It’s October; autumn is deepening and Halloween is fast approaching; so many fun, spooky activities to look forward to! For many countries around the world, Halloween is a pre-celebration to a more important, more serious holiday, a day to remember and honor our deceased ancestors, our grandfathers and grandmothers and all our family that have lived before us. In some European countries, it’s called All Saints Day. In Spanish-speaking countries on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it’s known as Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. In other countries, it isn’t celebrated in autumn at all, but is a holiday in spring or summer marked with parades, fireworks, and special foods and honors for the deceased.

One great way to learn some of the stories people around the world share to honor their ancestors is through animated films. Here are just five films available at the library that explore an animated afterlife.

The Lion King

Directed by Roger Allers
G (1994)

Born the son of a beloved and authoritative king, Simba is learning to be the next ruler of the kingdom, but along the way he encounters tragic detours. Years later—as an adult—he decides to embrace his destiny and take his proper place in the circle of life. One of the most memorable moments in animation history is when Simba encounters his deceased father. The Lion King‘s storyline takes hints from the Biblical Moses and Joseph, as well as William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s a warm, intelligent, laugh-out loud funny film, and a triumph in every aspect; unforgettable songs, snappy dialogue, remarkable animation, and a stellar cast of voices (Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Jonathan Taylor Thomas) make this a treat for all ages.

Brother Bear

Directed by Aaron Blaise
G (2003)

Brother Bear is the story of an impetuous young Inuit boy who must learn the true meaning of brotherhood by losing his identity and finding it again through selflessness and love. The story is simultaneously ancient and timeless, the animation is beautiful, and Disney nestles the morality tale within an engaging Phil Collins soundtrack, goofy moose sidekicks, the voice talents of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, and Jason Raize, and enough bear slapstick to delight any child.


Directed by Lee Unkrich
G (2017)

On the eve of Día de Los Muertos, young Miguel dreams of becoming a famous musician, and unwittingly finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named Héctor, the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history. Coco comes to life through the voice talents of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Alanna Ubach. With all its brilliant colors and imaginative action, it’s delightful that a film about deceased ancestors is so lively and vibrant.


Directed by Dan Scanlon
G (2020)

Pixar’s Onward is one of those 2020 films that had some crazy pandemic-related issues with its release; it had been in theaters only about two weeks when the pandemic brought businesses and entertainment to a screeching halt. Consequently, a lot of us may have missed it. Set in a suburban fantasy world, the film follows two elf brothers who set out on a quest to find an artifact that will temporarily bring back their deceased father. It stars the voice talents of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer. There’s a lot to like in Onward, especially its bright, appealing animation, diverse characters, and world building. This is one the family will enjoy watching together.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Directed by Don Hall
G (2021)

Set in the Southeast Asian-inspired fantasy world of Kumandra, Raya and the Last Dragon tells of a time when humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when monsters known as Druun attack the humans, the dragons sacrifice themselves to save the survivors. 500 years later, the Druun returns, and it’s up to a lone warrior to track down the last dragon and stop them for good. The animation and storytelling in this film are spot on. It’s a spirited fantasy adventure for children. For teens, it’s an inspiring tale of a young warrior princess who defines women empowerment. And it tells a universally binding family story of devotion, sacrifice, and trust. With the voice talents of Kelly Marie Tran, Gemma Chan, and Awkwafina, Raya and the Last Dragon is a complete package with something for everyone.

Recommended by Anne F.