Throughout the past decade, Disney has created more than a dozen ingenious, emotional and inspirational films for the pleasure – and education – of children and adults alike. We’ve summed up the morals to be learned from ten of our favourite animated features of the teens.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Whether they’re escaping Lotso’s wicked regime at Sunnyside Daycare or bidding an emotional farewell to a university-bound Andy, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the gang prove the power of loyalty, friendship, and teamwork in this heartfelt sequel.
The group’s success in overthrowing the strawberry-scented bear and winning over his allies reminds us that “authority”, as Barbie wisely preaches, “should derive from the consent of the governed, not from the threat of force”.
The toys also show us the importance of being able to let go of someone you love – even though it hurts (a lot).
Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and many of the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods are the quintessential archetypes of what it means to be a good friend: loyal, giving, and supportive through thick and thin. When their friend Eeyore loses his tail for the nth time, Pooh and his friends do all they can think to do to help him out. The next day, they team up to save Christopher Robin, whom they mistakenly thought had been abducted by a monster named “Backson”. Though they may still have a lot to learn, the characters hearts are always in the right place, and we could all learn how to be a better friend from them.
This coming-of-age story about the young, wilful princess Merida teaches what we can learn from those around us – even those we may not agree with – when we put our pride aside.
After an errant spell turns Merida’s mother into a giant bear, the two must work together to figure out how to change her back. Only by listening to one another are they able to repair their bond and break the spell. Merida’s ability to reflect on her weaknesses, admit her wrongdoings, and empathise with others allows her to grow into the mature ruler her mother has always known she can be.
Apart from leaving the cinema with the lyrics of Let It Go stuck in their heads, audience members would’ve gone home with warmed hearts after seeing how Anna’s love for her sister saved the day. Frozen brought to life two very relatable role models for girls who – unlike Disney princesses of the past – are not perfect and, at times, doubt themselves. But together, the two sisters are able to find strength in themselves.
Elsa’s inspiring journey of self-love is perhaps what has made her character so beloved around the world, and Anna’s fearlessness and undying belief in people are qualities that we should all aspire to have.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Beneath all the colourful superhero action, Big Hero 6 is a film about learning to cope with the loss of a loved one. After his older brother dies in a fire, Hiro Hamada finds a new friend and role model in Baymax, a huge, huggable robot whose sole purpose is to take care of people. Baymax shows Hiro the healing power of fun, friendship, and living life to the full.
Inside Out (2015)
Riley is having a tough time adapting to her new home and school in San Francisco – and so are the emotions living inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger. The pain Disney takes in bringing 11-year-old Riley’s emotions to life is this film’s greatest strength. It allows us to see how our emotions can affect our thoughts, behaviour, and even our memories.
The most poignant message of the story, though, is perhaps that negative emotions are not necessarily bad, but rather are essential for growth – something both Joy and Riley discover as they battle with the changes in their lives.
A buddy-cop animation starring talking animals that also promotes tolerance? Only Disney could pull off such a feat so stylishly. The film follows Judy, a young rabbit from a small carrot farm, as she heads to the bustling city of Zootopia – a place where predators and prey seemingly live in harmony – to pursue her dream of joining the police force.
As Judy fights to prove that she is not just a “dumb bunny”, she is also forced to come to terms with her own prejudices when she meets Nick, a wily fox with a secret heart of gold.
Love takes many forms. In Coco, it appears in the form of remembrance of loved ones that have been lost, and recognition of those who are still around.
After meeting his great-great-grandfather in the afterlife and learning about his life’s regrets, aspiring musician Miguel realises that his family should come before his ambitions. This heart-warming film, inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, also teaches us that love sometimes requires us to make compromises, or put the needs of others before our own.
On the surface, Coco may seem like a film about death, but at it’s core, it is a movie about seizing every moment and making the most of life.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Ralph’s initial unwillingness to let go of his best friend Vanellope, who’s determined to leave him and the Arcade to join the online game Slaughter Race, might seem perfectly natural. But as the story unfolds, it shows that holding on to someone out of devotion for them, can often be our insecurities in disguise. More importantly still, the film shows how destructive this can be in a relationship, and when the giant monster that is Ralph’s emotional insecurity comes out, the big-hearted hero realises that he is the only one who can overcome his own internal struggles.
Frozen 2 (2019)
Seriously, watch this film with a notepad and pen at hand, because it is positively crammed with life lessons for young adults heading, ahem, into the unknown. Each character’s journey contains a message, from Kristoff’s reassurance that it’s okay for men to be emotional, to Anna’s realisation that when life gets complicated, it’s enough to simply do the next right thing. Meanwhile, as Elsa’s character goes through another reinvention, it’s a reminder that growing up is a lifelong process, and there is no such thing as the “final version” of ourselves.