There are plenty of boundary nudging children’s films which may not be included here, but the ones added have had a particular impact on my life. Mostly they opened my eyes to an exciting new way of storytelling that didn’t include sappy bears sitting on clouds, but very occasionally they went a little too far (in my mind anyway).
Please add your own films and experiences in the comments.
1. The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’oiseau)
For years this French animation lay dormant in my mind. All I could remember were talking statues, a lonely robot and a vague sense of unease. I somehow found it again a few years later and enjoyed it much more than I did back then.
A cross-eyed tyrant king is taken on Revolution style by an angry bird and a chimney sweep. A giant robot assists leading to mass destruction.
It’s very French and very beautiful, just please make sure you don’t find the cut version or you might beat me up.
2. Return to Oz
While not especially disturbing overall, specific scenes stand out as exciting my tiny child’s mind and probably stored for later creative use. Examples include Dorothy being taken to an institute pioneering electro-shock therapy, the apparent destruction of Oz in her absence and the heads kept behind glass cases by Oz witch Mombi:
P.S. Dorothy was played by Fairuza Balk, the goth girl from The Craft.
3. The Plague Dogs
The follow up from the company which gave us Watership Down. Despite its PG rating this is not a children’s film in any way, shape or form.
I used to love Watership Down and oddly had no issue with watching fluffy bunnies being torn apart by each other and a dog. I did, however, have a problem with watching two dogs escape from a testing lab, almost starve to death and eventually drown.
4. The Adventures of Mark Twain
In this claymation film three stowaway children travel with Mark Twain in a weird, air-balloon type ship. They encounter animated versions of Twain’s stories which are mostly harmless fluff, but the most notable in my memory is The Mysterious Stranger segment.
Bear in mind I used to watch this again and again. For some reason the pointlessness of man and the destruction it warrants didn’t seem to concern me:
Included just because I love it, this stop-motion film is from a novella by Neil Gaiman. It has circus mice, a scary lady who wants to sew buttons into Coraline’s eyes and a disturbing burlesque performance from two elderly ladies. What’s not to love?