Once upon a time, movies made for kids were allowed to be scary. They had stakes and took risks. We don’t see that as much anymore. Pixar constantly gives us great animated films that aren’t afraid to tackle emotions head-on, especially in the case of films like Inside Out. But what happened to live action family films? They don’t really seem to exist anymore. The superhero movies are very clearly geared toward adults. Basically everything is.
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Live action family films now seem to only get green lit with incredibly low budgets. They’ve almost all become made-for-TV. And there’s never anything in them that’s really meant to go over the heads of the kids watching it, that their parents will appreciate. We really only see that delicate balance in animation these days.
I’d love to see a film like The Goonies get made today. Something that is for kids, that kids will love and identify with, but doesn’t talk down to them and isn’t afraid to scare them. The scenes outlined below did that very, very well.
The Introduction of Sloth in The Goonies
I just mentioned it, so of course it will be on the list. Sloth is the coolest big best friend you could possibly have looking over your shoulder. When you’re hanging with Sloth, nobody’s ever going to pick on you, ever again. But when he’s first introduced, not only is the scene structured like a horror movie, it’s actually built on classical references. We see him in shadows, reaching up at the light streaming in through the window—a direct homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein.
Old Man Marley in Home Alone
Later on in the movie, you find out that Marley is nothing but a sweet, lonely old man. But he’s definitely introduced as the local madman, probably a slasher, and you almost buy it. He sells that intensity with nothing but a look. That’s the genius of Roberts Blossom, who was always an underrated actor. Even though he’d played an actual madman in Deranged, this was probably the role that scared people the most.
The Spider Baby in Toy Story
Toy Story has a creep factor in the character of Sid because you never really know what the hell he’s doing. He’s the weird kid who lives across the street who totally abuses his toys. But then we get inside his house and we see the weird Bride of Re-Animator amalgamation experiments he’s been getting up to, including this one nightmarish thing that’s just a baby doll’s head on top of a spider body that appears to be made of K-Nex.
The Melting Shoe in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Judge Doom is a horrifying villain. Christopher Lloyd played him as over the top and creepy as possible. But even though you believe he’s dangerous, you don’t see him do much of anything until this scene. This sequence shows us just what a walking nightmare he really is. Cartoons were safe ground for kids because they would feature those characters you could always depend on, that would always be there. And here comes this maniac with the ability to melt your favorite cartoons down into nothing and completely wipe them from existence.
The Unmasking Scene in The Witches
I mean, The Grand High Witch is kind of scary the whole time. The entire film has this “off” feeling about it. That’s the magic of Roald Dahl. But the unmasking scene is really what gave a lot of children nightmares, because she is revealed to be this truly monstrous looking witch who could not possibly have been hiding inside of a human skin with that enormous, dagger-like nose. The movie might be labeled a family comedy, but this scene is pure horror.
Large Marge in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
Even more than the scene before it, this plays out like a short horror film in the middle of a larger comedy. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is in general a very light and family-friendly movie. Most of the danger he encounters is absurd and played for laughs. But this bit is a well crafted ghost story being told by the ghost herself that turns into a moment of pure, weird Tim Burton horror.