Perhaps not the first genre that springs to mind, but nevertheless, when it comes to evoking intense emotion in movies, animation has been making audiences uncontrollably bawl their eyes out for decades. And nothing hits quite as hard as the tragedy of witnessing a beloved character die on screen in front of our very eyes.
Thanks to masterful storytelling and character development, audiences are often so absorbed with those onscreen it’s almost as if they can feel their grief in their hearts. Whether at the hands of a dastardly villain, in an act of selfless sacrifice or simply turf because of , these are the saddest deaths in animated movie history. (Warning: naturally, there are spoilers ahead.)
10 Hazel—Watership Down
To be fair, it’s hard to imagine how this grizzly, gory story of a herd of rabbits fleeing their home in search of somewhere safe could ever be considered a children’s movie. At the time of release in the UK, though, Watership Down was given the U certificate, meaning it was deemed suitable for all ages (similar to the MPAA’s ‘G’ rating). It became a box office hit, implying parents were taking their children in hordes to be traumatized by what can only be described as an animated animal bloodbath.
However, the death that got everyone simultaneously sobbing was the demise of lead protagonist Hazel. As we’ve grown emotionally attached to the character through all his trials and tribulations, we see him slowly and exhaustedly lie down for his final rest as his soul le his body and is guided into the afterlife, one last emotional punch to the gut that stays with the audience long after the final credits have rolled.
9 Peter Parker — Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man is one of the most beloved superheroes of all time and his alter ego, the relatable everyman, Peter Parker has been a fan favorite since his first comic book appearance way back in 1962. It was pretty emotional then to see him smashed to death at the hands of the nefarious Kingpin in Into the Spider-Verse. It became even harder to stomach as viewers are shown a lengthy mourning sequence, pulling at every heartstring in one of animation’s most emotional scenes of recent years.
8 Bambi’s Mother — Bambi
At the time of its release, this death was by far one of the most shocking, yet significant moments in cinematic history, as it introduced children to the concept of parental death in a way that had never been seen before in an animated movie. Fast -forward eight decades, and the death is still an undeniably heart-breaking scene.
For those that haven’t seen Bambi in some time, it’s a common misconception that the death takes place within the first 10 minutes or so of the film. Sadly, it takes place much further into the movie, meaning that the audience have spent longer and are more invested in the young fawn’s wellbeing. Then, BAM — right after a particularly pleasant bonding session with Bambi and his mother, she is violently taken from him at the hands of a rural hunter, leaving audiences gasping with shock and trying to hold back the tears as they wit Bambi’s reaction to the murder.
7 Stoick the Vast — How to Train Your Dragon 2
One of the many reasons why audiences fell in love with the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is the great character development. Each main character has their own personal stories of growth and Hiccup’s burly ill-tempered father, Stoick, is no exception. Always enjoyable to watch, audiences had seen him come to terms and learn to love his son for who he is, accept dragons into his life and, by How to Train Your Dragon 2he has even agreed to make amends with his wife.
But then, out of nowhere, this character we’d grown to love is taken from us, at the hands of Toothless no less, Hiccup’s adorable and loving dragon companion. Despite Toothless being under the magical control of the tyrannical Drago, it’s still such an awful way to go, especially in front all of Stoick’s loved ones.
6 Ellie Fredricksen — Up
up‘s infamous opening montage is the epitome of emotional Pixar moments, and no matter how many times you watch this heart-wrenching scene, you’ll still be forced to hold back those tears. The sequence takes us through the life of Carl and Ellie Fredricksen. And without even a single word, you will smile, you will laugh, and you will eventually cry your heart out as you ride this emotional rollercoaster only to discover that Ellie is no longer a part of this beautiful life, and Carl is left with nothing but these memories.
The Land Before Time follows a young dinosaur named Littlefoot, who, after the vicious demise of his mother at the hands of a dangerous carnivorous dinosaur, has to make it to safer grounds at The Great Valley. On his journey, he encounters a number of other young dinosaurs, and together they learn to overcome the hardships they face in order to reach The Great Valley. This is a rare example of a family film that manages to discover that winning formula of finding itself fully endearing to the younger children without ever losing the interest of the older kids and adults.
The Land Before Timeis a colorful adventure with plenty of likable characters and a fantastic theme song from Diana Ross, but it never talks down to the kids, or relies on slapstick or toilet humor, and instead deals with some fairly adult themes involving loss, grief, isolation , the power of friendship, and evolution (in every sense of the word).
The scene, though, which is sure to have stuck in the minds of a whole generation of children is the aforementioned demise of Littlefoot’s mother which is particularly intense and unflinching in its depiction of the death, as audiences are left holding back tears ly as she sallow passes away in front of her child after managing to impart some final words of wisdom, before it fades to black.
4 Tadashi Hamada — Big Hero 6
Disney’s Big Hero 6 was a wildly creative and original piece of work that unfortunately got overshadowed by the immense success of Frozenwhich was released in the same year. Whilst much of the film featured high-octane action sequences and plenty of humor, the first act is filled with tragedy. Young Hiro Hamada is an orphan whose closest companion is his brother Tadashi. After winning a science fair, the school sets on fire. Once the building has been evacuated, Tadashi rushes back in to rescue Professor Callaghan; unfortunately, when inside, the building explodes, taking Tadashi with it. The tragic loss of Hiro’s brother is hard on all watching , but if it’s any consolation, audiences can rest assured that his success at the end of the movie would have made his brother more than proud.
3 Iron Giant — The Iron Giant
The Iron Giant is a fantastic underseen animated gem from 1999 based on Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Manthat while a hit with the critics, never got the attention it deserved at the box office. A Cold War allegory, it tells the heartwarming story of a young boy who forms an unlikely friendship with a giant robot. Afraid of what they don’ t understand, the government sets out to destroy the robot, leaving it up to the boy to do everything he can to protect his friend. Unfortunately, the situation escalates, and his efforts are not enough, but in the ultimateness act of selfless, the iron giant flies himself towards an upcoming missile to save his friend and the town he lives in. This ultimate sacrifice broke the hearts of all those that witnessed, but fortunately our hearts were mended, as determination and love triumphs, and he manages to mend himself through his own self re-assembly.
2 Bing Bong — Inside Out
During the course of Inside Outwe are introduced to Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, a jolly bright pink creature, who is one of Pixar’s most fun and likable characters ever dreamed up. He desperately wants Riley to remember him again, but the one thing he wants more than that is for Riley to just find happiness. It later transpires that the only way to achieve this is if he sacrifices himself to save Joy.
Joy and Bing Bong become trapped in the abyss of nothingness, and after a brief moment of panic, Bing Bong finds his magical saddle that can fly himself and Riley to the moon by singing the special song. The two try tirelessly to escape the pit by singing the song, but all the time they try, they fail. It isn’t long until Bing Bong realizes he must sacrifice himself to allow Joy to escape the empty abyss of nothingness, to save Riley and make her happy once again. to Bing Bong’s tragic death as he utters his final words: “Take her to the moon for me, okay?”
1 Mufasa — The Lion King
By all accounts, Walt Disney’s musical animated feature The Lion King is a great movie. The Disney score is fantastic, the animation is top-notch, and the story is an anthropomorphic take on Shakespeare’s beloved HamletIt also features one of the saddest death scenes ever to appear in a movie, period. The villainous Scar orchestrates a stampede, which he uses to murder Mufasa, King of the Pride Lands.
What makes the scene so uncomfortable for children is that Mufasa is Scar’s own brother. On top of that, he gaslights his young nephew Simba, Mufasa’s son, into thinking his father’s death was his fault. Tears were shed around the world as we watch in horror as Mufasa is violently trampled and as Simba, filled with guilt, flees his own family and everything he loves. Not only was it a brutal death, now many children probably grew up to have an unhealthy fear of their own family members.