10 Deceptively Deep Kids Movies
Our favorite childhood movies — many of which are now VHS tapes unraveled and tangled from all the rewinding and rewatching over the years — appealed to us back in the day for their bright, colorful animation, fantasy worlds filled with adorable talking animals or real-life kids and their adventures in suburban neighborhoods not unlike our own.
Despite their wrappings, many of our favorite kids’ movies carry some serious depth beneath the surface. These movies don’t just strike a chord of nostalgia due to their ties to our youth, but because more often than not, these coming-of-age stories cover everything from the loss of innocence to the wonders of kids’ imagination. Below, we’ve dug up some of our favorite childhood classics that are deceptively deep.
Admittedly, ‘Up’’s tale of an elderly man’s unlikely adventure following the death of his wife doesn’t mask its depth as much as some of our other picks. After all, the first half hour is dedicated to documenting protagonist Carl meet his wife, fall in love, grow old together, culminating in her death. We know from the get-go that we’re in store for some pretty heavy stuff—namely learning to cope with the death of a loved one and moving on. Not even a colorful house carried away by balloons, a quirky boy scout, and an adorable dog named Dug could hide the serious tones of this 2009 Pixar flick.
‘My Girl’ (1991)
This story follows 11-year-old Vada as she grows up in the early ‘70s. As if that isn’t fodder enough for some pretty tumultuous stuff, Vada spends the movie learning to cope with the ramifications of the death of loved ones in her life. From the guilt she feels over the death of her mother during childbirth, her rocky relationship with her dad (a funeral home director played by Dan Akroyd), to the death of her best friend, who’s portrayed by Macaulay Culkin in all of his child star glory — ‘My Girl’ was one of the heaviest movies we loved as kids.
‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)
Disney excels in complicated parent-child relationships told through the vessel of adorable animated animals. Case in point: ‘Finding Nemo.’ After the tragic death of his wife and their clown-fish litter — minutes into the movie, of course — father and son Marlin and Nemo are the only remaining survivors. Marlin’s smothering over-protectiveness drives Nemo on a dangerous journey through the ocean to Sydney and Marlin searches far and wide to find him. Of course, this expedition culminates with a big ol' lesson learned: Marlin has to let his son leave the nest to grow up.
‘Fox and the Hound’ (1981)
Despite the adorable furry protagonists, this Disney classic carries some very serious human themes, as two unlikely friends ignore social pressures to stick with their “own kind” and often pay for deviating from the norm.
Don’t be fooled by the tiny roaming robot blurting out adorable sounds and only able to enunciate the name of his robot love interest — ‘WALL-E’ is really a terribly sad look at what humans could become if left to our own devices... literally Completely reliant on technology, the evolved humans don’t walk on their own anymore and pretty much live in their own filth. The dystopian future has an element of truth to it and, therefore, makes this flick the cutest downer of perhaps all time.
This Spielberg classic’s story is well-known: boy befriends an alien; alien floats back home on a bicycle. But it’s actually well-documented that Spielberg based ‘E.T.’ on his own childhood experience coming from a family of divorce, an absent father and trying to fill that space with creativity and imagination.
‘Alice in Wonderland’ (1951)
After falling into the rabbit hole of her own daydream, Alice comes face to face with her own wild imagination in the form of nonsensical creatures with perplexing, philosophical questions (re: a hookah-smoking caterpillar who repeatedly asks, “Who are you?”), in a world where nothing is what it appears. When returning to the classic Lewis Carroll tale in adulthood, it may just raise some questions about our own realities. That’s not even to mention that this kids’ movie has since reemerged as a symbol for drug and psychedelic culture.
‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’ (1971)
Sure, it takes place in a fantastical candy factory with chocolate rivers and bubble-levitation-machine things, but ‘Willy Wonka’ doesn’t really hide the fact that its driving force is Gene Wildler and a band of orange Oompa Loompas doling out life lessons and punishing children (in the form of mildly terrifying songs), for gluttony, greed, ambition, and other such sins. Makes us think Charlie’s purity earning him a place as Wonka’s heir isn’t that crackpot of a deal.
‘The Brave Little Toaster’ (1987)
Before there was the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy, there was ‘The Brave Little Toaster,’ wherein appliances pretend to be inanimate in the presence of their human owners. But after being abandoned, they go on a treacherous journey to reunite with their owner, during which time they find he’s grown up and ready to leave them for college. If that isn’t enough, the appliances fight to maintain their relevancy in their owner’s life, as he acquires newer, fancier gadgets — which in ’87 consisted of a rather large, floppy-disk-equipped desktop computer.
‘The NeverEnding Story’ (1984)
What wasn’t to love about ‘The NeverEnding Story’? A quiet boy turns hero, immersed in the fantasy world — filled with empresses and big, furry dragons — of the book he’s reading. Ultimately, he saves he day and even gets revenge on the kids bullying him at the beginning of the movie. In other words, it has all the makings of a kids’ movie classic. But when you get down to the brass tacks of it, the story’s swirling, black cloud of doom called The Nothing was really a symbol of a world devoid of youthful imagination and creativity. You may be seeing a pattern emerge here — one where kids’ movies continually remind us that we’re old, jaded and unoriginal. Ouch.