Sometimes, on occasion, I have been known to ugly cry during movies.

My Girl, Titanic, My Sister’s Keeper, Beaches, Stepmom, the Green Mile, Ghost, Forrest Gump – and do NOT get me started on animated movies! Toy Story 3, Up, Monster’s Inc., Inside Out, the Lion King, Wreck It Ralph, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, the Little Mermaid, the Land Before Time, Shrek Forever After, Finding Nemo, Lilo and Stitch, Dumbo…

Notice how the list of animated movies that make me cry is longer than live-action movies that make me cry? I’m not alone. Emotional films, TV shows and books rank among the most common causes of crying in adults – not just the sad scenes, but also during the happiest moments.


Excuse me while I curl into the foetal position and die inside a little…


So are we all just a bunch of emotionally unstable snowflakes, doomed to melt at the first sign of icky human emotion? 

Actually, no. Turns out, the animators and writers at Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks apply a subtle formula of psychological triggers guaranteed to have you weeping into your popcorn.

Scientific research suggests that human infants evolved a distinctive set of “cute” features that function as a sign of vulnerability, such as large, wide-set eyes, chubby cheeks and disproportionately tiny hands and feet. This set of features, dubbed the Baby Schema, is embodied by other creatures we also happen to find cute – puppies, kittens…and cartoon characters.

Humans are biologically programmed with the urge to take care of creatures that embody the Baby Schema, and when that creature is an animated character on a screen, we can’t do anything to stop or lessen their “pain”.

The resulting feelings of helplessness is what causes the audience to cry, and it’s particularly potent when combined with other strong emotions such as sadness, fear or disappointment.

Like the puppet masters they are, Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks are experts at manipulating these accompanying emotions.

Their films often examine themes like youth, family, friendship, and the passage of time; subjects that most adult viewers have no trouble identifying with. And obviously, the more closely we relate to the experiences portrayed onscreen, the more likely we are to have a strong emotional reaction.

Photo Credit:

These profound life lessons and hidden messages were always there, in the books and films we loved as children – we just didn’t pick up on them due to our limited life experience.

That’s not to say that children aren’t smart enough to comprehend complex emotions or significant themes. Quite the opposite, in fact; children are more empathetic than adults, and therefore are more accepting of individual differences.

When children look at people, they see people. They don’t try to define and label those they don’t know, because they aren’t acquainted with stereotypes or beaten down by reality.

So maybe our inner child would benefit from the occasional viewing of the Lion King or Toy Story 3 – if only to put life back into perspective and remind our adult selves of what’s really important.

Which children’s film makes you ugly cry? Leave a comment below.

© Tara Jenkinson 2017