You know, there’s just nothing more heart-wrenching than seeing your favourite characters die on the big screen. I’ve talked about this before about how the death of a character can add a real emotional shock to a scene. And whilst these scenes can really impact on a story, I find that they are even powerful if they appear in an animated film.
Maybe that’s just me, but deaths in animated films get to me more so than in live action. I guess you don’t really expect things like that in animated films as they are, for the most part, aimed at a younger audience, so you expect them to be nice and jolly. So it can be a real shock to the system when they add in very really elements like this. That being said, if you look at many classic animated movies, they usually have that ONE death that will definitely hit you right in the feels.
Recently I’ve been catching up with some of the animated movies I used to watch when I was younger and was quite surprised with the hard hitting deaths of characters. No wonder I get so depressed! So today I decided to honour the lives of those characters who have passed away and whose death’s had (and still do have) the largest impact on me.
For this list, I’m looking at animated films I’ve seen who had a death that affected me the most. I also would like to point out that I made a rule of including only ONE Pixar movie and ONE Disney movie (those films could be a list in themselves!). Also, as always, this is in no particular order. And just a heads up – spoilers included!
Have your tissues at the ready as today I countdown the Top Five Saddest Deaths in Animated Films.
1. Littlefoot’s Mother in The Land Before Time
Forget all the crappy direct to DVD sequels, the original The Land Before Time is a masterpiece of cinema – a wonderful tale of family and friendship with some loveable characters. Oh and did I mention its set during the time of the dinosaurs? It’s also notable for being the first film to traumatise me as a child. I don’t think any film made me cry so much – hell it still makes me weep when I see it 26 years later!
In this particular scene that will haunt your childhood forever, Littlefoot and his family are migrating to The Great Valley after all the food in the area dries up. During the journey, we see how close Littlefoot is to his family, and how protective his mother is of him. It’s really heartwarming – but then, like with any tragedy, their happiness gets torn apart.
When Sharptooth (a T-Rex) attacks Littlefoot and Cera (a young Three-Horn), Littlefoot’s mother comes to save them, but is fatally wounded in the process. What follows a few minutes later is a crushing scene where Littlefoot finds his injured mother and she imparts a few words of wisdom and support before she dies.
Annnnnnnndddd then the tears come… :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'( :'(
This scene is tragic for many reasons. Firstly, not only does Littlefoot have to watch his mother die, he now has to complete the journey to The Great Valley alone. And let’s not forget – Littlefoot is just a kid. When you add all this up, it makes one of the most depressing scenes in cartoon history. But that being said, we can also give credit to Littlefoot’s mother – she sacrificed herself to protect her child, making her one of the bravest heroines in animated film. And even though she dies, she is still with Littlefoot in spirit.
If you haven’t seen it, The Land Before Time is one of the best animated films you will see. It’s a tale of courage, friendship and hope, with some loveable characters and a tragic story. Just make sure you have some tissues at the ready, because this scene alone will definitely hit you in the feels!
2. Flynn Rider in Tangled
I’m sure when you heard a Disney film would be in this list, you were expecting me to include the death of Simba’s father in The Lion King. And yes, that scene is sad, but as I already included the death of Littlefoot’s Mother, I decided to use another film so as to vary it a little. Not only that, but I wanted to make it up to the readers who were upset by my last blog.
When I did my first Disney Deathmatch, with Tangled Versus The Hunchback of Notre Dame, quite a few people on facebook were quick to voice their disapproval that Tangled didn’t win. I actually was kinda surprised how much people loved this film. I’ve done numerous mentions of how I think Frozen was an overrated film and hardly got any rage from it (luckily), but Tangled I got a lot of angry people at my throat– one of my best friends I thought was never gonna speak to me again!
Let me make one thing clear – just because Tangled didn’t win it DOESN’T mean that Tangled isn’t a good film. In fact, I would say that Tangled is one of the most enjoyable Disney films of all time. In fact, I’d actually say it was a better film than Frozen, that’s how much I enjoyed it.
But I’m getting off track here.
Anyway, in Tangled, Rapunzel wishes to leave her tower and enter the great wide world. After Flynn Rider (real name Eugene) hides in her tower after a robbery goes wrong, Rapunzel “forces” him to take her outside and escort her, so that she can find the reason behind the lights that are released every year. But, like any Disney movie, as the story progresses Rapunzel and Flynn become closer and, as you may guess, fall in love. And you know what, I actually like Flynn – he’s a really good character for reasons I will explain later.
At the climax of the movie, Flynn is wounded by Mother Gothel whilst trying to save Rapunzel. Rapunzel begs her to use her magic hair (which contains healing magic) to save Flynn, after which she promises to be taken prisoner by Gothel. However, Flynn – not wanting Rapunzel to be at the mercy of Gothel, cuts her hair off, removing her healing magic, which then causes Gothel to vanish to dust. Flynn essentially sacrifices himself to save Rapunzel, which is a very brave deed in and off himself. He then dies. And when Rapunzel’s starts singing and her tears fall, so do the audiences.
Ok, so this is kinda cheating as Flynn DOES come back to life – but before that it’s still pretty sad. I thought that Flynn was a likeable rogue and probably one of the best heroes in Disney history. Sure he’s brash, arrogant and selfish, but he’s very funny and a good man at heart. Through Rapunzel he finds something more precious than gold and in the end he is willing to give up his own life to save her. I reckon Kristoff could learn a thing or two from Flynn as to what a real hero should be like!
3. Optimus Prime in Transformers the Movie
I’m just gonna come right out and say it, the recent Transformers movies suck and Michael Bay can go to hell! That is all I have to say on that matter. However, the 1986 Transformers: The Movie is a underrated classic that kicks the ass of anything Mr Bay ever did. But it is also infamous for one of the most shocking deaths in cartoon history.
Set in between Seasons 2 and 3 of the original series, this movie is a treat for Transformers fans. The voice acting is somewhat questionable, but the movie has great action, a kickass metal soundtrack and features voice acting from Hollywood heavyweights Leonard Nimoy, Eric Idle, Judd Nelson and Orson Wells (in his final film role). However, the film does have a much darker tone than the TV series – and even include character deaths! Yes, that right, characters DIE in this film! Ironhide, Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, Windcharger, Wheeljack and Starscream all meet their end in this film. But NO ONE could have expected that the filmmakers would pull the ultimate asspull and kill off the most beloved character of all – Optimus Prime!
Near the beginning of the film, a final battle between Megatron and Optimus results in the Autobots leader being fatally wounded. Calling together his trusted Autobots, Prime passes on the Matrix (no not the Keanu Reeves film) to Ultra Magnus (who refuses it under grounds that he is no leader). After which he gives a final speech, turns black and his head falls to the side of his bed. And at that moment, every Transformers fan scream in disbelief!
Ok, so it may be a little weird to those that haven’t seen the series, but to any fan of the show, this was a real shock to the system. Optimus Prime was a badass warrior, but he was also a fatherly figure to the Autobots, willing to lay down his life to protect his troops and the humans that they lived alongside. Not to mention he could turn into a truck, which is pretty awesome. So why did the filmmakers kill off such a popular character? Blame Hasbro!
When the film was coming out, Hasbro were bringing out a new line of toys for the Transformers franchise, so they asked for certain characters to be killed off to bring them into the series – Optimus included. However the backlash that resulted was intense and fans were quick to voice their disapproval of his death. Even Peter Cullen, the actor that voiced Optimus Prime, was surprised at how loved the character was. In fact, the backlash was so huge that they even changed a scene in G.I.Joe The Movie. In that film, Duke was supposed to die, but instead they wrote it that he entered a coma - which he then woke from at the end.
The impact of Prime's death was probably on par with The Red Wedding from Game of Thrones. It’s a death that many fans still feel for today. So much so that, when the Nostalgia Critic did his Top 11 Saddest Nostalgia Moments, he didn’t include the death of Optimus Prime, which caused a lot of fans to lash out at him. He did make a joke about it in his next video, and even included it in one of his Top 11 Nostalgia Critic F*** Ups.
Optimus would eventually return to the Transformers cartoon, much to the delight of the fans – but this death will forever live in peoples’ minds as one of the most traumatic moments of their childhood. Mine included.
4. Gen’s Family in Barefoot Gen
Due to the somewhat disturbing content of this scene, I’ve decided not to include a picture of it. But just be warned that this section does have some parts that readers may find upsetting.
This one may be a bit of a stretch as I don’t know how many people have seen this film. But I wanted to include at least one Anime film on this list. I suppose it would be better to have a Studio Ghibli film in this list, and considering their recent announcement of their closure – or reorganisation – it would have been pretty easy to include one. However, I wanted to highlight this film as Barefoot Gen is, in my opinion, the most underrated of all Animes and one that gets criminally overlooked when people list their favourite Animes.
Starting off as a Slice of Life, it’s set around a boy called Gen and his life with his family, which is pretty decent for the most part. The first part of the film is Gen getting into mischief with his brother. However, a somewhat innocent story foreshadows a greater danger to come. Why? Because this film is set during the Hiroshima bombings.
When the bomb drops, the film doesn’t hold back showing the full horror that the hydrogen bomb is capable of. In fact, the fact that it’s an Anime shows the audience just what damage it could do. People are melted, vaporised – and there is one scene where a mother tries to shield her baby from the bomb and they are fused together. Gen survives and rushes back to his family, who are trapped in the house. He gets his mother out, but his father, sister and brother are buried under the rubble and the house is about to collapse on them. Worst still, the flames around them from the bomb threaten to burn them alive.
Gen and his mother make numerous attempts to save them and pull them out and we watch with terror, hoping that there would be a happy conclusion. But it is ultimately hopeless and he and his mother break down. Gen’s father, knowing that his wife is pregnant and seeing that they cannot escape this, tells Gen to leave them and protect his mother. Eventually having no choice but the accept, the house falls on Gen’s family and they are consumed by the fire, their screams ringing out.
Never has any Anime moved me as much as this. Gen seeing his friends burned alive by the bomb is one thing, but then having to watch as his family die and knowing he is powerless to do anything to help really rips at your heart and you feel Gen’s pain. What makes this scene especially poignant is that the creator of Barefoot Gen, Keiji Nakazawa actually lived through the Hiroshima bombings and, from what I can gather, he actually lost his family this way. I don’t know how much of this film is actually true or made up, but knowing that this is based on the first hand experience of someone that lived through it just hits you right in the heart in ways that few films can.
Sadly, Barefoot Gen isn’t shown that often, but it is fairly easy to get on DVD if you look for it. I highly recommend this film. It’s not easy to watch and will definitely bring out the tears quicker than a waterfall – but the film does serve as a grim reminder of the price of war and the lives that are destroyed because of it.
5. Ellie in Up
Yeah, you guys knew this one was coming. :) But then, as I’ve said, Up is and always will be the best Pixar movie ever – possibly even the best Disney movie of all time if you count Pixar and Disney as the same entity. One of my favourite love stories of all time, my plan is to watch this film without crying. Not succeeded yet.
At the beginning of Up, we meet Carl and Ellie as children. Carl being a huge fan of the explorer Charles Muntz finds a common friend in Ellie, who wishes to one day move her “clubhouse” to Paradise Falls. Becoming friends, Carl makes a promise to take her there one day.
After this we flash forward several years to when Ellie and Carl are married. We are then treated to a wonderful montage where we see them move into married life. Ellie and Carl settle into the “clubhouse”, making it their own home and they get jobs and eventually wish to start a family – only for Ellie to find that she is infertile, which is pretty sad in itself. Remembering the promise that Carl made, he and Ellie gather some money to pay for a trip to Paradise Falls, but real life gets in the way and they constantly have to abandon their plans (something we can all relate to). We watch as they get old, their love for each other never floundering. Eventually, they make enough money to travel to Paradise Falls and Carl tries to surprise Ellie – only for her to fall ill. It then goes from Ellie in hospital, to Carl at the end of her funeral, ending with him walking into the house – all alone.
Never have I seen a montage perfectly capture the love and pathos of a married couple within four minutes. Even though there is no dialogue, the music perfectly captures the love between the two of them and the audience feel what they feel. This is why it is especially painful for us when Ellie dies. It reminds us that we are only mortal, but love can live on forever. And when Carl tries to fulfil his promise to Ellie, it acts as testament to the love the two had for each other.
Another scene to mention would be the bit where he reads Ellie’s scrapbook near the end of the movie, seeing all the pictures of her and Carl in the “Things I have to do” section. But Ellie’s death is especially powerful as it is the driving force for Carl and invigorates him to do one more thing before he passes away. If that’s not an act of love then I dunno what is.
I dare ANYONE to see this opening montage without crying. If you can then you are either heartless or just a stronger person than me. This montage is one of the best I have ever seen in a film and Up is just one of the greatest love stories ever told. Proof that love never dies.
So now that tears have been shed, I’d love to hear from you guys – which character deaths in animated films made YOU cry the most? Please leave a comment below to let me know.
Thanks for reading guys.
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