Whether you're still young or just interminably young at heart, children's movies: must-sees provide a wonderful and timeless escape from everyday cares. They also represent a chance for families to sit down and do something together-a rarity sometimes in this age of multi-tasking, extracurricular activities, and parents with demanding jobs. The following are children's movies that will entertain, educate, and inspire. Popcorn not included.
Oldies But Goodies
The Gold Rush debuted back in 1925-the era of silent films-but still has the power to elicit not so silent chuckles. Charlie Chaplin, the star of this adventurous tale, had a personal interest in Alaska and the belief that-just like the California Gold Rush-vast wealth could be claimed if one simply had the tenacity to endure rugged weather, marauding bears, and the greed of fellow fortune hunters. His trademark shtick as a funny looking little man with oversized shoes and the waddle of a penguin finds him battling gale-force Klondike winds (even inside his cabin), boiling one of his shoes when the camp runs out of food, and traversing icy cliffs with the fearlessness of a circus high-wire performer. The sight gags are priceless and the notion of good deeds being repaid is a nice coda to 96 minutes of silliness.
What kid at some point hasn't identified with young Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of Oz and thought his or her lifestyle needed some pepping up? Since 1939, this musical children's movies must-see has been reinforcing the message that there's no place like home and, further, that loyal friendships can see you through the most frightening scenarios (including flying monkeys). If your children are of an age that they like live theater, it's recommended that you follow up a viewing of the film with attendance at a performance of the Broadway hit, Wicked which sheds light on why Dorothy's nemesis had such an obsessive disposition.
The next best thing to interesting parents is an interesting nanny, especially one who knows how to bend the rules, sing catchy songs, and work a little magic into housework. Mary Poppins first came on the scene in 1964 and garnered Julie Andrews an Academy Award for Best Actress. The film imparts an invaluable message to parents; specifically, the issue of knowing what's really important and learning to pay attention to it. The father character in this film so defines himself by his job and regimentation that he has lost touch with the joys of parenthood. Only when he becomes unemployed does he realize the true value of hearth and home.
Did you ever pretend that you were a horse when you were young and gallop around the backyard or school grounds? It's easily a day's worth of entertainment for young Velvet Brown (Elizabeth Taylor). When she gets an actual steed of her own in National Velvet, it's as if she just found heaven on earth. This 1944 film was the predecessor to many a "let's-get-a-horse-and-win-the-big-race" movies. It also stars Mickey Rooney, he of "let's-get-a-barn-and-put-on-a-show" fame. The cinematography is breathless, Taylor's tenacity is enduring, and the message of believing in yourself and your dreams is one for all ages.
The Power of Magic
If Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry were a real boarding school, it would have no problem recruiting new students every term. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series not only worked the magic of getting kids (and a fair share of adults) to eagerly start reading again but perpetuated the belief that, if your parents could afford to send you, boarding schools-especially those of an ancient vintage- could be rather cool venues. In keeping with this is the reality that wherever you specifically tell your offspring not to go will automatically become their biggest obsession. The trio of young adventurers in the Harry Potter films are fun to watch, loyal to the core, and navigating their way through puberty with mirth, good humor and boundless curiosity. Adults will enjoy the performances of the adult actors, particularly Alan Rickman as the easily annoyed Professor Snape.
J.R.R. Tolkien's paperback books about hobbits were hugely popular back in the 60's but it wasn't until almost 40 years later that Peter Jackson brought his Lord of the Rings fantasy trilogy to the silver screen. His vision of Middle-Earth was shot in his native New Zealand and involves all manner of swordplay, fisticuffs, and noble quests to triumph over warring factions. All three films are violent and yet teens and tweens don't seem to object, no doubt desensitized by the number of equally violent video games they've been exposed to.
Sir James Barrie's Peter Pan is an intriguing allegory on the behavior of children and adults-the elfin Peter Pan and the Lost Boys who don't want to grow up and the menacing Captain Hook who has grown to adulthood but still engages in childish power-tripping. Many incarnations of this film have come about since the 1953 original, but Disney's animated version is certainly the sweetest and most straightforward. An interesting evening of film watching would be to watch this one first followed by Hook (with Dustin Hoffman) and then Finding Neverland (with Johnny Depp) which provides insights on the life and times of James Barrie. (Interesting that Hoffman has a role in this latter film as well.)
Frequent Flyer Fiction
If you had the power to travel in time, where would you go? This thought-provoking question would make a good dinner table topic before you pop in the Back to the Future trilogy starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd. As Marty McFly, Fox respectively travels to the past, to the future, and back to the Wild West courtesy of a majorly modified DeLorean built by his scientist pal, Doc Brown. The comedic premise is adept at showing teens of any age that their parents went through the same silly angst that they're experiencing right now. (Yes, yes, it's always hard to believe that one's parents were ever that young…)
Almost every kid I've ever known has gone through a dinosaur phase. While Jurassic Park doesn't take its actors back to prehistoric times, it does a nifty job of bringing raptors and T-Rexes into a modern day context and literally turning them loose to wreak mayhem. This is all the result of some DNA tweaking coupled with an entrepreneur who thinks that a dino-themed amusement park on a tropical island could beat the socks off the House of the Mouse. Humans tampering with nature is always great fodder for films and there are plenty of pulse-pounding moments throughout this flick that will cause viewers to scream their heads off.
While not strictly a children's movie must-see, if you have daughters, Somewhere in Time not only delivers stunning Edwardian fashions and a lovely romance but a message that soul mates will always find each other (even if one of them lives in another century). A wonderful question for debate, of course, is whether Richard (Christopher Reeve) really did travel back in time to meet Elyse (Jane Seymour) or just hypnotized himself into a really long nap.
Say it With Children's Movies: Must-See Animation
Cartoons have come a long way from the days of Steamboat Willie in the 1920's. Today, they've been taken to a whole new level of 3D technology and even have their own slot in the Academy Awards. The improvements in color and delivery, however, haven't been at the expense of espousing family and personal values like loyalty, integrity and respect for one another. Here are some children's movie must-sees for "kids" of all ages:
- The Lion King
- Monsters, Inc.
- Shrek, Shrek 2
- The Incredibles
- 101 Dalmatians
- Toy Story, Toy Story 2
- The Jungle Book
- Wallace and Gromit
Hollywood is replete with tales of likable characters who would have liked nothing better than to simply fit in with their peers and their surroundings. Fate, however, had something very different in store for these children's movies must-sees. For example:
Fly Away Home
In Fly Away Home, young Amy Alden feels a kinship with some orphaned goslings she rescues from the path of a bulldozer. Having lost her own mom at the beginning of the movie, Amy recognizes that someone has got to show her new feathered friends the ropes of learning to fly on their own.
If you need your topiary trees trimmed or a stylish new hairdo, Johnny Depp's Edward Scissorhands is the guy to call. The rest of the time, however, this young man who has garden shears at the ends of his wrists instead of normal hands leads a lonely life in the castle he once shared with the man who invented him. Lonely, that is, until a sweet young high school girl named Kim Boggs comes into his life. This film will spark lots of conversation about the perilous downside of celebrity.
Little Man Tate
Little Man Tate, directed by Jodie Foster, is a poignant film about a little boy with a genius IQ. Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of authorities who feel that he would be better off in an institution for gifted children than to remain with his loving but not particularly smart cocktail waitress mom. Interesting similarities can be drawn to the later Sean Penn film, Sam, in which Penn plays a mentally challenged adult who gets involved in a custody battle for his 7 year old daughter. (Trivia: Dianne Wiest is in both of these films.)
All that 13-year old Josh Baskin wanted was to be Big. He gets his wish -- and more -- one night at a mysterious carnival booth, awakening the next day in the 30-something body of Tom Hanks. While he may be an adult on the outside, however, Josh is still a bewildered teen on the inside and realizes that maybe living at home and going to school wasn't such a bad gig after all. This movie abounds with hilarity, especially when he lands a job as the director of development for a major toy store and gets to do what he does best-play around with stuff. Another movie that does well with this theme is 13 Going on 30-a flick that will appeal more to your daughters than your sons.
Sometimes we really want to do things that we're just not physically cut out for. Take Babe, for instance. He's a sweet-tempered little piglet who gets rescued from a trip to the slaughterhouse, is raised by a kind and caring Border Collie along with her puppies, and feels that his calling in life is to herd sheep. All of the animals in this heartwarming movie are scene-stealers, even the conniving duck that will do everything he can to avoid ending up on a holiday dinner platter. There's also an underscored lesson about respecting the differences that make all of us special as well as overcoming prejudices that impact our ability to communicate with one another.