Saturday, February 7

Top 5 family movies with vegan messages (that won't scar your children for life)

Growing up in the 90's, I was exposed to a large number of environmentalist-message TV shows and films. Most of them, while having an impact, weren't disturbing to me at all (with the exception of perhaps the poaching episodes of Captain Planet and Widget the World Watcher) but some of them were just plain horrifying.

I will never forget sitting glued to the TV every afternoon watching The Animals of Farthing Wood feeling so anxious and nauseous about which animals were not going to survive the traps, hunters, and road crossings on their way to finding a new home; and it was pretty gruesome.

There was also an awful 8.5 minute claymation called Turtle World which showed monkeys building a civilization on the back of a turtle that swam through the sky and as they cut down trees the turtle became sadder, then the monkeys pried up one of the scutes of its shell and 'mined' down into its body while it cried, and eventually the turtle dies and so does everyone riding on it. DISTURBING. If you too want to be disturbed, you can watch it here. There was also another animation shown at Christmas time which depicted happy pine trees being cut down and taken away from their friends to wither in lounge rooms before finally being thrown out to die in the gutters. I wish I was embellishing that story but I truly am not. Merry Christmas.

And that was just on the TV. As far as movies went there were gems like Once Upon A Forest where animals are killed by poison gas thanks to a road being built through their woodland home, and FernGully: the last rainforest where one of the main characters was an escaped laboratory animal who had electrodes sticking out of his brain.

All I can say is thank god that my mother kept Bambi and Black Beauty away from me or else I may have spent the rest of my life rocking in a corner.

So, what can you do if you're an ethically-minded vegan adult wanting to instill the same values in your children without terrifying them and scarring them for life? Don't worry, as a massive fan of children's movies I have been there and done all the research for you! Here are my top 5 picks of child friendly movies with powerful vegan messages. 

Number 5
Beauty and the Beast (Disney)

What it's about:
Come on guys, it's a 'tale as old as time'! Classic fairy tale set in provincial 19th century France. Selfish prince is cursed by enchantress to live life as a hideous beast until he can learn to love, and is loved in return. Intellectual Belle offers herself as The Beast's prisoner in exchange for her father's freedom. They fall in love. There is singing furniture.

Vegan messages:
In his introductory song, Gaston, the villain, declares "I use antlers in all of my decorating". If that's not a bad guy, I don't know what is. Belle, at first afraid of the mysterious and wild Beast, soon befriends him and sees his true, gentle nature. She, like all Disney princesses, is also very kind and nurturing towards other animals, and teaches the Beast to be the same. When the villagers find out about The Beast, they are afraid of "what we don't understand" and, rallied by Gaston's cry of "We're not safe until his head is mounted on my wall!", they set off to hunt down and kill The Beast, despite Belle trying to educate them on his true gentle, loving nature (replace 'Beast' with any other wild animal!). However, love and kindness prevail, bad guys are vanquished, and miracles happen.

Warning: This movie was made almost 25 years ago, when scary scenes in children's movies were actually a bit scary. Beauty and the Beast has 2 scary scenes involving a pack of wolves, a scary looking man who runs an insane asylum and is involved in a plot to have Belle's father institutionalised, and the scary-ish mob scene at the end. Depending on your child, they might want you close-by during those scenes, especially during the first viewing when they don't know that it all turns out ok. The wolf scenes would also provide a good opportunity to talk with children about how wolves are generally misunderstood and are often portrayed as evil and aggressive when in reality they are not (much like The Beast!). Oh, and if your child is anything like I was, they may become most upset when The Beast regains his true, human, form and may have to be carried out of the cinema screaming "I want The Beast back!" But don't worry, they will get over it and by the time they are in their mid-twenties they will just sulk and mutter it under their breath during that scene.

Number 4
Finding Nemo (Disney Pixar)

What it's about:
Nemo, a young clownfish living on the Great Barrier Reef, strives for independence and to prove to his father that he is quite capable despite his disability. During an effort to illustrate this, he is caught by a diver and taken away to Sydney to live in an office aquarium. His dad, Marlin, must traverse the oceans in an effort to find his son and along the way is joined by the bubbly but very forgetful Dory, as well as a whole cast of other animals the pair meet along the way. Hilarity ensures.

Vegan messages:
The diver who takes Nemo, mistakenly believes that he 'saved' him while he was "struggling for life out on the reef", when in fact that was not the case at all, Nemo was doing fine in his natural habitat. This highlights the ethics of removing animals from the wild and assuming that we know what is best for them, as well as the ethics of taking animals from the wild to keep as pets. There is also a scene where Dory is captured in a fishing trawler's net and Nemo and Marlin must help her, and the hundreds of other fish in the net, escape. I think this scene does a really good job of illustrating the terror felt by the fish in the net, and their will to live. It is also a great example of the problem of by-catch. Dory is obviously not the target species and yet she is caught in the net all the same. Additionally, along their journey, Marlin and Dory meet a group of sharks who have decided not to eat fish anymore because "Fish are friends, not food". Yes, there are vegan characters in this movie. Sure, one of them has a bit of a relapse, but he is back to living his ethical lifestyle at the end. But where do they get their protein...?

Point of annoyance: Movie is set in Australia, almost all of the side characters have Australian accents, so why do the main characters have American accents? Weird and jarring.

Number 3
Monsters Inc (Disney Pixar)

What it's about:
Set in the world of monsters, in a city called Monstropolis, best friends Sully and Mike work at Monsters Inc, the city's power company. In the monster world, power is generated by collecting children's screams. Sully and Mike work on the scare floor, where only the elite work. Sully is the company's best scarer, and Mike is his assistant. To collect screams, wardrobe doors are used to enter into the world of humans. The scarer scares the child in the room and then leaves, while the assistant collects the child's scream in a canister. All is well until one day, Sully and Mike find themselves in possession of Boo, an escaped toddler. A child escaping into the monster world is unprecedented, and children are believed to be extremely dangerous. Together Sully and Mike must return Boo to her world without being caught. Along the way they discover an evil plot that goes all the way to the top of the company, to kidnap children and use a machine to suck their screams out of them in an effort to combat falling productivity. 

Vegan messages:
Monsters Inc is an industry that runs on the exploitation of children. Children are treated cruelly, scared, and traumatized, but no one questions this because it is socially normal. Children and their screams are commodities, and there is a belief that screams are necessary in order for society to function. Societal myths support the exploitation of children; children are believed to be toxic, dangerous, and stupid, they are not thought of as having feelings like the monsters, they are lesser beings. It is not until Sully and Mike make a meaningful connection to a child that they realise that the social myths are wrong. However, they still believe in scaring, just doing it in an 'ethical' way, i.e. going into children's bedrooms to scare them rather than kidnapping them and using "The Machine" to suck screams out of them. This is a similar stance to that taken by those who buy 'free range' meat and eggs rather than factory farmed. A turning point comes in a moving scene where Sully accidentally scares Boo and is faced with the reality of how terrifying he is to children, and how much they are suffering because of him. Sully realises that what he is doing is wrong, there is no excuse for it and scaring has to stop. Sully ends up revolutionizing the industry so that both monsters and children benefit, changing the whole of society and showing that there is a better way. Throughout, Sully is guided by love and kindness and in the end, everyone is happier when the system is changed to one based on kindness.

What else your child will gain:
An introduction to Steve Buscemi, Billy Crystal, and John Goodman, which can only be a good thing. Also, if you're a fan of Disney Pixar movies (as I am) you'll know to look out for Easter eggs (hidden references to other Disney Pixar movies). Monsters Inc probably has the most Easter eggs of any Disney Pixar movie.

Number 2
Brother Bear (Disney)

What it's about:
Brother Bear is a beautifully animated coming of age story that follows an Inuit boy named Kenai, whose transition to manhood, he is told, must be lead by love. During a confrontation with a bear, which Kenai provokes, his older brother, Sitka is killed. Kenai's other brother, Denahi, says that he doesn't blame the bear for Sitka's death, as the bear was only acting within its nature, he blames Kenai. Kenai then hunts down the bear and kills it in revenge for Sitka's death. However, the spirits, including Sitka's spirit, are extremely saddened by Kenai's actions, and transform him into a bear. Denahi, who has followed his brother, arrives shortly after the transformation and believes that Kenai is the bear who killed Sitka, and that it has killed Kenai as well. In a fit of grief, Denahi swears to avenge his two brothers and kill the bear, who is really Kenai. While dodging Denahi and journeying to a sacred mountain in an effort to regain his human form, Kenai meets a young bear named Koda, who promises to take him to the mountain if Kenai will accompany him to the salmon run, as he has become separated from his mother. Over the course of their journey, the two form a close bond, however when Koda tells the other bears how he became separated from his mother, Kenai suddenly realises with horror that Koda's mother was the bear that he killed. Kenai must take responsibility for his actions and their outcomes. He learns to live guided by love, and everyone is changed for the better. As the movie's tagline says, 'the story of a boy who became a man, by becoming a bear'.

Vegan messages:
Wow, where do you start with this one? Killing animals is wrong. Animals have thoughts and feelings just like us. Animals are just as important as humans. Animals are here for their own purposes, not ours. This whole movie is just a wrap-up of vegan values! Ok firstly, this film does an excellent job of showing the same series of events from the point of view of the human, Kenai, and the point of view of the bear, Koda's mother. If you ever wanted a perfect instrument for teaching empathy, Brother Bear is it. Secondly, through his transformation and the relationships he builds, Kenai learns that bears are not vicious, mindless monsters undeserving of kindness, like he had always thought thought they were. He also realises that the bears (and other animals) fear humans and try to run away rather than resort to confrontation. When he revisits the events leading up to his murder of Koda's mother, he realises that this is what she had tried to do. Kenai realises that there was no excuse for his actions, and in a heartbreaking scene he tells Koda, "I have a story to tell you. It's kind of about a man, and it's kind of about a bear, but mostly it's about a monster. Koda, I did something very wrong. You're mother's not coming." By the end of his journey, Kenai chooses to put the needs of the animals above his own needs, and his transition into manhood is complete. Brother Bear does a great job of showing that all life on this planet is connected, all life is equal, and all life is sacred.

Also useful for:
Times when you need a good cry but can't find a socially appropriate reason to do so.

Number 1
How to Train Your Dragon (DreamWorks)

What it's about:
Hiccup is a Viking boy on the verge of manhood. Hiccup's home island, Berk, is periodically raided by dragons, who steal the Vikings' food. The Vikings respond by fighting the dragons and killing them (don't worry, you don't see any dragons being killed). Small, scrawny, accident-prone, and not dragon-fighting material, Hiccup is a disappointment to his tough, chieftain father. Hiccup's strongest desire is to kill a dragon to prove himself to his father, his community, and of course his love interest. There are many kinds of dragons, each different in its attack methods and the skill it takes to kill. The most dangerous of all dragons is one which is never seen, the Night Fury. No Viking would even attempt to engage a Night Fury in combat, so of course this dragon is Hiccup's target. Miraculously, Hiccup manages to catch a Night Fury, but he doesn't have the heart to kill it, and instead lets it free. However, the catlike dragon has been injured during capture, and is unable to fly. Hiccup ensures that the dragon, whom he names Toothless, is kept secret from the rest of the island's inhabitants, and constructs a prosthetic for the missing part of Toothless' tail, the part which is preventing him from flying. However, the pair discover that the prosthetic will not work on its own, Toothless will only be able to fly again if he is ridden by a human, so that the human can turn the prosthetic like a rudder for Toothless. Slowly Hiccup and Toothless gain one another's trust and friendship, and work in partnership. Meanwhile, Hiccup is enrolled in dragon-fighting school, where he uses his new found understanding of dragons and their behaviour to avoid having to fight any. However, this plan backfires when Hiccup comes top of the class and is giving the 'honour' of killing a captured dragon. Needless to say, Hiccup refuses, Toothless is discovered and captured, and everything gets very bad. Hiccup's father uses Toothless to lead him to the dragons' nest, where he hopes to kill them all. Of course this doesn't happen though, Hiccup and Toothless are reunited, minds are changed, dragons are saved, and the society is reformed into one where humans and dragons live in harmony. Hooray!

Vegan messages:
It was very, very tough ranking Brother Bear and How to Train Your Dragon, and How to Train Your Dragon only just came first, mostly because I think that it is very relevant to our society at present. Something that strikes me in this movie is the activism messages, and the 'it's ok to be different' messages. Basically, How to Train Your Dragon says it's ok to have ideas and beliefs that are different from the mainstream. It speaks to me as a vegan, saying yes, people might oppose you and your views, people close to you included, mostly because they are afraid of change and a move away from 'tradition', you must persist anyway. How to Train Your Dragon is about doing what's right, not what's popular, it's about questioning authority and 'the way things are'. It also highlights that old saying, 'the most dangerous phrase in the English language is "Because that's the way we've always done it"'. Hiccup goes against his family and community because of differing morals, and I'm sure that's something that a lot of vegans can sadly relate to. Like Brother Bear, this movie teaches that killing animals is wrong, teaches kindness and respect towards animals, and says that animals have feelings and a purpose of their own. Hiccup's father exploits Toothless, and this is shown to be wrong. Hiccup can't kill Toothless, this is seen as a sign of weakness and of not being a 'real man', but it is actually a sign of strength. Like Brother Bear, How to Train Your Dragon says that kindness and empathy towards animals is manly and heroic. I think that this is a very important message. Once his hunting quarry, Hiccup feels guilt and remorse for injuring Toothless. He feels responsible for Toothless' wellbeing as the injury has taken away Toothless' freedom and ability to return to the wild. As with the children in Monsters Inc, and 'farm animals' in the real world, in How to Train Your Dragon there are societal myths about dragons that justify their treatment, dragons are believed to be ruthless, stupid, and evil. And like Beauty and the Beast, this movie really highlights how lack of understanding leads to fear, and we see this all the time, in relation to sharks for example. Hiccup seeks to achieve a humane society through education and this reminds me of a quote from one of my favourite books, Priceless by Bradley Trevor Greive: 'In the end we will save only what we love, and we will love only what we understand'. I believe this is so true. All in all, I find How to Train Your Dragon so powerful and moving. How could it not rank first in this list with a quote like: "I wouldn't kill him because he looked as terrified as I was. I looked at him and I saw myself."? And let's not forget that moment:

Unfortunately How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not vegan at all in its messages, which is very disappointing. The dragons are pretty much treated like horses and viewed as commodities. Don't even GO there with the 'sport' that sees the protagonists throwing terrified sheep through the air into hoops for entertainment. I also do have a few negative points I'd like to share about the original. Firstly, the movie does have a bit of a conflicting message, being all 'wild animals want to be free' at the start, and moving towards a mutually beneficial trust/respect partnership towards the middle and the end. Also, during the fight scene at the end, the protagonists are mean to the 'bad dragon' that is controlling the others (though it is suggested that this might be natural hive behaviour? Confusing), and do kill it. How to Train Your Dragon also suffers from The Nemo Effect, all of the characters have Scottish accents except Hiccup and his friends, who have American accents. WHY?!

Special Mention
WALL-E (Disney Pixar)

As WALL-E just missed out on making the top 5, I'm putting it in as an added bonus, because it's awesome.

What it's about:
WALL-E is set in the future, where Earth has become uninhabitable due to the enormous amounts of rubbish generated by humans. The humans have abandoned the planet and have been orbiting around in a big spaceship for generations waiting for the planet to be cleaned up by the WALL-E waste disposal robots. WALL-E is the last functioning robot on the planet. He meets EVE, a life-probe robot sent from the human ark spaceship on periodic missions to search for signs of life. She finds it and together she and WALL-E embark on a journey to save mankind from themselves and bring them back to Earth. And on the way romance ensures. Of course.

Vegan messages:
Ok so not quite vegan, more environmental, but being vegan is great for the environment right?! WALL-E is a gentle soul who is kind to the cockroach that he meets while cleaning up all the rubbish on the abandoned Earth. When EVE first sees the cockroach she is afraid because she doesn't understand it, and she tries to kill it. WALL-E stops her and teaches her how to connect with animals. Together WALL-E and EVE fight to protect the fragile life of Earth and bring the humans home to live in harmony with the natural world. Man, I can never get through the end credits (where the children are learning to plant vegetables and life is returning to the planet) without crying my eyes out.

Other reasons you should see it:
This film is a cinematic masterpiece. There is no dialogue FOR THE FIRST 22 MINUTES and it doesn't need it, it is amazing. The main characters themselves only say 5 words between them, and are machines and yet they convey everything through their dialogue and 'facial' expressions. I have no idea how they convey so much though their faces, absolutely exceptional character design and animation. When WALL-E changes, you know it, just by looking at his face. The music and sound are great, but visually, this movie is amazing. If you can, watch it on blu ray with a HD TV and be blown away by the fire extinguisher scene. Oh, and the movie also has a big message about corporatisation, consumerism, and reliance on technology. And is a huge homage to 2001: a space odyssey.

Happy watching! :)


  1. Great post! We love all these movies at our place :)

    1. Thanks :) I love them at my house too ha ha! My family movies (especially the Disney ones!) probably get watched more than my grown up movies ha ha!


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