6. My Girl (1991)
When a children’s film is set in a funeral home, then you know it is not going to be plain sailing. My Girl opened to much controversy, due to its themes surrounding death and loss. It also sparked a wider debate on what was appropriate to be shown in a film aimed at children.
The marketing campaign for My Girl sold it as a light hearted coming of age film, and made a mass appeal to pre-teens by playing up the casting of Macaulay Culkin, using the slogan ‘Mack is Back.’ This led to many criticisms that the film studio had misled audiences, and tricked them into seeing the film.
After Macaulay Culkin’s character is killed by a swarm of bees, a later scene depicts his funeral where he is shown lying dead in an open casket. This scene has become the main focal point of the film’s criticism, and is seen as incredibly unsuitable for a children’s film. A dead child being shown would be upsetting in an adult film, never mind a children’s one.
It is difficult to conceive of a film being released now, that would be as graphic in its depiction of a child’s death. If a similar film was released, then it would certainly be met with criticism and controversy.
7. Big (1988)
Tom Hanks and controversy do not often go together, and Big is no exception to this. Big opened in 1988 to critical acclaim, and box office success. It also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Original Screenplay. Big was not controversial when it was released in 1988, but if it was released today, it is highly likely that it would attract attention for the wrong reasons.
Big is about a young boy called Josh who makes a wish, using an antique arcade machine, “to be big.” When he wakes up the next day, he is a fully grown adult. Fleeing to New York, Josh becomes entwined in his adult life.
One of the plot points is that Josh becomes involved in a romantic relationship, including the more adult aspects of a relationship. Although Josh has an adult body, he is a thirteen-year-old boy. In today’s more politically correct society, this plot point would be seen as inappropriate and be frowned upon.
Big is certainly not a childhood film that immediately springs to mind when you think of controversial children’s films, but it is hard to tell if that would be the case if it was released today, in a society that has much stricter views on safeguarding.
8. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? has become an iconic film, and in 2016 was chosen by The Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as it is recognised as being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant. But it is not a film without its controversies.
The biggest controversy surrounding the film regarded the laserdisc release of the film, in which it is said that you can see nude images of the character Jessica Rabbit. Re-releases of the film since, have had the scenes removed. But overall, many feel that the film has overtly sexual undertones, and that this is not appropriate for a film that is marketed to children and a family audience.
In fact, the whole film’s subject matter is often queried as being suitable for its target audience. An alcoholic Private Eye investigating an adultery scandal is not the standard fare of a children’s film.
There are also some genuinely scary moments, and there were reports of children crying during some screenings. These relate in particular to one scene where a man is run over by a steamroller, and dies whilst screaming in pain. Also, just mention “Remember me Eddie?!” and it can give you chills.
It is tricky to envisage a children’s film today having the same sort of subject matter or a death scene where screaming can be heard.
9. Watership Down (1978)
This film which was released in 1978, was a box office success and has made it onto lists such as ‘The 100 Greatest Tearjerkers’ and ‘The Greatest British Film of All Time.’ Because the film is an animation about rabbits, it has always been seen as a children’s film, however some critics have argued that the rating should be changed to reflect the violence depicted.
It is hard to know where to start with the controversial themes in this film. It’s disturbing, it’s bloody and it certainly does not shy from showing the rabbits dying – one rabbit dies after another in a never-ending bloodbath. This includes rabbits murdering other rabbits, amongst other animals who join in with the murdering.
Watership has always been a questionable choice for a children’s film, seen as terrifying and traumatic in equal measures. It has been attracting controversy for years, and there is no doubt that if it was released today, it would be met with massive controversy and opposition.
Last year, Watership Down was aired in the United Kingdom over the Easter weekend, and was met with much criticism and controversy with some calling for audiences to boycott the channel that aired it.
10. Return to Oz (1985)
A sequel to the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ Return to Oz received mixed reviews from critics, and performed poorly at the box office. Whilst the film is seen as a more faithful adaption of L. Frank Baum’s material, it has frequently been described as one of the most terrifying and creepy children’s films of all time. It is often criticised for its eerie and bleak tone and dark themes.
There are so many horrifying aspects in this film, it is hard to know where to start. There are the severed heads, the hellish underground scene, and the mental institution with electro-shock therapy. But most terrifying of all, are the Wheelers which are possibly one of the most frightening creatures to appear in a film aimed at children. Their maniacal laughter and malevolent face masks, are the stuff of nightmares.
When Dorothy arrives in Emerald City, she finds it in ruins and the walls are scrawled with graffiti that reads ‘Beware the Wheelers.’ It feels like these would not be out of place in an adult rated horror film – it is enough to give you chills, and not in a good way.
Return to Oz would be hard pressed to find a place in today’s film market without meeting with controversy, and universal disapproval.
Author Bio: Cara McWilliam-Richardson is a writer with a passion for films and filmmaking. She has written several screenplays, and is currently working on her first novel. Her favourite genre to write is fantasy and science fiction.