Talking Animals Are Therapy

Why watching children’s movies is mandatory.

Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash

My children snuggle onto beanbags, bowls full of popcorn, eyes alight, and we’re off to the movies. After arguing over the selection, the struggle, and the internet, we lock into the next film thrown our way. Sunday nights are idyllic for movies. If done well, the movie runs on two scripts; one for the children, and subtext for the adults. Most often, both of them land squarely in your heart.

Tonight, we watched “The One and Only Ivan.” I’d bought the book for my son some weeks back and continued to lean on him until he finished it. We agreed we wouldn’t watch the movie until he finished the book. He read 150 pages in two days for this night. An epic effort. A much-deserved reward.

The live-action animal movie has absolutely transformed the genre of the children’s film. Whether it was The Jungle Book or The Lion King, watching animals speak, hearing their words, allows for the suspension of disbelief in a manner that animated films proved difficult in the past. Ivan, voiced by Sam Rockwell, immediately disarmed me with his zen-like calm.

When I watch movies with my children, I find myself engaging with the film on a more humanistic level. I let go. I dive in. I’m a kid again. I laugh out loud. I’m moved to tears. The movie-watching experience is so much more joyful. I won’t say the films are simple, as that would discredit what writers of these movies do. However, without the convoluted clutter of adult experience, there is a directness of these movies that speaks directly to me, an adult.

Ivan develops ironclad bonds with his fellow animals as they slog through the grind of life on display. The plot is simple. The friendships are beautiful and my commitment to the resolution is intoxicating. I’m invested. I’m more invested in these characters than most movies I watch with my wife. I want friendships like the ones I’m watching on display. I long for a life that unfolds with this much resolve.

The purity of the characters is aspirational. Ivan, Henrietta, and even Bob the dog operate through a very clear lens. Their emotions are visceral. When they’re sad you know. When they’re angry you don’t have to guess. The natural complexity of adult emotional life is removed. The human condition is laid bare and it’s clear once again what it means to feel.

The joy of watching movies with my children is embracing my inner child. I’m left feeling like life should be more simple. Relationships don’t need to have the added layers of complexity, we, as adults add as we age. The brilliance of these films is what all films should seek to employ; honesty. For ninety minutes I am able to feel, laugh, cry, and reflect without having to dissect, disseminate, or decode behavior.

I’m never disappointed when I watch these movies. I love exploring and experiencing the canon of human emotion in this way. I realize how much I long for the connection to humanity. I love watching and learning once again what it means to feel without judgment. For my kids, these nights are about snacks and movie time. For me, it’s a lesson on remaining in touch with who I am.

Writing to quiet the voices. To empty the gut. Coach. Husband. Father.

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