Note: this list is purely opinion. Contains minor spoilers.
Good children’s animated films should never patronize children. In many cases, especially when watching a movie, kids want to be treated like adults. Though children’s animated films should never reach the extent where the plot is too complex, the ideas and themes should not be dumbed-down. Said themes should be handled maturely, while simultaneously being accessible to kids. The following films, though completely accessible to kids, do not talk down to them.
3. The Iron Giant
Director Brad Bird is fantastic at creating stories that are simultaneously complex and simple. In the midst of the cold war, a fifty foot robot crash-lands on earth, eventually befriending a young boy, named Hogarth. The military, wanting to locate the Giant, sends an agent, who is determined to find and destroy it.
The best aspect of this film is it plays as a straight up live-action film. It never feels like a kid’s cartoon. It feels genuine and real, which kids can appreciate, even without realizing it.
Though this film has a very straightforward narrative, it never once patronizes children. It provides very deep themes, such as choosing who you are instead of letting others judge and define you. Overall, it’s a great film that treats kids as though they are intelligent adults.
Pixar films are known for their ability to provide fun, endearing characters, while providing mature stories and themes that enable kids to feel smart and grown up. Out of all the Pixar films, I think Up is one of the best at exhibiting this.
The film centers around a bitter old man named Mr. Fredrickson, who obsessed over the loss of his wife. To avoid his home being taken, he ties thousands of balloons to his house and takes off for his dream home location in South America. He meets many fascinating, eccentric characters, such as a boy who accidentally boards his home, an excitable, talking dog named Doug, and a colorful bird.
Within the first fifteen minutes of the film, we see the development of the relationship between Mr. Fredrickson and his wife beginning from childhood into marriage, and beyond. We see hardships they face, such as a miscarriage and the death of Mr. Fredrickson’s wife.
Not many films provide such an intense, emotionally charged opening as this film does. Moreover, there is no dialogue. It’s completely done through visuals and the musical score.
The film accepts that these kids are mature enough to handle these issues, and can understand the narrative purely though images and music.
On the surface, the rest of the film looks very surreal and silly. Besides the floating house, there are dogs that talk though communicators and fly airplanes, along with a goofy, colorful bird. However, underneath the surface are some very strong, dramatic, and touching elements that treat kids in mature way.
Like the beginning of the film, one of the ways that the film treats kids like adults is through its relationships. For instance, the relationship between Mr. Fredrickson and the boy develops into a protective, caring surrogate father and a son. The film’s perfect mix of ridiculousness and drama enables children to absorb the deeper elements, while never once patronizing kids.
1. The Secret of NIMH
Director Don Bluth is one of the best at creating children’s films that treat kids like adults. He never dumbs down the themes or ideas within his films in fear that children may not understand them. Bluth’s policy for children’s films is that as long as the film has a happy ending, a child can take virtually anything a film throws at him or her.
The film centers around a widowed rat named Mrs. Brisby, whose home is threatened and child is very ill. She searches for help, eventually finding N.I.M.H., a secret society of immensely intelligent, genetically-altered rats.
Upon becoming intelligent, the rats realize with great power comes great responsibility, including a good sense of morality. Moreover, the film centers around the conflict of nature, science, and magic.
These seem like very complex and deep ideas to be giving children. However, the film keeps these ideas simplistic enough to where they never go beyond the comprehension of a child. The film keeps these ideas complex enough to where they never feel dumbed-down.
Overall, these films provide intelligent yet accessible themes for children and are definitely worth a view.