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Are Animated Movies A New Approach To Serious Topics?

Dale Chong |
July 3, 2015 | 9:15 a.m. PDT

Film Editor

In the past year, I have seen two animated movies that confront the heavier issues of grief: “Big Hero 6,” released in 2014, and “Inside Out,” released this past month. While this particular topic is not actually the center of these films, they sure make the stories more relatable for every viewer; we know that these fictitious characters are just like us.

It didn’t initially occur to me that “Big Hero 6” was more than an animated action movie until a friend of mine mentioned how well Disney handled the main character Hiro’s grief for the loss of his brother; my friend felt that they portrayed grief in a very realistic manner. 

READ MORE: Film Review: 'Big Hero 6'

“Big Hero 6” touches lightly on how death can affect someone, while “Inside Out” approaches the young girl Riley’s grief directly. “Up,” though a surreal movie of traveling to a new land via helium-inflated balloons, demonstrates child neglect and Russ’s sense of abandonment from his own father. Movies like these are changing the story arc of animated children’s movies that was once as simple as heroes having an adventure and saving the day. While the basic idea is still underneath everything that happens, adding darker topics brings a new component to the screen. Yet it’s more than changing that story arc to create new and original movies for kids. 

Approaching topics like death and grief is certainly not an easy thing to do—especially for children’s movies. Rather than stick to the stereotypical portrayal of depression and death, filmmakers are moving in a different direction. When these serious topics are put into an entertaining setting, we see a normalization of how real people handle them; the characters may not be bouncing back from saddening events with resilience, but they show that despite any tragedy, the world keeps spinning. Though they aren’t light topics, grief, depression and abandonment are things to be greatly concerned with, but they are also things that needs to be handled in a variety of ways depending on the individual; these movies are showing that there isn’t just one image. Sadness comes in assorted forms. Grief, depression and feeling of abandonment are all very real feelings that can happen to anyone—they aren’t exclusive to lonely, dark and abnormal people who are seen as simply going through an angsty phase. 

READ MORE: Why 'Inside Out' Is So Important

Like any topic that isn’t generally talked about in the entertainment industry or other popular media, normalizing unfortunate events in children’s movies might help them better understand the feelings they’ll experience as they get older. Animated characters and settings might not be real, but that doesn’t mean the emotions they convey aren’t. If we see that these scary, serious issues come in different forms, maybe they won’t be as scary as we make them.

Reach Film Editor Dale Chong here. Follow her on Twitter here.



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