15 Terrifying Cartoon Characters From Your Childhood Who Scarred You For Life

Chernabog from Disney's Fantasia (1940).
Chernabog from Disney's Fantasia (1940).
Disney

In most children’s programs, you can count on the good, visually appealing characters to triumph over the bad, scary-looking ones. Having said that: Once an animated image of pure evil has embedded itself into the malleable mind of a child, not even the happiest of endings can erase it. From The Black Cauldron’s Horned King to FernGully’s Hexxus, here’s a list of the best (and by “best” we mean “utterly horrifying”) cartoon characters from your childhood that you’ve either successfully repressed or still shudder to think about every single day.

1. Rasputin // Anastasia (1997)

At the very least, Rasputin is a friendly reminder to practice good hygiene habits and always finish the full dose of antibiotics even if you start to feel better. The cartoon version of the infamous Russian mystic is a walking, talking, wart-faced germ who communes with cockroaches and can’t keep his head (or any body part, for that matter) on straight. His batty, bright green minions were scary in a conventional way, but it was Rasputin’s 2-inch-long fingernails and 4-foot-long beard that really upped the ante in the animated villain game. —Ellen Gutoskey

2. Claude Frollo // The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Before Andrew Scott single-handedly made the clergy cool again with his portrayal of the “hot priest” in Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Claude Frollo was giving holy authority figures a bad name. The sinister, spindly-fingered religious zealot demanded that Esmeralda either submit to his lusty desires or burn at the stake, which is enough to make you fear a two-dimensional cartoon character at any age. Have you managed to forget his diabolical eyes and shady sneer? Some of us have not. —EG

3. The Giant Baby // Rugrats, “Angelica’s Worst Nightmare/The Mega Diaper Babies” (1994)

giant baby from angelica's worst nightmare, rugrats
Nickelodeon

Hmm, where to start? How can I adequately capture in words why a 30-foot-tall drooling baby that speaks like Vincent Pastore from The Sopranos is terrifying? Dang. An impossible task.

Clearly, the writers of Rugrats wanted to prove to all children that the blessing of a baby sibling isn't so bad after all! Unfortunately, in an effort to make their point, they inundated us with repeated scenes of a massive baby with an old man's voice teething on cars and dripping drool over the highway, while threatening to suck on Angelica. Massive missed opportunity, as they could've simply ... not done that. —Adam Weinrib

4. Chernabog // Fantasia (1940)

While the 1940 Disney classic Fantasia offers tons of colorful sequences full of joy, it comes at a price. Yes, I’m referring to probably the scariest fictional character made for children: Chernabog. Amid having fun with the innocent baby Pegasus and the ever-charming Mickey Mouse, there comes “Night on Bald Mountain,” featuring skeletons flying in the sky, menacing music, and the villain himself, glowing eyes and all, literally catching on fire and still controlling his followers from up above. Yeah, no thanks. —Natalie Zamora

5. Mumm-Ra // ThunderCats (1985)

In the 1980s, cartoons were often sanitized by watchdog groups—notice that He-Man rarely swung his sword offensively at another human—and largely toothless. For the most part, so was ThunderCats, the mid-'80s adventure series about a band of catlike aliens at odds with Mumm-Ra, the bandage-covered sorcerer who wants the ThunderCats off his planet of Third Earth. In addition to being an undead instrument of pure evil, Mumm-Ra was viscerally ghoulish. Using an incantation, he could also swell to bodybuilder proportions. Nothing about this guy sat well with younger viewers, and for good reason: In a sea of ineffectual cartoon villains, Mumm-Ra stood out as genuinely malevolent. —Jake Rossen

6. The Horned King // The Black Cauldron (1985)

Next to the Horned King from Disney’s darker-than-usual fantasy film The Black Cauldron, Voldemort practically looks cute. The skeletal dictator’s aspiration to take over the world with his army of undead soldiers was frightening, sure, but it’s the memory of his glowing red eyes, crooked teeth, and greenish-brown complexion that really makes you reach for your bedside baseball bat whenever you think you see your coat rack move in the darkness. —EG

7. Ursula’s Poor Unfortunate Souls // The Little Mermaid (1989)

The only thing more frightening than Ursula’s tacky blue eyeshadow in The Little Mermaid was the fear that she’d show up in your bathtub and magic you into one of her poor unfortunate souls, even if you were pretty positive you never signed a contract for everlasting youth, extra legs, or whatever. The slimy, stumpy little creatures that skulked on the floor of Ursula’s dank (and not in the cool way) ocean cave weren’t evil or dangerous in any way, but sometimes the ‘ew’ factor is all it takes to scar you for life. —EG

8. The Nightmare King // Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

nightmare king from little nemo adventures in slumberland
TMS Entertainment Co.

This cult-classic animated film from the early 1990s is strange, silly, and undoubtedly a ripoff of Alice in Wonderland, but it’s still pretty fantastic. It was, after all, written by Chris Columbus (yes, the guy who wrote Gremlins and The Goonies and directed the first two Harry Potter movies, Home Alone, and Mrs. Doubtfire). The antagonist is the haunting, amorphic Nightmare King, who mostly manifests itself as a moving, living ocean of terrifying black goop that swallows up everything it touches. It’s sort of reminiscent of The Nothing that threatens the world of The NeverEnding Story, except, you know, goopier. He’s like an evil, sentient quicksand monster. If being engulfed by a black, sticky nightmare isn’t scary enough, the Nightmare King also has a giant, anthropomorphic, gargoyle-esque form that is voiced by William E. Martin, who also voiced Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (so you know he’s sinister). This guy is literally the stuff of nightmares—case closed. —Justin Dodd

9. The Red Bull // The Last Unicorn (1982)

The Red Bull is the giant, fiery cherry on top of an ice cream sundae that looks, smells, and tastes like fear from beginning to end. Objectively, Rankin and Bass’s The Last Unicorn is a quality animated fantasy, elevated with a soundtrack from the band America and exceptional voice acting from Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, and more. To a very unobjective and easily impressionable child, it’s about 90 minutes of all-out terror that this hellish bull is going to destroy the last unicorn on earth (and maybe you, too). —EG

10. The Clown // The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

It’s a clown. Need we say more? The Pennywise-wannabe from Toaster’s nightmare has absolutely nothing to do with the plot of this movie, proving that you really don’t need narrative structure to make something scary as all get-out. With crooked, yellowed teeth; red horns; and a devilish grin to rival that of Bill Skarsgård himself, he delivers his one word of dialogue (“Run”) with such exemplary malice that he’s not only a perfect poster child for coulrophobia, but also for that old acting adage that “there are no small parts, only small actors.” —EG

11. Hexxus // FernGully (1992)

The knowledge that Hexxus is played by musical theater heavyweight Tim Curry makes him a lot less terrifying in retrospect, and his jazzy number “Toxic Love” is nothing short of iconic. As a kid, however, Hexxus was an oozy, oily, amorphous monster who was coming to suck the life out of everything you love and maybe also soak you in acid rain. If you haven’t seen the movie, just imagine if the smoke monster from Lost had the voice of The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Dr. Frank N. Furter. —EG

12. Cruella de Vil // 101 Dalmatians (1961)

Sure, monsters and goblins were frightening when we were kids, but we were assured by our parents that they were make-believe (though some of us may not have believed them). But what's very real is a wretched, scrawny, terrifying old woman, be it a distant relative, great aunt, grandmother, or whoever. Cruella de Vil is the embodiment of this tangible fear. Her name is literally derived from the words cruel and devil, and she tried to make a giant coat out of dogs' fur. And we loved dogs as kids (and still do)! How was this horrible story written for a young audience? —Thomas Carannante

13. Freaky Fred // Courage the Cowardly Dog, “Freaky Fred” (1999)

freaky fred from courage the cowardly dog
Cartoon Network

From his creepy posture to his unkempt hair, Freaky Fred’s physical appearance is enough to produce nightmare fuel for people of all ages. However, his freakiness does not stop there—he also suffers from trichotemnomania (an obsession with shaving people until they’re bald). And to complement his unsettling voice, he speaks in rhyming quatrains that always end with the word naughty. For example: “Alone was I, with tender Courage / And all his fur, his furry furrage / Which, I say, did encourage / Me to be quite naughty.” —Brian Stieve

14. Sharptooth // The Land Before Time (1988)

The pathetic little arms of a Tyrannosaurus rex are unfailingly hilarious in every other context except The Land Before Time, in which they’re upstaged by teeth so sharp and eyes so wicked that many a parent had to lull their nightmare-plagued children back to sleep with a nice, happy story about extinction. The aptly named Sharptooth technically terrorized Littlefoot, Ducky, and the rest of the dino gang because he was hungry, but it always seemed more sadistic than that. —EG

15. Bilbo Baggins // The Hobbit (1977)

rankin/bass's 1977 the hobbit
Rankin/Bass Productions

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbits are supposed to be the good guys. But in Rankin/Bass’s 1977 animated TV movie, lead Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is a small freaky dude with premature wrinkles who is only marginally less scary than Gollum and Smaug. This Hobbit presented Bilbo in terrifying chase scenes and dangerous battles sure to provoke existential anxiety rather than pleasant memories of the Shire. With a visual style composed of moody watercolors and voices by John Huston, Otto Preminger, and Thurl “Tony the Tiger” Ravenscroft, The Hobbit was a children’s special with adult-level content that creeped out a generation of impressionable youngsters. —Kat Long

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
Getty Images

Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


Getty Images

White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
Getty Images

White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


Getty Images

In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
Getty Images

White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

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