9 Disney+ Movies That Are Not-So-Secretly Trying To Teach You A Thing Or Two
“You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” —Pocahontas
Graham Steinberg · 14 days ago
Grown-ups love to sneak life lessons into otherwise fun things. It’s a little like sneaking spinach into lasagna — it still tastes good and the adult who put it in there gets to feel like they’ve done something enriching and nutritious. But parents aren’t the only ones pulling this tactic. You might be shocked to learn that Disney is also trying to sneak enriching and nutritious (for your brain) content into your favorite films. Leave it to the grown-ups to find a way to make everything...well, better. Thanks, I guess.
In case you hadn't already picked up on these life lessons in your favorite Disney+ movies (I mean, I'm assuming you're pretty smart already), I'm breaking them down for you below. But don't worry, these movies are still awesome. (And parents: You've been warned. We're on to you.)
What it’s trying to teach you: Life is what you make of it
Pixar’s most recent release is packed with lessons for the entire family. Jazz teacher Joe Gardner has spent his entire life trying to make a name for himself in music, but in doing so he's forgotten to appreciate the little things in life, like a slice of pizza or a cool autumn day. Soul is here to remind us that life isn't necessarily about being driven by a "purpose" — and we should remember to enjoy every moment.
2. Lilo & Stitch
What it’s trying to teach you: Not every family looks the same.
Lilo & Stitch’s beautiful watercolor backgrounds aren’t just nice to look at, they make for the perfect setting to reconsider the very idea of what a family can be. While Lilo and her older sister navigate the process of adoption after the death of their parents, we’re also introduced to an even more unlikely but equally loving family: a misunderstood alien experiment and two of his creators. Who wouldn’t want Stitch to be a part of their ohana? (Btw, ohana means family, in case you haven’t seen the movie yet.)
3. Black Panther
Disney / Marvel
What it’s trying to teach you: We are all part of a global community.
Marvel’s Black Panther introduces the fictional country of Wakanda, which has always worked to hide away and distance itself from the rest of the world. But if you look a little deeper, past the armored rhinos and futuristic vibranium tech, you’ll learn about the dangers of being closed off from the way other people live. You may even find yourself agreeing with some of what the film’s villain, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, has to say about Wakanda’s detachment from the rest of the world. He’s become one of the MCU’s most praised villains for that reason.
Disney / Pixar
What it’s trying to teach you: Respect the environment around you.
This Pixar smash-hit is a visual treat, and even though they never really say anything, WALL-E and EVE manage to make the movie’s underlying message of respecting the environment and being less wasteful very clear. It’s a story about appreciating the world around us and taking better care of it. The next generation of sneaky grown-ups deserve a nice planet to live on too.
What it’s trying to teach you: Treat people with dignity and respect their differences
Zootopia seems like a fun movie about a universe where animals live normal human lives — going to work, shopping at stores like Targoat and Mousey's, and waiting in long lines at the DMV. But maybe you also noticed that the movie uses the relationship between predator and prey to talk about some pretty complex issues that are especially relevant these days, including race relations, police bias, stereotyping, and microaggressions. And somehow, Disney does it in a way that’s still really fun.
What it’s trying to teach you: History was shaped by many faces.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably listened to the Hamilton soundtrack enough to know all the themes and lessons of Hamilton by heart, since they don’t exactly try to hide them away. But using contemporary hip-hop music and a minority-driven cast allows the play-turned-movie to make this historical reenactment of an overlooked politician far more fun and easy to understand for all of us. Oh, and the music is great too.
7. Iron Man 3
Disney / Marvel
What it’s trying to teach you: It can be difficult to cope with trauma.
Marvel movies like The Avengers certainly are full of action: alien invaders, evil gods who want to dominate all life on Earth, and golden age heroes getting dethawed to take on modern day fascists. But all that action can take its toll on a superhero, which is exactly what Iron Man 3 is not-so-secretly all about. Tony Stark is traumatized by the events of The Avengers and begins to show a much more human side of himself than he had in previous films (which is hard when you wear a robot suit all the time). It sends an important message that even the mightiest among us can get scared and can’t always face their trauma on their own.
What it’s trying to teach you: Memories last forever.
For a movie about dead people, Coco is colorful, vibrant, and full of life. But even though the message of the movie is a cheerful celebration of family and the legacies we leave behind, it’s hard to ignore that Coco also wants us to think about loss, forgiveness, and honoring those who came before us. You know, like the parents who are trying to sneak lessons into our movies and spinach into our lasagna.
What it’s trying to teach you: We are not defined by our genders.
The original Mulan is one of my favorite Disney animated films because it was willing to explore topics that no other family movie really had until that point. Mulan teaches us that bravery, strength, and intelligence have nothing to do with what gender you identify as, but rather what is in your heart. Also, as usual, the music is all on permanent repeat on Spotify for me.
♫ We must be swift as a coursing river. With all the force of a great typhoon. With all the strength of a raging fire. Mysterious as the dark side of the moon! ♪