Talking animals. Animated characters. Magic.
Looking back on my childhood, the movies I watched were, for the most part, filled with at least one of these things and almost always featured some kind of animal. On the surface, they all have that in common and each ultimately ended with some kind of happily ever after for the characters in the movie. But looking beyond that, each animal-oriented movie I'll reflect on actually has impressive wisdom to impart to their viewers. Here are some of the more important lessons from some of my favorite childhood movies that have animals in them.
The first childhood movie I'll discuss is a timeless classic: Disney's The Lion King. For those of you who live under a rock and haven't seen the movie, it's an animated movie about a lion cub named Simba, who is born to the lion king Mufasa. Mufasa's younger brother, Scar, is unhappy that Simba will inherit the kingdom and Scar causes the death of Mufasa but makes Simba think it was really his fault. Simba runs away at Scar's urging, which allows Scar to take over as king. Simba flees the kingdom and becomes friends with Timon and Pumba, a meerkat and warthog, respectively, and he grows up with them. Simba is eventually brought home, where he battles his uncle and defeats Scar, rightfully claiming his place as king.
The Lion King has some important lessons to teach young viewers, besides just boasting a kick-ass soundtrack. Firstly, you can't run away from your problems or your past, because ultimately when you come back, they'll be there waiting for you. Simba runs away because he thinks his kingdom will blame him for his father's death but ultimately he can't run away forever and has to return to his kingdom sometime. Another lesson from Lion King is that friends come in unexpected packages as seen when Simba, a lion, is befriended by Timon and Pumba, who are animals he'd typically eat.
Disney imparts another important lesson in the movie 101 Dalmatians, an animated movie about a family of Dalmatians who are threatened by the villainous Cruella De Vil, who wants to use their polka-dotted fur to make herself a coat. Dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdita have a litter of 15 puppies, but their offspring are stolen by Cruella's henchmen and taken to a spooky mansion where they join 84 more Dalmatian puppies that Cruella had collected.
Pongo and Perdita find all the puppies and decide to adopt the rest of them and take them home with them, sure that their owners Roger and Anita wouldn't turn them away. The group of 101 Dalmatians makes its way back home to London and Roger and Anita decide to buy a huge house in the country and keep all the dogs. The important lesson from this childhood movie is that families aren't made from blood; they're made from love.
Besides animated childhood movies with animals teaching important lessons, there are also other childhood movies with animal protagonists that have valuable knowledge and wisdom within them as well, like Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey and Babe. In Homeward Bound, the story is told by Chance, an American Bulldog, who belongs to the Burnford family, along with Golden Retriever Shadow, and Himalayan cat Sassy.
When the Burnfords go on vacation to San Francisco, the animals are left with a family friend at her ranch and think they've been abandoned by their owners. The animals then decide to leave the ranch to go look for their owners and head into the mountainous wild. The animals have to learn to fend for themselves in the wild and manage to stick together and get by until they are crossing a river and Sassy is swept away and goes over a waterfall. Shadow and Chance believe she is dead and continue on, saddened by the loss of their feline friend.
Sassy is rescued and nursed back to health by a mountain man and finds her way back to the canine boys and the trio come across a lost little girl shortly thereafter. They protect her overnight and in the morning, Shadow finds her rescue party and leads them to the little girl, and the animals are taken to the local animal shelter after being recognized as the Burnfords' missing pets from flyers. The animals escape the pound but Shadow falls into a muddy pit and tells Sassy and Chance to go on without him as he's too old to get out and the others can't help him.
The movie ends with all of the animals running across the yard to be reunited with their owners, having made the incredible journey back home. (Cue sobbing). The important lessons from this lovable movie are to follow your instincts and that home is where your people are.
Lastly, the movie Babe, about an orphaned piglet who is adopted by a sheepdog and becomes a sheep herder himself, also has an important lesson to teach viewers. Babe struggles to find his place at the farm but by the end of the movie, has established himself as a part of the animal family and a fixture at the farm. In the last scenes, he competes and wins a sheep-herding competition, which earned him the infamous praise, "That'll do, Pig. That'll do," from his farmer owner, played by James Cromwell. The important lesson Babe imparts is not to let who or what you are keep you from being who you want to be.