Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Five movies your kids should absolutely watch

One of the greatest responsibilities we have as parents is exposing our children to the right forms of entertainment.

And by "right" I mean, "the stuff you yourself like and therefore they should like."

Because we all want that, don't we? We have this inner desire for our kids to like the same music, TV shows and movies we do.

The same holds true for sports teams, by the way, which is actually a little unfortunate. My son Jared is, at age 14, not only a devoted fan of Cleveland sports, but already a jaded one, as well. He expects our teams to lose.

So do I, of course, but it took me years and years to get to this point of pessimism. He was there by the time he turned 10. I'm so sorry for pulling you into the horror that is pro sports in this town, Jared.

Anyway, your kids are going to develop their own tastes in entertainment because that's the way it's supposed to be. Nowadays we often think of The Beatles as old-fashioned and quaint, but in the early 60s, there were parents who hated them and thought they were the embodiment of all that was wrong with the world.

But you can still share some of the classics with your offspring. In fact, you must do this. It's one of the obligations of parenthood.

Feel free to add to this list, but here are five movies to which your kids should be exposed if you want to feel like you're raising them right:

(1) Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

I'm guessing I've watched this movie start to finish maybe 25 or 30 times. And every time I appreciate something new about it.

For one thing, it's delightfully weird. It was made in 1971, a few years after the whole hippie/psychedelic thing hit its peak, but it retains elements of that genre.

Like the boat ride scene? Used to scare the pants off me. But the movie wouldn't be complete without it. Here it is, in case you've not seen it in years (or, God forbid, have never seen it):

And Wonka himself, as played by Gene Wilder, is a trip. He makes the movie. Your kids need to watch it.

(2) The Wizard of Oz

There's actually quite a bit to be afraid of in this movie, too. Like the flying monkeys. Or the way Margaret Hamilton plays the Wicked Witch of the West. Terrifying stuff.

I should note here that I'm not trying to scare your kids. But these are "frightening in a good way" stories. "The Wizard of Oz" may seem syrupy on the outside, but it's dramatic and real at its core, which is why we still watch it 70-plus years after it was released.

By the way, the musical "Wicked," which obviously takes its characters directly from the Oz book/movie, does a great job of fleshing out the human realities of the plotline. One does not end up as the Wicked Witch of the West (or as Glinda, for that matter) without a juicy backstory, and "Wicked" provides it in spades.

Anyway, if your kids haven't seen this movie yet, proceed directly to Netflix and have them watch it. Do not pass "Go," do not collect $200. They need to watch this flick, and they need to watch it now.

(3) Any of the "Toy Story" movies

I just spent 10 minutes trying to figure out exactly what it is that makes these movies brilliant, and I can't boil it down to a single thing.

Is it the performance of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen? Both are excellent as the voiceovers for Woody and Buzz Lightyear, respectively. The inflection, the interplay of the dialogue, the jokes that only the parents in the audience get. They're all good.

Is it the animation, which was pretty far ahead of its time when Pixar released the first movie in 1995? I'm no visual artist, but even I can appreciate the fluid movement of the characters, the shadows and shading, the distinct "look" of every toy.

Or is it the plots, all three of which are extremely well written and engaging?

I'm going to cop out here and say "all of the above." If you have the time to do a family triple feature and watch all three "Toy Story" movies in order, do it. You'll be glad you did.

(4) Mary Poppins

The irony here is that I have never watched this whole movie in sequence. I've seen the whole thing (several times over, probably), but only in bits and pieces, fits and starts.

That hasn't been intentional, but that's what happens when you have cable TV and not a lot of time to use it. You come across "Mary Poppins" somewhere right in the middle and you can't help but stop and watch. Maybe it's only for 15 minutes, but you watch.

Dick Van Dyke's horrible Cockney accent aside, this movie is awesome. The music alone is worth the time, but I also love the jokes and the way the characters come to life.

Everyone knows the songs: "Supercalifragilisticexpialidcious," "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim Chim Cher-ee," "Step in Time," etc. But my favorite is "A British Bank," and it's probably because of the way David Tomlinson as George Banks sings it:

(5) Any given Harry Potter film

As with any wildly successful movie franchise, the Potter series has its virulent detractors. They're certainly entitled to their opinions, just as they're certainly entitled to be wrong.

Are the movies as good as the books? No, of course not. Can you name more than a handful of series in which the movies supersede the books? Probably not.

But the movies are still extremely well done and great entertainment. Whatever happens to Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, they will forever and always be remembered as Harry, Ron and Hermione, and the world is better for having watched them grow up on screen in those roles.

A few years ago in advance of the release of the last Potter film, my family (all seven of us) spent the better part of a day and a half in our living room watching all of the Potter movies back to back to back to back to back to back to back. It was great fun.

It also gave me an appreciation for how the Potter directors so skillfully adapted J.K. Rowling's books to film. If you think that's easy, try writing a screenplay. Then try writing one based on the best-selling children's book series of all time. Go ahead, I'll wait (NOTE: Keep in mind you will unavoidably fail.)

My favorite character? The very underrated Argus Filch. For some reason I can't embed this video, but I'll give you a link and encourage you to watch some of Filch's best moments. To get to his best two lines of the series (both from the first movie), fast forward to the 1:30 and 2:10 marks:


  1. Goonies and The Sandlot. The Sandlot gets some bonus points because it is what I imagine Wickliffe was like back in the day. And still a little bit like today.

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