For as much as Disney movies and TV shows have a reputation for being sugary-sweet fare aimed at the younger crowd, there have always been a lot of darker elements to be found in Disney-branded media. Beyond all the really sad stuff that made us cry as kids— and get something in our eye as adults— that many Disney movies contain, sometimes Disney stuff gets downright terrifying, bordering on having light horror elements. Don't believe us? Then you've clearly never see The Black Cauldron.
It shouldn't come as a huge surprise, then, that video games based on Disney properties have also ventured into scary territory on multiple occasions. It doesn't matter what age you are now or what era of Disney video games you identify as your "childhood"— we are certain that a Disney game surprised you with its creepiness more than once. And here are 20 of the most notorious examples.
20 Chernabog (Kingdom Hearts)
Fantasia was an odd experiment in animated film making that is a little tough to sit through nowadays when viewed from start to finish, but individual scenes from it are still breathtaking. Case in point, the "Night On Bald Mountain" segment where the titular song plays on top of a terrifying vignette starring a massive demon known as Chernabog.
Using Chernabog as a boss in Kingdom Hearts— especially with that iconic song behind it— was a stoke of genius, and made for the creepiest Disney-based fight in the entire franchise.
19 Jafar (Aladdin, SNES Version)
The only debate during the 16-bit era more heated than "Mario vs Sonic" and "Street Fighter vs Mortal Kombat" was the argument over which console had the superior adaptation of the movie Aladdin.
No matter what side you stand on, there's little denying that the SNES version had the better, scarier final Jafar battle, forcing players to flip their way up his twisting, waving snake body as he rode through a sea of flames.
18 Jack In The Box (Castle Of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse)
Even people who don't have an actual fear of clowns have to acknowledge that clowns in general are extremely creepy. There's a reason why they are so often used to terrifying effect as the villains in fiction, and Disney stuff has been no exception.
While the jack in the box boss at the end of the Toyland world in Castle of Illusion for Genesis was already unsettling, his transformation in the 2013 remake allowed him to finally reach his true skin-crawling potential.
17 Final Oogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge)
For a movie as popular as The Nightmare Before Christmas, it's kind of surprising that it took all the way until 2002's Kingdom Hearts for Jack and company to make their video game debut. But once that nut was cracked, we got a standalone game based on the movie two years later... in the form of the underwhelming "sequel" Oogie's Revenge.
For all that Oogie's Revenge does wrong, it does do a good job with the tone and atmosphere of the movie. There is also a giant, grotesque, and horrifying version of Oogie that Jack has to fight at the end that marks the villain's scariest appearance to date.
16 Shadow Blot (Epic Mickey)
Warren Spector, the legendary game designer whose work includes classics like Ultima, Deus Ex, and System Shock, surprised everyone when he announced that he'd be heading up a video game starring Mickey Mouse. But once we saw and heard his plans for Epic Mickey, we couldn't wait to play it.
The final product wasn't quite worth the hype, but it's still a really enjoyable game that goes in surprisingly dark directions— such as final boss Shadow Blot that would almost be at home in a full-fledged horror game.
15 Dracula Duck (DuckTales Remastered)
The original DuckTales for NES remains one of the most beloved video games in history, partly because it's based on such a classic TV series and partly because it has one of the most enjoyable and addictive gameplay mechanics ever.
People have mixed feelings about various elements of the 2013 remake DuckTales Remastered, but receiving universal praise was the improvement to the original's admittedly dull boss fights. Many of the bosses were made more threatening in size, including the battle with Dracula Duck that sees him transform so large that only his head fits on the screen as he tries to sink his massive fangs into Uncle Scrooge.
14 The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Disney doesn't really like to celebrate or even acknowledge The Dark Cauldron very much, and it makes some sense as the costly flop almost bankrupted the entire company. But that's too bad, as it's actually a really underrated movie... not to mention one of the scariest animated movies "for kids" that has ever been made (it was Disney's first-ever PG-rated animated film).
There was a point-and-click adventure game based on the movie that played similarly to King's Quest, and it included a confrontation with the film's nightmare fuel antagonist, The Horned King, that certainly sent any kids who played it to bed with a nightlight for the next five years.
13 Hydra (Hercules)
Straddling the line between the lush sprite work of the 16-bit Disney games and the 3D polygons of "future" Disney games, the PlayStation game based on Hercules featured an eye-popping visual style that saw a 2D Hercules navigating 3D stages and fighting enemies that were sometimes one, and sometimes the other.
The most noteworthy use of 3D in that game came by way of the Hydra boss fight, which was very much 3D and had the creature's terrifying heads flying in all directions, multiplying with each one that was cut off in an explosion of green goop.
12 Thorne (Tron 2.0)
The Tron movies have their fans and the original certainly deserves credit for its groundbreaking special effects, but let's be honest here: Neither Tron movie is actually all that great, objectively-speaking. That said, some of the games based on the series have been great, and the case can be made that the best was the 2003 FPS Tron 2.0.
Tron 2.0 does a fantastic job of capturing the unsettling nature of being trapped inside of a sinister computer system, and you spend most of the game with a general sense of unease. But the bosses, in particular the battle against Thorne, are where things really get uncomfortable and make you want to unplug as soon as possible.
11 Dragon Pete (Great Circus Mystery Starring Mickey & Minnie)
Pete has always been one of Mickey Mouse's main villains, though he often tends to be portrayed as somewhat bumbling— more of a comic relief-type of bad guy. In Mickey games that is often the case as well, though not always.
At the end of Great Circus Mystery, for example, Pete gets to transform into a vicious, screen-filling dragon that really gives Mickey and Minnie a run for their money. It's also worth noting that Dragon Pete spends the first half of that battle as the also-giant Baron Pete, who is only slightly less scary.
10 Scar (The Lion King)
Few movie moments haunted children of the 90s quite like the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, followed by Simba being told it was all his fault by his heartless uncle Scar. And few video games haunted children of the 90s quite like The Lion King for Genesis and SNES, one of the most punishingly difficult games ever released.
What happens when you bring together the terrible Scar with the insanely difficult Lion King game? You get a final boss fight that had millions of young hearts pounding and palms sweating.
9 Prescott's Mechanical Creation (Epic Mickey 2)
Epic Mickey 2 was almost universally hailed as a major disappointment over the original game, which itself was already built upon a shaky foundation of praise. As a result, not many people stuck it out long enough to see some of the game's better moments, including its often impressive boss battles.
This fight against a giant mech almost felt like doing battle against a building, and that building just happened to be surrounded by flames and have a creepy mechanical face with a permanent patronizing smile plastered across it.
8 Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
While we all wait to see who is going to be cast as evil sea witch Ursula in the upcoming Little Mermaid live-action remake, we are free to revisit the iconic Disney villain's performances in both the original film and the NES game based upon it.
The Little Mermaid for NES doesn't get mentioned as much as DuckTales or Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, and that's too bad because it's actually a really terrific little action game that plays similarly to Bubble Bobble. It also has a final boss battle against Ursula that contains one of the scariest— but also most detailed— sprites ever seen in an NES game.
7 The Ghost (Disney's Magical Mirror Starring Mickey Mouse)
On the surface, GameCube game Disney's Magical Mirror seems like a light adventure game aimed at the youngest of Mickey fans. To be sure, the game's interface and puzzles are definitely designed with the pre-K set in mind in terms of their depth and simplicity.
Which makes it all the more jarring that Magical Mirror's main antagonist is a cackling ghost— maybe better described as a demon, honestly— that haunts Mickey at every turn, threatening him with scissors, breaking mirrors, and showing him terrifying reflected visions. What age is this game aimed at again?
6 Hammer Boss (Gargoyles)
One of the most unfairly forgotten Disney franchises of all time is Gargoyles, a fantastic 90s animated series that had a few short years of glory before basically dropping off the face of the earth. There have recently been rumblings of a reboot— here's hoping!
Also unfairly overlooked is the Genesis game based on Gargoyles, not quite having the same polish as Aladdin or The Lion King but far better than many other Disney games of the era. And keeping with the show's dark, Gothic tone, the Gargoyles game has some really creepy elements, such as the hammer boss fight at the end of level 2 that seems to take place in literal Hell.
5 Final Pete (The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse)
Here's another Pete that is here to get revenge on anyone who sees him as a buffoon of a villain. After a game full of transformations of Pete as the various end-level bosses, Magical Quest's climax sees Mickey do battle with a massive, hulking Pete four times his height and at least 15 times his weight.
The boss battle itself is a bit too drawn-out— a common issue among Disney game final boss battles, actually— so this Pete does overstay his welcome a bit. But it's still startling when you first see him, wondering how in the Magic Kingdom you're ever going to topple him.
4 Witch Doctor (Maui Mallard In Cold Shadow)
It's a wonder how Disney ever allowed Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow— titled simply Donald as Maui Mallard in some regions— to be released. This surprisingly dark game features such mature elements as cannibalism and even allows its main hero to use traditional firearms. There is an entire level in this game (which, by the way, is absolutely gorgeous) that has a massive, bloodshot eyeball in the background the entire time.
In fact, it's tough to even pick one single villain in this game that is too unsettling for kids, but if pressed, we'll go with the Witch Doctor. Remember how we mentioned cannibalism before? Yeah. And this is a Disney game starring Donald Duck!
3 Rampaging Moose (Mickey Mania)
Back when console generations had more clearly-defined "ends," the last batch of games released during a console generation were often some of the best-looking. One noteworthy example of this is Mickey Mania, which pushed the SNES and Genesis to their limits with some of the most breathtaking 2D animation either console had ever seen.
In one example of Mickey Mania's boundary-pushing visuals that still impresses to this day, Mickey spends an entire level fleeing a giant moose that is barreling toward him. It's still a wonder how the scene was even technologically possible on the hardware, but one thing's for sure: We were every bit as terrified as Mickey was and was just as desperate to escape the giant beast.
2 Fat Cat Robot (Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers 2)
It doesn't get quite as much love as DuckTales, but Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers is just as relevant an example of how great Disney games could be on the NES, if not ever. And RR's two-player co-op gameplay was way ahead of its time, doing what made the New Super Mario Bros. series famous but over 15 years sooner.
The biggest knock against RR was its rather boring boss fights, which was fixed for the often-overlooked sequel. And to cap of RR2's superior collection of intense boss fights was the final battle against a massive and massively intimidating robot, made all the more unsettling by taking place against a stark black background.
1 Maleficent (Mickey Mousecapade)
A lot of kids played— and thought they enjoyed— Mickey Mousecapade for the NES, but the truth is they just didn't know any better. All rose-colored nostalgia aside, Mickey Mousecapade is an objectively bad game that does one or two things right for every dozen it does very, very wrong.
One of the "bright" spots of MM is the final boss battle against Maleficent, who doesn't have the big, detailed, impressive sprites of later Disney games but is uniquely terrifying in her own short, stocky, jittery way. Or maybe it was just the fear of losing to her and having to re-play another moment of this poorly-made and overly-difficult game that made the stakes of that battle seem especially high.