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September 27, 2010

Security Blanket: Favorite Movies, Part 2

Continuing from my recent post: favorite kids’ DVDs, non-Pixar edition.

Wallace & Gromit. Another case in which the hype is entirely deserved. The bumbling, cheese-loving inventor and his silent, super-competent dog companion belong in the ranks of the all-time-great comedy duos. And yes, it’s astonishing that just about everything that Nick Park (shown above) achieves in these stories is accomplished via painstaking stop-motion animation—but the real wonder is the writing, tongue-in-cheek humor that isn’t above kids’ heads yet is clever enough to keep parents chuckling, too. Dash has been a fan from the start—at two, he would watch a series of W&G mini-shorts called Cracking Contraptions (available on this DVD) with almost religious fervor. Now Griffin is getting into them as well, and they’re the rare DVDs that appeal to both boys (and their parents, for that matter!) equally.
How Tall to Ride? We’ve found every one of them appealing and safe for all ages.

Happy Feet. Dash’s all-time favorite animated-film-from-Hollywood-but-not-from-Pixar—and one of his favorite movies, period—is this dancing-penguin extravaganza. Its creators cleverly used penguins’ individual mating “songs” as the jumping-off point for an Antarctica full of birds who each sing famous pop tunes of various genres, which reflect their personalities. (Think Moulin Rouge!, except they’re penguins, and you don’t want to punch them. Or is that just me…?) Except for Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood), that is, who can’t seem to sing at all—but he’s gotta dance (tapping courtesy of dance genius Savion Glover). This just “isn’t penguin,” as Mumble’s Elvis-esque father (Hugh Jackman) puts it, and the youngster is ostracized, his heresy having been blamed for a dire shortage of fish. That he redeems himself by finding the real reason for the dearth of fish—humans—is predictable, but the way the plot expresses its message of tolerance is both exciting and, ultimately, moving. Dash still comes back to this DVD again and again, and continues to bring up dancing whenever penguins come up.
How Tall to Ride? There are a few mildly scary moments; all the penguin-mating is handled quite tastefully. Nothing that seems problematic for kids with the patience for features.

The Cat Returns. Yet another case of a great reputation proving true is that of Hayao Miyazaki—though while undeniably brilliant, his movies do tend to make me feel like I’m stoned when I watch them (or should be). Their imagination and creativity are nearly limitless, and I can almost see Dash’s mind expanding when they’re on: nothing is impossible to conceive, or express. This is his favorite of the genre, a tale of a girl (voiced by Anne Hathaway in the English-language version) who casually saves a prince of the Cat Kingdom from an oncoming truck, and is thereby drawn into an adventure in that kingdom. It’s not the trippiest of the movies from Miyazaki’s studio—in fact, it’s not even directed by the master, who executive-produced it—but it’ll do, and its dazzling storytelling and visuals just knock Dash out. (It probably doesn’t hurt that he really, really likes cats.)
How Tall to Ride? A little hard to say—probably depends a lot on your child’s individual temperament. I can see certain very young kids being fascinated, and others being scared or just bewildered. Dash first saw it at around four, and loved it instantly, for whatever that’s worth.

Curious George. Not the deepest movie, but very warm and sunshine-y. The plot veers far enough from its source to fill feature length, and a great cast of voice actors that includes Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore, Dick Van Dyke, and David Cross does the rest. The sweetly pleasant Jack Johnson soundtrack (songs from which hit the adult pop charts) makes it all go down even more easily for any parents in the room. A particularly good movie for very young kids, it was a very early favorite of Dash’s, and Griffin is responding to it now in much the same way.
How Tall to Ride? I can’t think of anything objectionable for kids of any age at all.

Monsters vs. Aliens. I should preface this entry with a caveat: Dash has been, almost from the first moments he could express himself, absolutely obsessed with Halloween. He is also quite partial to aliens. So this effort from Dreamworks…pretty much had him at the title. He isn’t familiar with the 1950s B monster movies it’s a nod to, but those amusing parallels are aimed squarely at parents anyway. And he responded instantly to the characterizations achieved by the movie's voice talent—another of the de rigueur all-star rosters, featuring the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Will Arnett, Seth Rogan, and Hugh Laurie. In fact, Dash spent the weeks after his first viewing insisting that he was, in turn, each of the characters. The movie is silly, even for a kids’ animated film—Stephen Colbert’s U.S. president plays the ’80s synth-instrumental hit “Axel F” to welcome aliens to our planet, for example—but a little silliness never hurt anyone, least of all a five-year-old.
How Tall to Ride? By plot necessity, there’s some potentially frightening stuff here—you know, the usual threatened-destruction-of-the-planet stuff. It’s handled lightly and humorously throughout, but younger kids may well be a little traumatized by the constant danger and especially the apparent death (I'll spoil it: he comes back) of one of the heroes.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis. Really, Dash likes live-action movies, too! There are a number he’s been into lately, in fact, with Mary Poppins a predictable-enough favorite. But this is by far his favorite, both in intensity of passion and in staying power. (He first saw it when he wasn’t talking yet, I think, and he still loves watching it to this day.) I mentioned that Dash is a fan of cats; well, he likes dogs, too, and so the story of a pug who sets off cross-country to save his cat friend is irresistible. This movie also managed to cure me of a lifelong distate for Dudley Moore, who provides marvelous English-language narration, including the voices of all the live-action animals. (I have since recanted completely, having now seen more of his great work with Peter Cook.)
How Tall to Ride? Absolutely all ages; the adorable animals are occasionally in mild danger, but they always escape from it quickly. (Since it’s live action, it can’t be that dangerous to the animals!)

I could go on—Dash, and now Griffin as well, seem to find a new DVD to get excited about every couple of weeks—but these are the ones that both stand out in my memory and have stood the test of time with Dashiell, at least. But there’s tons of room for follow-up on this subject (they do keep making more movies, for one thing)—so please feel free to leave your own family’s favorites in comments; I’ll collect them, and recommendations from other friends, for a “part 3” post in the future.

[Photo: Ferbr1, via Wikimedia Commons]


  1. Hi there...Michael over at Cinema du Meep said I should check out your blog, and I'm glad I did. Based on your reco, I rented the book Chalk from our local library for my 4-year-old, and he loves it.

    I've been meaning to watch The Cat Returns with my 7-year-old (who I also nicknamed Dash at my blog!) -- he and his brother have been discovering Miyazaki lately, and currently have My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo in heavy rotation in our home. Plus, the boys love our family cat, so it sounds like that may help.

    Great blog, Myles...I plan to come back often!

  2. Thanks so much! Let me know what you think of the Miyazaki (even the one that's not really Miyazaki that I recommended...).

  3. Milo and Otis is the first movie my son ever watched when he was 2 and 1/2 and he STILL loves it to this day. Truth be told, I still love it.
    I will have to check out The Cat Returns. I got a recommend from Cookie for Kiki's Delivery Service and it is adorable, so I am assuming this will be just as great.
    I also need to check out Curious George. It's one of the few cartoons my kiddo watches. I completely forgot about the movie!

  4. Check out The Secret of Kells. Yes I suppose I am recommending this because I'm Irish but really, also because its pretty great. It is a story based around the real book and its mystical and a little bit scary(but fine, nothing nightmarish) and quite beautiful. I liked that my kids heard Irish voices in animation which is unusual but to be honest, they did'nt notice that, they just enjoyed it.