May 4, 2021

how animated movies help with learning

There is a complexity and sophistication to some young people’s movies that is often overlooked.  Regardless of age, some young people’s movies contain powerful and worthwhile messages that can be helpful reminders to adults as well.


Take away: Trauma can influence our interpersonal patters. Trust and intimacy are important, but need to be earned

Frozen is the story of two orphan sisters coming together to save their kingdom.  However, it is also about emotional intimacy in the wake of trauma.  After accidentally harming her sister, then losing her parents, Elsa closes herself off from intimacy.  Intimacy requires vulnerability that did not feel safe after what she had been through.  Her isolation allowed her to avoid that sense of vulnerability and created a perception of power and control.  However, it also created suffering, both for her and her sister.  This movie highlights the importance of summoning the courage to be vulnerable and trust others in spite of the fact that intimacy always runs the risk of ending in hurt.

Frozen also does a great job of highlighting the silly and toxic representations of romantic relationships depicted in traditional princess stories or movies.  Elsa’s foil, her younger sister Ana, responds to her childhood trauma by desperately seeking connection with the first person who is willing to offer her attention.  Human beings are complex and multifaceted.  It takes time to truly know and understand another person.  Furthermore, intimacy and trust are earned over time.  Many of us can relate with these sisters in the wake of our own trauma, and we can learn from the message given by the film.

Wall E

Take away: Ease and happiness are not one in the same.  Resilience and values congruent behavior are pathways to wellbeing.

On its surface, Wall E is about environmentalism and respect for our planet.  Its images of a pollution and garbage ravaged Earth are harrowing.  However, it also contains a very powerful message regarding discomfort avoidance.  There is a significant difference between complacency and contentment.  When our actions are dictated by our desire to circumvent any form of effort or distress, we don’t find the meaning and peace that we seek. When we overcome hardship, we cultivate a sense of our own abilities, self worth, and purpose. We cannot rise to the challenge if we never experience challenge.  For most of the movie, the humans seem to experience numbness rather than the happiness that they seek.  It’s only after they return to Earth to begin the massive endeavor of re-starting life that they show excitement and joy.


Take away: If we hide our true selves for the sake of fitting in, the acceptance we experience will not offer the connection or joy we expect.

From the initial scene where Shrek reads a traditional fairytale while on the toilet, it is clear that the film will be an irreverent mockery of the trope.  The story has overt messaging about the importance of not judging others based on their appearance.  It also has subtler messaging around acceptance that brings to mind Brene Brown’s saying, “Fitting in is the opposite of belonging”.  Fiona’s acceptance in society means nothing when she is not being her authentic self.  Many of us crave belonging, but it does not offer the connection and happiness that we expect if it requires that we hide our authentic selves in order to “fit in”.  Acceptance means very little when the recipient is an incomplete or altered version of ourselves.  Cultivating the bravery involved in risking rejection is difficult, but it is also a pathway towards more meaningful belonging.

The lessons that we teach our children are more important than ever as adults.  We have more complex challenges and greater responsibilities, which actually increases the likelihood of needing to keep these lessons in mind.  For your next movie night, consider an animated film.  The plot summary may be simple, but many of them are grounded in theories that are both thoughtful and powerful.

If you would like support to navigate your adult experience or some unfinished business from your younger years, we welcome you to contact us at Steady NYC.

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About the author
Sophia Kaplan

Sophia Armington specializes in mindfulness techniques for individuals with trauma-based anxiety and depression. Like most people, Sophia came to the mental health field through her own lived experiences. Sophia knows how challenging it can be to reach out for support, and she stands in awe of the bravery people show by taking that first step.