Have you ever re-watched one of your favorite childhood films with an adult perspective? Besides the occasional adult innuendo, we often catch a hidden meaning or theme that completely went over our heads as a kid. Compassion for animals is a reoccurring theme in many of our beloved children’s classics. Next time you’re in the mood to “Netflix and chill,” instead of watching a morbid documentary on animal injustices, here are seven light-hearted kid’s films that subtly promote the vegan and compassionate lifestyle.
1. “101 Dalmatians”
The vegan lifestyle isn’t just about what you eat; it’s also about what you wear. This 1961 “oldie but goodie” Disney film communicates a strong anti-fur message through its evil depiction of the fur-loving antagonist, Cruella de Vil. The lyrics describe her as, “This vampire bat, this inhuman beast,” which suggest that killing animals for the sake of fashion is truly abhorrent. Of course, Cruella takes it to the extreme, but if you wouldn’t wear a puppy, you shouldn’t wear any other animal, be it a fox, rabbit, or cow.
2. “The Little Mermaid”
This 1989 Disney classic is the first of many animated features to personify our seafood. Both Sebastian the lobster and Flounder the…well, flounder, are portrayed as the heroine’s friends – not her meal. The audience roots for Sebastian as he evades Chef Louie‘s assaults to chop and boil him. The point is driven further within the lyrics of “Under the Sea.” Sebastian sings, “The fish on the land ain’t happy. They sad cause they in the bowl. But fish in the bowl is lucky. They in for a worser fate. One day when the boss get hungry, guess who’s gon‘ be on the plate?” Sure, he may be a fictionalized character, but Sebastian’s message is loud and clear: fish have feelings and are not for human consumption.
There’s nothing like watching an adorable bond between a piglet and a Border Collie to make you reconsider your morning bacon. First produced in 1995 by Universal Productions, the story draws empathy for Babe, the piglet, as he searches to find his place on the farm. Apart from the “cute” factor, the viewer becomes attached to Babe as he searches for a sense of purpose. The idea hints that animals, like us, have complex feelings. We don’t want to just live, we want to belong to a family and find meaning in our lives.
4. “Chicken Run”
In 2000, Dreamworks made a fairly bold commentary on both the slaughter and egg-producing industries through this claymation film. Set on a British farm, the plot is centered around four hens and a rooster as they try to escape their deadly fate. If the hens don’t lay enough eggs within a week, they are sent to the potpie factory, run by the evil, greed-driven farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy. Dreamworks allows the story to get fairly dark; the climax takes place within the slaughter house where the main characters, Rocky and Ginger, nearly lose their heads. In the end, the chickens prevail; they destroy the potpie factory, escape the concentration-camp confines of the farm, and find a safe island to raise their new family.
5. “Finding Nemo”
“Fish are friends, not food.” The iconic quote from this instant 2003 Disney/Pixar classic says it all. Of course, the audience feels an immediate connection to the main characters – Marlin, Dori, and Nemo – but by the end of the film, the viewer feels sympathy for all fish. During the final conflict scene, Nemo is trapped in a commercial fishing net with hundreds of other fish, struggling to break free. The audience is on the edge of their seat, not only because we want Nemo to reunite with his dad, but because we feel for the nameless fish as well.
6. “The Good Dinosaur”
True, we don’t eat dinosaurs, but this 2015 Oscar nominee by Disney/Pixar invokes compassion for animals nonetheless. Arlo, the main character, cannot bring himself to kill another living being, even when prompted by his father and his unlikely human companion, Spot. In addition to Arlo leading by example, the film also utilizes shock value to invoke sympathy for animals. There is a rather disturbing scene where a group of manipulative pterodactyls pretend to save a furry, defenseless “critter,” only to ruthlessly kill and swallow it seconds later. In comparison to the unfeeling acts of the supporting characters, Arlo’s unwavering sense of compassion and empathy earn him the title “the good dinosaur.”
Pixar’s Oscar-winning 2008 animated feature gives the audience a somewhat comedic yet equally concerning glimpse into what the future could be like if humans continue down their current path of consumption. In the future, the Earth is a complete wasteland, piled with trash and completely uninhabitable. The humans have evacuated to a space shuttle, where they zoom around in electric chairs due to their flubber-like bodies, unable to perform much physical activity. The current trends of animal agriculture, a leading cause of pollution, and the high consumption of animal products through the standard fast food diet, could make this animated film a reality. WALL-E encourages its viewers to rethink their lifestyle and make healthier, more sustainable choices for themselves and the future of our planet.
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