You’d think my walk home from Rango, a movie that consistently kept me laughing like a madman for two hours, would be one of elation and knee-slapping fun memories. Not so. As my laughter subsided, I realized — man, I just saw an animated movie that centered on a sociopathic lizard who takes a contemplative, hallucinatory look inward to discover his true calling in the world.
Whoa – suddenly that fart joke had a lot more resonance.
There are universal questions everyone asks themselves at some point in their lives. Ideas, complications, internal debates that spring out of existence and challenge us as individuals. Some turn to spirituality. Others take back packing trips through difficult-to-pronounce regions of the world. But after watching Rango and looking back through a lengthy history of Hollywood’s animated films, I wondered: why not turn to cartoons?
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Existential Crisis: My lack of attractive physical qualities will never allow me to find true love.
Disney’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame strikes a balance between the book’s horrific tragedy and the squeaky clean Hollywood ending that you’d expect. Quasimodo spends most of his time as a subservient grunt, constantly in doubt of his own self-image. Eventually, Quasi musters up the courage to confront the evil Judge Frollo and profess his love to the gypsy Esmeralda. Perhaps too realistically, Esmeralda ends up with the blonde hunk — but Quasimodo does get a pat on the back from society.
Lesson: A do-gooder hero’s journey is equally or more satisfying then the bond of love (just with far fewer kisses).
The Existential Crisis: I work an unfulfilling job that contributes nothing to society.
When you’re a bee, or a an employee of a modestly-sized corporation, you’re part of the hive. One job…for the rest of forever. That didn’t fly for Barry, an energetic bee with a zest for life, who jumps comb to reveal life’s other options. In doing so, he discovers that humans have been collecting bees’ honey to sell in grocery stores. What does Barry do? Sues the pants off them, eventually reclaiming the honey for bees and putting American conglomerates out of business.
Lesson: Trust your gut, even when friends and family suggest otherwise. As Robert Frost said, “take the road less traveled by…and win yourself a lucrative class action lawsuit.”
The Existential Crisis: Life is an overwhelming chaos of color and sound.
As if Walt Disney predicted that the world would eventually erupt into a sonic and visual cacophony, with media exploding from every direction, Fantasia wrangles every sensory experience possible into one flowing opus. Like medical marijuana for the culturally and mentally anguished, the movie asks viewers to take a deep breath and embrace the dancing hippos of the world, the drunken centaur merriment of life. For every Chernabog erupting from a bleak day, Fantasia reminds us there’s an adorable, jogging mushroom somewhere afterward.
Lesson: It’s OK to close your eyes and enjoy those little sunburnt color spot things. You’ll look weird, but it’s “you time.”
Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
The Existential Crisis: My destructive past and personal shortcomings will prevent me from ever becoming a good parent.
For a movie about fun-loving prehistoric animals, the Ice Age trilogy has a fairly terrifying backstory. The main wooly mammoth Manny watched his wife and child be slaughtered by humans in the first film, but by the third, he’s embarking on a new relationship and expecting their first child. Not to mention the whole gang is being chased by a perturbed T-Rex. Thankfully, watching the dim-witted sloth Sid bumble his way through babysitting gives Manny revived hope for his own parenting skills and the ability to greet his new baby with excitement.
Lesson: Schadenfreude makes everything better. Surround yourself with accident prone friends.
The Little Mermaid
The Existential Crisis: I am an independent woman with no voice in the world’s vast sea of male conversation.
Ariel’s father, like many in this demanding world, forbade his daughter to run to the the world of humans. She was meant to stay underwater, be beautiful, sing lovely songs and do mer-woman things. Though in her heart, Ariel knew it would never work, so she confided in the only woman she knew: a voluptuous, tentacled witchbeast who aimed at stealing her beauty. All this because to impress and marry Prince Eric. Misguided? A little bit.
Lesson: Throw out your whozits, whatzits and thingamabobs, take a deep breath of ocean water and turn the other fin — complacency makes you just another fish in the sea.
The Existential Crisis: I am stuck in a town in the middle of nowhere, in a life void of real satisfaction.
Living in one place for a long time can make existence a little tiresome, especially if you dream of one day moving on to something better. That’s how Lightning McQueen felt after only two days in Radiator Springs (which is something like a decade in anthropomorphic car years). But by opening his passenger side window to the world around him, he quickly learns to appreciate his new friends and unearths what each townsperson towncar has to offer. This helps McQueen drive away with a valuable lesson, in what it means to really be “the best.”
Lesson: Every place in the world has a host of colorful characters and unique attributes, it’s just a matter of opening up enough to exploit them properly.
The Existential Crisis: Consumerism is an exhausting burden on humanity’s shoulders.
Shrek’s valuable message goes beyond mere plot. The green ogre’s spine stands up straight when he arrives to Lord Farquaad’s palace, an encased madhouse chock full of punny product placement and pop culture references. Living alone in the forest, the song and dance leaves Shrek shell-shocked, but gives him a good excuse to take a valiant mission and get the hell out. The outside world isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a nightmare, but without stepping outside his safety zone, Shrek would never have met his future wife Fiona.
Lesson: Hermitage has its advantages, but so does playing the field. Also, you may not want to pick up the Shrek sequels…
Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie
The Existential Crisis: There is no God.
That’s not what that talking asparagus said.
Lesson: If the vegetables start speaking to you, seek medical attention.