Today's Animated Movies are Addressing the World's Larger Issues

Underneath the humor and cute animated characters in today's top Pixar and Disney Movies, we've seen a trend: these top box office films are also addressing some big issues. It's interesting to think about how these underlying messages may be subconsciously persuading us to think differently about some of the world's large issues. Today we're going to take a look at two top animated films that had prominent underlying messages and also look at how nonprofits may use animated films to raise awareness. 

Inside Out

While this movie tells a cute story about how Riley's emotions changed her life when they left their post at the "control center" inside of her brain, it also addresses mental health and how depression can affect someone's life very quickly. This film looks at the variety of emotions that a young girl might experience while growing up and also addresses the importance of talking about your feelings. It reminds us that's it's okay to feel emotional sometimes and that being sad is okay. This movie looks to start a conversation in our society about mental health and may even prompt parents to think more about their child's mental well-being.


This movie tells the story of how an adorable bunny proves to the world that she's capable of being a great police officer and solve some of Zootopia's biggest cases. On the surface it looks like this movie's message is to follow your dreams and that you can do anything you put your mind to. The underlying message is much deeper; throughout the movie you see multiple political references as well as examples of racial profiling and prejudice. An article from Screen Crush discusses how this is Disney's first overtly political movie. 

Unlike the older Disney films that skirted around harsher realities to uphold impractical messages, Zootopia shows a true evolution in the studio’s desire to tell young audiences stories that reflect the political zeitgeist. One classic contrast to Zootopia that reflects how far Disney has moved from outdated stories of divided identities is Disney’s The Fox and the Hound. The 1981 film uses two friends separated by their domesticated roles of the hunter and the hunted, showcasing a world where good and evil share no middle ground. Zootopia challenges that simplistic perspective, suggesting a world with varying degrees of right and wrong morals, one where the prey are just as susceptible to making hurtful assumptions as the predators are to discounting their worth.

The biggest strength of Zootopia is in how it acknowledges all identities are capable of carrying prejudice and wielding judgement, yet the first step toward change is awareness. And now more than ever, Disney is proving how aware it is. Hopefully Zootopia marks the beginning of a new era of bold, socially-conscious animated storytelling.

UNICEF's Unfairy Tales

UNICEF is looking to end discrimination toward child refugees with a series of PSAs called "Unfairy Tales". These short animated films will show the hardships refugee children have to face when leaving to get shelter from Syrian conflict. UNICEF's goal behind the PSAs is to "build empathy and promote kindness". UNICEF will be hosting a private screening of their newest PSA next week in Los Angeles. Below is the first video, which tells the story of 7-year-old Malak as she crosses the Mediterranean in search for safety.

The Take Away

It's important to think about how we, as animators, have the power to change the way the world views certain issues. As an audience, we should look for these underlying messages and be aware of how these studios might be trying to prompt us to think more in depth about what's going on in the world. Have you seen a movie recently that really got you thinking? Leave a comment below!