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The 5 Most Intensely Emotional Animated Movies

Updated on February 20, 2014

The Power Of A Cartoon

It's always a little surprising when an animated movie touches an emotional nerve. As adults, we live with the expectation that we're past the point of being moved by a cartoon; maybe it's the child within each of us, however, that responds so strongly at times. It could be that some animated films take us back to a younger, more innocent place inside ourselves. We build all kinds of walls around our own sensitivities as we get older, understandably, but drawings tend to remind us of who we used to be.

This is a list of five deeply emotional animated films. The movies here are not meant to be ranked, or in any order, other than grouped due to their ability to touch even the most cynical adult.

Charlotte's Web

Wilbur the pig is born a runt, and without Fern's intervention, he would surely lose his life. Fern loves Wilbur in a way that only a child can love an animal, but she's growing older. As we age, we lose sight a little of some of what we hold on to as children, and Fern is no exception. Luckily, in a crisis situation, Charlotte the spider befriends Wilbur, and begins weaving a series of cryptic webs on his behalf. This leads to one of the most moving climactic moments in any animated film ever.

I can't say enough good things about the 1973 animated version of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web . From the start to the finish, this film offers a tender and tragic look at growing up and love and loss. The songs sprinkled throughout the movie balance a longing for new adventures and an understanding that people are somehow the same everywhere: we all want to love and be loved, to be free and to be safe. This is my wife's favorite animated film, bar none. I know a remake has been made, but I haven't seen it; I fear that the new film will smear something too beautiful to be tainted.

Dot and the Kangaroo

This movie is included on the list with a warning: the film quality has not held up to the ravagings of time. It's grainy, dark, and strange. Then again, this movie always had a strange quality, and at the end of the day, I don't care. Dot and the Kangaroo is a powerfully emotional memory for a generation of adults. We remember watching it at our school's assembly, or at our friend's house down the street. It struck a nerve then, and would likely do the same again, if you let it (anyone remember the Bunyip?).

Dot is an Australian girl who becomes lost in the bush, and like so many other animated films, her hopelessness is noticed by the wild animals of the territory, particularly a kangaroo who has lost her own child. The growing bond between Dot and the kangaroo (whose maternal instincts are overwhelming) follows the two through several threats and adventures. Their journey culminates in a scene that draws tears from some adults just by mentioning it. Dot's longing for her new-found mother is joyously painful and leaves a viewer at a loss for words.


I don't think this Pixar movie as a whole is particularly moving.  It's a romp through a foreign land, and an opportunity for plenty of gentle jokes at the elderly protagonist's expense.  Up has, however, one of the most powerfully emotional montages I have ever seen in an animated film.  Towards the beginning of this movie, we are met with a series of flashbacks recording the marriage of the main character, Carl Frederickson, to his lovely wife.  Unfortunately, Carl has lost his wife (whom we get see as a child and then a woman), and now lives a lonely, pointless life in the shadow of their romance.  The resulting effect is intense.

Again, I can't claim that the movie Up as a whole is a moving experience.  It's not.  I debated whether to include it on this list, but decided, simply based on this one succession of images, that it moved me more for a few minutes than most other animated movies.


Perhaps it's been many years since you've watched this Disney classic, centered around a sense of isolation suffered by a little elephant ridiculed for his large ears. That being said, this movie is one of only a few of those old films that deserves to be called a classic. I would defy anyone to watch the movie all the way through without getting choked up. In the scene featuring the song "Baby Mine," this animated film conjures up all the power of a mother's love for her child. The scene shows an imprisoned mother elephant trying to grasp on to her only child in such a way that will tear any parent apart. It's almost too much to bear.

While this movie is the oldest on the list, I believe it may be the most heartfelt Disney movie ever made. You might be surprised by how much you've forgotten about the power and beauty of this 1941 tear-jerker.

Watership Down

This is the movie that quickly reduces me to a ten-year-old. Many peoples' favorite is Charlotte's Web (which is incredible in its own right), but there is something about Watership Down that burrows down to my core. I read the book by Richard Adams, and even with the changes and lack of some details, the film does a wonderful job of capturing the raw emotions of a warren of rabbits, forced to move to a new home because of the "progress" of men.

The travels of this group of rabbits feels allegorical at times, and each animal is clearly symbolic of some part of each of us. There are political struggles, too, but at its heart, Watership Down is a surprisingly gritty dream of a better life. The sequence featuring "Bright Eyes," by Art Garfunkel, is easily my favorite song in an animated film. I cannot recommend this movie enough, but I would warn parents not to show it to very young children, as it does show some of the brutality that we all endure. Watership Down is guaranteed to stay with you for a long time.

"Bright Eyes" from Watership Down: Fiver Looks for His Injured Friend Hazel


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    • shogan profile image

      shogan 6 years ago from New England

      Fair enough, Chris. Thanks for commenting!

    • Chris Qu profile image

      Chris Qu 6 years ago

      Personally, I'd put Toy Story 3 and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time above anything on this list... Though I haven't seen Dot and the Kangaroo yet.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 6 years ago from New England

      It's lovely, isn't it, Carolyn Moe? Thanks for reading, and welcome to Hubpages!

    • Carolyn Moe profile image

      Carolyn Moe 6 years ago

      That artist's drawing of Charlotte's web particularly stands out to me as I had that cover as a child.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thanks, jreuter. Sounds like we have a lot in common, when it comes to films!

    • jreuter profile image

      Jason Reuter 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon

      Man, I can still remember how haunted I was by both Dot and the Kangaroo and Watership Down. Incredibly intense movies for a little kid! I was gonna mention Secret of Nimh, but looks like I am too late. That one was huge for me as well, as was The Water Babies (can still hear those haunting melodies) and the Velveteen Rabbit one from the early 80's. Cool Hub shogan! Very original and memory inducing.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thanks, Painted Seahorse. Dot is the one movie on the list that is an acquired taste. You may not like it, based on what I wrote in the article.

      The Secret of Nimh is good, but I don't think it holds an audience's attention well. I haven't seen An American Tale since it came out. Thank you, however, for the additions!

    • Painted Seahorse profile image

      Brittany Rowland 7 years ago from Woodstock, GA

      These are some good choices, shogan. I've seen all but the Kangaroo one. Dumbo still makes me tear up with "Baby Mine," and Charlotte's Web was one of my favorite cartoons as a child. Watership Down is also a good choice--I loved the book when I read it. I remember the cartoon scared me when I watched it, but that's probably because it's too intense and graphic for younger kids.

      I rewatched The Fox and the Hound the other day. I'd forgotten what a depressing, heartfelt movie that is, probably one of Disney's darkest, despite its positive message.

      The Secret of Nimh is also an all-time favorite of mine. That and An American Tale can still evoke powerful emotions in me.

      Definitely check out Studio Ghibli's films. Spirited Away is a great one to start with.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Hi, fayx24. No, as I said in the article, aside from those few minutes, Up isn't a particularly moving film.

      I haven't seen the Gibli Collection...guess I have something to add to my list!

    • fayx24 profile image

      fayx24 7 years ago from Australia

      Nice Hub! Good list, although I love Up, not so sure it's a tear jerker with much meaning (apart from what you wrote about the wife). I adored Dumbo, especially the part where he's swinging on his mother's trunk! No matter how many times I see it, it still brings tears to my eyes! What about other animations? I personally love the Gibli Collection, of which My Neighbour Totoro is my favourite. It really brings out the essence of childhood!

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Hi, DanuckInUSA, I know this is sacrilege, but I don't find Bambi all that moving. I don't's just me. Moments, yes, but not as a whole. It's nothing like Dumbo, anyway.

    • DanuckInUSA profile image

      DanuckInUSA 7 years ago from Medford, Oregon

      Really not Bambi?

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Yeah, that one sequence...geez. Maybe if I weren't married, I wouldn't feel it so strongly. It hurts.

      Thanks for reading, mfrancisami, and welcome to Hubpages! :)

    • mfrancisami profile image

      mfrancisami 7 years ago from Missouri

      UP had me crying within the first five minutes, great hub!

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      It's a couple of the songs, isn't it, JLClose? Yes, it's a beautifully made film.

    • JLClose profile image

      JLClose 7 years ago from OreGONE

      Charlotte's Web can bring tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Lol! Nice to meet you, too, AmorphousTortus! :D

      I know some will skewer me for this, but I'm just not a fan of anime. There. I said it.

    • AmorphousTortus profile image

      AmorphousTortus 7 years ago from Oconomowoc

      Nothing by Hayao Miyazaki?

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thank you for reading, ajcor. I appreciate your comments!

    • ajcor profile image

      ajcor 7 years ago from NSW. Australia

      Thanks for this hub shogan - as a child I really loved Dumbo, and Bambi... Of your list I have seen Dumbo, Charlotte's Web, and Dot and the Kangaroo; liked them all I will hire Watership Down and take a look also I have heard that Up is good so maybe another a hiring is in order...cheers and thanks.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thanks, prairieprincess. Did your teacher read you all of Watership Down?! That's a looong book!

      Just remember what I said about Up. It's really not an emotionally touching movie, except for those few minutes. Those few minutes are amazing, I think.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 7 years ago from Canada

      Shogan, what a beautiful hub ... I really enjoyed this, and I had some connections. First of all, "Charlotte's Web" was my sister's favourite book in grade four. I did not get into it as she did, but she absolutely loved it.

      Our teacher read "Watership Down" to us in grade four, and we were NOT ALLOWED to check it of the library, while she was reading it. To me, that increased the intrigue of the book 100% ... I tried to get ahead of her, but the librarian wouldn't let me!

      I sort of half-watched "Up," while doing other things but my sister and nieces adored it, and I want to watch it again, giving it my full attention.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      dfelker, I might have included Toy Story 3 (argh...that scene at the end!), but I had written another hub featuring it, so I decided to leave it be. Good ideas!

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      talisa2699, it's my favorite on the list, for sure. Moving isn't the right word for how it affects me. :)

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thanks, Sarah, both for reading what I wrote about Up ;), and for sharing my love of Watership Down. I appreciate your comments.

    • profile image

      dfelker 7 years ago

      Charlotte's Web: a classic, wonderful! And Dumbo, when the mama elephant sings "Baby Mine" always brings tears to my eyes. My vote amongst the Pixar films for emotional impact is Toy Story 1 or 3. Also I love the Hiyao Miyazaki films like Spirited Away. A really well-done hub, I look forward to reading more!

    • talisa2699 profile image

      talisa2699 7 years ago from Boston, MA

      This is awesome. I was just telling a friend how great Watership Down was!

    • smackins1974 profile image

      smackins1974 7 years ago from UK

      I have watched lots of animated films that have brought tears to my eyes. I agree with "Up" the background story to the film is very emotional.

      I remember Charlottes Web and Watership Down for my childhood and I loved listening to your Bright Eyes clip it is a lovely tune.


    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Eiddwen, thank you and you're more than welcome. I hope you find something else you enjoy!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

      Great reviews and I now look forward to reading so much more of your work.

      Take care


    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      optimus grimlock, I don't know if you've seen Dot since then, but it's almost surreal to watch it as an adult. It brings back so many memories.

    • optimus grimlock profile image

      optimus grimlock 7 years ago

      I remember watching watership and dot as a kid there are great films!!!

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      izettl, my daughters watch The Princess and the Frog, but truthfully, I've never seen it. I guess I'll have to, sometime, though the premise isn't really my thing! :)

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 7 years ago from The Great Northwest

      I didn't even know about the Watership Down movie. I loved that book as a kid.I hadpet rabbits growing up too. I did not watch the movie clip because I want to see the whole movie.

      I totally agree with you on "Up" and "Charlotte's Web". Also I shed a tear at "The Princess and The Frog". If you think it's silly shedding some tears over a spider, this movie had me shedding a tear about the Firefly.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Yeah, DIFH, that's a good one. The Fox and the Hound does a good job illustrating some of the pain that accompanies getting older. Thanks for the addition!

    • profile image

      DoItForHer 7 years ago

      My most emotional cartoon is The Fox and the Hound. When we are kids, we make friends with everyone because we haven't yet learned to make up biases and discrimination. Then when we get older, we end many of those childhood relationships based on society's perception of race, color, status, sex, etc. That is sad and the movie does a good job portraying that.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      lorddraven2000, if you liked those, you'll like the others (possibly not Dot, however...that's an acquired taste).

    • lorddraven2000 profile image

      Sam Little 7 years ago from Wheelwright KY

      Of all of these I have only seen two. Charlottes Web and Dumbo. Dumbo was my favorite movie as a kid.

    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Ian, I'm quite relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who is so moved by Watership Down. That video clip is so...perfect. Isn't it? Hard to put into words.

    • Twilight Lawns profile image

      Twilight Lawns 7 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

      Very worthwhile selection, Shogan, Of course I have watched the video at the end, and I have to admit I have more than a few tears in my eyes now.

      When I was teaching I had a rabbit who was "rescued" from another school where she had been kept in the most deplorable conditions... I won't say how bad, but she was in an awful state when I got her.

      She became a very large and happy black rabbit while she lived out her last years with me.

      I actually read "Watership Down", sitting on a sofa beside her. She lived in a hutch in my flat and frequently came out for cuddles. Dear old Bill the Bunny; so many fond memories!


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