Just Keep Swimming | How Animated Films Teach Us to Keep Going

I recently re-watched Monsters University, the excellent prequel to the famous Monsters, Inc. It got me thinking about perseverance, a theme that runs through not just animated media but each of our lives. Never has it been more important than during current Covid-19 restrictions – to be able to persevere, to be able to strive to achieve something, even if that something is to get out of this with our sanity still intact. Animators and filmmakers often explore the theme of perseverance, highlighting it as an important lesson to teach our children.

Monsters University is a great example of this. We immediately are shown characters with very different mannerisms and thoughts to the Monsters, Inc’s protagonists. Even though we know they will grow into the classic characters we know and love, it is important to see what causes that transition. What changes these characters from their feelings of “not good enough” to their confident selves?

That boils down to their determination and willingness to not give up, even when faced with low odds. We see the main group, by far outmatched by their competition in the film, constantly push themselves towards their goal. This is because they know that it is important to keep pushing. That is a fantastic message, one reinforced through a number of animated movies.

Finding Nemo, in my opinion one of the greatest animated films of all time, has a very deep theme of perseverance running throughout. Nemo has an injured fin and in one scene can be seen struggling against a water flow trying to stop the filter in his tank prison. Gil, the leader of the tank gang of fish, watches the incident unfold and eventually Nemo is able to fight through the struggles and complete his task.

This is a complete U-turn to what is shown earlier when Nemo displays genuine concern over his injury during a scene where he gets stuck in the tank’s filter. He tells Gil that he can’t do it and that he has a bad fin. Gil replies: “never stopped me,” a line that has stuck with me ever since. Nemo tries and tries and becomes free of his hold, a determination that proves his abilities, allowing him to complete his aforementioned later task.

At its heart, Finding Nemo shows us that striving for something and not giving up helps win the day. On the opposite side of this, we see Marlin and Dory, two very different characters on what seems like a hopeless quest. When nothing appears to be going well, Dory utters one of the most iconic animated lines ever as a means to spur Marlin on to find his son: “When life gets you down, you know what you’ve got to do? Just keep swimming.”

This message returns at the end of the film as the fish all band together to break free of the net that holds them. Marlin coaches them through this, by saying: “Don’t give up, keep swimming,” a powerful sentiment and something that is extremely relevant in everyone’s lives.

Through these two Pixar films, and the many other animated movies that contain this theme, younger viewers can hopefully get a sense of how important it is to never give up. By putting characters into settings and circumstances that hinder them, a filmmaker can push them forward to overcome these problems. Often, a character, or person, must be broken down before they can build themselves back up against all odds. It is an important message to learn from a young age because we need to know that when life throws us tough times, it is getting back up and throwing everything back that counts.

Monsters University and Finding Nemo are streaming on Disney+

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