4 (More) Childhood Films Filled With Disturbing Trauma

Sad, traumatizing movies seem to touch my cry-baby heart in a very special way. In an PopLurker article from a year ago, I discussed my seven favorite soul crushing “Real-Boy” stories.

Now, to sum up what a “Real-Boy” story is for those of you who don’t make up goofy-ass phrases:

In my head, a real-boy story is a tale about a tragic hero (who typically isn’t human) that makes an attempt at living among humans or want to be one of us. They imitate our arbitrary rules, and typically, they fail. The tragic hero can be in the form of a wooden puppet, a robot, a mermaid, a mannequin, etc. Whatever their non-fleshy material, they try to be one of us and sadness just ensues. The movies/shows I discussed back then were:

  • Disney’s Pinocchio (FUCK THAT DONKEY SCENE)
  • Toei’s The Little Mermaid (1975 soul crushing anime edition)
  • Edward Scissorhands (HOLD ME, I CAN’T! BWWWAAAAHHHH)
  • A.I: Artificial Intelligence (David just wanted his mommy, dammit!)
  • Today’s Special (Classic Nickelodeon/Pinwheel Network sad mannequin show!)
  • Small Wonder (There was so much wrong with this show)
  • Astro Boy (Mighty Atom sure cried a lot)

But today, I’m veering in a slightly different direction. Yes, even different from the PopLurker classic article about Wildly Disturbing Moments in Childhood Films. In that article, Lurker Craig discussed:

  • Starchasers: The Legend of Orin
  • The Black Cauldron
  • The Dark Crystal
  • The Plague Dogs

That’s eleven films filled with effin’ tears and trauma.

But we’re not done. Oh no. We’re not done. Because I’m going to wrap up this list once and for all. I’m going to talk about the final four. The last four films that didn’t work for my sad-boy list of childhood films that shattered, crushed, mashed, and annihilated my heart.

Of course, you’re welcome to “come at me” with screams of ‘But why isn’t Coco here? Where the hell is Dumbo? But the entire opening of UP! Didn’t you even care when Bambi’s mom died or Simba lost Mufasa?’ and to that I polite retort with:

Write your own damn list. I’ll even publish it on PopLurker. Go ahead. I dare you. Send it to me now, I don’t care, I’m crazy.

So! Pull up your socks and get ready to blow your nose into your shirt, because today we’re counting down 4 (More) Childhood Films Filled With Disturbing Trauma!


4) Battle Angel

My secret dream is a life where I stop crying from robot love stories

Battle Angel. Gunnm. Gally. Alita. Whatever you want to call it, this movie is a masterpiece. Honestly, if my head wasn’t up my ass at the time, this film would have been a perfect contender for the Real-Boy list. And while the rest of the internet is whining about the upcoming Alita: Battle Angel live action American film, I like the art direction. I like the big weird eyes. I’m going to see it. I’m going to review it. Get off your high horse.

Where was I? Oh yes.

Battle Angel.jpg

Battle Angel was released in Japan in 1993, which makes it a perfect contender for a gut-wrenching childhood film. Keep in mind– this was one of the first anime films (okay, whatever its a two-part OAV, semantics) that I ever saw back in about 1998. And wow, did it make an impact! The animation is stellar. The pacing and design are perfect. Plus the ending?



The long and short: A scientist finds the torso of a cyborg in a junk heap of droppings from the castle-in-the-sky city of Zalem and can’t identify her model. Turns out she’s custom and a super powerful killer named Gally. She also has the capacity to love and zeroes in on a boy named Yugo. Yugo is obsessed with getting out of of Scrap Iron City, the slums, and purchasing a ticket into Zalem, that sky city. While Yugo’s narrative is his hyper fixation on this “the slums, the sky, the slums, the sky” story, Gally tries to show him that within your path, your fixed linear narrative, you can find your dream through love.

Toward the end, Yugo is injured and the only way to save him is by turning him into a cyborg like Gally. Yugo is not so thrilled with his mechanical destiny. He overhears Gally saying that Zalem is a pipedream and not accessible. Yugo jumps off the operating table, leaves all of his money behind (that he was saving to buy access) and starts climbing a tube up to get into Zalem.

Which of course has Mario-style spike shredders all over it to keep rats from climbing into the city.

Gally chases Yugo and tells him he’s her dream. He smiles at her, and is hit by a shredder. He gives her this fucking look before his wires tear and he drops into oblivion, dying and leaving her twice.


Saddest. Movie. Ever.


3) Garfield: His 9 Lives

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This was the weirdest Garfield special that ever happened. On a technical level, it was probably the opportunity to have nine interesting shorts directed by a variety of directors. A chance for people in the industry to show off their chops and take a turn having their creative way with Garfield, done their way.

But when you’re a kid, you don’t have that insight. So everything just comes off as weird. Especially when Garfield meets ‘God’ at the end.

Hey kids, it’s Jim Henson’s ‘Thriller’!

While a few of the shorts had the same vibe as the other Garfield specials (like when he went to Hollywood, Hawaii, or trick or treating) one of the specials stood out to me in a soul crushing, traumatic way. It’s called ‘Diana’s Piano’ and I can’t even explain the synopsis out loud without my eyes welling up. The animation is so dreamy and feminine and lovely that it just makes the feels impact like tiny spiked daggers in my forsaken heart.

A little girl is given a kitten for her birthday. It’s a white, fluffy kitten and the girl instantly falls in love with her. She names the kitten Diana. Shortly after, the little girl starts taking piano lessons and finds she’s extraordinarily good at playing. Diana is always by her side when that music is playing. She sits next to the girl while she plays, lays on top of the piano, and is the girl’s constant companion.

The girl ages, and eventually goes to college. Diana stays at home with the girl’s parents. The girl, now a young woman, comes home from college and she is engaged to be married. She brings Diana with her to her new home. More time passes, and the woman becomes pregnant. She has a baby, and the baby loves messing with Diana.


By now, Diana is getting older. She is having trouble getting on and off the piano. The woman senses that Diana doesn’t have much time left. For old time’s sake, she lifts Diana up onto the piano and plays her an extra-long concert. It’s the best playing of her life. When the woman finishes, Diana doesn’t follow her off the piano. The woman whispers “Goodnight, Diana” and closes the door to the room with the piano. Diana gets down from the top, curls up on the keys, and quietly passes away.

Yes, I am actually crying while typing this. I’m such a baby.


2) Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird


Fuck. This. Movie.

I can’t count the number of people I know who remember this movie fondly. It’s one of those films that upset me so much as a kid, and made me feel so uncomfortable, that I wonder if it’s not some sort of fever dream. Like if my life was A Clockwork Orange, ‘Follow That Bird’ would be my Ultra-Violence. If this was the movie that my eyes were pried open for and forced to watch, you’d see me screaming and begging for my captors to turn it off.

I’m not even kidding; I can’t understand why any children liked this movie back in the day. It’s so unbelievably upsetting! One genius writer at AV Club got it right when she wrote her own trauma-filled manifesto of why Follow That Bird is fucked. But in my own words, all I can really say is that everything in this movie is unsettling.

Big Bird thinks that no one cares about him anymore. He runs away from Sesame Street and is adopted by a family of Dodo Birds. They’re erratic, different from everything he knows (which is very uncomfortable when you’re a kid and you’re in a new house and don’t know how to deal). I feel like there’s even a part where they refuse to let him leave, so he runs away again.


But the cherry on this nightmare heap is when Big Bird is kidnapped by some freak show jerks. They dye him blue, stick him in a cage and striped pants, and make him sing to children about how blue he is. It’s the tragedy-bird version of Kermit’s ‘It’s Not Easy Being Green’. IE: it’s sad as hell! A group of children watch in jaw-dropped silence as this character, who is known for being sunny and happy and curious and alive sings quietly in a cage to the point where he’s crying. 

And it just keeps going! Eventually Maria and the rest of the humans on Sesame Street (who have been searching for Big Bird frantically) find out where he is. By now, he’s locked in the back of a truck. Gordon and his wife are participating in the Sesame Street equivalent of a car-chase scene. The coolest thing about the scene is that yellow beetle. They keep telling Big Bird to jump to them, and it’s all very tense and upsetting. Okay, fine, the ending is happy, but getting there is just too much for me to handle.


1) The Land Before Time


Childhood entertainment sure was upsetting in the 80s, wasn’t it?!

What’s funny about the original The Land Before Time is that it was a movie I could watch as a kid without too much issue. It’s just that the older I get, the deeper the thorns pierce the skin, that’s all. I remember the part that upset me most about the movie was after some random cut scene where a prehistoric frog eats a moth we’d been following. Then it croaks and the crushed up bug is still in its mouth. I also really didn’t like the scene where some big pees on Sarah’s face. I don’t know, that was really upsetting.

Now I’m at the point in my life where I hear the film’s music like ten minutes in and I’m a wreck. The movie is about abandoned babies trying to find their family in ‘The Great Valley’. You don’t have to look up a million internet fan theories to know that these kids are dead the entire film and trying to find their way to Valhalla! Come on– the context is right there!

The whole movie is made even worse every time I hear Ducky’s voice. It’s no news by now, but Ducky is voiced by Judith Barsi, the same little girl who voiced Anne-Marie in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go To Heaven (another popular film in childhood trauma discussions). The long and short, this adorable little girl with this sweet, clear, empathetic voice was murdered by her father in her sleep when she was ten. He shot her point blank in the head while she was asleep! So when I hear Ducky and her sincere cuteness, all I can think about is poor Judith and her tragic, violent destiny.

But if nothing else…

At least this movie gave us all Tree Stars to help us get through it all.



Loryn is writing about her childhood so the ghosts leave her alone on Twitter.

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  1. Good list. Interestingly enough, I just saw the original Battle Angel anime and even though it didn’t go as far as the manga, that ending is still sad. I first saw that scene ages ago out-of-context in one of those AMV Hell videos where they play Yugo’s death scene with an acapella cover of “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden playing in the background.

    Liked by 1 person

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