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Where do you go when the present is a swinging pendulum of fear and the future is a swelling void of uncertainty? (I’m fine, I swear.) You go to the past. As the future looks increasingly bleak, many of us have a tendency to look back further into the “good old days.” Through the rose-colored lens of nostalgia, the past encourages the reexamining of stories you loved or hated as a child, and offers the chance to explore moments you didn’t realize were impactful.

I’ll explore a couple of terrifying moments I had forgotten until I scrolled through a BuzzFeed list of horrifying scenes from otherwise benevolent children’s films. For me, two moments stand out: the acid trip boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and the introduction of the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).

As a child, I loved everything about Willy Wonka; the songs, the candy, the benign lunacy. 

The one scene I detested, however, was the chaotic boat ride on the Wonkatania. This scene was frightening because of how unexpectedly the chocolate factory changed from paradise to hell. The prior scenes had lulled me into a false sense of security, the boat drifting dreamily upon the chocolate river.

Then suddenly, the boat approached a dark tunnel. As it sped along, horrifying images appeared on the wall of the tunnel while Willy Wonka became increasingly unhinged. The feeling of disgust, betrayal, and claustrophobia in the scene haunted me.

The second terrifying moment in childhood movies resides in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a musical about the adventures of a flying car. 

The Child Catcher is employed by the fictional kingdom of Vulgaria (you read that right), which aims to rid itself of all children. In his introductory scene, the Child Catcher prances through the streets with a net and sniffs the air for children. Though uneventful, the scene sent chills down my spine. I still see his comically exaggerated nose and greasy black hair peeking through the window of my childhood nightmares.

I ruminate on these scenes and the strange thrill that arises from discussing them. In those ruminations, I realize how well I know the scenes and the films surrounding them. If I had been truly scared, wouldn’t I have disowned the film and cracked the VHS in two? Or jumped off the couch screaming? Instead, I sat and watched. The films as a whole brought me so much candy-coated elation that enduring those certain scenes in spite of the fear was doable.

I learned, unconsciously, the joy on the other side was worth the fear I felt in the moment. 

A timeless children’s film is one you watch as an adult and see the lessons that bypassed you as a child. For me, these films feel wonderfully stripped of calculation. They didn’t mean to teach me a lesson, they just did. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory taught me life isn’t all flying cars and chocolate rivers. But when faced with my own personal child catchers or the unstoppable boat ride of fear that is the year 2020, I remember the reprieve around the corner, in whatever form it takes, is that much sweeter due to what I’ve endured to get there.

Madelyn Geyer

Originally hailing from Reading, Pennsylvania, Madelyn Geyer is a theater critic, writer, and lifelong lover of musicals now residing in Austin, Texas.

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