Here at the end of summer, I can write honestly that I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to spend all day, every day with my kids without a break from preschool or sitters or anything. Focusing so much time and energy on the kids, it was hard to be productive in other areas (like this site). When I needed a little quiet time on a rainy day, I would occasionally put on a movie or a show I downloaded from iTunes. Generally we watch a lot of older stuff, but this summer we watched a handful of those Pixar movies (we liked Wall-E) and a few other contemporary movies.
It's pretty hard to find movies that are good for younger kids. Most of the over-plotted animated movies Hollywood makes these days seem to try to cover too many bases: they have to be visually stimulating enough for the little ones, silly and sarcastic enough for older ones, with plenty of inside jokes and pop culture references for the parents. It's the sarcasm in the "comedy" that bothers me most. Do kids movies really need stupid watered-down wisecracks from washed up comics like Eddie Murphy, Billy Crystal or Chris Rock? Apparently Hollywood thinks so. Personally, I think the inclusion of that kind of comedy just teaches kids to be mean.
So we've watched a handful of movies this summer, and it's clear that some rise above the whole "summer blockbuster cater-to-everyone cliche" and rise to the level of "classics" that could still mean something to kids in a future where a Scottish ogre doing the cabbage patch to a Smash Mouth song isn't going to make any sense to anyone. Here are five movies that we've really enjoyed, and I'm leaving comments open so that you might share/suggest your own "classic" (new or otherwise) children's movies. I know none of these are groundbreaking selections, but they are movies my five-year old and two-year old have both enjoyed that didn't drive me crazy.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
[This Dreamworks production with narration by Matt Damon is the movie that my horse-obsessed daughter loves best. I like the total lack of wisecracking sidekicks and the fact that the animals aren't anthropomorphs.]
Into the West (1992)
[This is the only contemporary live-action movie we've enjoyed this summer. It's about two Irish traveler street urchins living sedentary in the Ballymun Projects of Dublin when their grandfather finds a white horse that sets them on a course of adventure into the west of Ireland that ultimately redeems their alcoholic father (Gabriel Byrne)]
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
[We prefer the 1993 Streamline dub to the Disney one (100% Fanning free). Nothing else to say that I didn't already say here. We made our kids Totoros for Christmas, for chrissakes.]
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008):
[This is another obvious Studio Ghibli selection. At first I thought it was disappointing but it's grown on me. Spirited Away is still a bit scary for these kids.]
The Iron Giant (1999):
[It was based on a novel by an egotistical and philandering British poet laureate. It was a box office failure. It was basically written as a remake of E.T. with Vin Diesel playing a giant robot and Harry Connick Jr. playing a scrap metal dealing beatnik. Despite these things, it is really, really good. My son loves the iron giant.]