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)


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)

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)

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 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