It isn’t just chick flicks or live action ‘family’ films that can bring a lump to the throat. Animated television shows and made for TV movies are just as capable of stirring up the emotions. The absence of a physical human being can sometimes add an extra layer of emotion ‘ especially when substituted for an animal. When used in animated television ‘ and from sources where you least expect it ‘ it can come as quite a shock. Here is a list of ten animated tearjerkers.
1. The Snowman
This is the most famous animated tearjerker of them all. Based on a book by Raymond Briggs, it is shown at Christmas every year in the UK. It was also the animation that launched the career of Aled Jones despite that he did not sing the ‘Walking in the Air’ theme tune. It is about a boy who builds a Snowman that comes to life. The boy shows it around his house and the pair travels on a journey to the North Pole where they meet Santa Claus. The sad moment is the ending when he rushes outside the following morning to see that the snow has melted ‘ and so has the Snowman.
2. Dot and the Kangaroo
This heart-warming tale of a girl lost in the Australian Outback has been a popular tale for children since the book was written in 1899. In the 1970s, it was finally brought to television and warmed hearts the world over. The titular kangaroo has lost her own young and ‘adopts’ Dot for the duration of the film ‘ taking the girl to visit many of the animals of the outback. The sad moment comes at the end when Dot is reunited with her family and the Kangaroo skips off to ‘live her own life’.
3. Metal Fish (The Little Mermaid ‘ the series)
Disney sometimes takes to creating TV shows from their biggest films and with the depth of characters and scope in this film it wasn’t a surprise that this transitioned to the small screen. In this surprising episode, Aerial discovers a submarine at the bottom of the ocean and helps the humans trapped there. It is particularly poignant because it is self-referential ‘ the human that Aerial rescues is Hans Christian Anderson (the writer of the original tale) and she signs off at the end with ‘goodbye metal fish’.
4. When the Wind Blows
Another TV film based on a Raymond Briggs book – this work shows that he didn’t just write for children. It is the 1980s and fear of the Cold War turning to all-out nuclear war is a very real concern. The Americans and the Russians are making a lot of noise and pointing weapons at each other. This isn’t a problem for the elderly couple around whom the story is based: after all, they survived the blitz. Following the government advice about food, water and shelter, they prepare to sit it out ‘ not realising the full implications of nuclear war as radiation sickness overtakes them. They are still alive at the end ‘ but only just.
5. Jurassic Bark (Futurama)
Can you imagine sending hate mail to the producers of Futurama, that often satirical show that blends science fiction with social commentary and lots of other pop culture references? No? That’s exactly what happened with this episode. Fry takes Bender to a museum and is shocked to see that one of the exhibits is his pet dog from the 21st century. The story is slowly revealed that Seymour (the dog) waited patiently for his master outside the pizzeria where he was told to stay’¦ until the day he died.
6. Kenny Dies (South Park)
Fans of South Park got used to duffle coat wearing child seemingly dying in every episode only to reappear in the following episode without so much of a mention. Yet, there came a time that Kenny would not return. He has a serious illness and the story centres on stem cell research and Eric Cartman attempting to get the law overturned in order to save his friend’s life (though he does not do this for altruistic reasons). He did return after a year and is only occasionally killed off.
7. And Maggie Makes Three (The Simpsons)
The Simpsons rarely did American kitcsch a la The Waltons but this episode came dangerously close. The family are looking through some old family photos but the kids cannot understand why there are no photographs of Maggie. The episode recounts the strained situation of Marge’s pregnancy and Homer’s attempts to get away from the nuclear power plant ‘ only to be roped back into working there by Mister Burns. In the final scene, Homer explains that the ‘photographs are where they need to be’ (his desk) along with the note ‘do it for her’.
8. Death of Optimus Prime (Transformers)
Yes it is sad when robots die, at least to children and there is nothing more shocking than the death of the primary character ‘ one of the heroes of one of the biggest animated series of all time. Like any comic character, Optimus Prime dies many times and comes back. But it was this first death that was the most shocking ‘ and it came in the feature length version of the animated series. After an intense battle with Megatron, he is witnessed surrounded by his inner circle passing on his knowledge and wishes ‘ and choosing his successor.
9. The Time Masters
In this French made-for-TV movie, young Piel is the sole survivor of an attack on a colony on the planet of Perdide. His dying father gives him a communication device through which to call for help. Piel eventually contacts a distant spaceship and the ship travels to intercept. Piel though not only has to survive the dangerous wildlife, but also an attempt by one of the ship’s crew to make him commit suicide. The biggest tragedy is left until the end when it is revealed that Perdide is sent back in time and that the adult version of the boy was on board the ship all along ‘ and he got to witness the failure of his own rescue before his death.
10. The Magician in Black (Ulysses 31)
Remembered far more fondly in the UK than the USA and far more than in France and Japan (the two countries that jointly ventured the project), it was a take on the legends of Iliad and Odyssey. Most of Ulysses’ crew were in suspended animation after the Captain broke a sacred law. In this episode, many of them are awakened by the galaxy’s most powerful magician ‘ much to the joy of the young girl Yumi whose brother was amongst those in hypersleep. Unfortunately it is not to last and we feel her pain in the final scene as she stares longingly up at her brother ‘ willing him to wake.
Through the power of animation, we can explore the range of human emotions far more than live action might sometimes permit ‘ and playing on the emotions of children is often a sure-fire hit. However, as seen in the examples above such emotional responses are not the exclusive preserve of children’s animation.