The Lion King Doesn’t Have The Most Heartbreaking Death Scene, It’s My Girl

My Girl, the 1991 film starring Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky, had trailers showing it was a fun, family-friendly comedy about young love when it's about accepting death and finding beauty in mortality.

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Let’s be honest, The Lion King is just Hamlet with a catchy soundtrack, and as tragic as Mufasa’s betrayal at the hands of Scar was, it doesn’t come close to another “children’s movie” released three years earlier. My Girl, starring Macaulay Culkin, was marketed as a fun, feel-good summer family film about a nerdy boy falling in love for the first time. The trailer lied, and before social media was ever thought of, millions of people were caught off guard over the heartbreaking death of Culkin’s Thomas Sennett at the hands of a swarm of bees.

Imagine you’re a 10-year-old that loved Home Alone and Ghostbusters, it’s the weekend, and you get to rent a movie from Blockbuster in an age long before IMDb was a thing. Unaware that My Girl is about the acceptance of death and not a comedy of young love over summer, you pop in the VHS. You survived The Neverending Story (and Atrax at least comes back at the end), you had to have Goose’s passing explained in Top Gun, and now, thanks to Macaulay Culkin, you have a very understandable fear of bees.

Thomas Sennett, an 11-year-old boy, is allergic to “everything” and yet becomes best friends with Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky, who went on to star in Veep), causing plenty of teasing from their classmates. The inseparable pair spend the summer together, biking around their Pennsylvania town, exploring the woods, and even sharing a first kiss. Along the way, Vada loses her mood ring near a fallen beehive, forcing the kids to abandon the area and innocuously setting in motion the Final Destination Rube Goldberg machine of Thomas’ death.

That’s what makes the death so heartbreaking, not the manner of death but how it suddenly happens on an otherwise inauspicious day. Movies are a form of escapism, and we don’t want to be reminded of our mortality and how we are only here for a finite period while watching, say, Xanadu. My Girl forces its young audience to face this truth head-on, from the senseless passing of Thomas while trying to recover Vada’s mood ring, to her reactions after the passing of her friend.

dan aykroyd
Dan Akroyd in My Girl

In a poignant moment filled with a child’s innocence, Vada puts Thomas’ glasses on his body at the funeral, insisting that “he can’t see without them.” Dan Akroyd, the aforementioned Ghostbuster, plays her father, a 100 percent accurate funeral director that gives the performance of a lifetime in explaining to Vada, and thus, all the children tricked into watching this movie about the nature of death and how to accept it. Simba’s grappling with the meaning of death is dealt with by committing manslaughter, Atrax doesn’t actually die, and even Olaf’s death in Frozen 2 (spoiler warning) is undone by the end of the movie.

My Girl is the single most heartbreaking death in movies precisely because of how real it is since there’s no insidious disease like in A Walk to Remember or Bridge to Terabithia; it’s just the wrong place at the wrong time. The Lovely Bones is about a serial killer, and Top Gun is about adults defending the country. Only My Girl is about an 11-year-old boy trying to find his first love’s mood ring.

Not since Lindsay Lohan in Georgia Rule has a trailer been as misleading as My Girl. Come for the sweet, tender moments and family-friendly comedy, and stay for the worst on-screen death in movie history. No killers, no disease, just a cold, uncaring universe that we need to accept is out to get us.