Quick, name your five favorite Disney movies. How many of those movies do NOT have a death scene? If none of the movies on your list make the cut, you are not alone. Disney films may end with the survivors living “happily ever after”, but there are usually casualties along the way.
Death is hard to leave out of a film because it propels the plot forward in powerful ways. First, it creates immediate emotional impact (Remember the scene in The Lion King when Mufasa dies?). Second, the death of a mentor figure can jump-start a protagonist’s hero’s journey (think Moana or Big Hero 6). Finally, death gets rid of bad guys who may otherwise disrupt the heroes’ “happily ever after” (think Gaston and Syndrome).
Given death’s many potential functions in stories, it’s impressive when a Disney film leaves it out and is still fantastic. Here are five of the best Disney movies that don’t have a death scenes.
Fantasia is an incredible artistic achievement and has even been preserved in the National Film Registry. It makes this list on a few technicalities. The 1940 film doesn’t have a plot per se since the creators primarily wanted to experiment with pairing animations and music. So, the absence of a death scene doesn’t really make it more difficult for the plot to advance.
However, despite the Disney film lacking in an actual death scene, Fantasia still manages to include some death-related content: dinosaurs die in “Rite of Spring,” and Chernabog does creepy stuff with souls in “Night on Bald Mountain.” Since the dinosaurs aren’t individually identifiable characters, they technically don’t count. And the tortured souls are technically already dead meaning that Chernabog isn’t so much killing them as making them, errr… uncomfortable.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a celebration of the transition to marriage and parenthood. The writers probably concluded that audiences wouldn’t want a parent to die in a movie about the joys of family. They also made the financially sound decision to keep Cruella De Vil alive long enough to star in her own sequel.
It’s hard to imagine anyone (besides Cruella) not loving One Hundred and One Dalmatians. It has romance, adventure, adorable puppies, and catchy music. It is also the world’s most heartwarming PSA about the importance of spaying and neutering your pets.
Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story is another movie on this list that made it into the National Film Registry. It was both the first movie to exclusively use computer animation as well as the beginning of the Pixar-Disney collaboration. So, it’s a great movie and historically significant.
There are also multiple reasons why Toy Story benefits from not having a death scene. The film discusses how old and new can blend together in exciting ways. (Hey, isn’t that a metaphor for a partnership between an iconic traditional animation studio and a new computer animation company?!) So the death of the older, wiser, mentor figure would just be discordant and unnecessary.
The standard Disney villain death sentence also doesn’t work. Sid Phillips might be a bully, but he’s also a kid. Pixar movies tackle adult themes, but they do so with gentleness and humor, not gratuitous violence.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Like the other movies on this list, Monsters, Inc. didn’t need a death scene to shine. Sulley is a master scarer when the film begins, so he doesn’t need a mentor. If you watched the Sulley-Boo goodbye scene, you know the movie doesn’t need death to make an emotional impact. Monsters, Inc. is also a pretty unambiguous rejection of toxic masculinity. It, therefore, makes sense that the writers chose not to kill the bad guy.
Using stunning animation and a funny buddy cop movie storyline, Zootopia manages to gracefully discuss racism in a realistic way yet still manages to inject plenty of humor and empathy into the divisive topic. So, a death scene would have detracted from Zootopia on multiple levels. Since the film is already tackling an emotionally charged theme, it didn’t need extra emotional impact. And, because Judy Hopps is the first bunny cop, she never has a mentor to kill off.
The film also makes a smart choice in not killing off the villain. Zootopia is trying to sensitively discuss racial injustice. As a police officer, if Hopps had killed the bad guy (or bad sheep), it would have detracted from this message and turned the movie into something else entirely.