The Most Memorable Children's Movies
The backstory ...
Sometimes I can remember specific moments in my childhood so vividly. Not all of them are significant; some are even mundane. For example, I can recall both the traumatic memory of the asphalt rushing up to my face after I was hit on my bike, as well as a recollection of sitting idly on the sidewalk in front of our house, my legs to the side, my dog Laddie beside me. Thinking of nothing, and nothingness. Events and non-events.
You don't think about what life is going to be, you don't make grand plans beyond today and tomorrow. It's the kind of imagery I thought about during the wheat field scene in the movie Gladiator - the free, weightless feeling of running your hands through the fields of wheat while you walk along. It's in this frame of mind that I like to think about what it truly felt like to be a child, and relate to my children from the viewpoint of that child.
With that thought in mind, when I felt compelled to follow up on my hub The Most Memorable Children's Stories, I had to write about children's movies! I've loved children's movies long before I had kids, and I have a number of childless friends who also love well-constructed and funny movies oriented toward this audience. Like with children's stories, there are so many good ones, it's hard to know where to begin. So let's start:
Movies from my childhood
I don't remember how old I was when I went to the theater to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it was one of the most magical experiences I'd ever had. It was based on an Ian Fleming book (of 007 fame), and he was reportedly disappointed in the film for some inexplicable reason. Just last month I pulled it out and played it for the kids again, and still loved it!
Of similar memory is the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Gene Wilder was a terrific Wonka, and as great as Johnny Depp is, he couldn't come close, and neither could the more recent film, when they decided to remake it.
No recitation of great kids movies could be complete without the amazing story, The Sound of Music. I sang "Edelweiss" (see below) to my kids every night before they went to sleep for probably the first seven years of their lives.
The Wizard of Oz has to be mentioned - about as amazing today as it was in 1939.
There are a whole myriad of Disney movies I remember, of course, including Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dumbo, Bambi, Old Yeller (the most wonderful sad movie ever!), Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Swiss Family Robinson, 101 Dalmatians, The Incredible Journey (which I remember re-reading several times), Jungle Book, The Love Bug, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Apple Dumpling Gang (remember when Don Knotts and Tim Conway were the Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey of the movie world?), Freaky Friday, The Shaggy DA...
Then there were the Christmas movies - that amazing time of year when you'd look at the TV Guide on Sunday to make sure you didn't miss all the specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, etc. The true winners included It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, Holiday Inn or White Christmas.
Having kids brought it all back. I dimly remembered an odd movie I saw when I was little about a man who turned into a fish. Not until I was shopping for kid movies did I stumble across it and discover it to be The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Similarly, I remembered seeing some movie about grown ups shrinking themselves to go inside a human body, which I remembered as weird more than entertaining. That, of course, is Fantastic Voyage. Not to be confused with Incredible Journey about the two dogs and a cat who walked across the country in search of their owners.
So naturally, after endless hours of Barney, I uncovered all the Winnie the Pooh movies, everything Charlie Brown, and amazingly, I became aware of a whole new generation of wonderful children's movies, which I enjoyed alongside my children. Included in these gems are The Little Mermaid ("there you see her, sitting there across the way..."), Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and the absolutely wonderful Toy Story movies - both I and II are the best. Bug's Life, Shrek (we finally started to laugh at ourselves and the fantasy themes that defined our lives as kids - Prince Charming as a villain - awesome!), Mulan, Tarzan, The Iron Giant (really cool movie - Vin Diesel voices the giant robot!), Finding Nemo, Brother Bear, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-E....
I also discovered a number of non-animated movies that were fun to watch with the kids: Fly Away Home (afterward my daughter drew a wonderful picture of the birds following the Ultralight), ET (of course), Mrs. Doubtfire, Singin' In the Rain, Star Wars and Superman, Back to the Future, Milo and Otis, Free Willy, and a myriad of others.
A well-done children's movie does so much more than capture the heart and mind of a child. It represents a spirit of wonder, of excitement, of possibilities. It reminds us of our truest nature - one that lives today with vigorous energy, one that thinks about the moment in all it's glory, and squeezes the life out of each day.
You wake up early to experience that excitement. You jump into every moment. You seek out friends, games and experiences. You want to play every imaginary game, test your physical strengths and abilities. You come home to play with your friends, and try to stay out past dusk, living in the tingly fire of the dimming sky, knowing that your parents will call you in at any second, and holding onto the hope that they will forget. Your head hits the pillow and you are out within minutes, exhausted by the miracle of the day you've just lived.
When it captures you - that spirit - whether it's from a movie, or from some other trigger that brings you back, you can get excited about being alive, purposeful and alert.
And it doesn't get much better than that.