It used to be common for parents of unruly children to invoke the notion of hell to scare them into submission. However, these days it seems inappropriate to promise a child a future of hellfire if they don’t make their beds. To fill the gap, I’ve decided to outsource my parenting to Pixar and any other film production companies vying for my holiday dollar.
The idea came to me when I was watching the final credits of The Grinch. The story centres on a creature called the Grinch hates Christmas so much that he wants to steal it so that none of the Whos of Whoville get to experience any joy and happiness on Christmas day. (For my two cents, a better approach might have been to have made the celebration as big as possible, ensuring the Whos killed any joy of Christmas with overwork; nothing destroys happiness like having to prepare a festive roast, battle the hordes at Myer, and attend Christmas Eve mass with overtired children.)
In the movie (spoiler alert), a young girl ultimately show the Grinch that the important part of Christmas is not presents, but love and kindness.
Throughout the movie, this wide-eyed child not only wishes for her mother’s happiness for Christmas, but also cleans everyone’s rooms without being asked. What better role model for children?
The Grinch is part of a trend in which children’s movies send the young clear messages on how to behave or think.
The pinnacle of all children’s movies, Frozen, offers girls a lesson in empowerment and courage, while Finding Nemo teaches children about the value of positivity and determination. In Toy Story, children can learn about the value of friendship, while Monsters Inc. instructs children not to judge by appearances. Small Foot taught children a valuable lesson not to fear others, whatever history might tell them.
Inside Out, in which a child learns about the value of emotions, ranging from happiness to anger, provides a useful lesson on understanding and managing emotions, which will, ideally, give my children pause for thought when they consider a tantrum in the lolly aisle.
Of course, morality in storytelling isn’t new – what is the Bible but a collection of lessons on how best to live? And these lessons have never been clearer, less ambiguous and more heavy-handed than in the current crop of children’s movies.
Granted, leaving moral instruction to Walt Disney might not have been such a good idea in the past, when storytelling tended to promote the idea that women should wait to be saved by a prince in shining armour, and that a fancy ball gown and shining crown can solve any girl’s problems.
And the children’s movies of today aren’t without some dubious lessons. Beauty continues to win out over almost any other attribute – a woman can be courageous and kind, but must also be pretty. Small Foot’s advice to trust in the good of others despite a terrifying and bloody history that had been brought on by such blind trust, was a little concerning, and don’t even get me started on some of the weird messages in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
But mostly, the morality in children’s movies is blessedly untroubled by complexity or ambiguity – be kind, be courageous and tidy your room. These messages are repeated on a daily basis in my household, but are rarely heard by those to whom they are directed. Coming from the higher authority of cinema, they are far more convincing.
And so, this is why I’ve decided that from now on, Pixar, Disney and the like will be responsible for my children’s moral education. What could possibly go wrong?