You didn’t think the Magic Dance, genital thrusting was a coincidence did you?
You feel that? It’s part of your childhood slipping away.
Wolfgang Peterson’s Neverending Story isn’t exactly a feel good film but it seems to enchant children because of the epic landscape of Fantasia. Bastian is having a pretty tough time, he’s being bullied at school and is a classic loner, mostly, and his mother has recently died. Bastian is being left alone with his distant and grieving father, without any friends or support.
The first sad bit: Even in films, life really isn’t fair.
This film is bleak because it’s about a little miserable boy who misses his mother terribly but is too young to understand how to deal with grief, his father has become absent and instead of helping Bastian through the worst moment in his life he has fallen apart, so in a sense Bastian has lost both parents.
Second sad bit: Bastian has to hide out in his own school to feel relaxed.
Most children can go either way during grief, they can do badly at school or apply themselves to get over the trauma, but Bastian has had that option taken away from him because of school bullies.
Third sad bit: Artax.
Atreyu and Artax make a lot of people sad but a horse doesn’t compare to your mother dying, well maybe, I don’t know your mothers.
My Girl (1991)
Rather than spoiling anything about this film here is a summary of the main themes: Dead mother, father works in a morgue, the morgue is in the house, the kid thinks she’s dying all the time, she only has one friend called Thomas. J.
First sad bit: Everything I just wrote.
Little Mcauly Culkin and Anna Chlumsky are smiling on the cover, but I can guarantee you won’t be once the credits roll because this films only purpose is to tear your soul apart, and it wasn’t directed by Pinhead.
Howard Zieff is the cretin responsible for making this film; My Girl is the My Sisters Keeper of the kid’s film world. It will make you cry. Dead mothers and absent fathers seem to be a recurring nightmare when it comes to bleak children’s films and My Girl is the king of all sad kids films.
Second sad bit: Dan Aykroyd isn’t that funny and doesn’t sing any songs.
There should be more of a description or analysis to go with this movie but if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth not knowing much at all- just reassure yourself that an adult watching a kid’s movie, crying and getting drunk in the process is a healthy experience.
Harriet The Spy (1996)
Harriet The Spy directed by Bronwen Hughes, stars a teeny tiny Michelle Trachtenberg (aka Buffy’s little sister) and she has been raised by her nanny, Golly (Rosie O’Donnell) because her parents are always out at fancy parties or arguing, so she occupies her time spying on people and writing down everything she sees in her private notebook.
She has two best friends, Janie (Vanessa Lee Chester aka the gymnastic kid from The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and Sport (Gregory Smith aka the kid from Small Soldiers) who are also considered outcasts like her and they spend most of their time making fun of the popular girl, Marion Hawthorne.
First sad bit: Some kid’s parents have no time for them, even in films.
Harriet’s nanny is fired because of a misunderstanding but when she is offered to be rehired she decides that Harriet is old enough to take care of herself and leaves the family, which is fairly bleak because this is Harriet’s only real mother figure. Her own mother has already abandoned her for a career and now she has to lose another and look after herself. Ultimate sadface.
Second sad bit: Another mother issue = another peek into your own mummy issues.
If that wasn’t bad enough Harriet loses her notebook in a game of tag, the queen bee Marion Hawthorne reads her notes out loud to everyone, what was once a private observation has now been turned into malicious jibes about her best friends. This of course sets off an avalanche of bullying and injustice towards Harriet that proves how cruel children can be, Harriet is now the child version of Bridget Jones but without the sex and vodka (thankfully), this film is so upsetting you’ll want to dive into a bath of ice-cream and never resurface.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Home Alone isn’t usually a film that would be considered bleak, but Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is fairly distressing. Kevin McAlister’s family care so little about him that none of them noticed he was missing the first time around, but now they’ve done it again, and if I were Kevin I would be taking it personally.
First sad bit: People care less about Kevin than they do about Brenda.
Kevin falls out with his family because his older brother Buzz publicly humiliates him at the school production and annoyingly enough, nobody sticks up for Kevin. Naturally he renounces his family and once again gets stuck by himself. This wouldn’t be an issue because we all know how resourceful Kevin can be in a tight spot, but the ‘wet bandits’ have got out of prison and just so happen to be mooching around all the same places Kevin is, in New York, what are the odds?
The fact they want to kill Kevin is terrifying beyond belief and Joe Peci is enough to scare any child. He was scary in Moonwalker. He was scary in this.
Second sad bit: No child wants Joe Peci chasing them. Ever.
When you think about the poor homeless pigeon lady that Kevin befriends you end up feeling a bit down in the dumps. This woman has become completely homeless and stinks of bird because she got her heart broken and her only friend is a little boy. What a sad life.
Third sad bit: Pigeon lady traded her turtle dove in for a knife, so other homeless men wouldn’t sexually assault her (I made that up, it’s called creative license…).
Bridge To Terabithia (2007)
This is a film that is better without a full description or analysis. Bridge To Terabithia is an extremely moving and sad kids film with all the right elements of escapism and fantasy. While watching the narrative unfold there is always a sense of discomfort like suddenly the worst thing will happen, and it does, but it isn’t expected.
This film deals with adult emotion through fantasy and innocent imagination and cleverly contrasts the wonder of a fantasy world with despair, heartache and loneliness. Although it is arguably one of the saddest films on this list, the less you know about it the better, it just needs to be watched and appreciated.