Who doesn’t love crying while watching a cartoon animal’s eyes pop out of its head? Nobody, that’s who! Lucky for you, I have complied my top 6 Horrifically Upsetting Cartoon Movies for you all to peruse until the nausea overtakes you. None of these films are intended for children, but I, like most emotionally traumatized people I know, suffered through them as a tyke. So, disgruntled babysitters of the world, take note! These films may look bright and whimsical, but they are not for the faint of heart.
Disclaimer: So many films can fit into this category! I just mentioned the flicks that I found personally disturbing and have seen in their entirety. Feel free to mention more in the comments below!
6. Grave of the Fireflies // Isao Takahata & Studio Ghibli
Let’s start this list off right. Cataclysmic man-made disaster? Check. Sick, dying, and dead children? Check. Mutilated bodies? Check. What a laugh riot! Grave of the Fireflies may be a product of Studio Ghibli, but it has little in common with the likes of My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle. No, this harrowing tale follows young siblings Setsuko and Setia as they fight to survive the ending of World War 2 in Kobe, Japan. As you can imagine, their story is a grim one.
Back in the early 2000s, I was one of the inevitable millions who stumbled across this film as a niave, anime-loving tween and was promptly destroyed forever by it. However, I’ve never truly regretted seeing it at such a young age, as Grave of the Fireflies is a beautiful film. Do yourself a favor and check it out, if you think you can stomach it.
5. Watership Down // Richard Adams & Martin Rosen
I’m going to assume most people reading this list are familiar with Watership Down, as I find that its reputation often precedes it. For those of you not in-the-know, Watership Down is a delightful animated film starring a band of fuzzy woodland creatures who embark on a perilous journey to escape the the world’s most dangerous predator…MAN. Oh, and this happens:
It’s fun for the whole family! It’s also a classic that you should absolutely watch, if you don’t mind bloody rabbit stuff. Watership Down is the frontrunner on this list for films that myself and many people I knew were accidentally shown as children. Oopsie! Oh well, I’m sure the film taught us all valuable lessons about tolerance, utopia vs. dystopia, and the corruption of man- lessons we all promptly repressed upon the film’s completion. I mean, look at that rabbit’s face.
4. The Little Match Girl // Disney & Pixar
If I had some kind of pull within Disney and Pixar studios, I would just retitle this short film, “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPENOPENOPE” because The Little Match Girl destroys me every damn time I see it. This incarnation of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story is a dialogue-less animated mini-movie that retells the super fun and not-at-all cripplingly depressing story of a homeless girl who freezes to death in the snow because nobody will BUY A DAMN MATCH FROM HER JESUS CHRIST
I digress. As always, Disney’s animation is on point and this film is a powerful piece. Give it a watch and prepare to feel like hell.
3. Hadashi No Gen // Keiji Nakazawa
For a long time I misidentified Hadashi No Gen‘s depiction of the nuclear bomb “Little Boy” dropping on Hiroshima (above) as a scene from Grave of the Fireflies. How excited I was to learn that there exists not one, but two Japanese animated films depicting the carnage of warfare in horrific detail! (and I’m sure there are more. Mention them in the comments if you know of any!)
Hadashi No Gen mixes adorable animation with some of the most grotesque depictions of chemical death ever drawn. I have only seen this film once when I was much younger, and am in no rush to watch it again. Some of the scenes depicted still bother me- but, as with everything on this list, I truly recommend checking it out! It’s extremely difficult to watch, but great, and even educational in the most horrible way possible.
2. When the Wind Blows // Raymond Briggs
I decided to settle in and watch this seemingly harmless cartoon about a cute, elderly couple living through the Cold War after finding out that David Bowie performed its title track. I began regretting my decision around the five minute mark when threats of a nuclear attack began dictating the plot-line, and again at the fifteen minute mark when a nuclear bomb obliterates the old couple’s home and they begin to die from radiation poisoning. Yeah, it’s a pretty cheery film! The couple, James and Hilda, are just so damn sweet and to watch them slowly waste away while earnestly believing they might be saved is absolutely horrible.
The entire film is available to watch for free on Vimeo (above), so give that a watch if you want to feel depressed for the rest of your life.
1. The Plague Dogs // Richard Adams & Martin Rosen
Have you ever meditated on a disturbing memory? Returning to it periodically for years, unable to recognize whether its a vivid dream or something repressed and real? Well, that was my experience with The Plague Dogs throughout my childhood. Fun stuff. Written by the same author as Watership Down and drawn by the same animator, The Plague Dogs blows every other film on this list out of the water as the most messed up animated feature I have ever endured. It’s entire 103 minute run is like one long nightmare and, spoiler alert, the ending ain’t no cake walk neither.
The plot tells the story of Rowf and Snitter, two dogs who live in and eventually escape from an animal testing facility wherein they are tortured GRAPHICALLY. After they escape, the dogs must endure the cruelty of a world that believes they have the bubonic plague and wants them dead at all costs. Both dogs are horribly traumatized from being medically experimented on and often hallucinate terrible things, reliving their trauma over and over as they run for their lives.
Yeah. It’s unbearably sad. But it’s also superb in many ways, as is its source material. I encourage anyone who’s interested to give this flick a chance, but know that it might take a few attempts to get through it all the way.
Oh, and this happens: