As long as cinema has been around, there have been movies that revolve around or deal with the topic of death and dying. Movies about death, dying, or the eventual grief that characters feel can help viewers deal with their own loss, empathize with others’ grief, raise questions about the purpose of life, or even contemplate the afterlife.
While it’s easier for adults to understand the concept of death and dying, it can be harder for children to understand it. The movies listed below do a great job of tackling such a tough subject and make it easier for kids to understand.
“Coco” (Pixar 2017)
Coco is inspired by the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday ( El Día de Los Muertos), which happens every year from October 31st to November 2nd. This holiday celebrates family members who have passed by displaying their photos in an “ofrenda,” or collection of objects placed on a ritual altar.
It revolves around a young boy, Miguel, who idolizes famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz, but lives with his family that doesn’t allow any music in the house. He accidentally breaks a framed photo on his family’s ofrenda and discovers that his great-great-grandfather (whose face had been torn out of the photo) was holding de la Cruz’s guitar. He then breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum to steal his famed guitar and play in the town square, but ends up crossing over to the afterlife.
Coco is a unique movie in that most of it actually takes place in the afterlife, despite being about a living person: Coco, Miguel’s grandmother. It’s also unique in that it deals with death on two different levels: a person’s initial death, and their “final death,” when the last living person who remembers them also passes away and they’re gone forever. Without spoiling the movie, Miguel ends up helping someone avoid this plight, reunite with his family, and deal with grief all in one.
The Lion King (Disney, 1994)
The Lion King holds a special place in my heart as a truly influential movie about death. It’s one of the first movies I remember watching as a kid and empathizing with the characters.
In addition to the “circle of life” message that is woven throughout into the movie, The Lion King also deals with the pain of loss and how everyone’s path to recovering from that loss is different. Initially, Simba thinks that a life of no responsibility is the way to dealing with his father’s death, but eventually must confront the reality of his loss and return home to rebuild his father’s legacy.
Death is never an easy topic to discuss in real life or in movies, but The Lion King does a great job of showing how one character dealt with death: vulnerability, bravery, and courage.
Finding Nemo (Pixar, 2003)
Finding Nemo has numerous examples of death, dying, and how characters react to those instances: Nemo’s father Marlin is paralyzed by his fear of death, while Nemo faces death numerous times but becomes a stronger and more independent character because of it.
Marlin initially experiences death in the very first scene of the movie, as his wife and their clutch of unhatched eggs are attacked by a barracuda, leaving Nemo as the only surviving egg. This event sets in motion a reoccurring theme of anxiety for Marlin, who becomes overly protective of Nemo, his only remaining family member, and is fearful of every situation Nemo ends up in. As the movie progresses, though, Marlin learns to manage his fears and overcomes them to live a happy life.
Harry Potter series (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2001-2011)
Death and dying is a central theme across all eight Harry Potter films. The series starts with Harry’s parents being killed by Voldemort and ends with an influential person’s death. Along the way, all of the people and creatures that die in the movies influence Harry and his friends deeply, altering their journeys forever.
Even after they’re gone, Harry carries lessons and wisdom he learned from them with him as a way of continuing their legacy. While the deaths clearly affect him emotionally, he grows and becomes a better and stronger wizard.
“Up” (Pixar, 2009)
While it’s not their goal, Pixar has made some quality movies that revolve around death, dying, and grief. Up is no different. The film centers around Carl, an elderly widower, and Russell, a young boy, who travel to South America to complete a promise made to Carl’s late wife, Ellie.
The movie begins with the young couple Carl and Ellie creating grand plans to visit Paradise Falls in South America, but as life passes them by, these plans fall by the wayside and they have to spend the money elsewhere. Sadly, Ellie suffers a miscarriage as a young woman, and passes away as an elderly woman, leaving Carl to become bitter and disillusioned.
When he’s considered unfit to live alone and is forced to live in a retirement home, Carl instead ties thousands of balloons to his home and takes off for Paradise Falls, unknowingly bringing Russell along with him. The rest of Up is their adventures throughout South America.
While obviously a sad movie, Up also shows viewers that it’s never too late to fulfill a deceased individual’s wishes. The journey may take a different route than intended, but it can be completed.
Do you have any movies that deal with death or dying that you prefer? Leave them in the comments below!
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