With the holidays behind us, indoor activities are going to have to hold us until that groundhog pokes his head up again. With the avalanche of new family movies coming out all the time, it’s easy to forget some of the classics that kids also learn from and enjoy. And for parents, these movies are either a fresh discovery or a walk down memory lane.
- Wizard of Oz (1939)
Filmmaking would never be that same after Wizard of Oz was released in the theatres in 1939. Based on the series by Frank L. Baum, this story is a magnum opus of otherworldly mystery. The use of color mixed with black & white (one of the first of its kind), the acting, the never-before attempted stunts, and special effects come together in a really magical adventure. Judy Garland plays Dorothy, a young girl at her height of innocence and determination, who is whisked off to another world where she must make friends and find the Wizard to get back home. Garland’s voice alone is enough reason to watch this masterpiece of fantasy, rich with humor and suspense, and teaming with things your eyes have never seen before.
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
As our children mature, they start to absorb the complexities of adult interactions, the unfairness and the suffering that humans are capable of inflicting on one another. We often do not give our children credit for having a strong moral compass, but in fact, they are often the ones who cut through the social fabric to the truth. What is truly remarkable about Mockingbird is the sophisticated performances by child actors Mary Badham and Philip Alford. Juxtaposed with the subtle but strong hero Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), these children in the Deep South are beginning to understand the injustice of racism. This powerful and moving story touches on so many different truths about the way we do treat each other and how we should treat each other.
- Old Yeller (1957)
A painfully sweet golden retriever puppy practically melts the celluloid with his cuteness, and as he grows and his family grows with him, the antics and danger keep you glued to the action. All the trouble a boy and his dog can get into out in the wilderness happens: snakes, raccoons, and runaway plow mules. This one is a tearjerker, be warned, but it’s still so worth watching. The setting, the scenery, and even the color process used to shoot this film really draw you into another time and place.
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Roald Dahl must have known he had a hit with this book because he agreed to write the screenplay for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Very different but equally beautiful stories, the movie taps into a childhood archetype with his enchanted, infinitely productive candy factory. Gene Wilder is pitch perfect as its eccentric and elusive creator. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore, with achingly beautiful hand drawn sets and dreamy, cheesy cinematography. Strange, funny, scary, wild, fanciful, Willy Wonka realizes every kid’s dream, to own a candy-making mansion where anything can happen.
- The Kid (1921)
Charlie Chaplin teamed up with Jackie Coogan in this silent black & white masterpiece about a street urchin and his small sidekick who find each other out of mutual need. Unlike many of the movies of its time, The Kidis about the down-and-out of society, rather than the crème de la crème. This flick is filled with moments of hilarious physical comedy and touching sentiment that modern movies cannot match.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Though it is younger than many of the films on this list, this wackadoo mix of live action and animation is a feat of storytelling. During post-Great Depression Los Angeles, Roger is a cartoon who is owned by a big movie studio. He is falsely accused of murder and Eddie Valiant, played by the late, great Bob Hoskins, is brought in to investigate the crime. A wild goose chase ensues to figure out the evil plot to take out Toon Town. The story is a little complicated for younger viewers, but for those ages nine and up, they will recognize many of the cartoon cameos that pop up throughout the movie.
- The Parent Trap (1961)
Two girls go away to summer camp and meet– except when they come face-to-face, it’s like they are looking in the mirror! They figure out, over the course of the summer, that they are actually twins separated at birth, one living with each divorced parent. They hatch a plan to swap places and try to bring their divorced parents back together. Hayley Mills was just a teen when she picked up this great double role, and Maureen O’Hara who plays the mother, lights up the screen.
- The Muppet Movie (1979)
Jim Henson was a master at making parents and their kids laugh together, but for completely different reasons. This feature takes Kermit and his whole cast of loveable characters on the road to Broadway, where every theatre in town slams a door in their faces. Loaded with tongue-in-cheek jokes and celebrity appearances, this movie was the first in a long line of successful Muppet movies.
- Babe (1995)
This one is a little young to be considered a classic, but the story is so timeless, it is sure to become one. A runt in the factory farm is selected for a game at the county fair and Farmer Hoggit guesses his weight. So Babe is raised among the other farm animals for Christmas dinner, until Hoggit realizes his special talent. Definitely a modern nod to the likes of Charlotte’s Web, this movie is silly, scary, and utterly adorable in its portrayal of rural life.
- The Yellow Submarine (1968)
If you have yet to introduce your children to the Beatles, start young and show them this baffling and brilliant cartoon by artist Peter Max. Paul, John, George, and Ringo-like fellows go on a discombobulated journey that is essentially there to support songs from the album like “All You Need is Love.” It’s a bizarre ride to the far side that is entirely it’s own trippy experience.
Movies are a great way to broaden our horizons, to examine the darker side of our nature and to inspire the triumph of our lighter side. This is something we can so easily share with our kids, and because they are classics and will always ring true, your kids will watch these films with their own children one day.