I know, I know. That sounds like a really heavy concept for an article, and it is. But I think in many ways, cinema can actually help in this sense. I know that Disney has made a conscientious effort to make films where the death of a parent can be addressed. It may not be an easy subject to breach, but death shouldn’t be. That is the actual point of a great deal of these movies, and the moments in the movies I will bring up. That death is not an easy or often even understandable part of life, but it is a part of life. It takes a certain degree of bravery to try to let a child know that before life lets them know it. Here are five movies that help teach kids to cope with death. Keep in mind, this will be filled with SPOILERS. But I am not thinking spoiling Charlotte’s Web in 2014 is going really piss anyone off. Just a warning, anyway. Also, a few of these may actually make you cry. Not even kidding.
Still haunted by the feeling in that scene. That just shows you how powerful it is.
Let us start with the classic Disney movie that was the first really traumatizing experience for many children. Bambi. While you can pull out so many great Disney films for this list (The Lion King and Finding Nemo to name just two), I feel like Bambi did it first, so it deserves the nod. I also want to say, the way they portrayed the death was unbelievably haunting (yet classy). You hear the gunshot, but you don’t see it. You know what happened without it needing to be spoon fed to you.
Seriously, I used to think Disney was kind of evil for always killing parents (as growing up, that was my number one fear), but in hindsight, I know they were just trying to brace kids for it on the sad chance they would have to face it themselves.
The Bridge To Terabithia
The Hunger Games prequels were a huge let down.
I know this was a book long before it was a film, but still. I actually had no idea how the book played out, and ended up taking some special needs kids to see this movie. All I can say is, I still don’t recall if I was comforting them or they were comforting me at the end.
For those who don’t know, the story sort of revolves around the surprise death of one of the (young) characters in the film. It is presented in such a way where it seems very real and very possible. It was a major shock for people who thought they were going to see (or read) a book about two kids who make up a fantastical world in their imagination. But that is the whole point. We build those worlds in our minds, and that is where we are allowed to keep those we lost alive forever.
Please excuse me, I think it’s raining on my face.
Oh man. Even talking about this one is choking me all up. Some of the Unreality readers may be WAY too young to recall this 1979 movie starring John Voight and Ricky “when I realize the Champ is dead, my acting will kill you” Schroder. Seriously, I don’t even think I should say anything here. I think I should just put the scene I am talking about right here and let it speak for itself.
I, and I kid you not, just had to shut this scene off. Every single time I see it, it takes me back to the first time I saw it. Where does a kid find emotion like that? I dunno, it always leaves me speechless. While this one may teach about death in a more heart breaking and honest fashion than the above mentioned films, it still really drives the finality of it home.
Seriously, this film is considered to be the saddest film of all time by many. The one scene psychologists can play to make men cry. Not even kidding.
The only spider in the history of spiders that I am actually cool with.
You know, I have this very anxious feeling sometimes when I watch animated movies, and making this list is causing me to remember why. Because all the animated films I watched growing up was tossing death in my face. No wonder I spent years of my adolescence thinking my parents were gonna die. Perhaps I should change the name of this list to “five movies that will convince you your parents are going to die and abandon you”. Granted, in Charlotte’s Web, it is not so much a mother that dies as a mother figure. The funny aspect is a spider dying in any other context is just fine by me, but not Charlotte.
Just like Bridge to Terabithia, this classic film was actually a beloved book first. Weird how we love the things that hurt us most, huh? This should be mandatory viewing by all children, though. Delicate and warm, even with the heart break.
The NeverEnding Story
I am almost 100% sure that horse has no idea it is acting, which makes it all even more upsetting.
How about we change the name of this one to The NeverEnding Death Scene? As much as all the films on the list teach kids about death in some way or another, it’s The NeverEnding Story that shows them that sometimes, you just have to stand there and watch and even though you will put all your might and energy into stopping it, there is nothing you can do.
I am, of course, talking about Artax the horse, and his slow sinking death in the Swamp of Sadness. That might be the most emo sounding line I have ever written. Like, come on, the Swamp of Sadness? They knew what they were doing to us, and they made it all slow and extra painful. I still sometimes sit up at night and weep for Artax the horse. But, that moment really did hammer home the fact that my life would be filled with loss and tragedy, and that set me up for being less messed up by it all when it happened. Oddly, I just realized I have avoided swamps and horses most of my life, too. Guess it had more of an impact than I thought it would.
Painfully Honorable Mentions:
Optimus Prime in Transformers the movie: I hate when they try to upgrade toy lines and kids pay the price emotionally.
The Dark Crystal: I remember death. Lots of death. This (amazing) film wrecked me as much as it helped form me.
Watership Down: Already talked this one to death, pun intended.