Fun With Animals: Introduction

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments


“Love animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought
and joy untroubled. Do not trouble their joy;
don’t harass them; don’t deprive them of their happiness;
don’t work against God’s intent.
Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to animals;
they are without sin, and you, with your greatness,
defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave
the traces of your foulness after you –
alas, it is true of almost every one of us.”
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Film is a medium unlike any other in its ability to impact an audience. Viewers may arrive expecting to be entertained, but great films also have the ability to inform and influence.

The perennial example pointed out by cinephiles to illustrate a movie’s power to shape public opinion is JFK. The Oliver Stone epic came out in 1991. How many books, investigations, commissions, and hours of network television came out before that? Yet all of that was made seemingly meaningless when Stone released his film decades later and drastically shifted the collective mindset (despite highly debatable “facts” he presents therein). A NBC poll in 1992 showed that 51% of Americans believed the CIA were behind Kennedy’s assassination, and only 6% believed the lone gunman story.

Well nothing against Mr. Stone, but I’d argue that children’s films about animals make just as compelling an argument. How many movies have influenced kids into wanting a specific pet? Or, for that matter, what name to give a pet? How many have influenced kids’ favorite animal choices? How many kids have talked to animals because of the movies? How many have learned lessons about animals from the movies? (Classic examples being: animals are more scared of you than you are of them, even though they may seem dangerous they aren’t, and even the smallest creatures need others to look out for them.)

I realize these are a mere string of rhetorical questions and nowhere near as scientific as a network television poll, but I do have a few animal movie examples. The life-threatening events detailed in Bambi had such impact on audiences that the film was later used in campaigns such as animal rights (mom’s death) and fire prevention (Bambi was used before they created Smokey the Bear). The popularity and impact of Finding Nemo actually led to negative results. After the movie kids clamored for clownfish in their home aquarium to the point that Australia’s Marine Aquarium Council had to interject and warn us about the detrimental impact it was having. Other viewers were so touched by the anti-aquarium sentiment of the film that they released their pet fish back to the ocean … only it was in some cases the wrong ocean and introduced species harmful to indigenous reef environments. Free Willy created a similar situation, though in this case a positive result, wherein the anti-captivity sentiment of the movie led to a successful campaign to free the movie’s orca star, Keiko, back to the wild.

There’s several other examples I could list off – including projects like Planet Earth (and the Disney-released feature film spinoff Earth) that attempted to influence viewers about topics like climate change, poaching, deforestation, and over-hunting – but you get the point. Kidsy animal movies are popular forms of entertainment as well as vehicles for education.

Still don’t believe me? Well let’s take the most influential monster in children’s films: Disney. It started with a mere mouse, and almost a hundred years later its power over audiences is still largely because of animal characters. This studio alone has created such animal-starring films as Dumbo, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Aristocats, Robin Hood, Rescuers, Fox and Hound, Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, Lion King, Brother Bear, Dinosaur, Emperor’s New Groove, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, and Bolt. Even films that don’t star animals – and they have plenty of them in their library – still present them in prominent supporting roles (e.g. Snow White, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Jungle Book, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tarzan, Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Frozen, etc.)

There’s no denying it; children’s films about animals are crazy powerful. And here’s some of the best.

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