Handling death can be tricky territory for programming oriented towards children. Parents tend to prefer programs for kids that are fun and silly, but every now and then you'll find yourself watching kids TV shows and movies dealing with death. This can be a very delicate situation. While we may think of death as something too difficult for kids to handle, the TV shows and movies that teach kids about death can be an effective tool for helping them process one of the saddest realities of life. The fact is, we all die. This is a reality children cannot be sheltered from forever. Dealing with grief is one of the tough lessons children's programming sometimes chooses to tackle.
Whether it's losing a parent, a friend, or a respected adult authority figure, acclaimed kids shows and movies have dealt with the topic of mourning and loss over the years. Disney and Pixar in particular have a way of making movies that tell kids about death, often featuring dead parents and scenes that make you cry in a cathartic fashion. Death in children's media can help people process loss and get kids and adults to be more open about their emotions. Professor Kelly Tenzek, of the University at Buffalo said that Disney films can help start conversations about the taboo topic of death and dying. While death is a tough subject to bring up out of the blue, it's easier when Bambi or Coco brings up the topic for you.
A death of a favorite character can always be tough for a viewer, whether it's one of the saddest movie deaths or saddest TV deaths. But by checking out some kids entertainment that best deals with death, the sadness might actually teach children - and adults - some valuable lessons in the long run.
Which character died: Tadashi
Age group: 10 and up
How it was dealt with: Hiro's brother, Tadashi, dies in a fire early in the film. Pretty much all the events that follow are directly related to Hiro's emotions regarding his brother's passing. As Big Hero 6 is an action/adventure film, there is of course an outlandish revenge plot full of explosions and fight sequences. However, that does not underscore the very realistic way the film displays mourning.
You see Hiro go through various stages of grief. He is at first numb, withdrawn, and largely in shock. You see the physical signs of grieving, such as loss of appetite, as well as the brutal emotional despair that comes when a loved one passes. Big Hero 6, however, does show kids that - while sadness and despair can be powerful emotions - they are also temporary. By the end of the film, Hiro learns to treasure his memories of his brother and can feel happiness alongside pain over his thoughts of Tadashi.Is this an honest portrayal of death?
- Photo: Paramount Pictures
Which character died: Charlotte
Age group: 5 and up
How it was dealt with: After spending her time spinning webs with subliminal messages to help Wilbur the pig, Charlotte spins an egg sac with her unborn children, and then dies. Wilburn cares for the sac, and 514 baby spiders are born. Most of the spiders leave, but three remain and become friends with Wilbur.
The 1973 movie, like the book, forces Wilbur to deal with the loss of his close friend Charlotte, while having her offspring around helps ease the pain. A 1973 review in The New York Times said, "Charlotte's Web is about friendship, vanity, love, birth and death, all of the things, in fact, that make life worth living, even in a barnyard."
Even if Charlotte's death was absolutely brutal for young moviegoers, Charlotte expresses gratitude for Wilbur just before dying and tells her helping him lifted up her life a little. While death is inevitable, the message of Charlotte's Web seems to be that it's important to live and love anyway. Like many children's television shows and movies, the film tries to teach children death should not diminish the joy of life.Is this an honest portrayal of death?
- Photo: Nickelodeon
Which character died: Chuckie's Mom
Age group: 2 and up
How it was dealt with: For years on Rugrats, we saw Chuckie's father, but not his mother. In the episode titled "Mother's Day," we learn that Chuckie's mother has been dead for quite some time. And Chuckie in particular learns that his mom will always be with him, even though she's gone, as she'll live on through his memories.
Co-creator Paul Germain said for years they wanted to explain that Chuckie's mom was dead, but the network wouldn't let him. He said, "We mention that she exists but we don’t tell you what happened to her. We even made a joke out of it in one episode. But we weren’t allowed to go into the subject." A few years later, after Germain left the show and the series moved to prime time, the "Mother's Day" episode was produced, and the mystery was solved.Is this an honest portrayal of death?
Which character died: Leslie Burke
Age group: 9 and up
How it was dealt with: 12-year-olds Jess and Leslie form a close friendship involving the creation of a fantasy world called Terabithia in an abandoned house on the other side of a creek. One morning, Jess's parents inform him that Leslie drowned in the creek while he was away at a museum. His father encourages to keep Leslie's memory alive, and Jess builds a bridge over the creek and invites his little sister to Terabithia.
The film was met with widespread critical acclaim. The Chicago Sun-Times said the movie "works on so many levels because it never talks down to its intended child audience, while it maintains enough intelligence to ably pique the interest of adults." It illustrates the power of imagination to sustain the presence a lost loved one, even after an untimely death.Is this an honest portrayal of death?