The Great Animation Movie Debate!


I texted a good friend of mine the other day bragging about the perfect reviews Pixar’s Inside Out is garnishing (an extremely rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes). A month before its release, critics are calling it emotional, inventive, and the best Pixar film to date. It’s also clear that the animated movie deals with some pretty heady stuff, as is common with Pixar movies. The newest installment deals with the emotional struggles that an adolescent girl deals with as life upends itself on her.

My friend told me that he’s uncomfortable letting his young kids watch Pixar movies because he doesn’t think they need to be thinking about the thematic elements that Pixar surrounds their stories around. Some examples being:

* The reality of death in Up

* Breaking away from parental control as demonstrated in Finding NemoEJyZlRLgPBsl

* Shedding childhood bliss as Andy – and his toys – did in that tear-jerking scene in Bonnie’s front yard

* Coming to terms with the fact that you, in fact, cannot be anything you want to be as Mike Wazowski discovers in Monsters University

*Learning that the world may not accept you no matter how talented you are like in Ratatouille

And the list goes on.

Pixar, though fun and inventive, certainly unlocks the hard truths of life, exposing kids to life’s uncertainties and reminding grown ups of the unavoidable hardships we all encounter.

My friend certainly does have a point about Pixar movies tending to dwell on the darker side of things. He said he had an issue with Pixar trying to fit these adult themes into movies that are intended to be for kids and asserted that they actually are better for just adults.

I wonder if that would be a point of pride for the Pixar guys. I, of course, responded that that’s what I love about swastikathem! (I’ve alluded a while back that I’m working on a young reader’s novel that takes place in 1940’s Germany … so I’m all for darker subject matter.)

He went on to say that Pixar movies introduces all these issues that his kids shouldn’t have to be thinking about, which is something I can appreciate, for sure. But I think that’s what separates more protective parents like him from guys like me who, if my daughter bumps her head, I tell her to shake it off and that’s life (I’m working on being more sensitive).

But I prefer to introduce these issues to our kids at a young age so that they kind of morph into grown ups with the basics of life – the good and the bad – already tucked away so there’s no surprises. But then, there’s something to be said about nurturing childhood innocence as well…

He concluded our debate by saying, “We were just at Disneyland yesterday and I couldn’t help but think that anytime Disney teams up with Pixar they lose a little of that original magic in [an] attempt to make a film more ‘authentic’ emotionally.”


I feel like I’m caught in the middle of my two best friends who hate each other and my loyalties are being tested. But I’ll keep trying to convince him that Pixar movies are way more effective than the Looney Tunes-like Dreamworks abominations, fit for Saturday morning television, and I’ll continue to catechize my kids in the way of Pixar and be ready to answer any tough question they might bring me (except I’m going to hold off on showing them Toy Story 3 for a long, long time).

What are your thoughts on the debate? Are Pixar films too adult for children? Is it better to let them carry on in childlike innocence and hide them away from the fears and uncertainties of the world? Share your input below and join my new Facebook author page for more fun stuff!

Published by Andrew Toy

Writer when I'm not being a husband or dad. So mostly just a husband and dad.

44 thoughts on “The Great Animation Movie Debate!

  1. I’m totally with you! I’ve kind of wrestled with this a bit myself but I am sure that kids know about this stuff anyway – how can they not? – and so it’s best for them to be exposed to it in a safe way through art and literature.

  2. I think they are great film makers, and yes, to a degree, kids need to understand much more about life, earlier on, nowadays…. So why not in a more light hearted way?

  3. My husband doesn’t believe in censoring for our children. He says the real world isn’t censored and that doing so not only gives kids a false view of life but, depending on the subject matter, can leave them vulnerable to those who would take advantage of them or seek to abuse. I agree and teaching children at a young age how to respond to stress can limit the harmful physical and emotional effects of stress.

    1. I’m not sure I would un-censor things all together. I think with our kids we’re going to allow things to be revealed in stride.

  4. I think kids won’t understand the underlying themes yet, when they first watch the Pixar films. They’ll enjoy the colors, the songs, and won’t probably be doing any deep pondering until they become more mature. But I think it would be advantageous for parents if they’re there watching movies with their children. It gives them the opportunity to bond with their kids over such life-influencing topics, and with the proper guidance, ensure that their kids understand such valuable lessons.

  5. Bit of a touchy subject really, I don’t have children so I hate telling parents how to parents. I’m sure though in every single one of those movies, everyone has a happy ending. Sure, some of the topics in the Pixar movies might be tough, but they teach important lessons and they show the world doesn’t stop just because something bad may have happened. Its all okay.
    If not Pixar, real life will teach those kids.

    1. I love this comment. “the world doesn’t stop just because something bad may have happened.” Something I need to remind myself sometimes.

  6. Uh…I don’t know how you can say Disney movies don’t dwell on the darker side of things. Disney animation tends to kill off parents, have villains that think nothing of committing murder, and don’t mind tossing in characters who are emotionally, and sometimes physically abusive. If we’re going to keep our kids from thinking of ‘dark things’ then they shouldn’t be watching television, playing most video games, or spending any real time generally surfing the web.

    I believe we don’t give kids enough credit for being able to process heavy themes; it’s not until we get older that we ascribe the ‘weight’ of these ideas. As kids, we were able to take in quite a bit without it clouding our childish enthusiasm or damaging our psyche.

    I say keep the delivery of the ‘dark side’ as light as possible, via well written / age appropriate media, then TALK to your kids; encourage them to ask questions and respond with honesty.

    1. I never said Disney movies don’t dwell on the dark side of things 🙂 Sometimes they’re darker than Pixar movies (Big Hero 6, for one).

      1. …sorry, should have made it clearer that the “you” in my comment was directed at your friend :-). I haven’t seen Big Hero 6 yet, should I have my therapist on speed dial? (written with humor)

  7. Interesting debate! I understand how youĺr friend feels, wanting to protect his child from the harsher realities. I think we all would love to shield our children from hurt and the dark side of life. Having said that, I am absolutely with you: this is something that can’t be done forever and I believe showing them examples of resilience can help them understand they’re not alone when they eventually do have to deal with something difficult such as the death of a loved one.

  8. Oy. It would NEVER have occurred to me to consider Disney less “dark” or “real” than Pixar. You’ve got to consider a young kid’s perception of reality. To them, fantasy is as real as real life (the understanding of that distinction doesn’t kick in until about age 5 or 6, and even then takes time to develop). Take Disney’s Cinderella – dead parents (theme of death), a girl at the mercy of a nasty, vicious, bullying stepmother and -sisters (powerlessness, bullies…) and all of it packaged in such a way that it’s crystal-clear to a young viewer that that is what’s in fact going on, while in some of the Pixar movies, those themes are peripheral to the story itself. And never mind all the dragons and murderous witches and what-not in Disney… Talk about terrifying!

    But more importantly, the whole point of movies is to PROCESS those themes. In both Disney and Pixar, the protagonists *come to terms* with those issues, and through them, the viewers do too. Movies like that are an excellent way for kids to learn about those themes in a safe, non-traumatising way with a great happy end that makes everything okay. You can’t shield kids from life, and nor should you. Stories are a great way for children to be introduced to life issues without being overwhelmed by them.

    (And on another note, if you need another beta reader for your 1940’s German story, give me a ping at I’m a history buff who was born & raised in Germany and can read for cultural accuracy.)

    1. Thanks for all the insight! And you’ll see requests down the line for reviewers for the book when it’s complete 🙂

  9. What’s darker than Snow White? Her stepmother tried to have her murdered, and her heart delivered back to her in a case. Or Pinocchio all over the place? Or Bamb (Mom shot)i, Fantasia (Night on Bald Mountain), and Dumbo (Mom sent to prison)? All go to very dark places. The best animated features aren’t great because they’re made for “kids (they’re not),” but because they’re great MOVIES. They just happen to be animated. Animation is not a “genre.” There are appropriate times to show specific films to children, but they’re a lot smarter than most people/parents give them credit for. And over-protecting them is delaying the inevitable and retarding their education.

    1. I HATED Bambi as a kid! And I didn’t even watch the movie; we just had a picture book of it. Mom dies, and never comes back. How scary is that? And The Lion King is just a rehash of the same story.
      On the other hand, take Toy Story: the creepy toy-torturing boy next door gets his come-uppance very, very thoroughly. Scary problem resolved, Heroes triumphant! Hurrah!

  10. Looking back on the darker side of Disney, I don’t remember being particularly affected by it. Bambi’s mum, Mufasa, Dumbo’s mum; the things that happened to these characters were just moments in a story for me. Now I watch them and I cry like a baby.
    I think the emotional and real element of Pixar allows adults to connect with a children’s movie. It also makes the films feel less formulaic, and may inspire children to write well rounded, three dimensional stories in their own creative writing.
    And then there’s the negative impacts of Disney for young viewers. Over entitled princesses, damsels in distress, love at first sight etc. This can be very damaging at an early age, and give children an unrealistic view of what to expect from life. Beauty and the Beast being an exception to this rule…mostly. Underpriviledged smart girl rejects the dashing rich man, overcomes appearances, falls in love once she gets to know someone…etc etc.

    1. I don’t remember being negatively affected by them either. It was the same for me – they were just parts of the story.

  11. Thanks for the follow – it allowed me to discover your blog.
    It’s an interesting debate.
    I think – unless there is overt horror – kids tend to take what they can from a film, given their level of emotional development. If the film brings up issues they want to discuss, well that’s a great lead-in for a sensitive parent to talk it through in a safe setting.
    In my career as a teacher, I had sometimes to work with little kids who had sadly lost a family member. How much better to become aware of your thoughts about death through Bambi or The Lion King, than when Mum dies and you’re only 8 years old.

  12. I absolutely agree with you, I don’t believe that the situations are too real or too dark for a child. Real children go through things very early in life. Teaching them to have that knowledge before hand can help them more than sheltering them. I myself lost my mother at the age of 11 to colon cancer. So I watch movies like “Up” and love the fact that they can turn such an emotional thing into something beautiful.

  13. I love Pixar Films for the themes they present. I’m not a parent yet, but it was during my childhood that the first few Pixar films were released. I think a major flaw in this argument is the notion of the films “introducing” children to these themes and emotions. The reality is that there are no emotions or feelings that are felt strictly by adults or by children. We all are capable of feeling intense anger, hatred, love, joy, and grief. There are some children that have experienced deep loss that some adults have not even had to experience yet. The main difference being that children may not have the language to put these feelings into words, or think abstractly about them yet. But they still feel them. I think that what Pixar does in its films is give children a context for these feelings, or a way to help deal with them, or a language to help them express it to others.

  14. I’m not a parent, but I was a kid once. My mother used to say that she addressed uncomfortable issues with us because if she didn’t we’d learn from others or be unprepared when faced with them along. I think the Pixtar movies are a great way to relate and start dialog about some of the tough issue. Parents can try to put these topics of discussion off for a while, but by the time they are ready, the kids may already have heard tons of views on the matter.

  15. I like the idea of holding on to a childlike innocence but really that innocence is just an ideal. Children have to deal with loss growing up and I’ll admit that All Dogs Go to Heaven helped me when we buried our first dog. I think these topics help nourish complex thought processes in our children, which is why we show them longer films in the first place instead of restricting them to just educational TV shows through their formative years. How quickly will a child bore of Dora the Explorer when all Dora does is explore and teach Spanish? Yes Pixar does focus on some of the darker aspects of life but it also shows us that we can positively persevere. Yes Ellie dies in UP and leaves Carl’s world upside down, but by the end of the movie he has found renewed hope in life and a drive to build a new future. That is the magic of Pixar, not the dark side of life but how we can survive it!

    1. So true. Always an upbeat ending with hope – and not a false hope, but a hope married with loads of truth.

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