Connecticon, although originally conceived as an anime convention, is now a catch-all for all types of media and nerdy goodness for fans to enjoy. The panels are usually widely varied in topics, and Connecticon XVII has followed this tradition. The panel “You Know, For Kids! A Retrospective on Childhood Horror” on Friday, July 12, focused animated and live films from America, England, and Japan, that have been scarring kids for life since their initial releases.
Before Joann began her panel, she set the tone with the “Magic Dance” clip from Labyrinth and “Roll Back the Rock” from We’re Back!: A Dinosaur’s Story. These movies have scary or grotesque elements, but these are some fun, upbeat moments from the films. Although Labyrinth did not reappear again later, We’re Back! sure did.
After the clips, Joann explained that her panel would focus on films that had “surprise” horror, not anything that was meant for children and was clearly meant to be a horror for children like, say, the Goosebumps television show. And then she kicked things off with Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), which set the tone with the clip of the donkey scene–or, the reason why you can’t remember the last time you watched Pinocchio.
Next came Dumbo (1941). This movie got more of an introduction, though of course many reading this can probably guess what clip eventually got pulled out.
The true horror moment was “Pink Elephants on Parade,” a suddenly surreal sequence in the film after Dumbo accidentally gets drunk. As we watched the clip, Joann posed both the question of what the animators were on and suggested that maybe at times they simply forgot what they were working on.
Disney had two more entries following these, with “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day” (1968), a short that was originally packed with The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968), and probably would have been forgotten about like the Kurt Russell flick if it hadn’t been repackaged into The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the late seventies, coming first. It is Pooh’s nightmare about the Heffalumps, which isn’t dissimilar to Dumbo’s nightmare from the forties. Eventually, Pooh is woken up by a leak in his home. Joann ended the segment appreciative of the segment that clearly still haunted so many audience members: “Thank God [Pooh] had that nightmare because I would have hated to see him drown in his sleep!”
The next two segments were some of the only live-action examples from this panel. They were from Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Warner Brothers’ Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). Chitty Chitty Bang Bang featured the Child Catcher, who posed as a man selling treats in order to capture and whisk children away. But Willy Wonka got a bigger response: the entire audience knew what was coming. Joann didn’t even bother introducing the clip herself, she simply said, “You know what this is for.” This was the clip that broke the audience: everyone started laughing at the end, despite the fact that the tunnel sequence was inciting yelps and groans throughout.
Although the rest of the panel was in chronological order by films’ original release dates, Joann broke this pattern just once to mention the Tom and Jerry version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory from 2017. This tunnel sequence one got real laughs, as its animation is just so strange, and stranger still is why a Tom and Jerry remake of Willy Wonka even exists in the first place.
The second most obscure film on the panel came next, Jack in the Beanstalk from 1974. This anime introduces a princess to the traditional story who has been hypnotized into thinking the giant is the prince of her dreams. Joann said that this one is “an overall unsettling film” and a lot could have been used, but she finally chose the wedding scene, as the princess and the giant walk down the aisle and approach a very unusual priest.
The most obscure film was definitely Hoomania from 1986, a religious film where a child is sucked into a board game, which is completely stop motion. We watched a few clips from the film, but the whole thing is pretty unsettling. Enjoy!
Vying for third place in obscurity was Plague Dogs (1982), which was directed by Martin Rosen. He also brought Watership Down to screen in 1978, and yes, it appeared on the panel as well. Plague Dogs follows dogs who escape from an animal research facility, and the film does not shy away from showing animal cruelty–Joann opted not to show us any clips from the film, choosing to describe an early scene in the film where a dog is made to swim in a pool until it drowns.
Watership Down instead got two clips, showing the terrible vision that makes the rabbits in the book leave their warren, and a moment of rabbit kits dying after the rabbit burrows have been filled in by humans. The scene is just as painful in the original Watership Down book, which was meant to be a children’s book originally, “and just… didn’t.”
Movies mentioned after this point were things that pretty much the entire audience had seen, and as with the Willy Wonka clip, many were greeted with groans or nervous chuckling as the audience prepped themselves.
The Brave Little Toaster (1987) was introduced with a conversation about a scene where the toaster and his appliance friends see cars being crushed into cubes in a landfill, but ultimately the toaster’s nightmare was what made Joann’s cut. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) got its climactic scene on the reel, but to avoid spoilers for a movie that’s thirty years old, we’ll just let you check the clip in question out.
No panel like this would be complete without some Don Bluth films, a former Disney animator who broke off on his own in the eighties and into the nineties. He had a Disney-esque style but did not shy away from adult themes. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989) had some pretty intense depictions of hell, and Joann even had a version with parts Bluth had been forced to cut for being too scary spliced back into the film. Rock-a-Doodle (1991) also received a quick mention because a sentient owl wants to eat a child. A child gets turned into what Lehr called one of the ugliest cartoon cats ever. She’s right about that.
Things moved fairly quickly after Rock-a-Doodle, with three clips coming in fairly quick succession as time grew short. Fern Gully (1992) appeared with “Toxic Love,” a song the villain Hexxus (voiced by Tim Curry) sings while plotting to destroy the rain forest of Fern Gully/the natural world in general. We’re Back! reappeared with the death of the villain, so click through at your own risk. The final clip was the villain’s song, “Big and Loud,” from Cats Don’t Dance (1997), the “animal racism allegory movie before Zootopia.”
Joann’s panel ended shortly after, her sign-off being that people were welcome to contact her over Twitter with suggestions for other childhood-wrecking movie moments. No attendees appeared traumatized on the way out. If nothing else, it served as a great reminder for movies that should be watched again as an adult (Joann had something positive to say for all of the movies except for Rock-a-Doodle), watched for the first time… Or, yes, even avoided altogether if you still get the chills from key scenes.
Connecticon XVII ran from July 12 through July 14 in Hartford, Connecticut. Please keep on checking N3rdabl3 throughout the week for more coverage on the convention.