Back in the day (let's say, the early '90s), kids weren't coddled and kept from experiencing and learning about the tough topics and facts of life such as loss, death, and betrayal. I used to love animated movies, and felt deeply connected to them because not only did they entertain, but they taught me hard lessons about life and left huge emotional impressions on me in the process.
Unfortunately, something changed since the golden age of my youth and the makers of these films have decided children are not emotionally mature enough to handle reality anymore. When I've tried to watch the majority of animated films available today, I find they are drastically toned down, glossing over difficult life lessons, or ignoring them altogether. Instead, they fill them with too much plot (action, physical stuff that happens) and not enough story (feelings and emotional journeys) which ultimately leaves me feeling empty and dissatisfied and yearning for the classic films of my youth that confronted these topics head-on and ultimately taught me how to persevere when times are tough.
So, with that in mind I've compiled a list of top 5 moments when films made for children brought me to tears, but in the process taught me valuable lessons that I still carry with me to this day.
5. Death happens folks, so spend as much quality time with your loved ones as you can
There are so many movies that dealt with this topic: whether it was Bambi, The Lion King, or The Land Before Time, every single one of these films dealt with death and losing the one person who is closest to you as a child; your parent.
The lesson these films taught us is that death is something we all must face, and losing someone we love is inevitable; it is this universality and foreknowledge that brings us together as the human race. More specifically though, these moments teach us that someday we will have to live without the people who raised us and loved us, sacrificing everything they have for our happiness and safety.
For some people, they will lose their parents when they still need them, but for most of us, it will be when we are older; either way, it is not easy to say goodbye to the people you love, and movies like these teach us to cherish every moment we have with them before it's too late. Hug your parents and grandparents, because they are only here for a short time and you will miss them when they're gone.
4. The importance of friendship, even though many friendships will not last
The Fox and the Hound dealt with the loss of friendships: sometimes it happens simply because one of you moves away, changes schools, and you're not able to see each other anymore; and others because some people just change and grow apart. In this first clip, Todd loses the old lady who took care of him, and like many of us who lose a friend, he doesn't understand why she leaves him or what he did wrong.
After Chief is nearly killed chasing Todd down a train track, Copper vows to get revenge on Todd and hunts him relentlessly thereafter. Todd steps up as a great friend and saves Copper from an angry bear, causing Copper to forgive him for almost killing Chief. One of the last scenes of the movie shows Copper returning the favor:
What this film teaches us is that we can't always control what happens to us in life. Like Copper and Todd, sometimes there are forces that pull us away from each other and there isn't much any of us can do to stop it. How many people in the world are still best friends with someone they loved as a child? Or even in high school or college? Times change and people change and many of us will lose people we were close to as children.
Yet, the movie also shows us that friendship is still possible if two sides work together to maintain it, or at the very least, appreciate what was there before in times of need. You may never go back to the way it was, but you'll still have the memories, and those should be cherished. Friendships will come and go, and it's bittersweet, but take each one and appreciate it for the value it added to your life. Friendships can enrich you and make you happy for a short time, so keep pursuing them no matter how long they last.
3. Hold on to your dreams, even if they seem impossible
Buzz Lightyear represents every child who grew up and realized their dreams will basically never come true. When we are little, we believe anything is possible. It's not until we grow up and become disillusioned that we find out the truth. Whether you wanted to be a ballerina or an astronaut, sometimes we lack the abilities to do what our dreams require, and that's what this scene reveals to us.
However, the end of the film shows Buzz maturing and realizing that although his dream of flying and being the real Buzz Lightyear will never be possible, he can still be a hero on a smaller scale and save his friends. In the end, it's not whether we can accomplish our biggest dreams that's important; it's how we can adapt those dreams to ourselves to make a difference. In other words, reality is reality, but even so, don't lose hope. You can still accomplish great things, even if they fall short of your dreams.
2. Beware of handsome stalkers, because you can't always judge a book by its cover
In the movie Beauty and the Beast, Gaston is a handsome man who is truly ugly on the inside. He's a mean, cruel, narcissist whose only love is for himself. The Beast, on the other hand, is a man who started out cruel but grew a heart in the process because of Belle's positive effect on him. In the end, Belle fell in love with him and broke the curse.
This movie cautions us not to judge someone by the way they look; actions speak much louder than words or appearances. Belle is kind and selfless and she sacrifices herself for her father, only to learn to love and accept the Beast. As a reward, she discovers her beast is actually a handsome prince, which doesn't hurt either; in other words, no good deed goes unrewarded, and if you live your life as a truly kind and loving human being, you will fare better in good times and in bad.
You simply need to resist the temptation to become dark and cynical, which is easy to do in difficult times. It's far more challenging to stay kind and true and open to loving even those who hurt you. Life isn't always easy; but we can make it a better place if we are kind and love one another and refrain from judging people based on how they look, rather than by their actions.
1. You don't have to be perfect to redeem yourself
In All Dogs go to Heaven, Charlie is a bad dog. He does terrible things, but when he dies, he is given a second chance to correct his past mistakes. In the end, he finds redemption by giving his life to save a sweet, innocent and kind-hearted little orphan girl.
What this film tells us is that even if you have strayed into the dark side, there is nothing stopping you from redeeming yourself; it's a life choice which only you can decide to act on. Even if you think you are too late to save yourself, you can still do something good for someone else and spare them from making the same mistakes you did. Most of all, you must learn to forgive yourself. If you can do that, you are well on your way to redemption. Perfection is not a requirement; it's something to strive for. Always do your best and forgive yourself for your mistakes, and try to remember that if you work at it, you can still become a better person, despite your faults.
There you have it. These are the valuable lessons that I learned from movies I watched when I was a child. It saddens me that most movies made for children today don't provide the same services as movies made in the past. Today, most are full of one note messages that always depict the world as unrealistically happy. Few movies today teach children how to deal with grief, loss, or pain. I miss movies like the ones above, which helped prepare me for the the trials each of us will inevitably face someday. Movies used to treat children as competent and capable of understanding deep subjects; now, they supply an hour or two of entertainment, but share little in the way of important life messages and deeper meanings.
As the years pass, these movies from over twenty years ago gain even more meaning as you live life and actually experience the things these films discuss. As an adult returning to these films after a long time, I respect how much the filmmakers respected me as a child and exposed me to these topics even though I was too young to experience and fully understand what they meant yet. They have the benefit of meaning something different when I was a child, and meaning something even more now. That is the definition of classic films and the perfect balance of plot and story that live beyond the theater and home video. These are timeless lessons that will serve us far into the future, and beyond.