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9 Life Lessons I Learned from Animation Movies

by | Jun 17, 2014

This blog post represents the opinion of guest contributor, Jason Krell.

Stories were meant to teach lessons before they were ever meant to entertain. That’s why the best ones offer up a pearl of wisdom or two. Hell, a lot of the first recorded stories were even hand-drawn cave-paintings. And if you fast-forward from the dawn of storytelling to the modern day, we’re still hand-drawing some of our best stories and filling them with lessons. The technology has changed a bit, but look at that — we’ve really stuck to our roots.

It’s fun to talk about those lessons, but it’s also helpful to look at them to find which are the most important. After all, the world is overflowing with stories. So since we’re mostly concerned with animation, let’s stick to our guns and examine some of the best lessons you can learn from animated movies.

© Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Wreck-it-Ralph: What People Think Of You Doesn’t Define Who You Are

It was already a genius move to make a movie about the world of videogame characters, but Disney made it even better by sticking a good lesson right into the heart of it. Now, some might say that it’s a recycled lesson from Aladdin, but I’d disagree. While it’s true that the notion of being yourself comes up in Aladdin, it’s more focused on romance and materialism. Wreck-it-Ralph has both main characters struggling to find themselves for their own sake (which, I think, is a better reason), learning that what people think of them doesn’t define who they are.

It’s a great lesson for everyone watching it because everyone faces the opinions of people who don’t really know them on a regular basis. And with the experiences of Vanellope and Ralph showing them not to let others put them in a type-casted box, those who have seen this movie can live their lives without worrying what others thing.

© Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Lilo and Stitch: Family Means No One Gets Left Behind

From almost the outset, the message of this movie is writ large across the screen for everyone to see. There was no need for subtlety because it was a lesson everyone could stand to learn. You also probably already know exactly what I’m going to say next. Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind. In a world where families bicker over little things all the time, it’s important to remember who will always have your back (and whose backs you should always have). And the movie also shows that family doesn’t have to be your blood, either. You can choose your family from whomever you want — even an alien.

© DisneyPixar. All Rights Reserved.

Wall-E: Live Your Life in the Real World, Face to Face With Your Fellow Man

I bet you think this entry is going to be about environmentalism. If that’s the case, ha! You clearly weren’t looking at this movie the right way. Yes, on the surface, Wall-E is a movie about returning humanity to Earth after they’ve learned not to treat it like a giant dump. But looking at it that way misses the forest for the trees. That little green plant is important, but the character who carries it is far greater. I mean, before Wall-E showed up on the Axiom, everyone just kind of floated around in their own bubble. No one really felt anything anymore. Humanity had become a self-absorbed, emotionally sterile species. And oddly enough, it took a “lifeless” robot to remind human kind what it means to be alive. The real lesson is to try and break away from living online in the consumerist lifestyle every so often to live your life in the real world, face to face with your fellow man. It’s hard for someone who practically lives and works on the Internet to admit it, but that’s solid advice.

© Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment. All Rights Reserved.

The Lorax: Nothing is Going To Get Better

Here is your movie with an environmental message. Yes indeed, The Lorax was a fun adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic book handled its lesson very well (though it did have good source material to work with). By expanding the story of the Once-ler and juxtaposing it with the new story of Ted, we can see what an environmentally ignorant world looks like. Oh sure — everyone is singing and happy on the surface, but it’s all the product of ignorance. It’s been so long since everyone has lived in a world with nature that people just accept the world the way it is. But outside the walls of the world they constructed for themselves, the world looks (and is) awful. Now, I’m not one of those people that thinks we should abandon all modern conveniences for the sake of the environment, but surely there’s a way to live in harmony with nature. And when I think of that, the Once-ler’s words echo in my head: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

© DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Croods: Use Your Head

While this movie is hit or miss with some people, I felt it was a charming romp through an alternate pre-history with a good lesson at its core. Sure, it may be hard to see behind all the Nick Cage craziness (but in a good way, this time) — but it’s there. You see, when Ryan Reynold’s character shows up, everything changes for the Croods. Slowly, they learn to look at the world in a different way. Instead of hiding, they start living. Instead of being afraid of new things, they learn to adapt. But most importantly, they learn that the world belongs to those who use their head. Now, that’s never explicitly stated in the movie, but the message is there. And in a world that places a lot of cultural value on being big, strong, and stable, it’s nice to get a reminder that innovation and change are what will help society keep evolving as things change.

© Warner Brothers. All Rights Reserved.

The LEGO Movie: Prove You Are Special to the World

I loved this movie, because it had something for everyone. Also it had LEGOs. But more importantly, it had a lesson that (surprise!) everyone can learn from. With so much of our fiction filled with chosen ones and destined heroes, it was super refreshing to have that trope turned on its head. Despite starting off as a quest to find “The Special,” it turned into a lesson in seizing the future you want yourself. Or in more simple terms, don’t wait for someone else to tell you that you’re special. Prove it to the world yourself.

© DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.

How To Train Your Dragon: Understanding is Key to Acceptance

Don’t be blinded by the awesome dragons — this movie had a serious message that not enough people spotted. It’s all about tolerance and learning to keep an open mind about people you don’t understand. In this case, the people are dragons, but the concept is the same. You see, at the start of the movie, all the Vikings hate dragons for seemingly no reason. I mean, sure, they steal their livestock, but no one ever figures out why. Instead, they react with anger and violence. But when Hiccup starts uncovering the truth about dragon-nature, hundreds of years of ignorance get washed away. Once he started trying to understand what dragons were really like, the two groups realized they could live together and thrive through unity. But it all started with one realization Hiccup reaches: “Everything we know about you guys is wrong.” So remember that the next time you come up against something new. Understanding is the key to acceptance.

© DisneyPixar. All Rights Reserved.

Ratatouille: Follow Your Dream, You Can Do Anything You Want

Depending on how you feel about rats in restaurants, this movie’s lesson might have seemed a little ridiculous (also the part where a person can be turned into a puppet by pulling on their hair). Still, it was a sweet movie with an important message about individual potential. Chef Guesteau’s belief that anyone can cook is misleading to almost everyone in the movie, which belies its brilliance. It isn’t until the end that Remy figures out that it doesn’t mean any random person can cook (implying that it’s easy), but rather that a good cook can come from anywhere. And while I’m glad rats can’t actually cook, this lesson is something a lot of people should remember. Don’t let your background stop you from chasing your dream. If you work hard and develop the right skills, you can do anything you want.

© Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Meet the Robinsons: Keep Moving Forward

While this movie shares a message with Finding Nemo, I like Meet the Robinson’s way of spelling it out better. From the beginning, though, its obvious message of keeping moving forward is almost parroted by every Robinson. To the main character Louis (and even the audience), it almost becomes annoying. How, when faced with so many challenges and so much hardship, can we keep moving forward? But after the big twist reveals that the Robinson family is Luis’ future, won by always moving forward, it seems possible. And faced with so much to look forward to, it’s impossible for Luis not to succeed. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the wonders we achieve before we achieve them. But all the same, we should all keep moving forward until we’re right where we want to be.

Jason Krell an editor and writer for the i09 Animation Subsite. He is an Avid sci-fi/fantasy fiction writer/reader, gamer, and future game-changer.

Want to read more from Jason Krell? Check out his articles on i09.

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