Children have a natural sense of affection and tendency to form strong bonds with animals. Perhaps this is why so many children’s stories and movies feature animals as their protagonists. From The Ugly Duckling, to Winnie the Pooh, and Dumbo, children are taught that animals have feelings too, and that we, humans, should be sensitive to them.
But the 4 children’s movies introduced below don’t only teach us that animals have feelings, they also carry a vegan message of compassion and empathy towards others, regardless of their species. These movies can help to gently introduce children to the different ways animals are harmed and exploited in various industries throughout the world, and what they can do about it.
1. Bee Movie
Bee Movie is a 2007 Dreamworks animated adventure comedy that will get children thinking about where honey and other animal byproducts come from, and whether we have the right to obtain them through exploitation.
Barry the bee (Jerry Seinfeld) is a recent college graduate with what some might call high ideals. He is fed up with humans taking all the honey he and the other bees work so tirelessly to produce. He finds Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), a human who understands him and believes in his mission, and together they sue the human race for taking advantage of bees. The presiding judge (Oprah Winfrey) declares victory for the bees.
Bee Movie touches primarily on topics of exploitation, and of animals living a life of slavery. In one scene Barry the bee exclaims: “Is this what nature intended for us? To be forcibly addicted to smoke machines and man-made wooden slat work camps? Living out our lives as honey slaves to the white man?” In another scene, Barry finds an ally in a cow who, in relating to his plight, cries, “Milk, cream, cheese, it’s all me. And I don’t see a nickel! Sometimes I just feel like a piece of meat!” Lines like this may leave children wondering whether bees and cows actually “give” humans their honey and milk, or whether their secretions are taken from them as part of an unjust exploitation process.
Upon watching this movie children will know where honey comes from, how much work bees put into making it, and how they are treated. Armed with this knowledge and the help of their guardians they may decide to use cruelty-free honey substitutes such as agave, maple, or date honey, and dairy milk substitutes such as almond or soya milk.
2. 101 Dalmatians
Both the 1961 animation and the 1996 live adaptation of Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians will have kids questioning where fur and leather come from.
Disney’s 101 Dalmatians does an excellent job of putting a face to the evil fur and leather industries in the form of the story’s villain, Cruella de Vil (portrayed in 1996 by Glenn Close). Cruella hires a couple of gruff thieves to steal a sweet and spunky litter of Dalmatians to make herself a coat out of their spotted fur. The story centers around Cruella’s efforts to capture the puppies as well as their struggle to return home safely.
101 Dalmatians brings awareness to how fur coats and leather garments come to be. This knowledge may inspire kids to boycott animal derived materials, and encourage their family and friends to do the same.
This classic 1942 animated Disney movie is a didactic tale of life and death, joy and grief. The movie is based on Bambi, a Life in the Woods, originally written by Felix Salten in 1923 and published in Austria as Bambi. Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde. Bambi, a young fawn prince, is born in the forest into a world where he must learn lessons quickly or face terrifying consequences.
Bambi makes friends that are of different species but who accept him for who he is. His father occasionally teaches him important lessons about bravery, avoiding snare traps, and keeping off of human made trails, while his mother teaches him to be wary of hunters – hunters who eventually shoot her dead.
Though hunting is mostly still legal, this movie can help teach children how devastative and cruel it is, and assist them in developing compassion towards the various animals of the forest. When they grow up and are faced with the option of hunting with friends, they might recall on Bambi and decide against it.
4. Brother Bear
In this 2003 Disney adventure, Kenai (voiced by vegan star, Joaquin Phoenix) kills a bear in a revenge attack, and is consequently turned into a bear himself by Spirits angered by his actions. As a bear Kenai is able to converse with other animals and gains an appreciation and insight for all the life around him. Kenai is freed from a bear trap by a talkative bear cub named Koda. In response to a display of love for his bear friends the Spirits transform Kenai back into a human. However, he decides he would rather live as a bear, and the Spirits grant him his wish.
Like Bambi, this movie also depicts the horrors of hunting and carries a strong message. However, it is also filled with beautiful wilderness scenes, lots of laughs, and music from Tina Turner and Phil Collins. Brother Bear advocates the Golden Rule of treating others (whether human or animal) as we would like to be treated.
Cover image: Screen shot from Dreamwork’s Bee Movie