What Are the Best Scary (But Not Too Scary) Animated Movies for Kids?

Too Scary for Small Children, But Thrilling for Older Kids

Nearly anything a filmmaker can imagine can be done in an animated films, but one thing that animation generally is not is a breeding ground for horror. Major studios like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation have peppered many of their movies with creepy images even before Disney created Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, yet studios have been reluctant to come out with what could be labeled as full-fledged scary movies. However, other companies have tread that territory and the following six films rank as the best animated horror films geared towards children:

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Monster House (2006)

follows three friends as they attempt to rid their neighborhood of a possessed house that has a reputation for eating people that get too close. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Monster House features a surprisingly creepy atmosphere that is heightened by spooky sound effects and foreboding visuals. It’s clear that director Gil Kenan has been inspired by a number of classic haunted house pictures (including the 1963 horror masterpiece The Haunting). While the film might be a little too scary for very small children (it's rated PG), is a perfect introduction into the world of cinematic horror for younger viewers.

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Coraline (2009)

Acclaimed stop-motion filmmaker Henry Selick created this creepy adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book, in which a young girl named Coraline (Dakota Fanning) inadvertently steps into an off-kilter mirror universe inhabited by strange people with buttons for eyes -- which is itself one of the most impressively disturbing elements ever included within a supposed kid’s film. Though it’s not quite as effective as Selick’s earlier films, 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach, Coraline boasts plenty of horrific moments and scary imagery designed to rattle around in the viewer’s head long after the movie’s ended. This is, after all, a movie in which several characters possess buttons for eyes.

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9 (2009)

Inspired by an Oscar-nominated short, unfolds in a post-apocalyptic world in which machines have defeated humans and it’s now up to a heroic burlap doll named 9 (Elijah Wood) to prevent the total destruction of our planet. It’s a creepy premise that’s utilized to memorably disturbing effect by director Shane Acker along with producer Tim Burton. Acker uses the movie’s computer-animated visuals to create a grim landscape that contains deadly threats around every corner. Because the central character and all his buddies are toys, they’re just as prone to injury and even death as their human counterparts. The film undoubtedly earns its PG-13 rating for “violence and scary images.”

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Corpse Bride (2005)

Acclaimed director Tim Burton has infused virtually all of his movies with bursts of gothic creepiness, and 2005’s is no exception. Corpse Bride details the sweet romance that ensues between an introverted young man (Johnny Depp’s Victor Van Dort) and a deceased woman (Helena Bonham Carter’s Corpse Bride), yet Burton, along with co-director Mike Johnson, places a consistent emphasis on sinister, downright unsettling elements. While the movie lacks anything resembling overt scares, Corpse Bride contains a consistently spooky atmosphere that cements its place as a Halloween night staple.

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Spirited Away (2001)

Undoubtedly the tamest movie on this list, nevertheless features a number of genuinely disturbing moments and images sprinkled throughout its briskly-paced running time. The movie follows a young girl as she’s drawn into a world inhabited by a host of strange creatures, remains one of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s most accomplished and well-regarded works, Although there’s nothing here that will frighten older children, the film’s emphasis on out-of-this-world creatures, as well as its selection of human characters that are transformed into animals like mice and pigs, will surely leave younger viewers cowering behind closed eyes.

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ParaNorman (2012)

Focus Features

ParaNorman is about an 11 year-old boy named Norman who can speak with the dead -- in particular, his dead grandmother. Of course, he's picked on by other kids because nobody believes him. Notheless, Norman must put the taunting aside to save the town from a curse cast by a witch who was executed hundreds of years ago. Featuring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, John Goodman, and a half-dozen other big names, ParaNorman certainly boasted star power along with its 3D visuals. The movie also received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film.

Edited by Christopher McKittrick