Once upon a time, younger audiences were taught lessons through fairy tales and short stories by authors such as Aesop, Dr. Suess, and Roald Dahl. Stories like the “Tortoise and the Hare,” “Green Eggs and Ham,” and “Matilda” taught lessons to kids using character, concepts, and humor that were easier for them to understand.
Today, the animation studio Pixar is the new Aesop, Dr. Suess, and Roald Dahl, churning out movies and short films that teach younger audiences lessons that apply to modern life. Their latest film, “Onward,” in theaters now, shares the story of elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot and their quest to spend one more day with their father, who passed away when they both were younger. Although it is an animated film targeted towards a younger demographic, “Onward” grapples with the topic of grief and the impact it has on an individual and others.
Animated films from the past few years such as “Zootopia,” “Coco,” “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse,” and “Inside Out” among others have been slowly changing the blueprint for those types of movies, by creating stories that guide younger audiences through life’s more difficult topics. These films have addressed topics of sexism, puberty, racism, grief, divorce, and death along with many others while still maintaining all the elements of humor, magic, fantasy, and hope that children’s stories have always included.
Although these stories typically included talking animals, magic and other characters and situations that may not be real, all the different stories come from a place of truth. It is crazy to think that “Onward,” a story that includes a centaur cop, a biker gang of fairies, and dumpster diving unicorns (who’s existence in the universe is quite similar to raccoons), is loosely based on director and creator Dan Scanlon’s life.
According to an interview done by Variety, Scanlon, like Ian and Barley, lost his father at a young age and spent a long time looking for something or someone to fill the void which the lack of a father left in his life. Creating “Onward,” along with the 300 other Pixar filmmakers who worked on the movie, allowed Scanlon to process some of his childhood experiences and trauma by creating a story that fantasizes his experiences growing up while creating a piece that resonates with younger audience members who may be going through similar situations.
Children are humans who experience life just like everyone else, and today’s animated films treat them as such. Studios for animated films like Pixar are consistently creating stories that address topics that kids all over the world experience today, while still allowing kids to be kids. These movies show how confusing and intimidating life can be while showcasing how magical and beautiful the world is when you always have hope and kindness in your heart.