When people hear “family film”, a genre that is synonymous to children’s film, they almost always think that it will be “kid’s stuff”. The bad ones have the triple whammy: saccharine, sentimental and sanitized. The worst ones are terribly condescending to their intended audience, the children. They seem to be clueless about how much a child can take, and how perceptive they can be. And let’s not forget, us the adults, who also partake in the family film watching, and perhaps that feeling of wanting to strangle oneself due to sheer boredom and dumbness is all too familiar?
But I believe the best ones are those that adults can go see even without kids. The ones that captivate the mind and the heart of all ages, young and old. The ones that tackle complex themes like grief, loss, emotions, coming of age and more, in such a way that any child and grown-up can connect to and understand. Two notable family films this year are solid examples. Take Zootopia, a movie that is well put-together and assured of itself when it comes to tackling prejudice. And it so adorably positive too. And Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book will not only leave you in awe for its seamless and detailed puppetry and CGI use, and the storytelling will make you forget about your worries and your strife! And Bill Murray voices Baloo! But Christopher Walken as King Louie singing “I Wanna Be Like You” made me so so happy. And of course, it is likely that your kids will love a film you detest. That’s just how it is. My nephew loved Cars (2006). Yes even the second and the third one.
Family films can range from animated to live-action to children’s literature adaptations. They can be fantasy, action and adventure, musicals and more. And below is my list of top ten family films that cover the gamut I previously mentioned.
Top Ten Favorite Family Films (in no particular order):
1. Inside Out (2015) – Covering the intricacies of the mind from long-term memory, to abstract thought, to dream production, to the subconscious. How ballsy is that for a Pixar movie? And nope, this isn’t a boring, technical, philosophical clap trap as you might expect judging from all stuff I just said. It is actually light and fun, with plenty of jokes to go around. Ultimately it is intimate and personal story of the various emotions that guide adolescents during the life-changing experiences when growing up. It’s just devastating and uplifting all at once.
2. The Lego Movie (2014) – Everything is awesooome! Ugh. I couldn’t resist. Anyway, The Lego Movie is super hyper and it will amp both you and your (perhaps already hyper) kid. Not such a good idea I know. But the animation is amazing. If you play lego with your kids, you’ll see how ingenious the look of the film is. And the jokes are witty and smart and very pop-culture based. And don’t worry your kids will get them and will crack up every single damn time. Not to mention it speaks volumes about creativity and identity
3. Spirited Away (2001) – I am resisting the urge to populate half of this list with Studio Ghibli offerings. But no. I’d reserve that for another post. Anyway, I chose Spirited Away because I think it is a good introduction to the fantastical world Miyazaki creates. You will see how his imagination has absolutely zero bounds. You and your kid will come out of this movie feeling awed. However for preschoolers, My Neighbor Totoro might be a better introduction. Okay, I am stopping right now.
4. Toy Story 1-3 (1995) – What kid doesn’t dream of having his toys come to life? Okay, fine I didn’t have that many friends back then. Lay off me. I do remember my then 7-year-old nephew asking for days on end about what college is and who will adopt his toys. This movie sticks with you like a Randy Newman song.
5. Chicken Run (2000) – This film will give your little ones a taste of some good ol’ British humor. It is witty and sly, and just good fun. It is also a take that speaks volumes about humanity. And the Claymation is something else too.
6. A Little Princess (1995) – This dark, rich fairytale like adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s literary classic is both wondrous in its imagery and storytelling. And this isn’t just a story about a plucky heroine, it goes beyond that to deliver a message of female empowerment, because “All girls are princesses!”
7. Mary Poppins (1964) – I mean the Sound of Music is great, but you know what it doesn’t have? Dick Van Dyke. Sorry Christopher Plummer.
8. Beauty and the Beast (1991) – Because it’s a tale as old as time. And one that is beautifully animated with absolutely exceptional songs (take that Frozen), engaging storytelling, and unforgettable characters. Heck I think the Beast has more personality than the all the other indistinguishable-from-each-other-prince-charmings. And isn’t Gaston a hoot?
9. Matilda (1996) – This being adapted from a Roald Dahl story, expect it to be a little dark and you shouldn’t let your preschoolers see this just yet. I mean Crunchem Hall gave me nightmares, what with a torture chamber that can please The Spanish Inquisition. But Matilda is such a bright girl with an undauntable spirit. Besides your kid will have so much fun watching all the vile, nasty grown ups get their due.
10. Annie (1982) – Because no family film list is complete without a “moppet” movie. And no one is as famous as our red-headed cheeky orphan. And nothing beats Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan.
Up (2009) – How can a movie about an 78-year old elderly dude end up here, on this list? But ah Mr. Fredricksen! You bring tears to my eyes! Okay sure your kids might look at you funny for crying in bucket loads when watching this movie. But Russell’s predicament is perhaps one that a few or many kids will surely relate to. Besides, it has a flying house! Propelled by a bazillion multi-colored balloons!
Coraline (2009) – Okay this one, I think, is better suited for older children, or at least those who aren’t easily spooked. It is after all a Neil Gaiman adaptation.Anyway the imagery is fantastic, and all those weird creatures are a delight to watch. And Gaiman’s writing will just pull you in. And that atmosphere of creepy, gloom of doom is expertly conveyed.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – I love Tim Burton’s James and the Giant Peach stop-motion animation, but when I watched this one, I thought about how complimentary Wes Anderson’s humor and style is with Roald Dahl’s. I think this is just a match made in heaven. And one of the usual complaints about Wes Anderson’s work is that plenty of it will leave you cold. It’s all icing and no cake. But I think Fantastic Mr. Fox reveals so much about what it means to be human (or animal).
Family film to me is a genre that takes me back to my childhood, a genre that I will associate with warm and happy memories of my sisters and my parents. There is nothing like the power of movies to bring families together. So go on, it doesn’t even matter if you have kids or not, go see a movie with someone you love!