Just because something is intended for kids doesn’t mean it can’t potentially scar them for life in an enjoyable way. It’s in this spirit of kindertrauma that we here at Fandom would like to highlight films, TV shows, and video games that seem kid-friendly but are full of nightmare fuel. Often, those are the ones that stick with us.
Previous entry: The Brave Little Toaster
The Adventures of Mark Twain is a film that in many ways has to be seen to be believed. It is a beautiful and poignant film that tells a fantastic story, and it is one of my top favorite movies of all time. Will Vinton and his claymation team came together here to make a pretty incredible work of art. There’s nothing out there quite like it, and in all likelihood there never will be.
I could go into great detail about how claymation king Will Vinton lost his studio, and how the current filmmakers behind Laika Entertainment are honoring his legacy with films like Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls; but all of that is for another day because we are here to talk about just how messed up The Adventures of Mark Twain is. This film is condensed nightmare fuel for little ones. The second act alone is worth decades of haunted memories due to a harsh twenty minute run of fun house style horror.
The first act of the film is a quaint and rustic feeling tale of how Mark Twain’s most famous characters Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher stow away on his ship. Mark Twain takes them on a journey to meet Halley’s Comet and when he discovers the three, they are treated to an amazing look into the worlds of many of Twain’s best tales. We see the stories of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and The Diaries of Adam and Eve play out, but the scene where Eve takes a bite of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge is terrifying.
While the story of Adam and Eve reaches its peak when everything in the Garden of Eden turns into a menacing hellscape, the ship encounters a dark and violent wind storm that tears a section out of the hull. The kids are screaming and the wind is howling, and an ominous figure wearing black appears to be controlling the storm. The art in this scene is very intense and every other second you can glimpse scary faces and shapes in the swirling wind. Very few children’s films have this much subliminal horror in them.
Once things are back to smooth sailing, Mark Twain takes Tom, Huck and Becky down to the bowels of the ship to show them more of his stories. When he shows them the realm containing the Mysterious Stranger, it is unbelievably disturbing. The figure of the Stranger is this bizarre headless creature holding a mask that morphs with each word and gesture. The small living things he creates are cute and fun and interesting, and then in a fit of rage, he destroys them entirely in a scene that would make even the most stoic baby start bawling.
Once the group is safe and away from the Mysterious Stranger, a very quick and incredibly shocking moment occurs. Huck nearly gets murdered. The brutal killer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer known as Injun Joe has his own door that leads to his cave from the book. The doorway opens to reveal probably the most twisted and viscous incarnation of the character ever created. The screaming and gnarly Joe lifts a large knife into the air and right as he is about to plunge the blade into the cripplingly scared Huckleberry Finn, the door shuts and stops the knife.
After all of the mayhem and madness of the second act begins to wrap up, we witness a scene that may be one of the saddest and most somber moments of the film. Mark Twain sits at a pipe organ and basically plays a lament to his dead wife Olivia Langdon Clemens. Olivia passed away in real life from heart failure and Mark Twain died in 1910 after stating that he came into this world with Halley’s Comet and was bound to exit the Earth the same way. What’s creepy in this scene is how the organ morphs into trapped figures that join in the lament. It’s almost reminiscent of the scene in The Devil’s Advocate where the painting ‘Ex nihilo recreation’ by Frederick Hart comes to life.
The Adventures of Mark Twain is not for everybody, but for a child in their formative years, the claymation film is unique and very interesting. The end of the movie turns into a Moby Dick–inspired chase after the comet, and the final moments of the film are uplifting and happy. Overall this is worth seeing at least once for anybody who has ever been a fan of the works of Mark Twain. Just try not to lose it when the film lets loose and shows its teeth.