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 :)
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 :)