Here’s a shocking statistic for you about animated movies. According to a study by Ian Colman, “Two-thirds of children’s animated films contained an on-screen death of an important character.” It’s honestly impressive how often films are promoted to be for children are able to take on such a difficult topic such as grief and loss. Not to mention how they can do it with psychological accuracy. Animated movies can take grief and bring it to such a beautifully simplistic level that even the youngest of children can admire its message. Despite there being hundreds of films in this category that feature this theme, these are the ones that have truly embraced the topic to its fullest potential:
“Faster! Faster, Bambi! Don’t look back! Keep running! Keep running!”
There is nothing sweeter than a movie about a baby deer finding its way in the world. That being said, this seemingly innocent film displays how suddenly things can take a turn for the worse. Even though we only hear a gunshot, the scene of Bambi’s mother’s death leaves a heartbreaking impact on anyone watching. In fact, it has often been used as the quintessential example of death in children’s programming. Bambi proves that death can often be unexpected, and it has no consideration for those it leaves behind.
The Land Before Time (1988)
“What do you mean I can’t see you? I can always see you.”
Another classic example of a grief-ridden child left behind to journey the world alone is Land Before Time. Though unlike Bambi, The Land before Time introduces death early in the film. The main character Littlefoot must travel to his new home with only the last words of his mother to keep him moving. Luckily, along the way, he meets some new friends, and together they overcome every obstacle. This movie did an excellent job showing how much friendship can truly be your strength.
The Lion King (1994)
“Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”
The death of the great king Mufasa left many viewers in tears. That being said, what truly stands out about this movie is the way his son, Simba, personally decided to deal with this loss. At first, he decided to run away from his problems but with time, and a little help from a wise baboon, he was able to release his pain and strive towards a more important goal. Simba’s return to the throne is something anyone suffering a loss can look at and admire. Everyone must face their grief at some point, and when we do is when we remember who we truly are.
Lilo and Stitch (2002)
“‘Ohana” means “family.” “Family” means “no one gets left behind.” But if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you though…I remember everyone that leaves.”
In Lilo and Stitch, two sisters who lost their parents find family in the most unlikely of places. The unique aspect of this movies though isn’t the aliens; it’s that viewers get to see the struggles the sisters must face staying together. Moral of the story, the loss is less painful when you have someone to share it with.
Finding Nemo (2003)
“No. No, you can’t… STOP. Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before. And if you leave… if you leave… I just, I remember things better with you. I do, look. P. Sherman, forty-two… forty-two… I remember it, I do. It’s there, I know it is, because when I look at you, I can feel it. And-and I look at you, and I… and I’m home. Please… I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.”
Disney must have been on a roll, since barely a year after Lilo and Stitch they released another fantastic film that in the first 5 minutes had a father lost his wife and became a single parent. This movie shows how fear becomes a symptom of loss as this father becomes overprotective of his son after his wife’s death. The only thing worse than losing someone you love is losing two people you love.
“That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.”
If anything can beat the start of Finding Nemo, it is the beginning of Up. After the death of his wife, this old man desire is to go on the adventure she always dreamed of. This movie does an amazing thing at the end by allowing the main character to release that his wife just wants him to keep living and find new adventures. Although we may lose the one we care for, we can still live for them.
“I don’t want him in my heart. I want him here with me.”
This film may be an unconventional pick, but nothing shows a loss more creatively. The main character loves nothing more than his dog, to the point that he even finds a way to bring him back to life. Being honest, I’m not entirely sure how this translates to children, but I think it’s a film filled with an innovative story and displays love and loss in a very theatric light.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
“So long… partner.”
The Toy Story’s series has put viewers on a rollercoaster of emotions as it shows the deep connection between a kid and his toys. In the latest installment though we finally get to see the parting of these loyal toys and their loving owner. What makes this moment special is that he gives them to a child who will care for them as much if not more then he can right now, and he knows this loss will lead to a happier future for the toys he loves. Endings and sacrifices will always leave an imprint in people’s hearts.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
“People keep saying he’s not really gone, as long as we remember him. But it still hurts.”
This movie is all about grief and loss. After the sudden death of his brother, a boy bonds with a robot his brother created and helped him learn to cope with the loss. What’s great about this movie is that the boy in it displays so many sides of grief. At first, he refuses to do anything, but suddenly feels inspired to look into his brother’s death. Slowly he starts to see he can enjoy his life without his brother but quickly descends into anger after seeing the man who was responsible for his death. Finally, he brings himself down again and slowly moves into acceptance. Big Hero 6 is the perfect example of how harsh emotional stability is when you are suffering from loss.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
“It makes us stronger than you’ll ever be. These are the memories of those we’ve have loved and lost. And if we hold their stories, deep in our hearts… then you will never take them away from us.”
Lastly, but nowhere near the least, Kubo is a more modern movie and a true work of art in motion. I can barely begin to explain how beautifully Kubo shows death and the grief surrounding it. Kubo is a story about a storyteller, and nothing could be a more perfect for the theme they use about memories and the importance of keeping hold of the stories of those who have passed.
So the next time you may be unsure of how to explain to a child about grief or loss, just look up one of these amazing movies, and enjoy the emotional ride. And don’t forget, as an adult you can also benefit from these stories of coping.