Watch and learn: the hidden messages in children's movies

Ever suspected Frozen was more than a simple singalong? Have the false promises of Emerald City ever rung alarm bells? Here are nine family flicks that have been mined for underlying meaning

The Secret Life of Pets: black lives matter

Thought the current box office smash was just Toy Story with poodles and hamsters? Think again. A prominent political science professor suggests Chris Renaud’s movie is in fact a hamfisted metaphor for racial oppression. With his cri de coeur of “revolution forever, domestication never”, angry rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart) isn’t just moaning about being kicked out of a warm, cosy cage to roam the streets. Look closely and – maybe – you’ll find a raging furnace of fury centred on the mistreatment of African-Americans by mainstream white society.

Frozen: love is an open (closet) door

As proponents of the Twitter hashtag #GiveElsaagirlfriend have noted, the princess of Arendelle spends most of the Disney fantasy desperately trying to keep a secret she fears will make her a pariah, before finally accepting her true identity in an icy whirl of fearless abandon and kick-ass showtunes. By the end of the film it has been firmly established, with the discovery that sisterly love trumps traditional romance every time, that orange is not the only fruit.

The Wizard of Oz: parable for 1890s America

MGM’s children’s classic may have hit cinemas in 1939, but some analyses put its roots in an even earlier era. The Yellow Brick Road represents the gold standard monetary system, which poor midwestern farmers (represented by the Scarecrow) blamed for turn-of-the-20th century deflation that kept the cost of their loans high. The fraudulent Wizard is a proxy for their profiteering eastern banker nemeses, while Dorothy is the American public, blindly following a false path to wealth and riches (Emerald City) and the Tin Man embodying impoverished industrial workers. No one has quite worked out what the munchkins are supposed to be.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit: portrait of racial segregation

Set at the height of the Jim Crow era, Robert Zemeckis’s pioneering fantasy noir presents a version of LA where “toons” face daily discrimination and are forced to live in their own, segregated district. Christopher Lloyd’s nefarious Judge Doom can be seen as an Uncle Tom figure, a toon in disguise who is driven to terrorise Roger and pals by his own self-loathing.

Coraline: why you shouldn’t talk to strangers

Laika’s sinister stop-motion fable centres on a young girl who discovers a parallel universe through a psychedelic tunnel in her suspiciously gothic new home. On the other side of the wall she meets the Other Mother, who allows Coraline to eat whatever she likes, showers her with attention and generally employs every tactic available to lure the young girl away from her real mum and dad. In the final act, the creature is revealed as a child-killing monster.

The Lego Movie: building the case against capitalism

An easy one, this. Will Ferrell’s evil tyrant is known as Lord Business and spends all his time cracking down on anyone who even whispers of insurrection. Meanwhile, workers are encouraged to blindly embrace an “awesome” consumer-driven lifestyle of overpriced coffee, nights out at chicken restaurants and episodes of the moronic sitcom Where Are My Pants?

The Brave Little Toaster: half-baked tale of Christian suffering

The 1987 animated classic can simply be read as the story of abandoned household appliances trying to find their way back to their master. Another theory goes that the toaster and his friends are really lost souls aiming to win back God’s grace with their intense suffering (involving a horrifying trip to the junkyard that Pixar purloined for Toy Story 3). They are eventually rewarded by being reunited with Him at his new swanky new apartment. Otherwise known as heaven.

My Neighbour Totoro: ticket to the afterlife

Studio Ghibli has officially denied that cute monster Totoro is really some kind of evil death god, transporting 11-year-old Satsuki and four-year-old Mei to the afterlife. But observers have pointed out that the pair don’t have shadows in the film’s final scene, that a catlike bus caught by the siblings boasts a destination panel translating as “path to the grave”, and that essential elements of the plot resemble the 1960s case of a young Japanese girl found dead after losing contact with her older sister. Spooky.

Happy Feet: shameless eco-propaganda

To everyone else, George Miller’s Oscar-winning 2006 animation was about a bunch of lovable emperor penguins whose lives are enriched when they learn how to dance: a kind of Footloose for the cuddly critter-loving under-sixes. To the Fox News brigade, it was simply an animated version of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: environmentalist propaganda. Anchor Glenn Beck even called for the film to carry a warning alerting unsuspecting families to its “evil” hidden message.

Contributor

Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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