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When it comes to children there are only two kinds of movies: The kind you show them to shut them up and the kind you share with them in the hopes they'll remember them for the rest of their lives. By the time my firstborn is six or seven, he or she will have seen more than his or her fair share of Nutty Professors or Shrek Forever Afters, and that's fine. But once your kids are old enough to remember, it becomes important to make sure you're also showing them something better.
Yet you can't wait around until they're old enough to really take in and appreciate movies like Rear Window or Lord of the Rings, let alone get literate enough to handle subtitles. By then it'll be too late. Beverly Hills Chihuahua VII will already own their brains. Every once in awhile fathers and mothers have the opportunity to take their pre-teens to see something like Toy Story 3, and while those kids will likely forget lesser movies like Rio, that kind of Pixar experience is one they may remember for the rest of their lives.
So it's up to you and it's up to me as a parent to make sure our kids get a steady diet of honest to god movie magic, mixed in with the forgettable babysitter DVDs we're almost certain to pop in whenever mom needs a breather. I envision this perfect place where we sit on the couch together, crank up the surround sound, and I take my kid to all the places I went when I was his or her age, and all the places I went as an adult and loved.
After man-crying my way through Toy Story 3, the Toy Story trilogy will be top of my list when it comes to sitting down with my kids. But there's a whole host of other great, magical, family movies you should be ready to show your rugrats. These are the movies I'm most looking forward to sharing with my kids. Some might be over their heads, but that's alright, I want to challenge them. Others will be right at their level, and probably do a better job of keeping their attention. Most will fire their imagination, some will teach important lessons. Others will be in black and white, might as well get them used to it. They'll fidget through some and get swept up in others. But most of all, the movies we'll watch will be good. We'll start slow and they'll be brilliant.
Maybe later, as the kids get older, we'll work up to The Nightmare Before Christmas and then Jurassic Park and E.T., but first we'll sit on the couch together, down a bottle of Ritalin (kidding!) and watch these. They're not just the best kids movies, they're the best movies for your kids...
It's all about Gene Wilder. Johnny Depp's version doesn't even come close to the strangely amazing and occasionally terrifying wonder of Wilder's movie. Do everything you can to keep your kids away from Depp's remake, and show them this masterpiece instead. "Come with me, and you'll be. In a world of Pure imagination! Take a look, and you'll see. Into your imagination!" "If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Wanta change the world? There's nothing to it. There is no life I know, to compare with Pure imagination. Living there you'll be free. If you truly wish to be."
Few have ever given a better performance than the one Fred MacMurray gave in the classic film noir Double Indemnity, but he comes close in The Absent-Minded Professor as Ned Brainard, an inventor who discovers a new element with the power to make basketball players jump through the roof and Model T Fords fly. Disney, of course, later took this movie and ruined it with a remake, which makes it doubly important we show our kids the original, brilliant family movie Robin Williams' dancing goo redo stole from.
Pixar's incredible Incredibles movie is about superheroes, and that means big action and stunning visuals unlike anything you'll find anywhere else. But that's just window dressing in a story that's really about the importance of family and what yours can accomplish if you stick together. It's also about being unafraid to stand out, a movie about the importance of actually achieving and being rewarded for it. Maybe our kids won't get that part of the message, maybe they'll simply end up wishing their mom and dad had superpowers too, but I hope they will.
A Swiss family gets shipwrecked on a deserted island and instead of slowly starving to death they build the kind of treehouse home Ewoks could only dream of, and set up a life of hard work and fun away from society. They're attacked by pirates, but fight them off with brains and determination. It's a movie about thinking and doing for yourself and if I'd had access to tropical fruit and a bag of gunpowder the first twenty or so times I saw it as a kid, I'd have probably blown my arms off. The world needs more coconut bombs.
It seems impossible to pick one or two movies from Disney's massive library of 2D animated movies, so I'm making it a point to share them all. Alright I'll probably skip Lilo & Stitch but I've already started accumulating the rest on my shelf. It's all there from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. Beauty & the Beast may be the only 2D animated movie nominated for best picture, but nearly all of Disney's films deserved recognition. Ok maybe not The Black Cauldron. But I plan to make my kids cry with The Fox and the Hound.
The classic story will never be done better than Julie Andrews floating in on her umbrella to babysit a pair of kids with the help of Dick Van Dyke singing and dancing his way across the rooftops as a friendly, neighborhood chimney sweep and sometimes sidewalk artist. The songs are magical and if all of the effects don't completely hold up, they make up for what they lack in sheer charm. It's hard not to love Van Dyke dancing with cartoon penguins and dinner on the ceiling never really gets old.
Kung Fu Panda has a lot to say about believing in yourself and fighting for your dreams, and there are few things more beautiful to be seen in any movie than the moment when Master Oogway departs the mortal realm in a cloud of peach blossoms. But mostly, the story of an overweight panda learning Kung Fu to take on the baddest of the bad is fun, a lot of fun. The action is brilliantly done and the characters are beautifully drawn. Po's story is affecting for adults but it'll blow your kids away.
Here's another one Disney eventually ruined with a horrible remake, but before Tim Allen lifted his leg on this franchise, it was quintessential family entertainment. It's lifted beyond the norm by Fred MacMurray as a confused father, but mostly it's about Wilby Daniels, ordinary teenager cursed by an ancient spell and forced to turn into a big, hairy, ridiculously shaggy dog when he least expects it. It's timeless, family comedy at its best. Keep your kids away from the remake and make sure they see the original.
In Hook, Peter Pan grows up and forgets about Neverland. He's turned into a fat, old dude but when he's sucked back into Neverland to save his kids from Captain Hook, magic happens. Spielberg's eye-poppingly beautiful film is often dismissed but I've always thought it one of his best. Robin Williams is perfect as a man with the boy who never grew up inside him and Dustin Hoffman's Captain Hook is the stuff of legend.
I'm cheating here. This isn't exactly a movie but a collection of short films in which the geniuses at Jim Henson's Muppet workshop spin fairytales unlike any other. It's more than just perfect storytelling, it's high-art. The stories are smart, emotional, and gripping as John Hurt's gravely voice takes us through each one. And Muppets, unlike any Muppets you've ever seen before, are put to perfect use in creating a series of visual masterpieces. My favorite of these tales is The Soldier and Death, in which a man beats a bunch of devils at poker and traps death himself in a sack.
It doesn't have to be this Godzilla movie, any of the classic man in suit movies will do. But this is my favorite as one of the most ambitious and the movie's cinematography is, believe it or not, actually kind of stunning.. Plus it features a boy with a robot pal, and that's the sort of thing any kid can get behind. Before they're brainwashed by Hollywood's excessive use of CGI, get your kids on board with classic, monster-stomping fun. They'll be too young to realize that it's just some dude standing around demolishing models and once they do realize it, that's half the fun.
Another classic family movie which Disney later remade, and poorly (sorry Lindsay Lohan). It doesn't get better than Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills as a pair of twins dealing with their parents divorce through, well, sneaky twin trickery. Girls will especially identify with this one, but it's classic fun for everyone. Hopefully your kids don't end up in a single parent household, but if they do, why not have a little fun with it. They did, back in 1961.
Here's another one Lindsay Lohan eventually got her hands on with a horrible redo, but ignore that and focus on the original, amazing Herbie movie. It's about a washed up race car driver who discovers something magical in his new car: It's alive. Herbie wins races not because he's faster or newer or better driven than the other cars… he wins because he wants it more. Buddy Hacket's brilliant in a supporting role as Herbie's mechanic, and the movie's surprisingly dark. There's even a moment where Herbie wanders off and considers committing suicide. I'm fine with giving my kids dark. The happy moments only seem happier if before them, you have a good cry.
It's a movie about kids shrunk and sent on a grand adventure through their backyard, where ants are now monsters and Legos are appropriate housing. I remember the awkward romance between Russ and Amy most of all, and I remember the genius performances of Rick Moranis and Matt Frewer as freaked out parents who hate each other's guts. It's an epic story perfectly told with pretty amazing special effects done in the days before computer animation made everything cheap, easy, and cookie-cutter.
It'll be a few years before your child is ready to understand what Kirk meant in Wrath of Khan when he said, "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." Until then, there's Old Yeller. It turned me into a sobbing wreck as a kid and I look forward to scarring my own kids with it. The thing is, Captain Kirk was right. Dealing with death is a part of life and for generations of kids Old Yeller was their first real experience dealing with death. I don't plan on breaking the cycle with my kids. We'll cry together.
Any Abbot & Costello movie will do, but I've always been partial to Pardon My Sarong in which the legendary comedic duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello play bus drivers on the run from a detective and then literally end up in a yacht race by driving their bus off a pier. I obsessed over these old black & white comedies when I was a kid and that's something I hope to pass on to my children. But even if that's not your thing, it's worth exposing your kids to two of the greats, if only so they get it when someone asks, who's on first? I don't know. Third base!
I plan on immersing my kids in all things Muppets, or at least the Muppet stuff made when Jim Henson was still alive, but if you can only pick one Muppet masterpiece to expose them to then it has to be The Muppet Movie. It's the simple, timeless, well-worn story of a frog and a bear on the road to Hollywood where they plan to seek fame and fortune. Along the way they pick up chickens, and weirdos, and encounter at least one rock band. It's a magical movie, the Muppets and Jim Henson at the height of their powers. Kermit has never felt more real and the songs are unforgettable. It's not easy being green, but it's worth it.
This one blew my little eight-year-old mind back in 1986, and I don't know if our sons will fall as instantly in love with pink-haired Sarah Jessica Parker as I did, but you have to give it a shot. It's the story of a kid kidnapped by aliens and then returned to earth with no memory of what happened. One problem, when he returns it's 8 years in the future and everyone he knows has aged. Except he hasn't. Paul Reubens is at his very best as the sometimes manic, often wise and friendly voice of Max, the alien computer.
In How to Train Your Dragon a nerdy Viking kid discovers his true calling when he befriends one of his villagers' fire-breathing mortal enemies, names him Toothless, and learns to ride. Together they go on a breathtaking journey of dipping and soaring and power diving through the clouds. Watching Dragon you can almost feel the wind rushing out of the screen as it happens. It's a story of brilliant freedom and speed. As a bonus, if you're looking to teach your kid how to care for a pet, I can't think of a better way to do it. Toothless may be the biggest puppy ever seen on screen.
More than just the best sports movie ever made for kids, it may well rank as one of the best overall hockey movies ever made. Emilio Estevez stars as a high-priced lawyer and former pee-wee hockey league star forced to coach a down on their luck youth hockey team by a court order. The kids seem clueless but he soon brings them together as a tight-knit group, creating an unforgettable cast of characters and preaching the value of teamwork. Improbably and unrealistic though it may be, I still get chills when the Ducks first form up in the Flying V. Quack, quack, quack!
That's my list so far, and it's only the beginning. What would you add? Let me know in the comments section below.