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Family and Kid Movies You’ll Love

It’s the coldest winter in thirty years (they tell us) and too many afternoons and nights you and the kids are housebound. The TV’s been playing an infinite loop of (depending on your children’s ages and genders) iCarly vs. Star Wars Meets Drake and Josh and SpongeBob, plus commercials. Naturally you worry about the warping effect on your kids’ brains but you’ve also had your fill. You’re not demanding that your taste trump your kids’, but are there not shows you can all enjoy? That are substantial and entertaining?

Yes, there are. While there’s no formula — e.g., Quality x Teachable Moments x Values (Production & Moral) / Age of Child = Winner for the Whole Family — there are several categories of films that provide excellent material for parent- and child-viewing. In most cases, you can rent, record or own them via Netflix, DVR, or your local video store.— Andrew Postman

     


Nature Shows

There are lots of great nature documentaries out there, and with HD transmission, they’re more magnificent than ever. The category king is the stunning, often jaw-dropping Planet Earth, the eleven-part BBC series narrated by David Attenborough, available on DVD. It shows the phenomenal beauty and detail of our natural world, from forests to the great deep to deserts to caves and more. It’s so good that even little ones who don’t understand what’s going on are mesmerized: My not-quite-four-year-old daughter was happy to sit still in my lap, easily diverted by shots of owls and night insects and close-ups of animals doing things we never get to see them doing (e.g., a wolverine eating the innards of a caribou, deep in a snowy forest).

20+ Top Family Movies

   

Biopics

A half-century ago and more, these were a Hollywood staple — meant for young and old alike — but it seems that almost every memorable movie from the last twenty-five years about a real historical figure is extremely adult and often violent (Walk the Line, Ray, Alexander, Braveheart, etc.). In contrast, there’s lots for kids to learn and enjoy in old movies like Young Tom Edison (with Mickey Rooney), Young Mr. Lincoln (Henry Fonda), Pride of the Yankees (Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig), Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye), The Story of Louis Pasteur (Paul Muni), The Miracle Worker (Patty Duke as Helen Keller, Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan) and Cheaper by the Dozen (the 1950 version with Clifton Webb as efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth, not the 2003 Steve Martin version). Yes, they can be corny and yes, history is occasionally sanitized — but these movies can inspire kids to read and learn more about these important subjects, and you’ll fill in lots of what you didn’t know about them.

     

Comic Monsters

Kids, especially boys, love monsters. Most monster movies are designed for older kids, and too scary for younger ones and the originals — with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, etc. — are no different. But when monsters team up with comedians, the results can be great. Years ago I bought Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which I’d loved as a boy and which perfectly satisfied the monster-lust of my young boys. The comics meet up with Dracula and the Wolf Man, too, and the movie’s got a bit of everything — thrills and great gags — and it’s a great introduction to another era of moviemaking. The film was followed by Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, but it’s not as good.

For somewhat older kids, their monster quotient — if they can still be scared — may be quenched by Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein, which holds up to adult viewing and is remarkable for its faithfulness to details in the original.

     

Sports Champs

For slightly older kids (and the older kid in you), several modern classics await — and it may have been years since you saw them. Each one has exactly what you want from a great sports flick (or any flick, for that matter): great story, characters, tension and a totally satisfying climax. Hoosiers, Rocky, The Natural and Chariots of Fire are all beautifully done. The satisfaction for kids, especially those who play or love sports, is immense. Each movie contains some adult themes or scenes (in Hoosiers, alcoholism; in Rocky, criminal activity; in The Natural, gambling and a would-be murderess; in Chariots, anti-Semitism) but these will either be missed or serve as the source for meaningful discussion. As for you, these films are just too good not to appreciate again — from the gorgeous period setting and golden-bathed cinematography of The Natural to the historical recounting in Chariots to the triumph against ridiculously long odds in Hoosiers and Rocky. Expect tears. And don’t forget Bad News Bears — the original — a winner for any kid who plays Little League and, for grown-ups, a beautiful performance by Walter Matthau.

     

Sophisticated Equal-Appeal Animation

This category starts (and perhaps ends) with The Simpsons, of course, perhaps this generation’s defining work of art that can be appreciated by kids and grownups in equal measure but for different reasons. Rent any of the many seasons of the TV series or the feature film. There’s lots of other animation that crosses generational barriers, including every Pixar movie — though if your home is like ours, then these have already spent a little too much time in rotation. Also check out Wallace and Gromit (the four shorts and the feature-length) and the brilliant, hilarious Plymptoons — The Complete Works of Bill Plympton (though some of the animation has sexual content).

     

Children’s Foreign Films

In 1967, CBS launched its Children’s Film Festival, introducing a generation of kids to beautifully made, provocative, often heartbreaking kids’ films from around the world — The Red Balloon (France), Skinny and Fatty (Japan), and many others. Quite a few are available on DVD or VHS. To find out more about them and their availability, or watch clips of them on Youtube, go to the CBS Children’s Film Festival.

     

Family Classics

Our own personal favorites are movies whose story and/or laughs/thrills-per-minute provide more than enough for everyone to love and which hold up after repeated viewings: Swiss Family Robinson, Modern Times, City Lights, The Princess Bride and Groundhog Day, which you can, of course, watch over and over and over …

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