Many, perhaps even most, parents in America know what it feels like to watch Disney movies over and over and over with our children. Some Disney movies we even continue to love as an adult. They can be entertaining and have catchy tunes (sometimes too catchy-we wish they’d get un-stuck in our head). But, Disney movies can be more than that. They can also offer opportunities to talk to our children about important lessons. Here are 10 Disney movies that can be springboards to talking about various principles and lessons.
1) Inside Out: Negative Emotions are Okay
Inside Out is truly a Disney classic for therapists. From Inside Out we learn that all feelings are worthy of being addressed. Sadness played a large part in the movie, and we learned that she was essential to Riley’s (the main girl) life. In the movie, different emotions took the “control panel” at different times, but near the end Anger took over it too much. Emotions told her something important, and they all played a part in her decisions and memories. At the end, all the emotions came back to the control panel and Riley could choose how to address them.
We can talk to children about the different emotions and help understand what they are feeling and how it’s affecting them. I actually got the stuffed characters and used them often times in sessions. It was a great way for clients to respond to their challenges and figure out ways to cope. Once we acknowledge what they are telling us at the “control panel” then we can choose how to respond. We can also talk about if one feeling is taking over too much at the “control panel.” See our article on why negative emotions are okay for a more in-depth explanation. All these emotions needn’t be ignored or cast aside. Rather, all our emotions work together and tell us important information and we choose how to respond in a healthy or unhealthy manner.
2) Beauty and the Beast: Friendships and Inner Beauty
Beauty and the Beast offers a stellar example of how outward appearances don’t matter while inward beauty does matter. The Beast was cursed when he was younger for shunning a crippled, ugly woman who needed help. Through Belle, he learned that beauty comes from the heart and not from outward appearances. Belle was able to see past his outward appearance and fall in love with the person inside. Sadly, some of the town was not able to see past his outward beast and find the person who was inside.
As a secondary moral, the Beast changed from being beastly to kind from a good friendship and love with Belle. An important life lesson for kids is to make friends with, and eventually date, people who bring out the best in each other.
3) Moana: Family Stories
From Moana we can learn about the importance of families and the legacy our ancestors have passed down to us. Moana sings,
I am the daughter of the village chief. We are descended from voyagers who found their way across the world. They call me.
Moana goes onto have an incredible adventure. With help from her ancestors and grandmother she is able to complete her journey and help her living family and tribe.
Knowing family stories, as Moana does, can have a powerful impact on our children’s lives. Family stories can help children be resilient to challenges and learn that they can do hard things. They can help give children a sense of positive identity. Read FamilyNinja’s article on family stories to learn a few different ways you can incorporate family stories into your family life.
4) Ever After: Standing Up For Yourself
Okay, okay, Ever After isn’t a Disney movie, and it is intended for older audiences, but it is still the story of Cinderella so I decided to include it. I love using this version’s example with teenaged girls. Instead of waiting passively for someone to rescue her, Danielle stood up for herself and fought for what was right. She was able to defend herself from the evil guy as well as expect proper respect and kindness from the Prince. Way to go, Danielle.
This movie can teach girls (or boys, but generally girls identify with this movie more) to be strong and be assertive! Don’t sit by passively when something isn’t fair or when you are being hurt. It can teach children and teens that they are in control of their own lives and bodies. Help teen age girls set their expectations hight and not settle for less. We have more power and goodness in us than we often realize.
5) Tangled: Manipulation
I was quite surprised when Tangled came out because the antagonist was not a classic evil witch or wicked step-mother. Instead, the antagonist was Rapunzel’s “mom” (who isn’t actually her mother) who twirls around her and sings that she knows best. Rapunzel’s “mom” is very manipulative and controlling. Rapunzel isn’t allowed to be her own person or make age-appropriate decisions. Her “mom” takes advantage of her magic hair, unbeknownst to Rapunzel.
This movie can be used to help kids understand what healthy relationships are and what they are not. We can talk to kids about standing up for themselves and not allowing others to take advantage of them. When children understand what a healthy relationship looks like then they can feel empowered to stand up for themselves or to talk to an understanding adult and trust their instincts. This can be a great spring board to talking about relationships if you believe your child has an unhealthy relationship.
6) The Lion King: Unfounded Guilt and Remembering Who We Are
I love The Lion King. It is perhaps my favorite Disney movie. We can learn so many lessons from it. One has to do with shaming ourselves for mistaken guilt. In the movie, Simba runs away because he believes he caused the death of his father. He does not want to face his family or his pride. Unfortunately, many kids in our world feel like Simba from situations like divorce or a death of a loved one or other hard experiences. This provides a great opportunity to teach children that like Simba, they are not responsible for the hard experience. It’s okay to feel grief and sadness (remember Inside Out?) but they do not need to carry unnecessary pain from mistaken beliefs.
One of the greatest lines, I think is, “Simba. Remember who you are.” Simba remembers that he has the heritage to be king and help his pride who is suffereing. Don’t we all have to remember who we are sometimes? We all have magnificent potential in life. As parents, we are helping our children reach their potential. This can create a good time to talk to children about who they are and what their potential is. We all make mistakes sometimes, but like Rafiki says, we can either run from it or learn from them. Everyone can be a king or queen in their own way.
7) Finding Nemo: Helping People with Disabilities
It’s hilarious to hear some of Dory’s dialog in Finding Nemo because the movie was meant to entertain and provide laughs. But if we think about it long enough, we can recognize that Dory has a disability. She has a memory problem and can’t remember anything longer than a few seconds or minutes. This initially turns off some of the sea creatures and they think she’s weird. Marlin learns to work with her memory challenges and create a lasting friendship with her.
From this movie, parents can talk to their children about how not all people or friends will have the same capabilities that they have. Like Marlin, we can try to be understanding, helpful, and extend friendship. When we do so we can find valuable friendships. We also learn from the movie that disabilities offer challenges, but they can still do so much! Nemo and Dory both go on a grand adventure and accomplish much despite his fin and her memory problems.
8) Toy Story: Loving and Accepting
Everyone’s heart tugs for Woody when he feels cast aside by Andy in Toy Story. Woody reacts strongly and tries to get rid of Buzz. This leads to a disaster, and in the end Woody has to use teamwork with the rest of the toys to all get back together before Andy moves. Woody learns to accept Buzz and realizes that there is room for everyone. There’s room in his heart for a new friend, and there’s room enough in Andy’s heart for all his beloved toys.
If your child is struggling with any of the difficult feelings Woody was facing, this can be a great movie to talk to your children about what is going on. Children can learn that they are important, no matter what is going on in their friend group at the moment. Ultimately, it was working together and making room to accept new friends that helped Woody. Sometimes, though, we need to move on to a new toy group.
9) Monster’s, Inc.: Fears
In Monsters, Inc., the monsters are actually afraid of human children, and human children are obviously afraid of monsters. The monsters try to scare children at night, until one day they learn that Boo, a human child, isn’t as frightening as they believe she really was. In the end, the monsters decide to make kids laugh instead of scream.
On a more elementary level, we can use this example to talk to children about facing their fears or helping them think through their anxieties. The monsters and humans both had mistaken beliefs about each other. Sulley and Mike Wazowski learned to face their fears and change their anxieties. For more information, read this post by FamilyNinjas for more ways to address anxiety. On a more advanced level, we can talk about prejudices and not automatically writing people off who are different than us. After the monsters and humans got to know each other, their prejudices fell away and they learned acceptance.
10) Live-Action Cinderella: Kindness
Another one of my all-time favorite movie quotes is
Have courage and be kind…Where there is kindness there is goodness and where there is goodness there is magic.
Cinderella faced some pretty harsh treatment from her step-family. But, she always chose to be kind. At the end she finally stood up to her step-mother.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons we can teach kids is both to stand up for yourself, but to always treat others with respect and kindness.
What are your favorite movies for talking with your children about different issues? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
FamilyNinjas in no way endorses any of these movies. Parents should watch the movie first before watching with their kids to ensure their personal comfort level in showing the movies to their children. There are always different ways to teach these lessons than watching movies.
This post is not intended to provide therapeutic services. If your child is struggling with a challenge that is causing distress to them or your family, seek help from a professional counselor or doctor.