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The most harrowing family movie scene ever took weeks of preparation

One of the most downright traumatising scenes ever captured in a kids movie required almost two months of training because of this one specific aspect.

David Bowie in Labyrinth

Some of the best family movies are really anything but, considering how traumatising they are. Watership Down? Don’t go there. Return to Oz is a full on horror movie, and that scene in The NeverEnding Story? You know the one – it tears your innocence apart.

Turns out putting together that sequence, where Atreyu tries and fails to save his horse from drowning in a swamp, took a lot of preparation. Specifically, training a horse to essentially drown on command so they could film it needed seven weeks, according to a behind-the-scenes documentary.

That’s according to filmmakers on 60 Millionen fur Phantasien, a featurette for a German DVD release of the supposed kids movie. “During seven weeks, two animal trainers from the UK trained the Arabian-Welsh mare to sink down into the mud pool to the chin,” the narrator explains. “without shying, without swimming, without breaking out.”

Needless to say, it was effective. Artax is lost to the Swamps of Sadness, despite Atreyu’s pleas, and now entire generations well up at the thought of it. Thanks, Wolfgang Petersen!

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One of the best ’80s movies, The NeverEnding Story tells of the hero Atreyu’s journey to save Fantasia. A regular boy, Bastian, follows Atreyu’s quest through a magic book that seems to link their two lives, creating a wondrous blurring of fiction and reality. Michael Ende wrote the original novel, and the adaptation was a massive hite, spawning two sequels.

A remake is potentially in the works – I’ve no idea how they’ll handle this scene. Check out our lists of the best adventure movies and best comedy movies if you want something lighter, and our new movies and best movies guides have plenty of recommendations as well.