Sunday, February 12, 2017

Still Snowed In? Family Movies to Watch Together

I don't know about you, but my family is looking to be in for a 5-day weekend due to snow. We've baked cookies, we've played every board game on the shelf, we've even done a little schoolwork, and now we're ready to just plop down with a big bowl of popcorn and watch a movie. But what movies are fun to watch for literally ALL ages? What movie will appeal to your pre-schooler, your middle-schooler, your college kid, and even Grandma and Grandpa? Here's a list of my favorite kid-friendly movies that adults don't just tolerate, but actually enjoy.

Inside Out (2015)
This movie is the story of a tween girl named Riley who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco with her parents. We see the inner workings of her mind as she adjusts to her new surroundings, her new school, and her new life. This movie is full of bright animation, brilliant voice work, and spot-on analysis of human psychology at all ages. Little ones will find Joy's exuberance, Anger's loud outbursts, and Fear's wacky hysteria to be hilarious, older ones will identify with Riley's middle school trials and tribulations, and parents will understand the struggles of balancing the needs of every member of a family. The story is heartwarming and sad and funny, much like life itself, and the peeks inside the minds of various types of people (and animals) during the closing credits is well worth waiting for.

The Incredibles (2004)
Superheroes Mr. Incredible, his wife Elastigirl, and their children Violet, Dash, and baby Jack-Jack hide their identities and superpowers to blend into a "normal" suburban life. But when a supervillain appears on the scene, they come out of hiding and work together as a team to save the world. There are some great ongoing themes of teamwork, accepting and celebrating individual differences, and supporting family and friends which can be understood by all ages. Adults will appreciate the many nods to famous action movies from Indiana Jones to James Bond, and kids will appreciate that the younger members of the Incredible family have as much to contribute as the adults.

Heidi (1937)
There are a lot of Shirley Temple movies that could be included in this list, but Heidi is a favorite in my house. A young orphan is sent to live with her crotchety old grandfather on the side of a mountain, and charms him with her sweet ways and curiosity. When her aunt kidnaps her and forces her to be the companion of the invalid daughter of a wealthy man, the old man does everything in his power to get her back. The characters are all larger than life, from the grumpy old grandfather to the always hilarious Arthur Treacher as the rich father's butler to the blatantly villainous housekeeper Fraulein Rottenmeier, and this delightful story includes the obligatory song-and-dance numbers that all ages will enjoy.

Mary Poppins (1964)
Everyone knows the classic story of a magical nanny who swoops in and changes the lives of not only her two young charges, but their parents, as well. The only part of this movie that I don't completely love is Dick Van Dyke's horrific (and ever-changing) Cockney accent. Julie Andrews is sheer perfection, the mixed live-action and animation scenes have held up remarkably well in the age of picture-perfect CGI, the marvelous character actors Glynis Johns and David Tomlinson chew the scenery to the delicious hilt as Mrs. and Mr. Banks, and I'm happy to forgive Van Dyke the accent after watching his amazing dancing in "Step in Time". In addition, the movie can kick off some great family discussions of saving money, women's voting rights, and the whole style of life during the Edwardian era. 

Wall-E (2008)
Humans have abandoned a post-apocalyptic Earth for the safety of a huge spaceship, waiting hundreds of years for a signal that it's safe to return, relying on robots to feed them, take care of them, and even navigate their ship. One little trash-collecting robot continues his "duties" back on Earth, collecting all kinds of bits and pieces of human detritus - everything from a bra to a Rubik's cube to a spork to a DVD of "Hello, Dolly!" The only living things left on Earth seem to be a cockroach and a single seedling, which is detected by a robot sent to look for plants growing on Earth. The two robots return to the human ship and mankind finally returns to their home, determined to work hard to learn from their mistakes and to create a better world than before. The movie has some good (if a bit heavy-handed) messages about environmentalism and stewardship, but also about friendship and teamwork. It's a serious message, but delivered in a fun and light-hearted way.

Newsies (1992)
The youthful cast and multiple high-energy production numbers will entertain younger children who don't quite understand the plot, but older children will be entranced by the (somewhat fictionalized but still true) story of the New York City newsboys strike of 1899. These tween and teen boys, many of whom were the only breadwinners for their whole families, protested against the price hike set by the powerful and wealthy Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and brought them to their knees. The story shows that there is power in numbers, and that even young people can make a difference in the world if they have enough passion and determination.

Nanny McPhee (2005)
This movie shares some similarities with Mary Poppins (misbehaving children neglected - but not unloved - by their father, a magical nanny transforming not only the children but the whole family dynamic, a villainous old woman determined to bend the children to her will), but it is much subtler in some ways and much more blatant in others. It uses more slapstick and physical comedy (Angela Lansbury and Celia Imrie both getting hit in the face with cream pie is worth the price of admission), but Nanny McPhee (played by an unusually solemn - but always brilliant - Emma Thompson) has a much more noticeable effect on the behavior of the many children in this family. She teaches them to be courteous and kind, but they learn much more from her than mere good manners. The film is a good balance of silliness and solemnity that delivers a serious message with a (pardon the expression) spoonful of sugar.

Up (2009)
The plot doesn't sound especially interesting for kids: An elderly widower travels to South America to fulfill his late wife's dreams, meeting his lifelong hero and discovering that the hero has feet of clay. But throw in that he travels by tying hundreds of balloons to his house and floating to South America, his young neighbor accidentally stows away on the trip, and they meet a bunch of talking dogs and a large tropical bird in their travels, and the youngsters suddenly find themselves entranced. Like Newsies, the bright visuals and bold humor will keep little ones entertained even if they can't follow the plot, and adults will be moved by the poignantly wordless sequence depicting Carl and Ellie's marriage.

The Lego Movie (2014)
The story of an extremely ordinary Lego figure who discovers how truly extraordinary he is, this film is funny on so many different levels that it will keep everyone entertained throughout. The voice work by Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, and Morgan Freeman is brilliantly done (as evidenced by the fact that everyone in my family mimics their delivery of lines from the movie on a regular basis), and the animation style really captures the spirit of playing with Legos. The eventual triumph of a band of misfits led by a simple everyman may be a trope, but it's really successfully and sweetly done here.

Toy Story (1995)
The whole Toy Story series is worthy of being on this list, but the original movie is really the best of the bunch, in my opinion. Little ones love the wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar toys, older ones love the vintage toys from our own childhoods (Mr. Spell, anyone?), and everyone loves the catchy, upbeat score by Randy Newman. We've all got a friend in Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang.

What's YOUR favorite family movie for a snowy evening?

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