Recommended Movies Emphasizing Moral Character for Kids

By: Tonya Mead, PhD, MBA, M.Ed, CHFI, CFE, PI

There are hundreds of PG movies offered for entertainment. This article proposes to conduct a character analysis and an assessment of the main plot story lines of popular movies as it relates to the psychological, emotional growth and development of children. It is anticipated that parents may use these movies as tools to foster strong moral character, reasoning skills, honesty and integrity in the midst of a chaotic world where seemingly– anything goes. It will be updated periodically. Please enjoy.

The Gods Must be Crazy

The Gods Must be Crazy is an excellent movie to view with your children aged 8-12. If you think that you or your family are a little too ‘high brow’ to enjoy and learn from the philosophical journey of an African Bushman, Xixo, portrayed by the real life Bushman, N!xau, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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The main plot of the story revolves around a discarded Coke bottle, thrown from a pilot’s window of an airplane. It falls from the sky. Xixo, finds this object, thinks it is a blessing, and shares it with his tribe. In time, the Coke bottle becomes the center and cause for feelings unrealized in the rural, untarnished environment: covetousness, greed, jealously, anger, and hatred. What had been a peaceful heavenly existence, where everyone’s needs are met (food, clothing, shelter) based upon cooperative learning, sharing of responsibility, resources and love becomes a living hell. In the eyes of Xixo, to restore peace, he must take the cursed object back to the Gods.

Along his journey, he meets Andrew Steyn, played by Marius Weyers, a good-hearted and honest zoological researcher and Kate Thompson, portrayed by Sandra Prinsloo. Their romantic sub-plot adds a light-hearted twist to the movie. Look for several scenes in which Steyn attempts to win Thompson’s heart but is thwarted by his clumsiness or mocked by the buff, jock tour guide, Jack Hind, played by Nic de Jager.

 

Two minor turning points in the movie serve to provoke thoughts that center around truth, justice and intention. In one instance, some guerrillas pilferage shops in a small town and take school children as hostages. Another occurs when Xixo stuns a farm animal with a native herb so that he could obtain food. In the eyes of civilized law, this is an unlawful act and as such, Xixo is arrested, tried and found guilty, and jailed.

In addition to providing a backdrop for discussing moral issues such as materialism, dishonesty, criminality, and the prejudgment of the poor, The Gods Must be Crazy is a great resource for helping kids conceptualize operational thought. From ages 7 to 11, kids understand the importance of following rules and regulations according to Piaget. Additionally, from a moral reasoning perspective, kids from 10-13 years begin to value conformity and social approval. Kohlberg, the developer of the Theory of Moral Reasoning postulated that it is at this age that children begin to recognize that doing one’s duty to maintain social order is a natural part of life and a necessity for civilized living. In so doing, humanity may realize that heaven could be achieved here on earth, right now.

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back represents a classic 80s movie as it helps the viewer to reflect upon the ways in which every day decisions impact the direction of one’s life for years and those of future generations. It also helps the viewer to understand that while it may be possible to temporarily escape one’s true destiny; fate ultimately has the last word. So, the best thing to do is to study, train and prepare oneself to the best of one’s ability.

The lead character, Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill expresses a depth of feelings and range of internal conflict unrealized in the first Star Wars film. While learning to master the martial arts of the Jedi from his mentor, Yoda; Luke begins to grasp the philosophical underpinnings of Good and Evil. He slowly recognizes that he has a unique destiny to fulfill; to confront Darth Vader, the protector of the evil Empire.

The problem? He is not sure that he possesses the physical strength, internal fortitude and willpower to save the galaxy. His innate strength is frayed by self doubt and low self confidence. Throughout the film, we see Yoda beaconing Luke to rely upon his strength from within. Han Solo, Luke’s trusted warrior friend, played by Harrison Ford is not as defiant in the Empire Strikes Back as he portrayed in the first movie. He presents a softer side, even openly expressing his love for Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. The newcomer in this series, Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, offers a chance for African American viewers to see a suave, strong, sexy Black man play a leading role in a fantasy, action, science fiction film.

The character studies presented within this flick are deep, interwoven and worthy of further analysis. It appears as though Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, Princess Leia, Dark Vader and the Yoda all have internal conflicts. They too, seek to evolve. The challenges presented in the movie: relational conflicts with close friends, aerial battles against the enemy, and inner discord and incongruent ideals with the self represent excellent props by which the viewer may find applicable in one’s own life.

The Return of the Jedi

The Return of the Jedi represents a classic 80s movie as it serves as a vehicle to push the viewer toward greater self knowledge and self acceptance. In this film, the main character, Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill learns more about himself than in the other Star Wars movies. Additionally, the viewer gets the sense that he is more at ease with his family history, siblings, and origins. He is wiser, more self confident (dressed in black), and less questioning of his purpose than before. In essence, he has matured.

The movie urges one to get comfortable with ‘the skin you are in’ by (1) acknowledging one’s family history, (2) returning to the physical abode where one’s life began, (3) searching for the core of one’s destiny, (4) coming to terms with the moral failings and challenges of one’s parent, (5) releasing the strings of dependency upon a mentor, (6) gaining independence and self reliance, and (7) believing in the ultimate goodness of man.

In Luke Skywalker’s case, Luke attempts to complete the full circle of life. He must, not as in the previous movie, The Empire Strikes Back, reconcile the internal turmoil existing within; but, he must resolve the conflict with his father, Dark Vader, played by David Prowse. At every turn where he is gripped with the choice to believe the worst of his father, he chooses to cling to the glimmer of hope that his father is redeemable. The viewer may get the sense that Luke will come to terms with his contrasting views of his father; some one who you may love to hate and hate to love. Isn’t this similar to the ‘coming of age’ challenge and driving story of all male adolescents today?

The Return of the Jedi also serves as a medium for opening complex family discussions; a chance for fathers seeking better relations with their sons to view in Luke the unyielding hope and trust that sons have in their dads regardless of power struggles, turf wars, and rivalry. In the movie, it is mentioned that Anakin Skywalker/Dark Vader was seduced by the dark side. Even Ben Obi Wan Kenobi, played by Alec Guinness rationalized to Luke that his father was no longer human. “Dark Vader”, he said, “is more machine than man, twisted and evil…”

In spite of this, there are several opportunities for the viewer to take a peek at Dark Vader’s humanness. While inspecting the Death Star in preparation for a visit by the Emperor, Dark Vader was quoted as saying, “The Emperor is not as forgiving as I.” In this sentence, the viewer gets the sense that Dark Vader wants to be redeemed, he wants to get a chance to make things right with his son, with the rebel fighters; with the world. As Dark Vader trails Luke from a distance and watches the struggles of his son, Dark Vader becomes the apprentice and re-learns the art of compassion, human kindness and hope. He may in fact learn to believe once more that Good may prevail if given the chance.

Another interesting aspect of the movie as it relates to families is the role that intuition plays within the family circle. Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker/Dark Vader and Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher were joined together by a common bond. Each sensing whether the other was in danger, or in close proximity, as well as intuiting their next steps. At the end of the movie, the viewers will get the opportunity to see whether this intuition and/or family love; fatherly and sibling love of the three main characters will be strong enough to destroy the Death Star and restore peace in the galaxy.

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