While Disney is best known for its magical and kid-friendly image, there are moments when it also conveys social messages through its films and TV shows that are intended not only for children but also for adults. Many of these have left viewers with harsh lessons or made them cry in a good way. In addition, for every problem there is always a solution, which is shown through encouragement, bravery, friendship and love. Just to show that while there is evil, there is also good in the world.
Update August 29, 2023: This article has been updated with even more great Disney movies that deal with serious issues.
Disney is no stranger to talking about real-world issues. From intellectual disability to cross-generational trauma, the production house offers great insight into issues that have been hushed up on the big screen for decades. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, research has shown that films that present real-world problems and solutions can support a child’s cognitive and behavioral development. For adults, they can help make these issues easier to deal with, make them feel understood, and help them mature. Here are some Disney movies that deal with serious real-life issues.
11 Finding Dory (2016)
In this 2016 film, Dory is a character who suffers from short-term memory loss. Because of this, she constantly has to deal with being lost, forgetting important events and sometimes even the names of people she has met. One of those moments involves Dory being accidentally separated from her parents due to being distracted and later forgetting where she is and what she is doing. The film does a great job of showing Dory overcoming all her obstacles with her infectious positivity and proving that her disability is not a weakness.
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Disney also carefully addresses how devastating short-term memory loss can be for a person and how those around them can help ensure they feel empowered to fight it on a daily basis. Included Find Dory promotes a message of inclusion and passion towards people with cognitive disabilities.
10 Brave (2012)
In the criminally underrated 2012 film BraveAdventurous and fiery, redhead Princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) refuses to conform to society’s traditional expectations and decides to compete for her own hand in marriage instead of getting engaged to someone she doesn’t love. The archery enthusiast young woman fought gender roles and opposed patriarchy, knowing full well that doing so would cause unrest in her kingdom. Despite mounting adversity, Merida’s fighting spirit and admirable bravery provided children around the world with a positive Disney role model to look up to, encouraging children to be themselves no matter what.
9 Tangled (2010)
In Disney’s version of Rapunzel, Mother Gothel is shown as a narcissistic mother who constantly (and passively) lapses into guilty and emotionally abusive remarks towards Rapunzel. In the scene where Rapunzel asks to look at the floating lanterns, Gothel replies with the famous phrase “Mother knows best” and several passive-aggressive and scary comments. This is effective as you can see Rapunzel walking back into Gothel’s arms at the end of the song. In TangledDisney offers an authentic portrayal of narcissistic parents who value what their children can offer, not what they are worth.
8th Mulan (1998)
Audiences everywhere fell head over heels in love with the strong-willed and deeply loyal eponymous heroine of the ’90s hit mulan, who follows the ambitious young woman (Ming-Na Wen) who takes her ailing father’s place in the Chinese military and poses as a man to serve her country and protect her family from a Hun invasion. Both an acclaimed feminist film and an inspirational Disney classic. mulan shows the immense struggles the courageous warrior has faced, such as misogyny and sexism in society, and tackles serious issues such as gender roles and the terrible threat of war.
7 Coco (2017)
Coco is a brilliant combination of friendship, passion, betrayal and love. One of the reasons this film stands out from the rest is that it addresses the taboo of life and death. This isn’t much of a theme in animated films and was masterfully implemented in the Oscar-winning Triumph.
6 The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Arguably one of Disney’s most underrated and darkest releases to date. The Hunchback of Notre Dame The film ambitiously tackles a wide range of mature themes, including genocide, prejudice and damnation, and is without a doubt one of the studio’s darkest releases. The themes depicted in the image are still pervasive today, and the villain, Judge Claude Frollo, oozes with deep hatred and racism. The fanatically religious man embarks on a crusade to exterminate the Roma population in Paris. The Hunchback of Notre Dame promotes tolerance and compassion and is one of Disney’s most insightful and honest releases.
5 Inside Out (2015)
This 2015 Pixar hit explores a range of emotions throughout the film, from depression to intermittent blast disorders. Riley has been shown to suffer from depression in various stages and is afraid to talk about it. What’s great about it? from the inside to the outside is that it was created with the help of actual psychological research. Rather than just labeling Riley as a wayward kid, this film is about that Why She is like that and is working to solve the problem. Additionally, it helps viewers understand that it’s okay to be sad sometimes.
4 WALL E (2008)
Praised for its stunning animations, captivating storyline and unforgettable characters. WALL E It centers on the eponymous lonely robot who circles the deserted planet Earth, cleaning up garbage and struggling with his deep loneliness, but his desolate life is shattered by the arrival of a mysterious probe robot named EVE. The stunning image deals head-on with climate change and consumerism as the constant pollution of the planet by humans has made the world livable and robots are tasked with cleaning up the mess, offering viewers a somber and realistic look at what is happening could happen to the earth if society carries it on its destructive path.
3 Zootopia (2015)
Outside, zootopia looks like a silly, comedic children’s film that features a city of human-like animals where prey and predators coexist peacefully. There’s noble cop Judy Hopps and con-man Nick Wilde, who join forces to defeat the story’s villain and free mindless predators from wreaking havoc on the city. While that sounds like a creative story, it’s not just about that. In fact, the hidden (but not so hidden) problem this film highlights is racial profiling.
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Racial profiling of predators is dominating the city of Zootopia, leading police and society to start pointing fingers at predators for crimes they didn’t commit. Disney makes clear how racial profiling can disrupt the peace and lead to innocent members of society being easily targeted. In the end, the film shows how society can work together to abolish this culture and accept people for who they are, not what they look like.
2 Above (2009)
The film is widely regarded as one of the greatest Pixar/Disney cinematic achievements of the new millennium. High beautifully tells the unlikely connection between an eight-year-old boy and a grumpy old man as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime in a balloon-powered house. Although the whimsical and dreamy flick focuses on Russell and Carl’s world trip and the friends they make along the way, it also touches on some pretty heartbreaking themes like miscarriages, depression and grief.
The animated film’s introduction touched and shook moviegoers alike as Carl’s love story with longtime love Ellie unfolded on screen, revealing that the couple had lost their baby in a heartbreaking manner and were devastated by the miscarriage. The montage ends with the sad death of Ellie while Carl struggles with overwhelming grief and resentment over her death, which Russell eventually relieves him of during their adventure.
1 Lilo and Stitch (2002)
Beyond the narrative of aliens and superpowers, Lilo and Stitch shows how the loss of parents can affect the children left behind. In addition, it becomes clear how difficult child custody can be. While Lilo struggles with the trauma of losing her parents, Nani struggles with giving up her dreams and working hard to raise her little sister on her own. One of the greatest messages The special thing about this show is that no one is left behind, no matter what.
While there are many reasons to watch Disney movies, the way you help audiences deal with real-world problems will always remain magical.