While we usually look at summer as a great time to mess around, vacation, and spend more time at the beach, Autumn brings that friendly reminder that we have to “get back to real life” soon enough. Whether you’re back at school, tackling new projects at work, or just dealing with too many holiday obligations on the horizon to handle, remember that signs are everywhere to show you the way. We usually find our signs in Disney movies. So it’s no secret that our favorite childhood films are full of essential life lessons. Here are our favorite Disney flicks to help you tackle every life problem.
Note: All pictures and film scenes are owned and copyrighted by Disney/ Pixar, all rights reserved. All film reviews are shared for entertainment purposes only and not meant to cure any conditions or situations, real or imagined. This post includes affiliate links and we may earn a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking the links.
- 1 Disney Movies for Every Life Problem
- 2 Tired and Ready Give Up
- 3 Making Friends
- 4 Self Doubt and Judgement
- 5 Money Issues
- 6 Family Troubles
- 7 Life Purpose
- 8 Self Acceptance and Self Love
- 9 Trusting Others and Yourself
- 10 Setbacks
- 11 Finding Romantic Love
- 12 Death and Grief
- 13 Depression
- 14 Regret and Disappointment
- 15 Health and Wellness
- 16 Believing in Yourself
Disney Movies for Every Life Problem
Ah, problems…the world is full of them. Much like Alice we often give ourselves very good advice but seldom follow it. But with a little Disney cinematherapy, you can tackle the 15 most common life problems. It truly is amazing what some focused, no phone within arms reach, time spent watching Disney flicks can do for your psyche. If you’ve gone through childhood, chances are you’ve already received some of the subliminal messaging we’ve grown to know and love.
While we can’t promise this post will fix your life, we can promise if you identify the problem and watch the movie that speaks to you at that moment, you will see it differently and the clouds will begin to part and your brain will begin to see those answers you’ve had available to you this whole time. (Ok, we can’t really guarantee the clouds will part, but you get the idea).
Click through the links below to grab any Disney movies you may be missing in your collection or grab Disney Plus for any life problem emergency. We like this best for immediate access.
Tired and Ready Give Up
While Cinderella and Hercules may seem on the opposite ends of the spectrum here, they give you two solutions to the same problem.
Cinderella is one of my favorite films ever, and it’s not just because her dress is pretty. Cinderella, as a character, is in a horrible situation. Absolutely horrible. She tries to be nice and it gets her nowhere. She tries to obey every rule and it gets her nowhere. She takes her future into her own hands and sews a dress, without expense to anyone, and it gets her nowhere. The trials and tribulations are many, this girl cannot get a break. So how does she not go completely insane? Because she has faith. She learns when to ask for help and she does. This is such a critical part of Cinderella as Disney portrays her. She puts aside the strength she’s been carrying and allows surrender. She realizes she can’t do it alone and she allows the breakdown and asks/ prays for what she needs. Complete allowing. Handing over the problem to a higher power. This brings her the Fairy Godmother. Now, while you may have a hard time getting your own fairy godmother to show up out of thin air, faith is a strong tool to use when you’re ready to give up. Most importantly it reminds you that you are not alone. There are other things in play of which you have no control. Who are you to know what’s best? What if the universe truly always has your back? What if it just needs you to let go, so it can take the wheel? If you’re frustrated about the job/boyfriend/baby/new house, etc. you’re not getting, loosen up a bit. Decide what you want and believe it’s showing up. Even miracles take a little time.
Hercules on the other hand is about action. He knows what he wants but can’t get past his physical limitations. What does he do? He changes his mindset, reminds himself he is willing to go the distance, and takes on a mentor. Another great example of sharing the problem with someone else. Hercules isn’t afraid to put in the time and he too is ready to share the journey by asking for help. Just like Cinderella, whether you’re handing your problems over to faith or as in Hercules handing your problem over to someone who can help you, your essential lesson here is that when you are at this point of frustration, you have to hand it over. Journal it, talk to your mom or a friend, chat with a life coach. A solution can’t come from the same brain that made the problem. Weird right? It has to come from somewhere else. Read a book, watch a movie, even someone else’s mindset is sure to influence your own and lead you where you need to be.
Friendships in Disney Movies
Whether you’re dealing with a toxic friendship, some codependency, or just need friends, these films will show you what friendship is, and what it’s not. When Hans betrayed Anna in Frozen I gasped, shocked. When Andy chose Buzz over Woody, I was heartbroken. And when Mike is just not fitting in at his new school and Sully doesn’t want to be his partner, well…that was bad too. Here’s the thing. Sometimes people are bad friends. You can’t change that. You can’t. This is not a challenge. Here’s what you can control… your response.
In Toy Story, Woody obviously handles it poorly at first, but then figures it out. In Frozen, Anna is wounded but not incapacitated, she can still save Elsa. You can leave the bad friend ( Like Quasimodo does when he realizes Frollo is really no friend at all in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), You can make a new friend ( Fox in the Hound), You can go it alone for a while until you figure out what kind of friend you want and need. Friendship is the main theme in many Disney films so you will not be short of potential solutions to any friend problem.
Self Doubt and Judgement
There is no reason you can’t be what you want to be. Ratatouille’s main message is that maybe not everyone can cook but a great cook can come from anywhere. Don’t let your place, even if it’s in the gutter, prevent you from trying. The only real failure is to stop trying ( Haunted Mansion). If you’re short on available opportunities, make your own.
Mulan takes a great risk to get into the military ( and dishonor her family) but it is her actions while she is there that help raise her self-worth. She is enough. She can do this. She will figure this out! Sometimes the best path out of doubt is action. Worried or fearful you can’t do something? Just do one thing towards the goal. Watch Mulan and get inspired.
Money Problems in Disney Movies
No matter your money mindset there’s a Disney movie for that. In Mary Poppins you can learn the value of saving a tuppence in the bank, donating to feed the birds, and doing small jobs like Bert to make a little extra dough. All pride aside, Bert takes on the dirtiest of jobs to make ends meet and is still quite respected. Be brave, work three jobs if you need to, the new skills will help you get something better in the end. Or you could shift your thoughts to less and live on the Bare Necessities like Baloo. If you’re already living on the bare necessities then consider giving to the poor like Robin Hood. Wait! How can you give to the poor if you have no money? You give time. Volunteer time to a local food pantry, church, shelter anywhere that may be a new group of people. Poverty studies have shown that the two things that raise people out of money troubles are education and relationships. If extravagance is more your style watch Iron Man and remember that he added value to the world with new ideas and inventions, so did Uncle Scrooge. Anything is possible.
Emotions run rampant in families. Whether it’s an absent parent, a wicked stepmother, a new baby, neglect, divorce, obligations you can’t make, sibling rivalry, or something more Disney shows family structure better than anyone. One of my favorite movies is Lilo and Stitch, and while everyone knows that Ohana means nobody gets left behind or forgotten it is Stitch’s line at the end of the film when he’s convincing them he should be allowed to stay that always gets me. He says “This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It is little and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good.” Because no matter the troubles you’re having, and Stitch had quite a few, the family you have is yours and yours alone. There are many more films than the ones here that deal with family at the core. Tangled shows a rather controlling mother that may be ruling your life, The Lion King and Brave both deal with the family obligation. Whatever the issue, grab a movie- you’re sure to see solutions where there weren’t any before. You don’t have to recreate the wheel. Someone somewhere has had your problem before… and chances are it’s represented in a movie.
You Are Not Where You Want to Be
This issue will pop up all the time throughout your whole life, but never fear the solutions to this problem are endless. Tron alone offers a plethora of solutions to this issue. Tron will show you that every answer is inside yourself- listen. Tron will also show you that any attempt to complete a “plan” or reach a goal will cause you to close out other, better possibilities and opportunities that pop up along the way. When people say it’s about the journey, this is what they mean. Don’t hold so tight to the destination that you fail to enjoy the journey and miss out on life. Stop thinking there’s a place to be. Don’t take action from impatience because nothing is happening.
And finally, from Tron, consider what variable needs to be removed from the equation to get you where you want to be. Are you taking other people into consideration, are you assuming something untrue, what variable is stopping you? The Nightmare Before Christmas is a very complex story, but one of the key storylines is that Jack is quite sure the grass is greener, or rather snow-covered, in Christmastown and that his life would be better if he were Sandy Claws. Jack’s lesson here is that he thought he was missing something, but being pumpkin king is what he was made for. Once he remembers this he vows to be a better pumpkin king than ever before. It is not acceptance but clarity that he already had everything he needed all along. Pocahontas teaches a different lesson, that just around the river bend is perhaps something you haven’t experienced yet, something different, a different path. If you aren’t where you need to be you need to take the risk required to go down that other path. Unknown yes, but if you listen to your heart, you will understand. So many solutions to this problem!
Self Acceptance and Self Love
Trouble Accepting Who You Are
“I am bad and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There is no one I’d rather be than me.” Wreck-it Ralphs’s catchy affirmation helps the bad guys in the video game understand and accept their role as non-hero. Interesting as it is, this affirmation closes in a mindset that he will ” never be good”. This fuels the story for the whole movie because while there is no one he’d rather be than himself, he is often good and bad. It’s the acceptance of both sides of his personality that allows growth, just as Quasimodo’s acceptance of his appearance and Elsa’s acceptance of her powers do the same. Whoever you are, remember to honor both sides of yourself. You will be powerful and weak, you will be happy and sad, you will be great at one thing and bad at another. Whatever you are, watch a Disney flick and see the solutions.
Trusting Others and Yourself
Trust Issues in Disney Films
I’ve been wanting to write a full dissertation on Aladdin ever since I re-watched it again in adulthood this year. But no worries, I’ll keep this blog-sized. Trust is a pretty big issue for most people. We can blame it on the culture in America, but no matter where you are chances are someone at some point in your life will let you down, betray you, disappoint you, abandon you, lie to you, etc. Even just one of these experiences can be pretty scarring, so when I heard Aladdin reach his hand out to Jasmine and say ” trust me?” I was like whoa..wait. As a kid, this line simply did not impact me. As an adult, it felt completely different.
Chances are I was distracted by the three wishes and not the subliminal messaging. So here’s the thing about Aladdin, trust is a theme that shows up throughout the whole film. When he wanders into the cave, it’s because he believes he’ll walk out unharmed…before he gets trapped. When the Sultan gets advice from Jafar its because he trusts him as his advisor before Jafar screws him over. When the genie is told he’ll be free as Aladdin’s last wish, he trusts that Aladdin will deliver on that promise.
So while real life is not Aladdin and you will never be able to foresee completely if it’s safe to trust someone, know that that doesn’t mean you should withhold your trust. When Jasmine agrees to fly on the magic carpet, she has already seen Prince Ali fail miserably multiple times. And the first time he muttered these words to her as Aladdin he successfully saved her from the bad guys in the marketplace. Trust was earned. It wasn’t blind faith.
Feeling Trapped or Like You’re Getting Nowhere in Life
Sometimes we get to a point in life where everything seems yucky. We don’t have anything we want and we feel trapped. When that happens Disney movies are the best because they offer the most bite-sized lessons. In Tangled, Rapunzel keeps asking when her life will begin but fails to take immediate action to climb out the window to make it begin. The most visible lesson in this film is action. In order to stop being trapped, Rapunzel must leave. Prior to leaving she has a ton of reservations about doing so. Should she leave her “mother”? Is this selfish? Is it wrong to want more? Why can’t she just be grateful? Whatever variables are factored into your feeling trapped equation, think about scaling it down to just one action. What one action would fix at least part of this problem? Rapunzel’s life does get more complicated after she leaves her tower, but experiences build who you are so she doesn’t look at them negatively. At least now she knows what’s on the other side of that windowsill. Definitely watch it if this is a feeling you’re battling.
Finding Romantic Love
Haven’t Met Mr./ Mrs. Right
Whether you’re fixated on a perfect happily ever after, Okay settling for anything with a pulse just to be married or really just need a date for Friday night, Disney movies have more solutions to this problem than you probably realized and none of them involve Tinder. The healthiest relationship I’ve seen on screen in a long time is between Aladdin and Jasmine. Before they started trying to impress each other with ego-centric frivolities like class and money, they were actually just very candid, honest, and shared a few common disappointments. Bonding is important. Bonding during hardships holds more water in any relationship, and if you’re both focused on minimizing disappointments the bonding is minimal. Strange, right?
The very underrated The Princess and the Frog showcases the working girl Tiana bent on getting her own restaurant and the life she dreams about. This doesn’t necessarily include a man. After bonding with fellow human turned frog, Prince Naveen, Tiana lets him into her life because she lets him into her dream. When was the last time you were terribly honest, candid, or vulnerable enough to share your dreams with your date? Most of us attempt the classic Greco-Roman mating dance of flirting, flattery, and some appealing clothing. This is however the 21st century. It’s been a hard transition, we know.
On the other end of the spectrum is Merida from Brave, who is fighting for her own hand in marriage. With no plans to marry, she is content chasing the wind and touching the sky. We all have a different relationship with marriage, happily ever after, and what our future looks like. If this is an area you’re frustrated with, watch a few Disney films, and notice the relationships. You may be surprised that what you want isn’t really what you thought or that the answer on how to get what you want has been in front of you this whole time. Remember, the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself.
Death and Grief
Death Loss Grief in Disney Films
While our number one remedy for anyone dealing with loss or grief would be reading the entire Harry Potter series, we don’t put it past Disney to have a pretty good handle on this one also. Fairytales by nature are always absent one parental figure. This unfortunate literary truth allows for the main character to be forced into growth, thus starting the hero’s journey. The Lion King does an exquisite job of mirroring the grieving process through Simba when he loses his father bringing him through the blame, denial, withdrawal, all of it. As the viewer, you can follow Simba’s decisions and notice where you would/ are handling this differently.
With the loss of a sibling or friend, we turn to Big Hero Six, which presents a death right at the beginning of the film, mimicking the shock factor we often feel with a surprising loss. What’s amazing about Big Hero Six is that our favorite healthcare companion, Baymax, addresses every human need with care and compassion- identifying in black and white things you can do to work through this level of sadness. Hugs are a natural pain reliever, sleep improves your mood, being with friends increases happiness, all of these and more can help you through the grief process. And never underestimate the power of a favorite childhood movie. Your brain and body can recognize memories from easier times. If watching and rewatching a childhood favorite will calm you and put things in perspective, by all means, indulge.
Depression and Sadness in Disney Movies
Pollyanna, as a character, has a whole psychological principle named after her. You may remember the glad game from the film. It states that whenever you feel down you just sit and remember something that makes you glad instead. This shifts your brain into a place of happiness because subconsciously everything in the past is rosier than the present. Focusing on the positive is often easier said than done, but sometimes it only takes one happy thing, one grateful moment to tip the scale back into the positive direction.
Beauty and the Beast is another film that highlights depression and sadness as the Beast and his servants face a lifelong curse. It’s only the introduction of hope (Belle) that helps them see something new. Mind you, the hope alone, even without any real expectation of the curse being broken is what drives them to clean the house, pour the tea and take a bath. If you’re struggling with this think about a few things that help give you some control over your yucky situation. Make the bed, take out the trash, clear your email inbox. It’s amazing what exercising newfound control over a situation can do. A lack of control over one’s life is usually a key trigger for feeling depressed or sad.
Inside Out has been considered “the film” that will finally encourage families to talk about depression and mental illness openly. A very very moving film laced with so so many lessons, Inside out teaches that all parts of us are necessary to function, even the feeling sad parts. With today’s focus on being happy and “on” all the time we rarely take time to feel our feelings and often shun the ones that don’t match our Instagram page. Watching Inside Out a few times will give you tools to tackle the yucky feelings while still respecting your need to feel them. Cry it all out. You’ll feel better after.
Regret and Disappointment
Regretting the Past
Regret is an interesting concept. It primarily happens when you forget that at the time you made the decision to do or not do something you were in your right mind. You made your decision/choice based on the information you had available to you at the moment. Simba in The Lion King believes himself to blame for his father’s death and leaves his post. This is a decision he makes for solid reasons and on a recommendation from his uncle Scar. At this point in the film, Simba does not know that Scar has lied, he does not know that he is not to blame. So how could Simba have made a different decision? He couldn’t- therefore there is no need to regret this past or this decision. He did what was best in that moment. A decision to regret something that happened in the past suggests that you shouldn’t have trusted yourself, that you should have known better, that you failed in some way.
Carl in Up, after a very rich life with his wife, regrets that they did not fill up their adventure book, because life got in the way and she passed away before they could complete it. This lesson shows that life is the adventure in the book. Carl regretting the past would be saying that the life they shared wasn’t worth it because it didn’t meet a checklist of expectations. Of course, none of this is true for Carl or you, as you would have never had access to future information in the past. Time, after all, withstanding quantum physics, is linear and we bend to its will to fit what we can into life and have to simply let the rest go.
In Pirates of the Caribbean, we see a whole slew of men regretting their choice to steal the gold of Cortez and thus be cursed. Do you think they would have stolen the gold if they knew they were going to be cursed? No, probably not. That’s the thing with regrets… they’re not real. Because chances are if you knew you would regret something, you probably wouldn’t do it.
Health and Wellness
Health Problems Ruining Your Life
We love it when Disney/Pixar makes loud sweeping statements about society. It’s like a bullet of truth to our psyche. Health problems are never great and they fall across a very very wide spectrum. From the common weight problem to cancer we see tidbits of these things show up in Disney films every now and again. Wall-E shows an overweight population relaxing in outer space as our little trash robot cleans up the mess of a planet we could no longer inhabit. Lessons here are clear, though not entirely possible in an outer space environment. Exercise, eating right, keeping your environment around you clean, limiting sitting, and going outside more are all themes in Wall-E. Baymax in Big Hero Six gives you personalized healthcare recommendations; get a pet to relieve anxiety, sleep 8 hours, eat healthy food, create connections with other people. While you won’t find the cure for gout in a Disney film, you will definitely find a little guidance and a few coping mechanisms in these flicks to help improve your health and wellbeing.
Believing in Yourself
How to Believe in Yourself
A major theme in most Disney films, believing in yourself is needed today more than ever. For lighter trials, we like Winnie Pooh since Eyeore and Piglet constantly struggle with feeling “enough”. For the more determined, Ratatouille is a great reminder that “you” are the one that has to believe in yourself first. Others will not follow suit unless you yourself believe in your capability. Moana is perfect for those in transition from one place to another; high school to college or adulthood. Lessons about identifying your strengths and persevering are strong in this film and are a great reminder that barriers are present in everyone’s lives. That it’s often our ability to just keep swimming that allows us the opportunity to become our best selves. Dumbo is a classic and one that can help you believe in miracles. While Dumbo is getting help from the ringmaster, his success comes not from the absence of fear, but from his desire to fly being greater than his fear. Whatever it is that you need to believe in yourself, chances are you can find a few great ideas in Disney films to get you started.
Disney Movies for Life Advice
So there it is. A quick list of our favorite Disney cinematherapy films to help you through life problems. Whatever the issue grab a Disney movie and see what feels better. Sometimes figuring out the next step is just about allowing it to happen. Sit back, relax, grab a cup of tea, and watch, see if your mind latches onto something it hadn’t before. Chances are it will. 🙂