Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Movie Keepers

Continuing on with my response to Heather's question, I decided to tackle the movies category.  I'm focusing on young kid movies, but these do get a little longer at the end.  I was highly successful with watching longer movies in half hour blocks when my son was younger.  Sometimes, we'd watch the first block multiple times before moving on.

I don't find nearly as many movies as books that I would categorize as "gems".  There is almost always some drawback, but that can spur fascinating conversations, now a days.  I found it much more frustrating when my son was younger and I had fewer concepts availble to explain i.e. he just didn't have the context to understand so many issues.  I have gone through our library again though and picked out those that I'd put in the "keeper" category :)

Animated shorts:

Three of my top favorites on one disc!  "Peter and the Wolf" is great for teaching musical instruments (each character has a musical theme which is stated in the introduction) and it's also valuable for discussing different points of view.  "Susie the Blue Coop" is just endearing and was powerful for my son in helping him grasp how even when something (someone?) looks "used up" effort can still turn things around.  Finally, "The Brave Little Taylor" was a lot more inspirational than I would have expected.  I think the key is that he perseveres and keeps thinking while in peril.

This is another compilation and I think the best one is "The Three Little Pigs".  It's a classic for planning ahead and, as we say in my house, "jiffy thinking".  The Grasshopper and the Ants and the The Tortise and the Hare are also good tales for starting discussions.

I love two on this compilation and they're both treasures.  The Andrews Sisters sing the story of "Little Toot", a great tale of tugboat who goofs, feels terrible, and makes good in the end.  (I just wish they hadn't added the lightening!)  I have had so many discussions about the feelings involved and the redemption in this story and it's really delightful to listen to again and again.  Also, "Lambert the Sheepish Lion" (in the bonus section) is the sweet story of a lion who discovers his strength after being, well, sheepish.  It is fanciful and fun and a great springboard for discussing teasing.  It was one that I purposely went out and bought the book and recorded it because my son so loved the story.

Many of these shorts are just OK, but The Sorcerer's Apprentice has been a favorite in this house.  The music perfectly matches the actions and we can talk about the mistakes that both the grown up and the kid made.  As a bonus, here's a link to my husband reading the book with a kid-endearing Mickey voice (Audio File).

Rikki Tikki Tavi is a fabulous story for discussing resourceful actions, courage, and just intriguing a kid about a different country.  We enjoyed the book for quite awhile before getting the short which has basic animation, but follows the story well.  I offer the huge caveat that The White Seal (another short on the disc) is a terribly anti-man story, so this is definitely a disc to watch with the kiddos and hold off on that one until your kiddo is ready.  I made the mistake of not clarifying that limit with the babysitter.  My son was old enough to understand the error in the story after lots of discussion, but it's not a good one for regular watching... especially for a sensitive kid.

This is my favorite of the series and offers lots of food for thought in brief snippets.  I'm not a wild Thomas fan, but the brief stories are approachable and a good base for imaginative play with the toys that match.  I'd definitely look for second hand tracks and trains though because this brand name is pricey!

Mr. Rogers talks to kids in a thoughtful, straightforward manner.  I've watched the four DVDs available and I find all of them pleasant because of the solid base in respecting a kid's mind.  In this one, I like that they emphasize that friends and family can have angry feelings while still loving each other.  I haven't found his episodes stimulate deep conversation or do much more than entertain, but I have enjoyed them at that level.

My list used to be much longer here, but I think I like many Disney movies, especially Sleeping Beauty*, Cinderella, and Snow White, because they remind me of how happy I was with fairy tale romance as a kid.  Give it a good happily ever after and you usually had me.  We do have several dozen Disney movies, but, looking at this from the parenting point of view, these are the few that I think are worthy of mention.

Aside from the awesome scene I discussed here, I like that this movie shows an independent kid fighting for his values.  The bad guy is a poacher and I was able to discuss how he was stealing.  Villains like this have really helped my son with understanding how choosing to steal and cheat instead of create values doesn't lead to happiness. That concept is still a work in progress, but this film is a good basis for those discussions.  (If kids are still getting confused by anthropomorphism though, it's worth waiting because the mix of animals with and without human cognition is extensive.)

There isn't one specific thing that makes this movie worth it; it's just lots of little things combined.  The boy King Arthur is hard working and genuinely growing in understanding as the movie progresses.  He relishes the magical experiences Merlin provides.  He is willing to defend Merlin as a friend in a scene that offers so much food for discussion because Arthur loses his temper.  The wizzard's duel is great as a basis for discussing the power of quick thinking.  I also love Arthur for admitting he doesn't know how to run a country and trying to run away!  There is lots of silly and lots of fanciful, but I think this is one that's just plain fun too.

I think the best part about this one is helping kids understand an adult's protective point of view.  Mowgli, like most kids, thinks the protector is being mean or unfair.  Mowgli wants to stay in the jungle despite risks which he doesn't have the context to understand.  But, kids can start to get the edge of this alternate perspective, by understanding how much the panther (grown up) really loves Mowgli and is right to insist on him leaving.  Baloo is an absolutely endearing character as the pampering parent, but his refusal to pay attention to Mowgli's vulnerability is shown.  There are some goofy side scenes, but it's an overall "keeper" in my book.

It's a classic tale of redemption as the beast understands his errors and works to improve.  The idea that choices, the character one builds, are more important than looks is revisited in multiple ways.  I think some of the tangents would be difficult for a younger kid to follow, but this is a beautiful happily ever and for the right reasons.

*I'd pick Sleeping Beauty of all the simple princess movies because of the vibrant characters and Tchaikovsky's glorious music that so captures the romance, playfulness, and violence of the various scenes.

I think this movie is a powerful demonstration of how important it is to be clear about your values if you want to be happy, fulfilled.  There is the acknowledged anti-industrial message, but it didn't take much chatting to discuss how highways were good for somethings and windy roads good for other things i.e. highways are not automatically bad.  Admitting the mixed messages, the delightful personalities and multiple opportunities to learn from the characters' mistakes have been valuable.

Mostly, I think kids will get a fanciful, entertaining story, but there is an underlying support of seriously valuing greatness.  The little boy has one of the best lines in the whole movie.  When his mom says, "Everyone is special." (as a justification for him to not excel), he responds, "Which is another way of saying no one is."

The messages in The Iron Giant can be powerful, but I think they're easily missed by younger kids.  My husband is a huge fan though and, if a kid can understand the point of view of a passionately valuing creature that is so different from us, it can be inspirational.  Similarly, Ratatouille presents a passionately valuing rat, who is endearing with his zest for creating quality food.  I personally find it delightful, but there's a lot going on that a younger kid will likely miss.


It's stunningly beautiful and much more logically put together than many of the productions I've seen live.  I needed to sit with my son and narrate the first time and after that he was mesmerized by the ballet.   Baryshnikov and the music are both enchanting and it literally took two weeks before my son was interested in anything else for his half hour of TV time  as a toddler.

I just have to put this in because it was the first grown-up movie that I really worked through understanding, a little at a time, with my son (we thought he'd enjoy atttending the musical if he was prepared).  The funniest part was writing our descriptions for each character i.e. what was most important about them.  He still says, "Horace Vandergelder thinks women are just for work."  Boy did that stimulate conversation and... he loved seeing the musical!

This is the Cinderella story from the prince's point of view.  I absolutely adored this movie as a child.  There are the same magical aspects of the original story, but the prince is such an admirable character seeking his true love.  He is playful and friendly and sincere and the whole story just comes off more worthy of a happily-ever-after.  I must add the caveat that the newer version added several scenes which detracted (made both the prince and Cinderella into more vacillating characters).  The scene where he dances in the royal mausoleum is priceless (the song starts cheerfully, "Oh, ho, ho, what a comforting thing to know.  There's a pre-arranged spot in the family plot where my royal bones with go." (Apparently, the price is so high because this isn't being produced anymore, but VHS is cheaper).

I can't do more than say what I did before about Anne of Green Gables.  This movie does the story and the character justice.  It is long though, so definitely one to break up the delight over many days.

This is definitely for the little more mature set and not for a sensitive kid, but I was absolutely amazed by how much value my son gained from this movie once he understood the setting as being within a storybook.  The majority of the humor was lost on him, but he understood that Westley was both a hero that had jiffy thinking and could do lots of jiffy things too.  He was fascinated by the prince and we had long conversations about what it means to be a coward.  I can easily see a sensitive kid being traumatized by the scary beasts and I skipped the scene where "the machine" is on high for the first half dozen viewings because I thought it was too frightening.

Finally, I just want to mention The Sound of Music.  With seven children, there is a kid for almost every child to identify with as they watch.  I loved this as a kid and I've worked on sharing it with my son several times without success.  I've only shared movies here that have passed his test for gleeful appreciation too.

Whew, another huge one and I thought I didn't have many to mention!  I'd love to hear what movies you might add in the comments.  It's been awhile since we've found a new kid one, but I'm looking forward to getting into all my old musicals!  We've seen just a bit of Singin' in the Rain and he loves the tap dancing :)


  1. We love the old and new Parent Trap and Matilda. Have you seen either of those?

  2. Kelly: I remember loving the Parent Trap and we do own it. I don't think I've tried it with my son yet, but he's getting the concept of camp and I bet he'd love it. Thanks for the suggestion!

    I've never heard of Matilda. Is this the one you're talking about?
    Product Description from Amazon:
    See the world from a kid's-eye view with Matilda, a modern fairytale that mixes hilarious humor with the magical message of love. Mrs. Doubtfire's Mara Wilson stars as Matilda, a super-smart little girl who's woefully misunderstood by her parents (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman), her brother, and an evil school principal. But with the help of a brave best friend and a wonderful teacher, Matilda discovers she doesn't have to get mad to get even.

  3. We love Matilda (that one), too. There is some serious suspense whenever the evil Miss Trunchbull is on screen, but it is a wonderful movie.

    I had forgotten all about the Rescuers Down Under - that was another favorite of my now older children.

    Great list.

  4. We're watching The Sound of Music right now. We're only halfway through (it's way too long for a 3-year-old) and I can't remember how it ends, so I don't know yet if I'd give it a wholehearted endorsement. But Sam is loving the music and I'm finding Julie Andrews' character to be marvelously benevolent and admirable.

    I recently decided that it is time to start building a video library for Sam, so that when she does watch video, she'll have plenty of good choices instead of the junk on TV. Thanks for this timely list!

  5. Yes, Rachel, that is the Matilda I'm talking about. We LOVE it! It is a great Rohld Dahl book, as well. The movie is actually pretty faithful to the book.

  6. Amy, building a video library is exactly what we did with Livy from the beginning to handle the bad stuff that I don't like on TV. We don't have cable, so she is always watching movies that I am okay with (though she has received some I don't absolutely love). Now she does watch TV some at her dad's house, but I like that when she sometimes goes on a TV watching bender, she is watching things I feel okay about.

  7. Wow, OK, the movie is ordered and the book + audio book placed on hold at the library... I'm excited about meeting Matilda :)

    My husband and I stopped purchasing TV service a few years before my son was born, so we've had the same experience of building a quality video-library. It seems like videos are favorite gifts to purchase off wish lists too, so if there are birthdays or holidays coming up and I want to expand the library, I usually just do the research and update the list and wind up with a gift that makes both me and my son happy :)

  8. What about Mary Poppins? It's been a while since I've seen it, but some of the things I remember include finding ways for both parties to be happy (Mary fits both the father's qualifications as a nanny and the children's), finding ways to make everything fun, and (for the father) recognizing the value in relationships. I would love a short review from someone who's seen it more recently than I have.

  9. Megan: You know, Mary Poppins was in the same category as The Sound of Music i.e. I liked it and my son just wasn't grabbed. When I thought about it from the parenting perspective, I saw these pros and cons.
    Pros: The kids want to help find their new nanny and take the action of writing an advertisement. Mary Poppins doesn't scold and although she can be a bit demeaning, she generally doesn't try to force the kids. There's the general attitude that it doesn't take much (just a spoonful of sugar) to make things better and it's clearly implied that it's worth the effort.
    Cons: Lots of tangents that can be confusing (like the tea party on the ceiling with the idea that laughing can make you float or the navy man that shoots fireworks and a cannon off his roof). An ambiguity about important things, like loosing a job, being worth brushing off with silly words and jokes. A family situation that takes lots of explaining (patronizing dad especially).

    So, there's lots of opportunity for confusion in the movie and I think that's why it never really captivated my kiddo. The music is delightful though and I'm often found singing "Lets go fly kite" when it's sunny and breezy :)

  10. I'm getting some wonderful suggestions on the OGrownups list and, with their permission, am reposting here so I can keep track!

    Sarah Biddle:
    I'm not sure if I should share here or on your blog site, but here goes!

    We also love Matilda - one of the few movies that is just as entertaining
    for the adults as well as the kiddos. (Ditto The Princess Bride.)

    The Adventures of Milo and Otis - I recommend without reservations, great
    movie with a live dog and cat having adventures, all narrated by Dudley
    Moore. You can rent or I've seen it at Target for $5.00!!

    Movies by the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki - Ponyo was a recent release
    here in the states, but our other favorites are My Neighbor Totoro, and
    Kiki's Delivery Service. These would be good for younger children - he has
    some other movies, but they deal with slightly more mature themes and can
    have some scary stuff - still good for older kids. (I rent them at Netflix)

    For anyone with girls - we LOVE the Barbie movies. They are generally much
    better than the Disney Princess movies. In all of the movies Barbie is an
    independent minded character who actively pursues her goals and solves her
    own problems using her mind. She is never waiting for a prince to rescue her
    (she even rescues him occasionally) - all the while she remains very
    feminine without any of today's "Girls Rule" kind of attitude. (They do
    sometimes have little, side-kick animals who talk a sort of gibberish baby
    talk I find annoying, but Darcy thinks they are very funny.)

    However, not all the Barbie movies are equally good.
    My favorites are: The Princess and the Pauper
    Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus (set to Beethoven's
    The Nutcracker
    The Three Musketeers
    A Mermaid Tale
    The rest of the movies are good, but not up to the caliber of these five. I
    have not watched Thumbelina (I think it has an environmentalist message) or
    A Christmas Carol (ditto altruism) but I would be interested to hear if
    anyone else has seen these and what you think.

    Happy movie viewing!!

    I forgot to mention in the Barbie movies there are occasional, minor “blunders” – like saying an evil character is behaving selfishly…

    Princess and the Pauper also has a flawed view of economics, but we have found these flaws have offered great opportunities to discuss these issues with Darcy. I actually like that it provides us the chance to deprogram some of this stuff before it sinks in too far.

    [Another friend recommended the Barbie movie, Twelve Dancing Princesses as particularly good too.]

    Daniel Casper:
    The Great Mouse Detective - Sherlock Holmes for kids, with explicit message to value the mind
    Case Closed - Anime with young detective (again, Sherlock Holmes for kids, crimes do include murder).

    Oh yea, Antz has a theme of people determining their own path and not adhering to a caste system.

    There's also a movie called Vitus which is about a boy genius who has to protect himself from his misguided parents (that's something for a young teen). The romance sub-plot is the only esthetic flaw of the movie.