'Epic' and other animated films become great educators

Published: Thursday, May 23 2013 12:55 p.m. MDT

Undeniably, most teens will have an awakening as they learn through a variety of situations that though important, they are still part of a larger whole.

Throughout the movie, children and adolescents can identify with Woody’s journey to learn that it’s okay not to be the center of attention all the time.

'Ice Age'

For the majority of adults, at least one childhood memory includes making a new friend on the playground.

But in the midst of that elementary school norm, there were always a few kids who seemed to be avoided. Chances are, the generation gap isn’t too wide and today’s kids know a thing or two about playground hierarchy.

Cue Blue Sky’s 2002 release “Ice Age” and three unlikely acquaintances: a sloth named Sid, a mammoth named Manny and a saber-tooth tiger named Diego. Together, the three outcasts make the frozen trek to return a lost child to his mother.

And it doesn’t take much — just life-threatening adventure — for the three protagonists to overcome their differences and become friends.

Being open to meeting new people and forming friendships with even the most unlikely of candidates can foster childhood development.

One area of development that is enhanced is a child’s social adeptness, according to an article from the NYU Child Study Center.

“Research shows that children with friends have a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem and fewer social problems as adults than individuals without friends,” the article said.

As kids watch a film with lovable, humorous characters encountering archetypes of real-life scenarios such as making friends, they will be more capable of being successful in an increasingly social world.

'Finding Nemo'

“Just keep swimming.”

So goes the sound advice from a delightfully forgetful fish named Dory who embarks with a soon-to-be-friend, a clown fish named Marlin who is scouring the entire ocean for his son in Disney/Pixar’s 2003 hit, “Finding Nemo.”

And it’s wisdom that can be applied through the ages. Though her memory loss is nothing short of hilarious in this family comedy, Dory teaches audience members an important lesson: you can’t give up, even with a disability or challenges.

This lesson extends to a dentist office fish tank, where Nemo is trying equally as hard to get back to his dad after a fateful encounter with the scuba-diving dentist.

Nemo, who was born with a bad fin that he calls his “lucky fin,” won’t let his physical handicap stop him. He too learns a lesson in perseverance and overcoming obstacles.

While not every child has a physical or emotional disability, all will face opposition and can make the choice to keep on swimming.

'Kung Fu Panda'

Audience members who have dared to dream against insurmountable odds may relate with a lovable, tubby panda who worked in a noodle restaurant until he became a kung fu master.

The main character, Po, voiced by Jack Black, finds himself among five of the greatest kung fu masters in the world. He is expected to be the only one able to defeat Tai Lung, a vicious tiger bent on taking revenge on Po's humble city.

Here's the hitch: no one, not even Po himself for a while, thinks he can pull it off.

Dreamwork's 2008 summer hit, "Kung Fu Panda," is all about believing in yourself — especially when no one else does.

Which, according to clinical mental health counselor Karson Kinikini, is a very important feature of human development.

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