Trust me when I say I never had so much trouble finding a movie. I work as a babysitter. Every day, the child I look after will go to bed at 9 and I will tiptoe back to the living room to watch 3 episodes of Criminal Minds before the mother comes back. On Friday however, they can stay up until 10.30pm instead because well, weekends! So what do we do? We watch a movie (or they watch Youtube for Kids on their iPad). I was scrolling through the whole Disney and Netflix kids catalogue for almost 30 minutes straight, trying my best to find a decent enough movie to play.
I first went to Disney and started with the classics. Mulan. My ultimate favourite but it’s about war, I didn’t think it would be a good idea to let a child watch violence and disobedience. Cinderella. Pretty dress and sparkling shoes but what if the kid develops a victim complex, hoping for a charming prince to come and sweep them off their feet while people bully them, or worse, becomes the bully itself. The Little Mermaid. Err, do I even have to point it out? The falling in love, changing herself to fit a particular standard and being super irrational? Nope, not gonna let that toxicity get inside their mind. I had to settle with the Princess and the Frog. Yikes for the kissing the frog part but overall it was the best I could find (at that time! Thinking back, Finding Nemo would not have been too bad but ya, moving on).
Children learn from repeating things they have seen and watched, yet movies made specifically for them are shaping them into having unrealistically high expectations towards life. We all have the ‘perfect’ life at the back of our minds. But has anyone ever given a thought on how we even build them? How did little 10-year-old us come to wanting to be the famous socialite among schoolmates? Or why is it that we look so highly to people who are great at sports? Or idolizes those who shine brightly under the burning lights? If we look back at our generations who grew up watching iCarly and Hannah Montana. Everyone never seems to have enough clothings while every second of their lives are plastered on all existing social media platforms. The most important, our endless need for entertainment and drama in our everyday lives. We thrive for them. That is literally the main reason why TikTok is so famous. The dances? Yea they are cool but the gossip, oh ho ho, they are the main course. A teeny reminder, when something is out on the internet, it never gets deleted 🙂
Movies are powerful marketing channels. From product placements to unconsciously predicting world related phenomenons (hint; The Simpsons), they rarely fail. Older children’s animation movies or shows revolve around the theme of “once upon a time” and Barbie world. These movies silently embody stereotypes and shape their whole personality from a very young age, nurturing them. Take the Barbie world for example (because for real, who in the world had not watched at least one Barbie movie?????). The main characters are always one with blonde hair, blue eyes, an hourglass body, and tall. She can dance, rap, sing, paint, play the guitar, etc but most importantly she always ends up with a Prince Charming. Sure there are important themes in the movies such as friendship (Barbie and the Diamond Castle, 2008 & Barbie and the Three Musketeers, 2009) and family love (Barbie: Princess Charm School, 2011) but they are not as significant as the details in the movies. Every person I know in my life wanted the locker-cum-change room thingy they have in the Princess Charm School. Those little fairies would also be a huge huge help in life!
Over the years, the animation movies industry moved away from predominant storyline to more about the real world issues. They began to evolve into something more valuable, understanding and learning through a story. Values delivered through movies tend to stick longer since they are more impactful; ultimately transforming one’s life, be it physically or mentally. Seeing and understanding different viewpoints changes one’s understanding and sometimes even their stand towards it.
Frozen will be 10 years old at the end of this year but to me, it felt like it was out only yesterday. Ana, the queen of Arendelle, is an epitome of women empowerment. The whole movie was about her bracing her unique self. Anastasia (1999), Mulan (1998), Brave (2012), Moana (2016), Lilo and Stitch (2002), and The Incredibles (2004, 2018) are some other movies with strong female characters who are motivated and are not swayed away by neither the existence of men nor their dazzling charms. One can see that following 2010, movies are more likely to have a strong female character than the previous decade. This can be attributed to the rise of female-led movements starting from the 2006 MeToo movement, which led to multiple other contributions such as law enforcements on working women and choices regarding pregnancy; women equality in general.
Another example of a strong-themed movie is the movie A Strange World (2022) which revolves around the Clades. Jaeger, the grandfather, is a discoverer whose ambition is to explore more places, specifically beyond the icy mountain. The father, on the other hand, Searcher, is a farmer who prefers to stay and use the resources they could find. Then comes the boy, Ethan who loves the place he is living in. He wants to go out and discover the world but he also knows how to appreciate the beauty of his home and the resources he already has. In one part of the movie, while stuck in an uncharted land, the three of them were playing a card game called Primal Outpost, Ethan’s favourite. The aim of the game was to create a settlement in the wilderness, harmoniously. The two older Clades were focused on killing the monsters to protect their settlements instead of making decisions to live with them. Despite being reminded multiple times that they were neither allowed to kill the monsters nor manipulate them, the older Clades continued on with their strategy of killing what they saw as threatening creatures. Ethan was enraged and left in the middle of it while shouting the theme of the movie (SPOILER ALERT), “You are supposed to live harmoniously with your environment”. At the end of the movie, it was revealed that they were actually living off the back of an enormous turtle. The strange world that they discovered was in fact the inside of the creature (END OF SPOILER). Personally, what I think the movie is trying to convey is not only that we have to learn to adapt to our surroundings but it is, too, crucial to understand that the world we live in is also living, breathing, and beating its own heart. We are no different with fleas or leeches if we continue with this one-sided relationship. The least we could do is establish a commensalistic relationship. These days, more and more people are shifting towards being more environmentally aware hence tilting the balance a little. They know their carbon footprints and are trying to reduce them. Yet, there still exist groups of people who believe that NASA is lying and our Mother Nature is indeed not dying (or whether the Earth is flat, huh). The rest are either not caring or not doing anything at all.
It is admirable to see the incorporation of current forever-going issues being (not-so-)subtly addressed in movies and shows that we watch. This corroborates the care of a fraction of the human population towards these issues. With overconsumption and capitalism running the world, this spark of hope in mankind is what the newer generation needs. They need to know that their path leaves footprints and that pollution leaves a permanent scar on Earth. Learning gets harder when we are older not because our mind ages but because our body remembers. Shaping the children to be more environmentally aware, for example, would be the better investment. As they grow older, the continuity of their practices, even as common as recycling, ultimately makes Earth more breathable. If we were to apply the same theory to all other problems, well, that is work half done. We will have to only anticipate the result, hoping it comes back favourable for them and their offsprings. Our hands are not tied, all hope is not lost. The key is to always practise good deeds so that children see, learn, follow, and maintain.
Cinematography is a crucial channel, for both the present and the future. Use it wisely or like everything else, it will only cause more harm than good.