My Disney Top 5 - Saddest Moments in Disney's Animated Films

by Chris Barry, staff writer
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Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.

I have a dear friend named Joe. Joe and I both grew up spending our summers in our family's little, old summer houses by the beach. His summer retreat was on the south shore of Long Island and mine on the north. We worked closely together and bonded instantly over our similar upbringings and love of the summer season.

I thought of Joe just the other day because, at the local supermarket, I spotted what he always referred to as "the dreaded plant" for sale. In case you're wondering, Joe's enemy in the plant kingdom is the mum. Not that they're not beautiful or a definite burst of eye-catching color. It's not that. There's nothing inherently wrong with a mum plant itself. The problem with mums is they signify that the end of summer is certainly approaching and fall really is just around the corner. It's not a good sign to those of us so called "summer people." Our favorite season is coming to a close.

I'm not sure that those of you who live in warmer climates experience quite the same feeling to summers end as some of us do up here in the northeast. It's a bittersweet time of year for some. Don't get me wrong, I love autumn in New York, but I do so hate to see summer leave. It's always gotten me a little sad. For the last week or so, as I see the imminent signs of fall approaching, I've felt a little melancholy. There's one big thing though that I really have to look forward to in the upcoming fall season… our trip to Walt Disney World is fast approaching!

Obviously, Disney makes me happy. It makes a lot of people out there happy. Spending time in Walt Disney World with my family is a true joy. Watching the Disney films and reading… and writing… about Disney often takes my mind off of the sadder things in life. Disney is definitely good at happy. But, as anyone who's been a Disney fan for any length of time will attest to, Disney is also really good at sad. Some of the saddest moments in motion picture history are courtesy of old Uncle Walt and his creative team of storytellers. So, in this time of year when I'm normally feeling a little sad, I've been watching some Disney animated classics, and yes, they've been making me feel happy. But, good grief do some of these films make me equally as sad. Most of the time it's brief. Disney is the king of happy endings, after all. That doesn't mean they don't know how to pull at your heartstrings a little… sometimes… a lot. So, grab the tissues, be man enough to cry, and let's take a look at my Top 5 Saddest Moments in Disney's Animated Films.

The one caveat I came up with for this article is that I've left out Pixar altogether. I could easily have a Top 5 Saddest Pixar Scenes article all on its own, but I'll save that for another time. With that in mind, I set that aside and concentrated on just what I consider to be the classic Disney theatrical releases.

Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen Tangled, Brother Bear, The Lion King, Bambi, and The Fox and the Hound, you might not want to read any further. But, I'm quite sure if you're reading MousePlanet to begin with, I'm probably not giving away anything here.

5 – The death of Eugene – Tangled

We just returned from a family vacation (not at a Disney resort—that does happen!) and one of the highlights at this very family-friendly resort is nightly movies on the big screen in the huge glass-enclosed indoor pool. They're referred to as "dive-in movies." On our last night, we all sat together poolside and watched Tangled. What a fantastic film. I know it was a hit, but I'm not sure why this one isn't on the top of everyone's Disney list.


Flynn Rider, from "Tangled." © Disney Enterprises.

I had forgotten how much I loved it when I saw it back in the theaters. The scene where Eugene, aka Flynn Rider, dies in Rapunzel's arms really is quite heartbreaking. As a character, Flynn has changed throughout the film and literally gives his life so that Rapunzel will not have to live her life in misery. Yes, Rapunzel's inner magic brings him back. Still, the shot from above, of Rapunzel sobbing over his body with her now-dead magical hair surrounding the couple all over the floor, is gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

4 – "Your mother's not coming." – Brother Bear

This is truly an underrated Disney gem. I've always loved Brother Bear. I think it's beautifully animated. I think it has a great story, wonderful characters and fantastic songs by Phil Collins. The scene where Kenai confesses to Koda that his mother isn't coming back is powerful. As the audience, we already know that Kenai is responsible for the mother's death and that makes this scene as heart-rending as it is.


"Brother Bear." © Disney Enterprises.

We've seen Kenai grow and this is the moment where he comes to terms with his actions. He knows what he has to do and what he has to confess to Koda, his new "brother." But that certainly doesn't make it any easier for him, and it definitely doesn't make it any easier to watch.

3 – Mufasa's death – The Lion King

This is one of the big ones. It's almost always at the top of the list of saddest Disney scenes, and it's high on the list of all-around saddest scenes in Hollywood history. I know I'm going to take some heat for putting it at number three, but let's remember something: this is "My Disney Top 5," so please cut me some slack. Being at number three in no way diminishes the impact of this scene.


"The Lion King." © Disney Enterprises.

The epic wildebeest stampede is absolutely harrowing to watch. As if the stampede weren't enough, cutting back and forth to young Simba's reactions, Mufasa desperately clawing his way out only to be betrayed by his own brother and thrown back in, and that long shot where Simba sees his father fall, all piece together to make one unforgettable cinematic experience.

After going through all that we have to see the young lion cub search for and find the body of his father, lifeless on the ground. And just when you thought it couldn't get worse, we see the evil Scar come and blame the death of the king on young Simba. Seriously. Who writes this stuff into a kid's movie? There's some incredibly deep and powerful stuff crammed into that five minutes of animated cinema. I know it's going to happen. I've seen it a hundred times and it gets me every time I watch it.

2 – Bambi's mother – Bambi

Animation is an artform. This fact can't be argued. Bambi, to me, is about as pure a work of art as there is. I'd say it was a defining moment in the progression of the art form. I hate to just refer to it as an animated film. I feel like that's selling it a little short. Bambi is more akin to a painting come to life. The artwork is stunningly beautiful. It rightfully earns the title of masterpiece.


"Bambi." © Disney Enterprises.

I can't imagine what audience reactions were like to this scene way back in 1942. We don't see Bambi's mother get killed. It happens off-screen. All we hear is the gunshot—what gets to us is Bambi's realization and search for his mother. As Bambi walks out of the safety of the thicket through the snowstorm and continues to call out to her, just like any child would who lost his mother, it just gets sadder and sadder.

"Your mother can't be with you anymore," says Bambi's father, and we all feel the same pit in our stomach that the young deer does. In my eyes, this scene alone is quite an artistic achievement and still stands the test of time 72 years later.

1 – Widow Tweed leaves Todd in the forest – The Fox and The Hound

I saw this at the drive-in when I was a kid. I know I cried then, and I just cried again watching it while writing this article. I know the music is sad. I know the shots of Widow Tweed are sad. But it's the look on Todd's face as his collar is taken off and the widow leaves him in the forest that just destroys me every time. I swear my dog has given me this look when I've left him behind at the vet, or the groomer or—heaven forbid—the kennel.


"The Fox and the Hound." © Disney Enterprises.

Todd doesn't speak, and he doesn't have to. The animators captured the look of confusion on his face as the woman that raised him is forced to leave him behind and it is just heartbreaking. The odd thing is if you look back at this list, they all involve death, except for this one. She's doing what's best for Todd. She's not putting him down or anything. He lives on in the film. But this moment of abandonment is just so sad. For some reason—call it the animal lover in me I guess—but this just gets me more than Simba, more than Bambi… just about more than anything, really. In my eyes, this scene is just about the saddest thing captured on film. I suppose there's some nostalgia involved, but whatever it is, it's brutal.

Boy, that was rough. As if I wasn't glum enough already. Watching theses scenes and the ones that I left off has really done a number on me. Thank goodness these films all have happy endings to bring me back around smiling again. Much like the upcoming Labor Day Weekend, which always brings me back to the old summerhouse, so I have that happy ending to look forward to. Despite the arrival of the dreaded mums (sorry Joe… they're here!), despite the back-to-school sales, the slight drop in temperature, and the already slightly shorter days, I'll look back fondly on this summer and start counting the days until the next one comes around, and I'll try not to be too sad throughout the year.

As usual, Walt Disney has an appropriate quote for the moment, and this moment is no different:

"For every laugh, there should be a tear."

That pretty much sums up these sad scenes, doesn't it?

That said, I hope I didn't bum you out too much with these Disney sad moments. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below: let me hear your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.

Comments

  1. By carolinakid

    Chris, loved your top 5 but for me the scene that never fails to fill my eyes with tears is the dwarfs crying (with Dopey and Grumpy sobbing) as they keep vigil at the "dead" Snow White's side. Other honorable mentions: The whole Baby Mine sequence from Dumbo, the stepsisters shredding Cinderella's dress which the mice and birds so lovingly made for her so she could attend the ball and Trusty's "death" with Jock's mournful howl in Lady and the Tramp. Good stuff and pass the Kleenex!

  2. By Lloydian

    You've missed the tear jerking trio from Up: miscarriage, climbing the hill alone, watching the house burn. Ay.

  3. By DisneyGator

    Yes, Brother Bear for me is a top 3 Disney film for me. Funny, incredible music and songs, and yes, the sadness of "There's No Way Out".

    I agree with Lloydian that Up has several tear-jerker moments that are pointed at us adults - not the kids. Don't think they really get that scene like we do.

    One scene that oddly made me cry as a grown adult was a scene in Toy Story 3. It's when grown Andy gives his toys to the little girl, and then Woody seems to raise his hand as if saying goodbye, and Andy gasps. Gosh, it's making my eyes a little misty just writing about it. I guess it calls to memory the pain of having to "grow up" and giving up the awesomeness of what is your childhood. For me, I think this was the saddest moment in Disney animation. But that crushing see of Todd being left behind is a close second.

  4. By jms1969

    Quote Originally Posted by Lloydian View Post
    You've missed the tear jerking trio from Up: miscarriage, climbing the hill alone, watching the house burn. Ay.

    He didn't miss it - as he mentions in the intro, he is not including Pixar movies.

    However, I do agree that the scene you mention in UP was beautifully done, and a real tearjerker. However, I'd actually consider it as number two for Pixar, behind the scene at the end of Toy Story 3 where Andy is giving his toys to the little girl and brings them out to play with one last time. As a father of two boys who are growing up way too quickly, that one always gets to me.

    DisneyGator's response popped up about the same time as mine did...I guess I'm not alone!

  5. By 3Princesses1Prince

    Toy Story 3 always makes me cry....ALWAYS.

  6. By Lani

    Holy canolies, Chris. I CANNOT BELIEVE you did not include the single most saddest scene in all Disney animated movies: "Baby Mine" from Dumbo! Goodness, I think even Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert said that was one of the saddest scenes.

  7. By SimbaOne

    It's a small moment, but for me one of the most touching, tear-inducing Disney scenes happens at the end of Mulan. In the garden before her father, Mulan places the sword of Shan Yu and the Emperor's medallion in her father's hands to make him proud. But instead of looking at these physical trophies, he just stares at his daughter, tosses the objects aside, and hugs her.

    I think Mulan sometimes gets overlooked in the emotional department due to its large action and humor proponents, but that little moment does it for me.

  8. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by carolinakid View Post
    Chris, loved your top 5 but for me the scene that never fails to fill my eyes with tears is the dwarfs crying (with Dopey and Grumpy sobbing) as they keep vigil at the "dead" Snow White's side. Other honorable mentions: The whole Baby Mine sequence from Dumbo, the stepsisters shredding Cinderella's dress which the mice and birds so lovingly made for her so she could attend the ball and Trusty's "death" with Jock's mournful howl in Lady and the Tramp. Good stuff and pass the Kleenex!

    Yes indeed. Snow White was in high contention for that scene. I don't really feel sad during the dress scene in Cinderella. I feel awful for her, but not so much sad.

  9. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by Lloydian View Post
    You've missed the tear jerking trio from Up: miscarriage, climbing the hill alone, watching the house burn. Ay.

    Sorry, but I said no Pixar for this list. But, yes, of course the Up scene is positively heartbreaking.

  10. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by jms1969 View Post
    He didn't miss it - as he mentions in the intro, he is not including Pixar movies.

    However, I do agree that the scene you mention in UP was beautifully done, and a real tearjerker. However, I'd actually consider it as number two for Pixar, behind the scene at the end of Toy Story 3 where Andy is giving his toys to the little girl and brings them out to play with one last time. As a father of two boys who are growing up way too quickly, that one always gets to me.

    DisneyGator's response popped up about the same time as mine did...I guess I'm not alone!

    Thanks. I don't want anyone thinking that I could possible leave out Up and Toy Story 2 and 3. The scene where Andy gives up his toys is rough not to mention the incinerator scene!! Don't even get me started about Jesse's backstory.

  11. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by Lani View Post
    Holy canolies, Chris. I CANNOT BELIEVE you did not include the single most saddest scene in all Disney animated movies: "Baby Mine" from Dumbo! Goodness, I think even Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert said that was one of the saddest scenes.

    Yes Lani, it was right there on my list. Trust me, Baby Mine gets me all the time also, but in the final rewrite it slipped back. No hard feelings. It was a tough list to write.

  12. By cbarry

    Quote Originally Posted by SimbaOne View Post
    It's a small moment, but for me one of the most touching, tear-inducing Disney scenes happens at the end of Mulan. In the garden before her father, Mulan places the sword of Shan Yu and the Emperor's medallion in her father's hands to make him proud. But instead of looking at these physical trophies, he just stares at his daughter, tosses the objects aside, and hugs her.

    I think Mulan sometimes gets overlooked in the emotional department due to its large action and humor proponents, but that little moment does it for me.

    I think this scene is more touching and emotional rather than sad. There's a whole other list of those moments to come.

  13. By LtPowers

    Quote Originally Posted by cbarry View Post
    I think this scene is more touching and emotional rather than sad. There's a whole other list of those moments to come.

    For that list, don't forget the end of the "Pomp and Circumstance" segment of Fantasia 2000!


    Powers &8^]

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