Comfort Movies that Got Me Through the Pain

Comfort movies are special things that at least a great many of us have; those films that are there for us whenever we’re feeling blue. And if ever there was a time to bust them out, it’s 2020. Detailed below are some of the movies I went back to one or more times this year to achieve a little peace of mind. This is going to be a bit more on the personal side, but I hope you’ll stick with me regardless!

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

Good ol’ Kuzco. I’m willing to argue that this is one of the greatest and most timeless Disney films ever made. There is no doubt, even if you’ve never seen it, that you’re familiar with a meme or two that originated from it; it never stops being hilarious. It’s a visually beautiful and heartwarming detailing of a dreadful young emperor (was there seriously no one else qualified to run the country other than a 17-year-old kid?) learning, with the help of a kind father figure, to be a decent human being.

The first time I watched this movie, I was 16 and, unbeknownst to me, about to go through the most difficult bout of obsessive anxiety I would ever face. I couldn’t do anything but worry. Precious few things providing any form of distraction, but The Emperor’s New Groove seemed to take everything away for that hour and 20 minutes. Ever since, whenever I’m feeling down or something’s wrong, I’ll turn this on, and I’ll at least feel a little bit better.

This year, when I found out my old theater job, which originally only halted due to Covid, was closing its doors for real, I knew what I needed to do. I didn’t finish it in one sitting, but it worked, the way it always does. My childhood movie theater might be gone for the foreseeable future, but I’ve got my portable DVD player that still functions by some miracle, and an Emperor’s New Groove DVD—I’m all set.

In the evening on the shallow slope of a mountain, a handful of shacks on an upward path show light through their windows. Some smoke is coming out of a couple of their chimneys. Behind them are more mountains cast in shadows, and a starry, dusty-blue night sky.
Would love to hang out here with a nice cup of coffee or something

The Penguins of Madagascar (2014)

“It’s Minions, but good,” shout the masses. And while, controversially, I don’t think Minions is terrible, I do tend to concur with the previous statement. When a vengeful octopus is hell-bent on kidnapping every captive penguin on the planet, our favorite team of Madagascan penguins have to team up with Benedict-Cumberbatch-dog to save the day—what could go wrong?

When we’re talking literally, I don’t think this movie is technically perfect, but to me, someone who grew up watching the Penguins cartoon series, it’s still a nice treat. Sometimes, when movies are made about popular characters with a previously established history and fanbase, they exist mostly as a concept to place the characters in and see what would happen; similar to the allure of fan fiction, but official!

At the beginning of quarantine, after I finally found a working screen-sharing app, I sat a couple of my friends down on separate occasions to watch this movie. As a result, I was reminded yet again of how much I adore these four characters, and even revisited the TV series, at last watching every episode I missed when I fell out of interest as a kid. That alone got me through a decent chunk of this year, and I’ve no doubt it’ll get me through a tough time or two again someday. There’s a real love behind the Penguins production team, and it’s evident in every piece of content they’re ever made for them. Should they do anything else with them, I’m in.

Penguins of Madagascar still featuring Dave, a large purple octopus baring his scraggly teeth at the four penguins (from left to right: Rico, Skipper, Kowalski, and Private). Each of the penguins appear confused, backed up against a green metal wall with a couple sets of red, green, and yellow lights, a vent, and some gages.
My friends aggressively telling me that I have immaculate taste in film

The Angry Birds Movie (2016)

Now listen: technically I’ve watched the sequel more this year. But with the humiliating amount of times I watched the original last year alongside the fact that I like it better, that’s the one I’m going with!

Angry Birds is an adaptation of the mobile game of the same name and follows Red on his quest to prove he and his species are in danger from the visiting pigs. Judging by the concept alone and the history of film adaptations of video games, it’s a miracle this is even watchable, let alone one of my favorite movies. Despite everything, it manages to be punchy, creative, and contain a handful of genuinely endearing characters.

I can’t tell you some sweet story or brush this off with nostalgia. This came out when I was 16, for crying out loud. All I can say is this; a movie doesn’t have to be fantastic to be loved or bring comfort to someone. It’s silly, witty, and vibrant, and makes me really happy. It gets me feeling downright giddy, like I’m back to being that childish 16-year-old focused mainly on cosplay and writing silly stories…okay maybe I do have a sweet story. Next.

Angry Birds characters Red (right) and Chuck (left) standing on the beach outside Red's severely damaged home. Red is looking ahead with a troubled expression while Chuck leans towards him, eyes directed toward the same thing but whispering something to him through gritted teeth.
Generally the reaction I’ve received whenever I reveal I actually enjoy this movie

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Well now, I didn’t expect this to actually be the only live-action movie on this list! Freddy vs. Jason, the (at the time) long-awaited throwdown between horror’s biggest names, is probably my favorite horror movie. It’s everything I love in a slasher: great villains, stupid protagonists, awesome gore effects, ridiculous premise and story, and just an all-around great time.

As a superfan of Freddy Krueger, the main reason I’ve always loved this movie is his depiction in it. This has to be my favorite portrayal of him; completely off the sh*ts, truly pathetic (he only gets ONE KILL), absolutely scrambling to get what he wants and failing to the much stronger, much better Jason Voorhees—and not to mention my favorite makeup job! I’m one of those people that loves to see their favorite characters get kicked around, especially when they’re assholes, and Freddy is the asshole to end all assholes. When I’m having a rough go of it, popping this disc in to see that idiot get what’s coming to him will get me chipper again in no time.

Okay, THIS is the one I don’t have a cute story for. Watching Freddy Krueger suffer is simply a grand time, and that’s all there is to it!

Jason Voorhees, hockey mask charred and clothes sodden, emerging from a lake at dawn. Whatever skin we can see is a deathly gray. There is some sort of blurry foliage in the bottom right corner, and the surrounding forest is also out of focus.
Remember to moisturize. It’s getting dry out there

It’s Such A Beautiful Day (2012)

I’ve spoken about this movie already in this article, but I did say in it that there was so much more I love about it that I couldn’t fit into the piece, so I’ll detail more of that here!

Nowadays, being pretty “in the know” with online film communities and general perceptions of movies, what kinds are popular and what kinds aren’t, etc., it can sometimes be a little hard not to lump in others’ thoughts with my own initial perceptions. But when I was 16, I liked what I liked, and when I first watched this movie, it was everything I loved. Off-beat, philosophical, and darkly funny, it expressed feelings and thought patterns I immediately recognized, visualized in a way so perfectly in tune with my own experiences. I had never, and have never to this day, seen anything like it (outside of Hertzfeldt’s other work, that is).

I did the same thing I did with Penguins; I sat a couple friends down on a couple different days to watch it. I’d done this many times before, garnering less than stellar results, so this time, when the friends I showed expressed their own appreciation for it, it really made my day (Sam and Izzy, if you see this, I love you guys). Since I connected with this movie so immediately and unquestionably, it truly means a lot to me when someone can at the very least indulge me in it.

It is a movie up to everyone’s individual interpretations. So little about it is concrete, offering broad concepts that might fit a plethora of experiences. In interviews, Don Hertzfeldt has said himself that this was kinda the intent; to allow people to see whatever it is they see, form their own special understanding of the story, and to not deny any of it. The events in Bill’s story aren’t even necessarily reflective of anything from Hertzfeldt’s own life; just thoughts, dreams, ideas, built to share with the world. Truly, it is something incredibly special to behold, even if you don’t like it—that’s your relationship with it, and that’s not wrong.

Bill, a stick man with an oval-shaped body and a hat holding hands with and gently caressing the face of an older looking stick woman with long hair and a dress. They are standing in front of a field of red, orange, yellow, and pink flowers.
Doesn’t this image make you feel cozy?

Monsters University (2013)

This is the one that came as a surprise! One day, I had a completely random itch to watch this movie, not having seen it since it came out despite having it on DVD. This itch went unscratched for a couple weeks after, until I finally caved one night and opened that DVD for the first time. The last thing I expected was to watch it three times in a row.

Monsters University builds on the lead characters of the beloved Monsters Inc. incredibly well, making them all the more real and lovable. It is bright, energetic, and carries with it a unique yet seismically important lesson: you might not accomplish your dreams, but you can still lead a joyous and fulfilling life. This is a fantastic idea to be selling to kids, and to college students like myself. As I’m about to enter my next year of school after taking a gap-semester, it’s nice to have this reminder that maybe it won’t be everything I want, but it’ll still do something for me, be it small or life-changing—and regardless, I’m gonna be alright.

Considering how much I loved Onward, I think it’s safe to say Dan Scanlon is my favorite writer-director currently working at Pixar. With just these two movies under his belt over there, he’s shown he’s capable of unique vibes, and different, heartfelt stories that really strike a chord with me. I am eagerly awaiting his next project, whatever it may be!

Monsters University characters Sully (left) and Mike (right) in Mike's dorm room. Sully is sitting on the floor, looking at Mike with a confident expression as they shake hands. Mike looks weary. There are several books and other supplies strewn about the room.
Me, proud of this list, shaking hands with you, concerned by my taste for mediocre children’s movies

And there you have a handful of the flicks I paid a visit (or two) to during these very trying times. These aren’t the only things I rewatched; I didn’t go into my Twilight marathon or the other movies I watched again with friends. Instead, I chose to focus on the ones I have a real relationship with, the ones that I’ll always have something to say about. Each of these movies are some of my favorites of all time, and I’d venture as far to say they’ll be on that list forever.

In my writing, I talk about film perception again and again. To the dismay of many film nerds, the fact will always stand that there is no truly wrong way to experience a movie, no all-out “bad” movies, no one who is lesser for liking one over another. Yeah, Angry Birds is ridiculous, but that’s simply irrelevant. The love so many of us have for the media we enjoy most is not inherently influenced by something’s technical quality, but by who we are. The way we see every movie or TV show, read every book, play every game is entirely unique to us. That’s something important and special that no other factors should taint, though they might, and sometimes do, but what stands true is these stories will always have a place in our hearts, and will serve as a bright spot on rainy days—or years.

As a send-off, I invite anyone who is interested to share with me their thoughts on a movie important to them in the comments below. I’ve had my minute to spill about all the silly little things I love, and now I pass the torch. Don’t be shy, or think your favorite things aren’t worth exploring; they are, and always will be, as long as they make you smile.

Written by Emma Gilbert

Emma Gilbert is a 22-year-old from North Carolina who has had a special interest in horror films since she was 14. She's been writing since she was 10 years old, encouraged by her family and friends all the way. Here, she hopes to entertain and enthrall you with trainwreck analyses and lame humor!

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