These animal movies won't teach your child to be obedient, but they do deliver plenty of moral lessons on courage, protection, steadfast love, and loyalty.

By Suelain Moy
October 03, 2005


Rated: G

Year: 1995

Cast: James Crowell, voices of Christine Cavanaugh, Miriam Margolyes, Hugo Weaving

Even animals find themselves typecast sometimes. This Australian film about a pig who thinks he's a sheepdog is a charmer and a keeper.

What Parents Like: Babe faces pressure to conform but retains his individuality and hams it up during a sheep-herding contest.

What Kids Like: Children have no problem believing that animals can talk and learn. The sight of a pig herding sheep is a rare and wondrous thing.

Charlotte's Web

Rated: G

Year: 1973

Cast: Voices of Debbie Reynolds, Henry Gibson

This animated film based on E.B. White's classic is about the travails of Wilbur, a barnyard pig rescued by an artful spider, Charlotte. Thanks to Charlotte's spin -- creating words on webs -- Wilbur is anything but humble and escapes becoming dinner. The movie also features a delightful score by the Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins).

What Parents Like: As voiced by the silver-tongued Reynolds, Charlotte makes an unusual and inventive surrogate mom. Through her sacrifices, Wilbur understands that he is much more than "some pig." The film also touches upon themes of birth, death, friendship, and joy.

What Kids Like: Every voice can be heard, no matter how small or humble.

Free Willy

Rated: PG

Year: 1993

Cast: Jason James Richter, Lori Petty, Michael Madsen

A 12-year-old boy gets busted for putting graffiti on the side of an orca whale's tank -- and soon finds a friend. Both boy and whale find themselves kindred spirits in captivity. For one it's a foster home, for the other it's a tank at the Northwest Adventure Park.

What Parents Like: There are important lessons about freedom and family. Plus, Madsen makes a cool dad.

What Kids Like: Jesse teaches Willy how to perform somersaults, platform flops, and "high fives." Kids will enjoy watching a killer whale play peekaboo and stick out his tongue.

Into the West

Rated: PG

Year: 1993

Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Ellen Barkin, Ciaran Fitzgerald, Ruaidhri Conroy

When 12-year-old Tito and 8-year-old Ossie are given a beautiful white horse by their gypsy grandfather, they bring the majestic creature home to their Dublin apartment. When their beloved pet is sold by a corrupt policeman, the brothers rescue the steed from the racetrack, evade authorities, and go on a journey to return the horse to Tir na nOg, its mythical home under the sea.

What Parents Like: Freedom ride: The boys escape drab Dublin and make a getaway to the Irish countryside.

What Kids Like: The horse is so out of place in Dublin, riding elevators and sleeping in movie theaters, that it's not difficult to imagine it to be a mythical creature of lore.

My Dog Skip

Rated: PG

Year: 2000

Cast: Frankie Muniz, Diane Lane, Kevin Bacon, Luke Wilson

Puppy Love: In the summer of '42, a lonely, unathletic boy gets a Jack Russell terrier for his ninth birthday, and finds friendship and acceptance in Yazoo, Mississippi.

What Parents Like: The film is loosely based on the boyhood memoirs of Willie Morris, who went on to become editor of Harper's magazine.

What Kids Like: Watch Skip drive the family car and steal bologna from the butcher!

Old Yeller

Rated: G

Year: 1957

Cast: Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker

There's nothing remarkable about the "old yeller dog" that arrives on the farm, unwanted and uninvited. The stray rescues the family from a bear and a wolf, but in the process catches rabies, leading to the film's melancholy finale.

What Parents Like: Hard lessons come unexpectedly. As the father says, "Now and then, for no good reason, life will haul off and knock a man flat."

What Kids Like: Few stories touch boys and men as this weeper does.

101 Dalmatians

Rated: G

Year: 1961

Cast: Voices of Rod Taylor, Betty Lou Gerson

Pongo and Perdita are two dignified pooches who meet in a London park. Their owners marry, and their home soon overflows with the pitter-patter of 15 puppies. Their cozy domesticity is interrupted by the arrival of Cruella De Vil, a fur-crazed debutante who is kidnapping puppies for their spotted coats.

What Parents Like: It's never too early to learn about social responsibility. What affects your pup affects other pups as well.

What Kids Like: Precocious pups add laughter and good-natured romping to what otherwise could have been a very dark fairytale.


Rated: PG

Year: 1996

Cast: Blake Heron, J. Madison Wright, Scott Wilson, Michael Moriarty

When Marty finds a runaway beagle on a bridge, he does everything in his power to save the dog from its abusive owner. He secretly shelters the frightened dog in his home and cares for it.

What Parents Like: Based on the Phyllis Reynolds Naylor book, the story raises ethical questions about abuse and lying.

What Kids Like: Marty is a hero who takes action for what he believes is just. The transformation of Shiloh from a scared and cowering dog into a healthy and strong best friend is uplifting -- and a testament to the power of healing.

Stuart Little

Rated: PG

Year: 1999

Cast: Jonathan Lipnicki, Geena Davis, voices of Michael J. Fox and Nathan Lane

The World According to White: Another E.B. White tale finds itself on the screen. Stuart is a mouse who is adopted by the Littles, a New York City family. The second son adapts to life inside their brownstone -- and outside it. His adventures include getting tossed in the washing machine and getting lost in Central Park.

What Parents Like: M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) cowrote the screenplay. Nathan Lane is catty purr-fection as the villainous white Chinchilla, Snowball.

What Kids Like: Stuart's miniature world is a metaphor for how children can feel in grown-up surroundings and how ordinary objects (a toy convertible, a remote-control boat) can become transformed into glorious vessels of power.

Two Brothers

Rated: PG

Year: 2004

Cast: Guy Pearce, Freddie Highmore

Two brothers, one timid and the other bold, are captured and separated as cubs in the wild. One is trained to be a circus performer, while the other is bred to be a natural-born killer. The two are reunited when they meet to fight gladiator-style in an arena and escape human captivity.

What Parents Like: Set in French Indochina in the 1920s, there are breathtaking shots of tigers roaming ruined temples in the jungle. Parents who have trouble getting the family dog to sit will be amazed at what the director and trainers can get the big cats to do on film.

What Kids Like: I am tiger, hear me roar. From the start, the movie belongs to its majestic leads, Kumal and Sangha. The film gives an early introduction to animal rights and preservation by making the plight of the tigers seem real.

Healthy Kid


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