We millennials are one confused generation. Every day, a new article decrees that, forever jobless, we’re fated to waste away in our parents’ basements, engaging in plentiful but meaningless social media interactions. What’s a 20-something to do?
Earlier this week, as I began my nightly ritual of freaking out about my future while mindlessly surfing the web, I noticed that Ice Age 4: Continental Drift is coming out. I have zero plans to see it. (My movie-going budget this month must be spent on Magic Mike.) But it got me thinking about the animated kids movies I grew up loving. Everything was so hopeful and marvelously clear in them. Maybe it’s time to reconsider the lessons those films tried to teach us. Sure, there are plenty of terrible messages (I’m looking at you, Little Mermaid, with your insistence that it’s a great idea to give up your voice and your family to be with a guy you barely know), but here are seven lessons that young adults might do well to remember.
1) Reading is awesome.
As a kid, I loved reading so much that I even did it while crossing the street, until my parents told me it was a surefire way to get killed by a passing car. However, reading for pleasure nearly came to a complete stop during college. After reading so much for class, I spent my free alone time napping or going online. But it’s important to take a page out of Belle’s book (get it?). The hyper-literate Beauty and the Beast heroine knows that reading can transport you to far-off places and enhance your life in really lovely ways. She also knows that when a guy gives you an entire library, you should probably hold onto him. Be like Belle. Read for fun.
2) It’s okay if you’re not always the favorite.
Chances are, as a little kid, you thought you were the most important person in the world. Maybe it took you until college to figure out that other people were prettier/smarter/more talented/better-liked. Perhaps you didn’t know this until you started sending out endless iterations of your resume and heard nothing in return. Or maybe you’re still the best, in which case I say congratulations, and also that I hate you a little bit. The 99.999% of us who aren’t immediately worshipped by everyone we meet can take some solace in Toy Story, where Andy decided that his favorite toy was no longer Woody the cowboy, but spaceman extraordinaire Buzz Lightyear. At first, Woody acted like a general jerk-face about this, but finally he realized that sharing the spotlight was natural. And all the toys were happy, and it was good.
3) You’ll probably befriend some people you never thought you’d like, and it will be wonderful.
The original Ice Age brims with characters who initially can’t stand each other but ultimately become best friends. Somehow, the closed-off woolly mammoth, the annoying sloth, and the vicious tiger end the film together, and they’re the better for it. So get to know that sorority girl, even though you hate the idea of Greek life. Hang out with the Obama acolyte, despite the Dubya shrine in your bedroom. It’s cool to be with people who challenge your ideas and make you think.
4) Don’t spend all your time reminiscing.
A near constant refrain among many millennials seems to be, “Oh man, remember how fantastic college was? I wish I was still there.” Do characters in kids movies spend a lot of time thinking about the past? NO! They’re moving forward and making their futures more exciting. Okay, yes, in Beauty and the Beast, the household objects like to talk about the good old days. But they used to be humans and now they’re furniture. Your present-past divide probably isn’t that bad.
5) Say yes to things that scare you.
Not things like Russian Roulette or crack, necessarily, but the stuff that makes you nervous for no real reason. If you stay in your swamp forever, you’ll miss out on meeting a hot ogress and/or finding something new you love to do. So go take some crazy class like anti-gravity yoga and, while you’re hanging upside-down, say a silent thank-you to Shrek.
6) It’s never too late to change your life’s trajectory.
Something that terrifies me is the possibility that, by the time I realize I want to pursue a certain path, the opportunity will have passed me by. Then I watch Up, and think that even if I become a tiny old man (highly likely), it might still be possible to pursue that dream I never got around to.
7) Making out in unexpected places is always a good idea.
On a magical flying carpet? Yes please. Castle ramparts in the rain? Get it. Over a plate of spaghetti? Woof. Why just settle for a bed? Disney lovebirds never do (probably because it would look wildly inappropriate). Important caveat: DO NOT follow the example of Snow White and kiss unconscious/potentially dead girls, even if it’s in an unexpected place like a coffin.
Remembering these makes me feel more confident that we millennials can make something of ourselves yet. Any life lessons these movies taught you?