A lot of kid’s movies use anthropomorphized animals as the leading characters. This, you could argue, in itself delivers an animal-rights message to kids because it helps show animals as sentient beings. However, the animal-rights message usually stops there. For example, you may remember that Ariel’s friend in The Little Mermaid was a crab. But you didn’t see her complaining when they served crab for dinner. Luckily, there are plenty of movies with positive animal-rights messages which you don’t have to feel bad about letting your little kids watch. Here are 25 of them.
Free Birds (2013)
Here is one to put on for your kids before Thanksgiving. The movie involves a pair of turkeys who use a time machine to travel back in time. Their goal is to change history so turkeys never get on the Thanksgiving menu.
101 Dalmatians (1961)
This is one of my all-time favorites! A litter of Dalmatian puppies is stolen by sinister Cruela De Vil who wants to turn them into dog-skin fur coats. Not only does the film have a great anti-fur message, but it is entertaining for parents and kids. The artwork is particularly stunning. Check out the scenes around the De Vil mansion: it looks like something from Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream.
Chicken Run (2000)
The movie is set on an egg farm. When the hens don’t meet quota, they are butchered. When the farm owners decide to increase profits by selling chicken pot pies instead of eggs, the hens start hatching escape plans.
Baby elephant Dumbo is ridiculed by the other circus elephants for his big ears. When his mother tries to stop the others from tormenting him, she gets locked up for being mad. Dumbo is left alone with no one to care for him. The film does a good job of showing kids that the circus isn’t fun and games for everyone. However, the ending is pretty lame because all Dumbo gets is his own private circus car – and that is supposed to be a “happy” ending.
Bee Movie (2007)
The bees toil at the same job for all their lives just to support the honey industry. So, when Barry the bee realizes that humans are taking and selling the honey they work so hard to make, he rallies the bees to sue the human race. The bees win the lawsuit and all the honey is returned to the bees. But, without the bees pollinating the flowers, the flowers all die and the entire ecosystem starts to collapse. The ending of the film is rather vague since it doesn’t say what happens to the honey farms, but we can assume that the bees are now getting some compensation.
Babe (1995) and Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
Babe is a cute pig who doesn’t realize he is about to be Christmas dinner. Luckily, his owner realizes how smart Babe is and decides to keep Babe alive. There is also a sequel to Babe called Pig in the City. I admittedly haven’t watched this one yet, but it apparently has some dark themes dealing with circus animals.
What better way to get an anti-hunting message across to kids than showing them a movie about an orphaned baby deer?
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
This 3D animated movie delivers a great message of compassion. It revolves around a young Viking boy who wants to be a dragon hunter. After shooting down and wounding a dragon, he discovers that he can’t kill the helpless animal. The boy and dragon become friends and soon the boy takes great risks to spread his message of compassion to the rest of the Vikings in his village. This might be my favorite movie — and I definitely cry every time I watch it!
Finding Nemo (2003)
Finding Nemo is one of my all-time favorite kid’s movies. It is packed with action, quirky characters, and heart-wrenching drama. It is also a good way to introduce kids to issues like the difference between domestic and wild animals, and animal captivity.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I usually don’t like having my 4-year old watch love stories, but this one is actually pretty cute because there aren’t any princesses getting date raped (a la Sleeping Beauty and Snow White!). There is a good animal rights message in the movie too because the dogs get taken to the pound and there is one scene with a dog taking his last walk to be euthanized.
Black Beauty (1994)
Black Beauty is an Oliver Twist-like tale, only with horses instead of orphan boys. The movie follows the life of Black Beauty as he is sold to various owners. Some of the owners treat him decently whereas others are downright abusive. There is one really poignant scene in the movie where Black Beauty sees the dead body of his friend who was worked to death pulling a taxi carriage.
Charlotte’s Web (1973 and 2006)
Charlotte’s Web is the story of the friendship between a pig and a spider. Wilbur the pig is doomed to be slaughtered but Charlotte, a barnyard spider, intervenes by writing messages in her web about how great the pig is. The farmers take notice and Wilbur is spared death and entered into the county fair. I loved this book as a kid and the movies are pretty good too.
The Rescuers Down Under (1990)
A boy must rescue his animal friend (a rare golden eagle) from a poacher. The movie focuses more on the quirky than on animal-rights issues, but it is still a good watch for kids.
This film shows why it is NOT okay to have exotic animals as pets. It is about a blue macaw parrot who is stolen from his nest by bird smugglers. When he falls off the delivery truck, a girl named Linda finds and adopts him. But the parrot, named Blu, is so domesticated that he never learns to fly. Years later, Linda later learns that Blu is the last male of his species and is invited to take Blu to Brazil so he can mate with a female. There, they get stolen by smugglers and have to escape. The cute, quirky animated film may be rather cliché, but it is a good way to introduce kids to the concept of the exotic animal trade. There is also a sequel to Rio (Rio 2) which isn’t nearly as good as the first, but does have a positive environmental message when the flock of birds are threatened by an illegal logging operation.
Duma is the story of a boy named Xan who rescues an orphaned baby cheetah whom he names Duma. The plan to bring the cheetah back to nature is put on hold when Xan’s father gets sick and the family must move to the city. Not surprisingly, life in the city isn’t compatible with the cheetah and soon he is at risk of being put in captivity. Xan decides to save Duma by releasing him back to nature. It is a shame that this movie didn’t get more attention when it was released because the story is touching and the scenery is incredible.
Fly Away Home (1996)
This movie is directed by Carroll Ballard (who also directed Duma). When a construction crew demolishes a wilderness area, a bunch of goose eggs are abandoned by the parent geese. A young girl finds the eggs, takes them home, and raises the geese herself. The movie has some great animal-rights messages, like when the girl defies the game warden by refusing to let the geese have their wings clipped. The girl uses an airplane to teach the geese how to fly and lead them to a bird sanctuary.
The Secret of NIMH (1982)
A single mom mouse has a sick baby who can’t leave the field before plow day (a great scene which shows the baby mouse almost getting killed by the plow, which shows kids how we humans disrupt habitats). The mice must seek help from the rats. The rats were part of an animal testing experiment gone wrong which gave them human-level intelligence (not sure if the anti animal testing message will get across as they only mention it briefly). Because of their heightened intelligence, the rats can no longer live as nature intended and must find ways to steal electricity and other technology from humans instead. I thought this movie was a bit weird, but my 4-year old loved it.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
I LOVE THIS MOVIE! Spirit is an interesting film because we usually don’t see horses depicted as wild. Most kid’s movies also usually show horses happily serving as transportation for humans. This animated movie is about a mustang in the Wild West who gets wrangled by horse herders. The movie shows how the herders try to break the horses, and there are scenes which display cruelty like branding. It is also great entertainment with lots of really funny parts, and tons of action and chase scenes. I cry every time I watch this one too.
Free Willy (1993)
Willy is an orca which gets captured by whalers and sold to an amusement park. A young boy befriends the whale and gets the whale to perform tricks. But when kids at the amusement park torment the whale, Willy refuses to perform in the show. The amusement park decides they have to kill Willy in order to get the insurance money, so the boy hatches a plan to free Willy back into the ocean. Though this movie is undeniably cheesy, it is one of the few kid’s movies to address the morality of putting animals in amusement parks.
This movie is about a man who gets reincarnated as a dog. Most of the movie has to do with themes of reincarnation and past memories, but there is an animal-rights message too since the dog ends up in a pound and also an animal testing lab.
This movie is the story of a parrot named Paulie who was bought for a little girl to help her overcome her stutter. When the girl’s father becomes worried that she has become too close to Paulie, he gives Paulie away. The parrot goes through several owners before making his way into an animal testing lab. Spoiler: all the animals are released from the lab at the end of the film.
Shiloh is the story of an abused hunting dog. The dog runs away from his cruel owner and finds refuge with a young boy. The young boy has to battle his father and the cruel owner to keep Shiloh.
Brother Bear (2003)
Brother Bear has a positive message about the evils of sport hunting, and also why we need to respect nature. In the movie, a tribesman kills a bear for no reason. This angers the spirits and the man is turned into a bear himself. He then meets the baby bear whose mother he killed. Disney (surprisingly) does a decent job of not negatively stereotyping Inuit people.
The Plague Dogs (1982)
Note that this is NOT a movie for really little kids! It is about a group of dogs who escape from an animal testing lab. The movie shows some pretty vivid scenes of vivisection and cruelty (it’s an animated movie). There is also a scene where the man hired by the lab to hunt the dogs down gets killed and eaten by foxes.
I honestly thought I would hate these movies, but they were actually quite good (the original Tinkerbell in Peter Pan is a jealous girl who tries to kill Wendy and is tricked into giving away Pan’s hideaway). There is a positive animal-rights message in both of the Tinkerbell movies. In Tinkerbell: The Great Fairy Rescue, a butterfly is captured by an entomologist (bug collector) and Tink and her human friend save it. In Tinkerbell: The Legend of the Neverbeast, a fairy saves a beast from getting killed because the other fairies think it is evil.
Daisy: A Hen into the Wild
Also called Leafie: A Hen into the Wild, this kids movie is about a hen who escapes the terrible conditions of an egg-laying farm. In the wild, she meets an orphaned baby duck and decides to adopt and care for it. The movie was originally in Korean but there is (badly) dubbed English versions available. The last I checked, the full-length movie was on YouTube.
Fern Gully: The theme isn’t animal rights, but Fern Gully definitely deserves to be on the list for its message about the logging industry, pollution, and the human impact on nature.
Up: Because the main characters save the rare flightless bird from the psychotic explorer.
Wall-E: For its message that humans are destroying the planet.
The Last Mimzy: Toys with artificial intelligence are sent back in time from the future in attempt to stop an ecological disaster from occurring.
The Lorax: Another good story (turned movie) about what happens when you put greed ahead of nature.
The Wizard of Oz: Because the entire ordeal begins because the mean neighbor (the wicked witch) wants to euthanized Dorthy’s dog, so she runs away with him.
This list is by no means complete, so feel free to add your recommendations!