Ranking the 10 Most Traumatizing Deaths in Kid’s Movies

From Mufasa to Old Yeller, we examine which death is truly the most devastating.

Originally Published: 
The Lion King

Death, sadly, is a natural part of life. But no amount of preparation or understanding can prepare a child for the first time they see a beloved character die in their favorite movie. As adults, we understand that it’s just an actor or animation on the screen and that nobody actually died but for a kid, an onscreen fatality can shake them to their very core. But which character death in a kid’s movie is truly the most traumatizing? We decided to find out by ranking the 10 most devasting deaths in kid’s movie history. Feel free to use this list before you decide to fire up one of these movies with your kids. But then again, let’s face, for some reason, the greatest kid’s movies are often more depressing than movies for their parents.

Before we get started, a few ground rules:

  1. No comebacks: For the death to count, the character has to stay dead. Sorry, Artax.
  2. No villains. Syndrome getting sucked into a plane is horrific in the first Incredibles, but it doesn’t have the emotional resonance of watching a hero kick the bucket.
  3. No Harry Potter. This might seem blasphemous but hear us out. Of course, Dumbledore getting killed is one of the most brutal scenes in movie history but there are so many deaths in Harry Potter, they could take up the entire list. Plus, once death really becomes a part of the universe (Goblet of Fire), are they really even kid’s movies anymore?

Sound good? Great, well grab your tissues and let’s get into it.

10. Coral (Finding Nemo)

Poor Coral. She is about to become a mom with her wonderful husband Marlin when suddenly a barracuda appears, with a menacing look of hunger on its face. Marlin tries to convince Coral to head inside but instead, she makes a dash to protect the children and ends up getting eaten, leaving Marlin to raise Nemo all by himself. The fact that Coral only comes in at 10 should let you know just how brutal this list is going to get by the end.

9. Stoick (How to Train Your Dragon 2)

In the first How to Train Your Dragon movie, Hiccup’s arc is defined by two relationships: His bond with Toothless, his dragon, and with Stoick, his father. That is what makes this death so hard to stomach, as Stoick is killed while trying to save Hiccup, who is being attacked by a hypnotized Toothless. It, of course, wasn’t Toothless’ fault but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch Hiccup realize his dad is gone.

8. Littlefoot’s Mother (Land Before Time)

Littlefoot is one of the most overlooked heroes in kid’s cinema. He’s kind, brave, and always uses wisdom when he’s making important decisions. All of these qualities came courtesy of his mom, Mama Longneck (nickname from the fans), who taught her son all of life’s important lessons. Her final lesson was about sacrifice, as she died fighting off Sharptooth, a T-rex, when he was trying to attack Littlefoot. No matter how many times you see it, it’s guaranteed to break your heart.

7. Kerchak (Tarzan)

Tarzan spent his entire life trying to get Kerchak’s approval, only to be kept at arm’s distance by his adoptive father. But just when the two had finally reached a point of understanding, Kerchak was shot in cold blood by Clayton, a greedy hunter. With his dying breath, he names Tarzan the new leader of the gorillas. This is perhaps the most underrated death is the Disney canon, as Tarzan is robbed of the relationship he never got to have with his dad.

6. Bing Bong (Inside Out)

From the very beginning, we probably should have known Bing Bong was not long for this world. He was, after all, an imaginary friend who had been forgotten by Riley and spent his days trying to avoid being entirely erased. Still, none of that makes it any easier to watch as Bing Bong stays behind and slowly begins to fade away in the Memory Dump so that Joy can go and save Riley from an emotional meltdown.

5. Bambi’s Mom (Bambi)

The reason this death hurts so many people to such an intense degree is that it is entirely unexpected. Up until Bambi’s mom’s untimely death, Bambi is a pretty light coming-of-age film. Bambi is born, makes friends, and plays on the ice. Sure, the hunter shows up once before but everyone escapes unharmed. However, when he returns a second, the hunter doesn’t miss and suddenly, Bambi’s mom is a family’s dinner for the next few weeks. Watching Bambi try to make sense of it all just makes it that much more tragic.

4. The Iron Giant (The Iron Giant)

Over the course of the movie, Hogarth, the young, intelligent boy who finds and befriends the titular giant, tries to teach the Iron Giant about sacrifice and the greater good but it never quite seems to click. That is until a missile is heading to the town of Rockwell, threatening to kill Hogarth and the rest of the town the Giant has grown to love. Suddenly, the idea of sacrifice makes complete sense for the Iron Giant and he heroically says goodbye to Hogarth and heads into the sky, flying straight into the bomb. It’s an incredibly moving moment that symbolizes the humanity that Hogarth helped bring to his robot friend.

3. Ellie (Up)

The first 10 minutes of Up is a genuine masterpiece of cinema, as we get to see the adorable love story of Carl and Ellie unfold as they meet, get married, and grow old together. Yes, they have their ups and downs but as long as they have each other, nothing can go wrong. Then, one day, Carl is trying to take Ellie on a picnic but she struggles to make it up the hill. Not long after, she’s gone. And everyone with a soul is every bit as heartbroken as Carl.

2. Old Yeller (Old Yeller)

This is one of those deaths that doesn’t seem possible until it happens. Even when Old Yeller gets rabies, we all assumed there had to be some way for him to survive. Surely some miracle was waiting around the corner, right? Wrong. Instead, Travis, Yeller’s owner, was forced to shoot his best friend in order to protect himself and his family. It’s a death that has been the source of a million tears and will surely be the source of a million more in the future.

1. Mufasa (Lion King)

Was there ever any doubt? Mufasa’s death is devastating on every conceivable level. In the short amount of time we’d known the character, he proved to be a strong leader, a loving husband, and a caring father. Then, he is maliciously betrayed by his brother in an attempt to usurp the throne and the last thing Mufasa sees before he falls to his death is Scar’s malicious grin. To top it all off, Simba, through a series of misunderstandings, believes the death to be entirely his fault. Brutal. Absolutely brutal.

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