In the era of the Pedo Hunt, losing sight of one's child in a crowd of strangers is a major cause of Adult Fear in any parent. In parks, shopping centers, or at public gatherings of any sort, responsible caregivers feel obliged to keep a wary eye on their young charges at all times.
But there's one form of children's entertainment that breaks that line-of-sight contact by its very nature: the carousel. And writers haven't let the blinking lights and bright colors distract them from noticing this; if anything, the forced cheerfulness of the environment only makes the shock of a Carousel Kidnapping all the sharper. The child goes round and round on a colorful steed, their laughing face catching the parent's eye once, twice... and on the next pass, they're gone.
For obvious reasons, major theme parks do not like this trope and are reluctant to allow film crews to stage it on their premises, so it's nearly always played out at a (nameless) Crappy Carnival or public attraction. Ferris wheels can be used as a substitute if combined with Vertical Kidnapping, or if it's the loved one waiting at ground level who vanishes.
Common in Police Procedural series, or in tales using a Circus of Fear setting ... so much so, any crime show or thriller that includes a carousel scene but doesn't use this trope practically rates as a subversion.
A kid-themed sister trope to Vehicle Vanish.
- In the Lifetime movie Taken Back: Finding Haley, the main character's daughter is abducted from one.
- In Hannibal, Lecter converses with Clarice on her cell phone as she searches a large station for him. As she pauses by a carousel, Lecter appears clinging to one of its upright poles and leans out to reach her. Subverted in that he only touches her hair, waiting until later to abduct her.
- Averted in The Lost Boys: the vampire gang and a human gang get into a scuffle on and around a carousel, but the vampires wait until after the boardwalk has shut down for the night before Vertical Kidnapping the human gang's leader and his girlfriend.
- In The Streetfighter's Last Revenge, Kunigami holds Kimiko hostage near a carousel. When Terry shows up, Kunigami strikes her with a death blow, only to revive her when Terry surrenders the blackmail tape he wanted. The two fight after Kimiko flees the scene.
- Detective "Dirty" Harry Callahan from Sudden Impact is sent to investigate a gruesome murder at a carnival. His chief suspect is a woman who'd been raped and robbed within earshot of a carousel. The Dragon and his goons take her hostage after chasing her through the same carousel, where Harry then confronts them in a shoot-out.
- The Butterfly Garden inverts this. Inara is taken to an amusement park by her parents who are planning to divorce. They refuse to stand together so her dad is waiting by the carousel exit while her mom stays by the entrance. Neither of them notice her discomfort on the ride, and Inara watches as both leave to have an affair with a random park goer—both assuming the other is watching the kid. When she's finally helped off the ride her parents are gone and Inara wanders the park looking for them until it closes at sunset; she has to escape park security and hike to a gas station to use a pay phone. Her parents never answer their phones, she finally has to call a neighbor, at ten at night, to make the two-hour drive to pick her up and take her back to an empty house.
- In an episode of Bones, recurring baddie Howard Epps kidnaps Booth's son from one. He's out to mess with Booth's head rather than his kid, so he lets young Parker go unharmed, but with a clue to the next part of his plan.
- Played with on NCIS, in which it's played straight with the son riding the carousel and meeting his father's eyes each time he goes around ... only it's the father who disappears between one pass and the next.
- On Law & Order: SVU, three young girls are riding a carousel when the man who's watching them (who's a pedophile who absconded with them after Hurricane Katrina) notices they've disappeared. They flee the park, but one gets hit by a car and another is grabbed by the man and carried off in the resulting confusion.
- Inverted in the Criminal Minds episode "Uncanny Valley". When the Unsub realized the women she kidnapped to be living dolls were no longer living, she'd leave them in places of child-like happiness, including one on a carousel.
- Flashbacks reveal this is how Holden was abducted by the Countess in American Horror Story: Hotel.
- In Heavy Rain, Ethan has a blackout while his son Shaun is riding a carousel. When he snaps out of it, Shaun is missing.
- In Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, one of the Masked Gentleman's illusions is to make everyone in the funfair disappear. Layton and co. notice the carousel is abandoned when they are meant to meet someone by it. When they go looking for him, they then notice that everyone around the area has been kidnapped, though in reality they are in a replica of the funfair.
- Comical villainous variant in The Dreamstone. In the episode "The Dream Beam Invasion", the heroes chase the villains around in a fairground themed dream, getting the upper hand on them on a carousel.
- Parodied in the Family Guy episode "Stewie Loves Lois". When Peter recites the day he was "molested" by his doctor during a prostate exam, he imagines a Film Noir parody scenario with Dr Hartman laughing evilly on a carousel as he apprehends Peter.