Hollywood has a history of animating kids in ways that are supposed to be adorable, but end up giving us night terrors. The Boss Baby, out March 31, will be the latest offender; it’s about an infant voiced by Alec Baldwin who’s somehow secretly a corporate executive. Insane plot aside, that beligerent, giant -headed baby is creepy as hell.
Here are some of his siblings—and note that in keeping with the theme, we deliberately avoided listing any horror movie characters, who are purposefully designed to freak you out... unlike these inadvertantly sinister darlings.
Way back in 1988, a fledgling company called Pixar made this short about a tot who plays awfully rough with his toys. Now, Billy the baby’s actions are supposed to be scary, from the point of view of the tin soldier who sizes him up with wide-eyed horror. But the unattended, dead-eyed tyke is unnerving in another way that Pixar didn’t intend. Granted, this is a very early CGI cartoon, and it broke a lot of technological boundaries, even picking up an Oscar for best animated short. But... jeez, man. Just look at that evil face!
For a time in the mid-2000s, director Robert Zemeckis put down firm roots in the uncanny valley, churning out three CG films in a row that featured infinitely unsettling human characters. There are no kids in Beowulf, and The Polar Express gets its own entry below, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Tiny Tim, brought to the big screen in 2009 exactly as Charles Dickens described him in Jaws: “He’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’... until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white.”
Another twinkly holiday tale from Zemeckis, The Polar Express is based on author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg’s Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book about a boy whose love of Christmas earns him a magical meeting with Santa Claus. But the lovely source material and the folksy charms of star Tom Hanks can’t save The Polar Express from the most terifying motion-capture nightmare child-thing that 2004 could offer.
As if this 2011 Disney misfire wasn’t already unnerving enough, what with its plot about Martians kidnapping the mothers of small children, the mo-cap animation proves that the uncanny valley also exists in outer space. Milo here looks like he’s wearing another child’s skin over his own.
Bella and Edward’s magical vampire baby required some high-tech help to do things like age rapidly and—even before that—solemnly grasp her mother’s cheek and share a memory with her, as seen above. But while CG Renesmee is certainly unintentionally frightening, it’s actually preferable to the animatronic puppet that was considered—but ultimately rejected for being so grotesque it earned the on-set nickname “Chuckesmee,” after Chucky in Child’s Play.
In a family of cave people who otherwise look and act more or less like the humans of today, only the baby is a snarling, feral beast. This is clearly meant to be comic relief. It isn’t. This thing has chased me in my nightmares.
As my colleague Katharine Trendacosta pointed out in January, Netflix’s Lemony Snicket series is propelled by a lot of eerie special effects—but absolutely none are as scary as Sunny the baby, probably the one effect that isn’t supposed to make viewers shriek in fear. Obviously, the character is put into perilous situations that a real infant couldn’t possibly (or legally) be subjected to, but that’s not nearly as upsetting as watching the infant carve things with her teeth, befriend giant (CG) snakes, and deal cards with her teeny baby hands, each time moving just unnaturally enough that it’s impossible not to believe it’s same baby from Trainspotting that crawled inexorably on the ceiling before launching itself at Ewan McGregor’s face. Noooooooooo!