We’ve all heard the famous line from Bruce the shark in Finding Nemo, “fish are friends, not food”, but is it just a line or is there more to it?
Films animated by Pixar Studios, though aimed at children, are known to be home to many more adult references too. These often come in the form of innuendo, a nod to the parents watching with their kids. But you can also find many allusions to themes that are purely innocent but are read differently by a younger and older audience.
Bruce’s character in Finding Nemo (2003) is a prime example of this. He starts a support group called The Fish-Friendly Sharks to help other sharks stop eating fish too. Their mantra is:
“I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food.”
Watching this back as an adult, it seems like a clear message on the consumption of fish. Although later in the film Bruce does become a slave to his carnal instincts as a shark, he is overall a seen as a good character, because he does not eat fish like other sharks do.
This same trope of the vegetarian shark is also seen in Dreamworks’ Shark Tale (2004), where Lenny also does not eat fish, which is seen as a weakness by the other sharks. There is even a scene where his father forces him to eat a prawn, in which the prawn is seen begging Lenny not to eat him.
While both of these examples could be said to have been included simply to make children not afraid of sharks, making them vegetarian begs the question of whether it was intentional. The idea of bringing these kinds of issues into children’s’ films is seen in other Dreamworks animations too, including Over The Hedge (2006). The two antagonists of this film are a bear, who is angry that their hibernation food was stolen and the other is an exterminator, or by extension, humans.
The entire plot revolves around woodland creatures not being able to scavenge for food because the humans have built more houses, cutting down their habitat. When they are caught attempting to steal food from human homes they are seen as “vermin” that need to be exterminated. It’s only natural for children to want to side with the cute animals that lead the story and many children would bring these ideas outside of the story.
One final example that perpetuates the ideas of a plant-based lifestyle is Aardman Animations’ film, Chicken Run (2000). It’s almost impossible to detach this film from a vegetarian agenda, given that an actual line from the film, is “I don’t want to be a pie!” spoken by an actual chicken. Here, the antagonists are the farmer, who are seen as murderers.
This framing of sentient and talking animals skews the perspective of the viewer to see them as more than “just food”. They are the heroes of the story, they provoke an emotional response from the audience and you are rooting for them to win. There’s been an increase in plant-based lifestyles within millennials and generation Z, people who grew up watching these sorts of movies. Is it possible that they did indeed have an impact on the way we view the world? Was this the intention?
Whether you are a vegetarian, vegan or meat-eater, the link between children’s media and the portrayal of animal welfare issues is unavoidable. There is far less media aimed at adults with this same message, packaged in an unobtrusive way. Maybe this is how the world becomes plant-based, through the innocence of animal protagonists, showing us that we are not as different as we think.
Do you think that these films made an impact on your meat consumption? Can you think of any other films that fit into this category? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!