TIME

How many mothers have emerged from a family trip to a Disney movie and been obliged to explain the facts of death to their sobbing young? A conservative estimate: the tens of millions, since the studio’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937. Innocent parents might have thought that a musical cartoon version of a fairy tale would be a child’s ideal introduction to movie magic. Yet Walt Disney taught moral lessons in the most useful way: by scaring the poop out of the little ones.

As kids watched Snow White succumb to the poison apple proffered by the witch who was also her stepmother, they literally stained the seats of movie palaces with the first rush of primal anguish. Disney features, especially the early ones, were horror movies with cute critters, Greek tragedies with a hummable chorus. Forcing children to confront the loss of…

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