10 Animated Movies That Don’t End with a Happily Ever After

Animated films are often thought of as cheery children’s media, so audiences often expect the story that unfolds to end with the characters living happily ever after. Of course, not all animated films are necessarily meant for kids, and not all children’s movies have happy endings either. So, this means that quite a few animated films just don’t have happy endings.

When animated stories are indeed aimed at children, less-than-happy endings tend to be more bittersweet than outright tragic. Characters may not end up with what they wish for, and often have to accept some harsh truths about life, but they usually make peace with what’s happened and might have something to be happy about. Despite animated films having a reputation for sanitizing stories, sometimes an animated movie might have a darker ending than the source material. Of course, if an animated film gets a sequel or spin-off, it might just get a happy ending after all.

10 Jack Frost (1979)

Jack Frost is an animated holiday special from Rankin-Bass, telling a love story about the titular sprite. Jack is lonely watching humans enjoy his work until he notices a young peasant girl, Elisa, saying she loves him. After saving her life, he makes a deal with Father Winter to become human. However, unless he obtains a house, a horse, gold, and a wife by spring, he’ll become a sprite once more. In his human form, Jack tries to befriend Elisa. Unfortunately, an evil king also takes an interest in Elisa, and she has her eyes on a handsome knight.

Jack Loses His Chance at Love

Jack is able to defeat the king and save Elisa’s town, with the help of his old magic. With a spare castle, gold, and a mechanical horse for the taking, Jack’s wish almost seems like it’s about to come true. Unfortunately, by the time he returns to the village, Elisa is already set to marry the knight. Her father even coldly tells Jack she never really loved him, as he loses his human form. Of course, Jack still being a sprite in the opening, which is clearly set in the 1970s, also gives away the ending.

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9 The Last Unicorn (1982)

The Last Unicorn is an animated adaptation of the Peter S. Beagle novel of the same name. The story starts out when a unicorn learns that she is the last of her kind around. She goes on a journey to find the others. Along the way, she encounters allies in a lackluster magician, a lovelorn woman, and even a prince. However, she will soon have to contend with the villainous King Haggard and the monstrous Red Bull.

A Unicorn Who Knows Regret

In order to protect her from being captured, the titular unicorn is transformed into a human woman. Initially horrified by her new sense of mortality, the former unicorn, now known as Amalthea, begins to fall in love with King Haggard’s son, Prince Lir. In the final battle, Amalthea is transformed back into a unicorn, rescues the others, and the villains are defeated. She even manages to revive Lir, who was killed in battle. However, the prince has lost his love, and the unicorn is an outcast among her kind, being the only unicorn who knows regret.

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8 Corpse Bride (2005)

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is a stop-motion animated feature set in Victorian England, based on an old Jewish folktale. The nouveau riche VIctor is set to marry Victoria, the daughter of impoverished patricians. However, the nervous groom, when practicing his vows outside, accidentally pledges his eternal love to a corpse, Emily, who rises from the grave to be with her new beau. While Victor is torn between two lovers, the secret of Emily’s past, and a certain figure from it, are about to come to light.

Emily Accepts Her Fate & Moves on

The story ends with Emily’s murderer, her former fiancée, who planned Victoria as his new victim, exposed for his crime and getting his comeuppance. Victor is willing to honor his vows to Emily, but she gives her blessing to Victor and Victoria, dissolving into an array of butterflies. The ending is bittersweet, but allows viewers the hope that Emily has found happiness at last. It also gives hope that Emily’s other ghost friends will eventually move on to better places, too.

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7 All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)

All Dogs Go to Heaven stars a con artist German shepherd, Charlie, who is killed by his canine business partner, Carface. Initially welcomed into Heaven, hence the title, Charlie resents paradise and sneaks his way back to Earth. Along the way, he befriends an orphan girl named Anne-Marie, who can speak to animals. Unfortunately, Carface wants to put Charlie back in the grave, which won’t be pretty since he already forfeited his place in Heaven.

Things Got Reversed in the Sequel

Charlie dies saving Anne-Marie, but ultimately manages to redeem himself and is allowed to return to Heaven, ensuring the title wouldn’t prove untrue. Interestingly, this is reversed in the film’s sequel, which has Charlie restored to life in the end, though his friend Itchy decides to stay in the afterlife this time. The television spin-off split the difference: Charlie and Itchy are back on Earth as “guardian angels,” but are effectively treated as living dogs.

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6 Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)

Jack and the Beanstalk is a Japanese-animated feature film based on the fairy tale of the same name. As in the classic story, Jack trades the family cow for some magic beans, which grow into a beanstalk reaching castles in the sky. However, things take a different turn up in the air. There may still be a giant, but there’s also a witch, a princess, and a bunch of enchanted mice.

Jack Leaves the Sky Kingdom Forever

The addition of a princess to the story initially seems like an attempt to give Jack a love interest. Jack even saves the princess, Margaret, from the witch’s spells with a kiss. In turn, the princess admits to liking Jack. However, defeating the witch means Margaret has to reclaim her throne and cannot follow Jack to his world. Likewise, Jack is forced to chop down the beanstalk, separating them entirely. The story ends with Jack and his dog gazing up at the sky, only to resume their normal lives, suggesting they’ll forget their castle in the sky.

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5 9 (2009)

9 is an animated film, an expansion of a short of the same name, revolving around sentient rag doll-like beings, each named after a number. Life has been wiped out on Earth, and these beings, also known as “stitchpunks,” were created in hopes of restoring the Earth. Their main enemy is the Fabrication Machine, an artificial intelligence that was transformed into a weapon.

Bringing Back Life on Earth Won’t be Easy

9 isn’t exactly a children’s film to begin with, being rated PG-13, so the story does not hold back on its dark and scary moments. Of the nine stitchpunks, only four manage to survive at the end of the story. The souls of the departed stitchpunks rise up into the sky. This sparks rain which appear to contain bacteria, suggesting that life has indeed been restored to the world. However, the ending is still happier than in the original short. In the earlier story, 9 is the sole survivor and is left to wander a lonely wasteland.

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4 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Disney’s adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. The titular protagonist, Quasimodo, serves as the bell-ringer of the Notre Dame cathedral, living at the mercy of his cruel foster father Judge Claude Frollo. After sneaking out into the Festival of Fools, Quasimodo encounters the kind and lovely Esmeralda, who soon finds herself seeking asylum in Notre Dame. Quasimodo falls in love with Esmeralda and is even encouraged by his gargoyle sidekicks.

Quasimodo Has to Wait Until the Sequel to Find Love

However, Esmeralda has already given her heart to the handsome Captain Phoebus. In time, Quasimodo accepts this and ends the story, being praised as a hero. It is notable for being a rare time in an animated Disney film that the leading character doesn’t end up with their love interest. A sequel film, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame II, later gave Quasimodo a more successful romance.

That said, Quasimodo’s fate is much kinder compared to what happens in the original novel: after Esmeralda is hanged, Quasimodo’s skeleton later turns up embracing her remains in a charnel house. Phoebus survives the story, but is implied to end up in a loveless marriage.

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3 The Fox and the Hound (1981)

The Fox and the Hound

Release Date
July 10, 1981

Ted Berman , Richard Rich , Art Stevens


The Fox and the Hound is an American-animated film based on the 1967 novel of the same name. It revolves around a red fox named Tod and a hound dog named Copper. Tod is adopted by a kindly widow, while Copper is owned by a hunter. First meeting as a puppy and kit, the two become friends. Unfortunately, as the two grow up, they are forced to become adversaries.

Friendships Come and Go

When Copper’s mentor, Chief, is badly hurt while chasing Tod, Copper decides to embrace his role as a hunting dog. In the end, Copper manages to save Tod and his owner from a bear, causing Copper to return the favor and protect him from being shot. However, it’s implied the two friends are forced to part ways. Of course, Tod and Copper get off easy compared to the source material: Tod dies of exhaustion during a hunt and the story ends right before Copper gets put down by his owner before he goes to a nursing home.

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2 Make Mine Music (1946)

Make Mine Music is an animated musical anthology film from Disney. It was part of a series of package films from the studio featuring unrelated segments, featuring music. Technically speaking, some of the stories do have happy endings. For example, in true Disney fashion, “Peter and the Wolf” gets a happy ending, where Peter’s duck friend survives the story. Likewise, some segments don’t really have much of a plot to begin with. However, some stories are surprisingly sad and bittersweet.

The Saddest Ending Is Saved for the Finale

“The Martins and the Coys,” for example, sees a young man and woman, each the two surviving members of two feuding families, fall in love with each other and marry. What seems like a happy ending, however, then cuts to them having a marital spat. “Casey at the Bat” likewise retains the original poem’s sad ending, with Casey striking out, although Casey later got the last laugh with the sequel short, “Casey Bats Again.”

The film’s finale, “The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met,” which revolves around a singing whale, is infamous for its tragic ending. The titular whale, who dreams of singing opera, ends up getting harpooned and killed before his dream comes true in life. However, the final scene shows he did get his wish in Heaven. As the final segment, it can also be seen as giving the film itself a bittersweet ending.

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1 Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Spirited Away

Release Date
July 20, 2001

Rumi Hîragi , Miyu Irino , Mari Natsuki , Takashi Naitô , Yasuko Sawaguchi , Tatsuya Gashûin


Spirited Away is a Studio Ghibli anime film, revolving around a young girl, Chihiro, who gets trapped in a world of spirits after her parents are turned into pigs. Enslaved to a witch called Yubaba, Chihiro even loses her name, being dubbed “Sen,” and is put to work in a bathhouse. However, Chihiro does make a few friends, including a mysterious boy named Haku.

Not Even a Memory Away

By the end of the story, Chihiro has rescued her parents, and Haku has recovered his memories as a river spirit, allowing her to return to the real world and her former life. It’s implied in the original Japanese version of the film that Chihiro won’t remember her adventure in the spirit world. The English dub of the film downplayed this, however, as Chihiro is given the line, “I think I can handle it.” Meanwhile, it’s also revealed that Haku’s river has dried been dried up, being covered with apartment buildings.

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