Six Animated Movies (and Series) That Will Rip Your Heart Out Like That Guy in Temple of Doom

Many times, especially here in the West, we consider animation to be something for kids. That assumption is starting to change, of course, with major studios like Pixar and DreamWorks producing animated fare that can just as easily appeal to adults as well as their children. Even then, however, the younger demographic is the major focus. So almost always the heroes win, the main characters learn a valuable lesson, and everyone is alright in the end.

Every so often though, an animated feature will refuse to remain in the happy ending camp and just thoroughly eviscerate the viewer, whether it’s intended for kids or not. Here are six animated films or shows that made me feel like dying. Note: this list is purposely Pixar and DreamWorks free since I want to throw the attention towards older films and smaller, less well-known studios, but rest assured: I saw the first 10 minutes of Up. Also, some of the text and clips will be spoilery, since they’re showing the sad stuff.

The Animals of Farthing Wood

Well he seems friendly enough!

The Animals of Farthing Wood was a 90’s European television show based on a series of books by Colin Dann. It detailed the trials and tribulations of a group of animals forced out of their homes by humans hell-bent on “progress,” and didn’t bother shying away from its darker themes in spite of being developed with a younger audience in mind. Main characters suffer and die, and there’s even some blood.

I was about 10 when I saw this. Perfect time to learn about “growing old gracefully.”

Still, I have to give the show kudos for not talking down to its audience. It’s a bit hard to find nowadays, though it appears to be up in its entirety on YouTube, cut into many parts. The storyline is strong and the characters are both flawed and likeable, so seek it out if that sort of thing floats your boat.

The Plague Dogs

John Hurt does his voice, so get ready to be dead. Just like the guy on the ground.

I almost put Watership Down on this list too, but later decided we only needed one Martin Rosen adaptation of a Richard Adams book to keep us all drowning in our own tears.

Ladies and gentleman: your opening scene. The “hook” if you will.

It pretty much just gets better from there. And by “better” I mean “so goddamned awful that I vowed, as a child, to never let my own children rent a movie and watch it without watching it first, even if it is animated.” HOWEVER. When I was young I used to dream of being an animator, and it was films like this one (and Fire and Ice, American Pop, and The Hobbit) that made me want to do it. This movie is rated PG-13, and rightfully so. A savvy 13-year-old would have much to gain from watching this film, as would his or her fully grown counterparts.

When the Wind Blows

I didn’t really know any of my grandparents, so I had a tendency to imagine any older couple as being them. Not such a great idea, in this case.

When the Wind Blows is the story of a retired couple who survive a nuclear attack, only to slowly succumb to radiation poisoning afterward. They are generally affable and lovable people, which makes the increasing hopelessness of their situation all that much harder to stomach.

When the Wind Blows and Up, two films that know showing us an older couple frolicking around as their younger selves is the surest way to break our hearts.

It’s based on the graphic novel of the same name by Richard Briggs, the couple is voiced by John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft, and the soundtrack features music from Roger Waters and David Bowie. It’s a wonderful little gem of a movie that everyone should check out. If you’re interested, you can find it in full here.

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Mouse and His Child

“Bodes well,” party of three?

Another animated feature based on a book, the titular mice are two parts of a wind-up toy that get thrown in the garbage after they’re broken. Outside in the real world, they’re forced to work for a tyrannical rat that has his minions do stuff like beat and whip them, witness another toy get ripped apart for being “worthless,” are almost eaten by a hawk, almost eaten by a fish, and then get into a philosophically heavy argument about infinity with a turtle. It’s a lot for a G-rated audience to handle.

This is another animated film that made me draw little cartoons all the time. I really like how animated features in the 70’s and 80’s focused on the little gestures people make (and the ones anthropomorphized animals would make, if they existed) in order to make the overall effect more realistic. No one could animate someone walking like Ralph Bakshi, for instance. But I digress. The Extraordinary Adventures of the Mouse and His Child is also available to watch in full here.

Wolf’s Rain

LeeLoo Dallas. J/k, lololol. But seriously, it’s kind of like that.

Plotwise, Wolf’s Rain goes a little something like this: an old legend tells of the appearance of paradise once the world ends, though only wolves will be able to find it. Trouble is, wolves were believed to be hunted to extinction centuries ago. That’s not exactly true, as you may have surmised, and wolves are now able to appear as humans in order to blend in with society. Our heroes are four (fivish) wolves that come together after being attracted by the scent of a Lunar Flower, a key to gaining entrance to paradise (summary very much culled from wikipedia, as I couldn’t fashion a brief enough summary on my own; a lot of stuff goes down in Wolf’s Rain). Like many “let’s journey to heaven” type stories, characters die along the way. Beloved characters. Like, all of them.

I originally checked out Wolf’s Rain due to its werewolfiness. (WordPress doesn’t think that’s a word. Then again, WordPress doesn’t think “WordPress” is a word. My initial ire has transformed to sadness for you, WordPress.) And generally, anime characters tend to look like vampires, so this show was pretty much right in my wheelhouse. If you like anime, this is definitely one to check out.

Grave of the Fireflies

Dear Viewer, this is me setting you up for a fall. Sincerely, Grave of the Fireflies

As far as I’m concerned, this is the granddaddy of all sad animation. An anti-war film produced by Studio Ghibli, this is one of the most powerful movies of any genre I’ve seen, ever. Roger Ebert and I agree on that fact. (He’s still wrong about video games. I’ll fight him to the death on that score.)

This is the first “cartoon” I ever saw that was not meant for kids, and the first one I ever saw that made me realize the medium could be used to evoke emotion more readily than live action. The animation makes the emotional beats hit more heavily, a lot like the way telling the story of a friend’s death with a smile on your face can serve to make the story that much more horrifying. It also doesn’t help that Setsuko, the little girl, is so frigging cute for the majority of the film.

I so couldn’t believe that an animated movie could affect me this much, I watched it over and over again. No joke, on a loop. My mom had to make me stop. If you decide to watch this, have My Neighbor Totoro at the ready as an antidote.

How about you guys, any animated recommendations for deepening the funk I’ve put myself in writing this article? Leave your suggestions in the comments and I’ll be sure to find them. Also, if you can figure out a way to leave any rusty forks in the comments, that would be much appreciated. I need to repeatedly stab my thigh to distract from the pain in my chest.

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  1. Yeah GotF really got to me. Just shows how great an impact war has on people/children who have nothing to do with it. Its even sadder when you realise that its based on semi auto-biography. The author did lose his sister much like in the movie, but he didn’t die. I think the reason he killed himself off in the book/movie was purely survivors guilt.

  2. Fk Grave of the Fireflies! i cant believe they made such a film. i was depressed for 7 years after i watched it. oh no, its all rushing back to me again……*moans and whimpers*

    in all seriousness, this film was too much for me. i don’t know how i endured it. lol. never watching it again though.

  3. Wow, I haven’t even heard of a few of these. Nice work. Have you seen Barefoot Gen? It rivals Grave of the Fireflies and in some ways is even more horrific as it graphically deals with the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima and it’s aftermath. This is the other side of America’s “victories”. I remember when Michael Bay had a big triumphant climax of Pearl Harbor in the firebombing of civilian populations on the Japanese mainland. All I could think of was Grave of the Fireflies. I love that a “cartoon” can change your perspective that way.

  4. I think another good one, well at least part of it, should be Memories by Katsuhiro Otomo, especially Magnetic Rose, I don’t think I’d be showing that anytime towards any of my kids.

  5. I would suggest Saikano: She the Ultimate Weapon. It’s only 13 episodes long but the last few episodes left me in tears for three days after watching it.

  6. How could you not have Barefoot Gen on this list?!?!? This is one heavyweight emotional slayer about the tribulations of a boy who lived in Hiroshima before during and after the blast, oh my days it is the most spirit-crushing work ever put to film. Please let me know how you got on with it, as I’m sure you will be very moved!!!

  7. How about the 13-episode anime series “Now and Then, Here and There.” It starts off seeming kind of generic, but it ends up going to some dark places and getting pretty deep. The whole run is on Hulu.

  8. there is this one movie with some toaster. the toaster wants to travel to someone. i can’t remember a lot of it but MY GOD WAS THE MOVIE DEPRESSING. seriously, it broke my heart and it was the first cartoon i saw that made me feel bad. i though it was going to be a fun adventure, but what i got was a macarbe, adbsurd and at points insane cartoon. of course, i didn’t understand what was making me so sad and melancholic, i didnt found the words or could tell you it was that certain scene but i knew.

    now i have all the words to describe but i can’t remember much, just the feeling of dread and angst.

  9. Pom Poko, its basically about a japanese raccoon breed being driven out of its home. Although it starts out cute, the ending leaves you in tears.
    I naturally expected Grave of the Fireflies to be here, that movie…just..ugh…. I watched it once…and only once it shall be, no more…the end…
    There is also one really old cartoon movie about rabbits. *Shivers* The whole thing is about a group of rabbits finding the “perfect” home. But..you’re just driven to tears about 10 minutes through and you won’t be able to stop because the whole thing just…ugh…I couldn’t even finish it. Sadly, I can’t remember what it’s called. I must’ve purposely forgotten the name….

  10. This is why I love writing for Unreality. I haven’t seen Barefoot Gen, nor even heard of it! I will definitely check it out, along with all the other great recommendations. You guys always open my pop culture world just a little bit more. Zaggnita, I’m pretty sure you’re talking about Watership Down, and obc, I think you’re on about The Brave Little Toaster. Yikes and yikes. Both were contenders for this list, as a matter of fact.

  11. “I would suggest Saikano: She the Ultimate Weapon. It’s only 13 episodes long but the last few episodes left me in tears for three days after watching it.”

    I definitely second this one. Although, if you are brave enough to try to sit through all 13 in one shot, do NOT have anything sharp nearby.

    For myself, though, Haibane Renmai hit home far deeper. If you can remain emotionally stable through the end of that one you are a better person than I am.

  12. @obc’s comment:

    The movie you’re thinking of is The Brave Little Toaster. I haven’t watched it, myself, but I heard about how sad it is. There’s this one scene in particular that’s talked about the most, and that’s the toaster’s nightmare. Who knew a clown in a fireman’s outfit could be so frightening.

    I only vaguely remember The Animals of Farthing Wood. It wasn’t that I was too young. I think my brain just blotted out most of the horrible images on purpose. There is one part that does remain in my mind to this day, however, and that was when the animals were crossing a busy highway. The two hedgehogs didn’t make it because they got frightened near the end and curled up out of instinct…

  13. Probably one of the most realistic and touching short anime series I’ve seen is “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0” In the anime you can appreciate how human relationships and emotions are affected after a catastrophic natural disaster.

    It is only 11 episodes, about 23 minutes per episode, so it is easy to watch. The main two characters are adorable (specially the little kid), the plot is outstanding and the ending is superb. I watched this with my brother and he couldn’t stop crying during the last 4 episodes.

    I strongly recommend this if you want to watch a top quality anime.

  14. some good drama anime would be
    Clannad: after story
    Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai
    all five of them made me cry at more than one point
    i can give you more if you want some

  15. 家なき子 Ie naki ko, Remi, an anime made for Tokyo Movie Shinsha ( TMS Entertainment Limited) in 1977. Based on “Sans Famille” or “Nobody’s boy”) by the french writer Hector Malot.

  16. Check out The Bell of Chirin, or Ringing Bell, the story of a lamb whose mother is slaughtered by a wolf and that lamb’s journey to become as strong as that same wolf so he can go take his revenge. Rated G, it probably shouldn’t be…

    Please Save My Earth is an anime that always got to me when I would watch it. It’s the story of some teens that are all having similar dreams. They put two and two together and figure out they are remembering their past life. It’s almost torturous as the characters begin to realize that they don’t remember everything, that there is treachery in the mix, and just a whole hell of a lot of terribleness. :/ And it’s carrying over into their new lives, poisoning them and manipulating them. It’s depressing as hell.

    Midnight on the Galactic Railroad.

    Jin Roh.

    Windaria (Once Upon a Time). o_o; Don’t let the 80’s style animation fool you. This damn thing is going to rip your heart out and feed it to you.

  17. Also check out “Like the Clouds, Like the Wind”. It’s hard to find. It isn’t Ghibli but resembles it and is mistaken for it sometimes. It’s a pretty fun movie…….. until the last act.

  18. Another one that I watched somewhat recently is Elfen Lied. In the beginning it just starts out gory (and I do mean gory) and action-styled, but when you get to the last few episodes (only 13 if I remember) it was hard to watch. I’m a grown man and a barely kept it together watching that show towards the end.

  19. My mom decided to rent GotF, all of us thought it would be an entertaining movie…then half way through the movie my mom leaves ’cause shes “bored” with it. So I’m stuck crying at the end by myself. Last time I let my mom pick something like that. Just thinking of that movie…it brings me to tears.

  20. How about the last third of Digimon Tamers? After a certain character kicks the bucket and everything goes to hell. All of that is so depressing. In particular that bittersweet ending and the scene where Impmon is trying to get through to Jerri and she throws it back in his face.

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