The 9 Saddest Moments from Kids' Movies
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The 9 Saddest Moments from Kids' Movies

By Daniel Carlson | Seriously Random Lists | November 17, 2013 | Comments ()


“Everybody knows it sucks to grow up.” — Ben Folds

The movies we see as children have a power we spend the rest of our lives trying to understand. Films for kids and families are usually broad, bright, and loud, functioning on deep levels of good versus evil, where the evil is represented by the kind of sweeping, wholesale loss or heartbreak that can leave you wounded for life. Almost every kids’ movie has some kind of tragedy fueling its plot, but some go further by making that tragedy life-changing, inescapable, and permanent. Even if things get better — even if they kind of work out in the end — the memory of that pain lingers, coloring the film and your experience of it. Basically, kids’ movies can be damn depressing, even the happy ones. They’re the movies that first hint at how confusing and tough the world can sometimes be, and these moments are a cut above. If you can make it through this list without feeling anything, you are probably dead.

Spoilers abound, obviously:

The Neverending Story: The death of Artax
The Neverending Story is the kind of weird kids’ movie that doesn’t get made much any more, thanks to the displacement of practical effects in favor of CGI and the over-reliance of studios on tested brands and Y.A. series. It’s also got one of the saddest moments you could think of, when the warrior Atreyu loses his horse, Artax, to the Swamps of Sadness. We actually watch the boy try and haul his horse out of the muck before the animal gives in and sinks.

Bambi: Obvious
I can’t believe this was marketed to kids.

The Land Before Time: The death of Littlefoot’s mother
Although the film would go on to spawn 12 (seriously) direct-to-video sequels and a short-lived TV show, the original The Land Before Time was a modest critical and commercial success. It was also remarkably dark for a children’s movie, so much so that producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas pushed for edits to make the film more palatable to kids. Edits or no, watching a baby dinosaur’s mom killed by a T-rex is damn disconcerting for little ones.

Old Yeller: Obvious
Again: wow.

My Girl: The death of Thomas J.
In addition to being a smart coming-of-age movie that treats girls like humans and not paper dolls, My Girl gets high marks for dealing so frankly with the idea of death as a part of life. Still, that’s almost an academic distinction, and not one that most kids are able to make when they see the movie the first time. All we get is a tiny Anna Chlumsky weeping over the corpse of Macaulay Culkin.

Dumbo: “Baby Mine”
Dumbo is a deeply weird kids’ movie, and one that probably shouldn’t be shown to most young ones, who will alternately be terrified of Dumbo’s alcohol-fueled dream sequence and puzzled by the pack of crows who serve as the story’s chorus. But it’s also a deeply sad movie, one about loss and rejection and loneliness, and the “Baby Mine” sequence is its perfect, heart-rending focal point. While mother animals hold their young close in various cages (a life presented as positive, to give you an idea of Dumbo’s horrors), Dumbo touches trunks with his imprisoned mother as she sings him a lullaby. The moment breaks everyone.

Toy Story 2: The tale of Jessie the cowgirl
Toy Story 2 wonderfully captured the bittersweet sense of growing up and leaving your childhood behind you one awkward step at a time, and the flashback sequence detailing Jessie’s happy times with her former owner is the movie’s entire mission statement in one wistful montage. Add Sarah McLachlan singing and you’ve got a recipe for tears.

Monsters, Inc.: Sulley says good-bye
Pixar is basically an assembly line for moments that tear your heart out, but watching Sulley say goodbye to Boo is above and beyond. It’s the moment that kills parents and kids alike.

E.T.: “I’ll be right here.”
In E.T., everything works out OK in the end — E.T. is reunited with his people, Elliott grows closer to his family, etc. — but that doesn’t make the tearful parting any easier. E.T. and Elliott spend the film cementing their psychic and emotional bond, and neither wants to see the other leave. E.T.’s parting line to Elliott seals the deal: I cry every time.

I don’t know about you, but I need a chaser after all that:

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • kristen38

    I thought Mufasa dying in Lion King was going to be on here.

  • Frankly

    I can't even look at the still of Jessie without getting choked up. That one is just the worst for me. I blame my parents divorce. Which happened when I was 29. The year that stupid movie came out and I was alone in Texas with three-year-old daughter and no friends and nothing to do but go see this stupid movie at the dollar matinee every Saturday.

  • James

    And I know it's NOT a movie...but in "Here comes Garfield"...when he has to say goodbye to Odie because they are going to kill him.....It kills me...every time...they are so poorly drawn that it is f-king heartbreaking...

  • zaggnita

    In the first Pokemon movie when Ash turns to stone...I was bawling...not tearing up, but bawling.

  • LolaDies

    The weird thing is, I don't remember crying when I saw these movies as a kid. But now... I'm bawling my eyes out while my roommate tries to take a nap. I haven't seen Land Before Time in over a decade, but that entire scene was such a strong visual memory that I was crying within the first three seconds.

  • Elleinad

    Where the red fern grows. My 6th grade teacher made us watch this. We were the saddest 6th graders ever that week.

  • Wormer

    I had to stop even reading the damn comments. TOO SOON! ALL OF IT! Especially big bird...

    Damn, you people are just a bunch of saps!!

  • katenonymous

    The Yearling? Anyone?

  • Gabs

    Homeward Bound. It still gets to me. Where's Shadow?!

  • Leigh

    I seriously think my heart stopped beating, and finally started again when he limped over the crest of the hill...

  • BiblioGlow

    Get up, Shadow!

  • I cried over all of these, and more. I don't remember why, not having seen it in 30 years when it was in the theater, but I have a profound sense of sadness associated with The Secret of Nimh. So much so that I can't bring myself to watch it to this day. Also, fucking Watership Down, people. Watership Down and The Secret of Kells.

  • DominaNefret

    Umm..... the opening sequence of Up trumps any of these.

  • Haystacks

    Not a movie. But I was a voracious reader as a kid with a great memory - but I literally blocked out the ending to 'Bridge to Tarabethia' until I was 27, because I could not handle it. You should make a 'saddest moments' book list.

  • BiblioGlow

    I did the same thing with Johnny Tremain. I re-read it as an adult and was completely surprised by the ending, which was apparently so traumatic to me that I had blocked it completely while still remembering the rest of the book. For some reason I kept the ending of Where the Red Fern grows, though. Some things just can't be forgotten, I guess.

  • Jane

    great list - my memories of these films are so visceral and fresh that I couldn't even bring myself to watch the clips. And now I need to be held.

  • kirbyjay

    Old Yeller...that kills me. To this day I won't watch a movie where a dog dies.
    The 4 or 5 parter of Lassie Come Home. Fortunately they were tears of joy when Lassie came romping through the field into Timmy's loving arms.
    A couple of sad animal books. sad only becaus eyou know the animal will eventually die.
    A German boy is born on the same day as an elephant and they are raised together. His dad works for a circus and then the cirscus is sold along with the elephant. The boy manages to get a job as his trainer but then the owner sells Modoc in the middle of the night and the kid doesn't see him for 20 years. Meanwhile the elephant has a pretty horrendous life of nasty trainers and mean circus owners and is finally sold as a novelty. A guy ties him to a tree in his yard and kids throw rocks at him. He is saved by Ralph Helfer who was the actual trainer of Gentle Ben and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion. Helfer believe in kindness training and he had a huge animal refuge and had many of his "kids" working in movies. He was instrumental in many of the more humane laws regarding animals in films. A really great read. Another is Zamba, about a lion.
    Jenny Lind and her Listening Cat
    One sentence was all it took to describe the cat's death and I was a blubbering idiot, and I'm not even a cat person.
    Merle's Door

  • cinekat

    Bambi was my first cinema experience and I was gutted. 20 years later I saw My Girl as an adult and cried snot. Suspension of Disbelief is my middle name, in case you were wondering.

  • Guest


  • Manny

    What messed me up was All Dogs Go to Heaven, Charlotte's Web & An American Tail. I just watched all 3 they surprisingly still hold up.

  • Haystacks

    I saw All Dogs go to Heaven as an adult and it terrified me. The scene in hell, and the attempted hit from the mob boss? Awful.

  • Manny

    Well, to be honest the lead was already established as a sort of bad guy who has to redeem himself. The parts I'm talking about are the scenes where the Dom DeLuise dog is pretty much pouring his heart out to the Burt Reynolds dog saying that in his pursuit of revenge his actions have hurt those around him the girl included. Also the end where the Burt dog says goodbye one last time... like I said the movie had me in tears.

    The hell scene probably didn't freak me out as much as Constantine or oddly enough the Bill and Ted 2 versions.

  • Ansayo

    Dumbo was on TV one night during my first year of college, six thousand miles away from home, in another continent, and on my own for the first time in my life.

    My mother still hasn't forgiven me for calling her at two in the morning, snot-wailing after that 'Baby of Mine' song. Goddamnit, Disney....

  • Strand

    The ant from Honey I Shrunk The Kids...

  • BiblioGlow

    ANTY. Omg, yes. That movie made it really difficult for me to kill individual ants. Hordes of them, sure, but the lonely scouts? No can do. Those suckers get a free pass, just for Anty.

  • You missed the intro sequence from "Finding Nemo". Always breaks my little heart. ;-(

  • zeke_the_pig

    Thanks for putitng the Neverending Story one up. That shit traumatised me so much as a kid that my brain repressed it to such a degree that I had actually assumed that the residual sadness was due to something that had happened to me in real life. Like, I dunno, maybe I DID have a horse at some point? And obviously there were a lot of swamps of eternal sorrow around in London in the early 90's? (Jokes about London itself being one big swamp of eternal sorrow are forbidden. Even though they are totally true.)
    Whatever, Logic, now I know it didn't happen to me I can finally move on with my life.

  • MissAmynae

    where are his glasses? he needs his glasses?


  • apsutter

    Fuck you unbearbaly sad list of movies that devastated me! I will NEVER watch Neverending Story again because of what happened to Artax. Also, Dumbo....nope. Jesse's backstory always makes me cry. Its the perfect combination of sad story/song that rips my heart out. Toy Story 3 was damn sad too and so bleak at times.

  • Phil

    Charlotte's Web
    I can still remember my 6 year old sobbing when Charlotte died.

  • Leigh

    OMG me too! :::sobs:::

  • deitybox

    AN AMERICAN TAIL. Come on! Little Feivel Mousekowitz gets separated from his parents in the first goddamn five minutes of the movie. I couldn't handle it at four and I can't handle it now.

  • bleujayone

    This one was ages ago...but whatever sadistic S.O.B. came up with it should have been bludgeoned. It was a made-for-television movie in the late 1970's/early 80's of Lassie. I forget for the life of me which idiot subtitle it was. I can't find the movie listed now, but I suppose it really doesn't matter.

    And I don't even LIKE Lassie!

    The half-remembered plot involves some evil businessman/breeder who somehow finds a loophole to take Lassie away from her family which of course included kids. So for the first half hour it just shows the kids bawling their eyes out while some asshole takes their dog away from them. What's worse was this schmaltzy soundtrack of an adult chorus singing all sorts of songs about how sad it is that they've lost their dog! The rest of the movie involves Lassie escaping the evil jackhole in a suit and making the Incredible Journey back home to her family.

    The whole time, the parents and grandfather are trying to prove Lassie was illegally obtained and the kids still back at home crying... and still continued to be forced to listen to a soundtrack would be illegal to play to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. The horror of not only having your beloved pet ripped away from you but having your parents helplessly stand by and let it happen was especially horrifying. But when you're a child and you're still innocent, your pets are often what you love the most after your parents. The thought of losing them to the inevitable is bad enough, but to make a movie about someone gleefully taking it away is even more traumatizing.

  • Guest

    Toy Story 3. Incinerator. 'Nuff said.

  • Pepper

    how about Mufasa's death in the Lion King?
    Never fails to turn me weepy.

    Oh, and the moment when Marlin thought Nemo was dead in Finding Nemo. The numbness of his expression and voice, the fact that you just want him to bawl out loud but he's a damn FISH, he can't cry... fast forward to the happy, please.

  • Anonymous

    Monsters, Inc. kills me. But what really did me and my husband in was "Up." The opening montage is genius, and we could not stop crying for the rest of the movie. We still tear up just thinking about it.

  • R Tibbetts

    My baby is four months old. I'm losing it just reading the descriptions. The Dumbo scene gives me sad-rage.

  • Even Stevens

    All of this, plus Bridge to Terabithia. I'm only referencing the book here, since I flat out refused to watch the movie due to severe emotional damage from the book.

  • LolaDies

    I cried at both the book and the movie (in the movie theater). I knew what was going to happen, and I still wept.

  • Bodhi

    I haven't read through all the comments & I'm sure its been mentioned, but the beginning of UP ruined the entire movie for me. I was a WRECK during the whole thing. I may never forgive Pixar for it

  • I just watched "E.T." again not too recently, and that sentence, those four little words, still has the power to wreck me.

    +1 for the "Still Fighting It" reference

  • Texas Mom

    How can you not include the scene in Toy Story III when Andy is going off to college and is playing with his toys for the last time with the little girl. As the mama of a little boy quickly growing up, that scene KILLED me. I am about to start crying thinking about it.

  • apsutter

    Omg...yes!! I cry every time!! That girl is so sweet and it shows how Andy was such a good kid and the toys are so happy playing in the grass. Even worse because it comes like 5 minutes after the bleakest part in any Pixar movie ever.

  • Miley's Virus

    That's it, day destroyed. Now I need to run home and hug the crap out of my kids. And probably buy them something nice for some reason.

  • Haystacks

    I actually don't think these movies were that traumatic to me as a kid, because kids don't have a fear or true understanding about death and pain that we do. As an adult however, they make me a mess.

  • Jezzer

    Buy them all the movies we've been discussing. You don't want them to grow up unscarred.

  • Miley's Virus

    No chance. These movies cause emo. I'm going to get them iced cream and a couple of those little balsa wood gliders

  • Miley's Virus

    And anyone who thinks I'm being an over-indulgent parent can fuck themselves in the ear.

  • When Fievel gets separated from his family in An American Tail. :(

  • Archie Leach

    Baby of mine....
    Baby mine....
    Baby mine....

  • vahid

    what about the first 20 minutes of UP?

  • Shizzle

    No votes for The Fox and the Hound? My little heart couldn't take the sadness

  • girasoul

    Here I was reading through this list, sitting at a coffee shop, tears already welling up and then thought of The Fox and the Hound pushes me over the edge -- crying, crying! The part in The Fox and the Hound that really gets me though is when the old woman has to give up Tod and drives him to set him free and the song that goes with that just kills me -- Goodbye May Seem Forever. I mean, yeah Tod and Copper were friends, but that little old lady pretty much only had that little fox as her friend/surrogate child and that goodbye was going to pretty much be forever, seriously, she was going to be so lonely without her Tod. Ugh.

  • Mentalcase

    Abso-lutely. Just devistating. I have trouble dwelling on that scene at the end for lack of nearby tissues. The movie stuck with me into adulthood and when I got my beagle a few years back I named the little guy Copper. Why would I do that? What's wrong with me? And why is it the only times I comment on this site it always seems to be some kind of confession of me being a big, blubbering baby???

  • Snath

    The answer to that could be in your name...

  • calliope1975

    Why couldn't Copper and Todd just stay friends?? Whyyyyy?

  • llp

    YES. The first time I ever cried in a movie theatre. I was 6.

  • thatgirl

    I'm at work and can't watch videos, but just THINKING about all of these moments has me tearing up. When I was a little kid and my mom put on Dumbo, she had to turn it off at the Baby Mine scene because I was sobbing so hard.

  • AM

    I must have a heart of stone because I find none of these sad. I was never saddened by movies as a child - a happy cynic from birth, apparently.

  • Ok, yes, to most of these, but I have to say that Dumbo f%cked me up for other reasons. That film was terrifying on so many different levels. My theory is it's all from Walt's bad acid trip.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    That Dumbo clip. You rat bastard. I am sitting here BAWLING. I haven't cried since...I don't even know when. I hate you all so much.

  • jon29

    "You are who you choose to be."

  • superkind

    the last unicorn.

  • twig

    See, it's King Haggard that gets me. To spend an entire lifetime unhappy save for one thing he can never really possess.

    Peter Beagle (for this, and many, many other reasons) is one of the best writers ever.

  • athena23

    Are you TRYING to add to my sadness?! I don't think I've ever been able to watch that since.

  • lowercase_ryan

    do not want.

  • Snath

    Y'all are BASTARDS.

  • Slash

    Holy shit, I don't even have to see the others (but I will check the list eventually) that part of "Dumbo" fucking kills me. Every time. Seriously. Holy shit, I'm getting a little verklempt right now thinking about it.

  • damnitjanet

    Up. Beautiful, sad, and not a word spoken. Baby Mine? Can. not. watch.
    Iron Giant.....gahhhhhhhhhh

  • plz_thx

    This list has ruined me. Now I'm convinced that that puppy is having sad, sad dreams about someone stealing his favorite squeeky toy and chewing it to shreds.

  • Lindzgrl

    I was devastated by three movies as a kid:

    1) Benji The Hunted when Benji's owner comes to the island looking for his shipwrecked dog and Benji sees him and wants to go to him /so badly/ but he feels obligated to stay and care for the orphaned mountain lion cubs whose mother he watched be brutally murdered, so he stays hidden and the owner sadly leaves.

    2) Snoopy Come Home when Snoopy leaves because his former owner has written him that she's in the hospital and wants to see him. So he goes to her, risking it all and leaving behind Charlie Brown and all his friends (except Woodstock, who joins him) and Charlie Brown sings the saddest fucking song ever while being unable to eat cereal because his heart is broken. And then it turns out that the former owner adopted a cat and Snoopy is allergic so he has to leave her anyway and he realizes that you can never return to the past life that you idealized.

    3) Follow That Bird, when Big Bird is forced to move away from Sesame Street because a social worker thinks he needs to be raised by his own kind. But he misses his old life so much that he runs away but gets caught by a circus and they paint him blue and make him sing songs in a cage and he sings the saddest song that has ever been written about loneliness.

  • PerpetualIntern

    OMG Follow That Bird was traumatic.

  • Scootsa1000

    Argh! Snoopy Come Home! When Snoopy says goodbye to everyone at his farewell dinner, Bunnybean and I just weep. I. Can't. Take. It.
    But! When Woodstock hears Snoopy whistling on his way home = tears of joy.

  • Lindzgrl

    The movie was on ABC Family a few months ago, which is the first time I'd seen it in probably 15/20 years. The one-two punch of the sadness of the movie plus the nostalgia value almost overwhelmed me.

  • Stupid_Rookie

    My daughter is about to have her first birthday. I had one of "those" mornings where she made my morning hell through no fault of her own. I have been upset a good portion of the day. After watching the Dumbo and Monsters Inc clips, I want nothing more than to hold her tight. I don't care what happened this morning anymore.

  • googergieger

    Iron Giant, innit?

    Opening of UP was pretty sad too. Oh and if Bridge To Terabithia counts, then yeah that.

  • calliope1975

    Jeez. BTT the book makes me cry. I waited on the movie because the trailer made it look like a CGI piece of crap, but once I caught it on cable...oh man. I ugly sobbed. Like a family member had died. It was not pretty.

  • Ted Zancha

    So, I am also going to be that guy. Where is the first 15 minutes of Up?

  • FrayedMachine

    I feel like that doesn't count because for a lot of kids, that actually wasn't sad. The message that was being conveyed went over a lot of their heads (at least from what I've experienced and from what I've heard from other movie goer experiences). It's SUPER sad if you're an adult, but I feel like what all of these hold is that they're SUPER sad for everyone.

  • Ted Zancha

    Fair point. I just know that it made me sad. That and the end of Big Fish are the ones that mess me up.

  • FrayedMachine

    If you want a good cry, kid style, I strongly recommend watching The Iron Giant if you haven't already.

    Ho boy.

    That stuff will make you weep like a baby.

  • Ted Zancha

    Oh I know. That shit is rough.

  • Littlejon2001

    My Girl is one of the saddest moments in film history. You guys are making me cry.

  • Puddin

    You know what would be a good list? Movies-of-the-week that scared the hell out of you when you were a kid. Those things messed me up--two in particular. One was about some kid getting kidnapped by his estranged father, who then drugged him and burned him alive. (Bernadette Peters played the mom). The other was, like, "I know my name is Steven", and some kid finds out that his parents had actually kidnapped him when he was a baby. What the hell?! These were shown in prime time! I ended having to sleep in my parents room for a month afterward the Burn-adette Peters movie (Oh God. Oh God, that was so wrong).

    Anyway. Scary ass movies of the week list. Let's do this.

  • llp

    You do not exactly remember what "I Know My First Name is Steven" is about - it was much, much worse than that. The real life Steven went on to have a terrible life, even after being rescued, and his birth family as well.

  • Lindzgrl

    I used to watch these and get freaked out as a kid, too. I remember one, I think it was on Lifetime, about the woman whose husband freaks out and stabs her in front of her family and their kids and leaves her permanently disabled. It was "based on a true story," which only freaked me out more.

  • Adrienne Marie

    That "Monsters Inc." moment killed me. Up until the very end, of course... "Kitty!"
    "E.T."? I'm bawling from the moment the Feds come in and take a dying E.T. and Elliot away straight through the end of the movie.

  • $27019454

    And the fact that I am sexually attracted to Peter Coyote confuses me all the more...

  • FireLizardQueen

    Oh god. Just that header picture of Dumbo and his Mama made my eyes well up. *sniff*

    I'm gonna go call my mom now.

  • zaggnita

    I don't know, maybe I'm weird, but I never thought Dumbo as a sad movie.

  • TheEmpress

    oh god, I still can't watch Dumbo because of that scene. It makes sob. Not cry, but ugly, hiccuping, wailing sobs.

  • llp

    Dumbo - just the memory of that one is making me tear up. AT WORK. Awkward.

    That being said, I am not always sure that we should seek to protect our children so completely from tragedy. I don't have any fully thought out comment on that, but protecting our children even from the idea of death or separation seems to me a version of the cliche helicopter parenting.

  • Slash

    "Friends" already covered this. Phoebe's grandma lied to her about the ending to all kinds of movies so she wouldn't be traumatized, so she rewatched them all and found out how they really ended.

    "The end! The end!" Phoebe says (while making pawing motions in the air as if to ward off death, while watching the pivotal scene in "Old Yeller")

  • llp

    It always comes back to Friends, in the end.

  • buttercup

    c'mon man. Iron Giant. That shit DESTROYS ME.

  • alannaofdoom

    Suuuu. Per. Man.

  • Jerce

    Y'all know that's Vin Diesel's voice, dontcha? (My eyes are welling anyway, just remembering...)

  • BendinIntheWind

    I never really cried over movies, but in the cold-medicine stupor of a high school sick day, I found "The Iron Giant" on HBO and COMPLETELY fell apart.

    Giant: "Superman!"
    Me: *bawling uncontrollably*

  • FrayedMachine

    This too!

  • Jezzer



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