I have a number of friends that have young kids and they are always asking me for suggestions for good family films. Let me first start off by saying that films that are specifically made for kids or families are 99% of the time are terrible. They are terrible because they aim low and usually don’t care about story or much of anything else. While most people reach for the animated Walt Disney films (and their is nothing wrong with that) there are lots of really great films out there that the whole family can watch. Meaning there good for kids and adults will actually want to watch them. I am not going to break them down in any order and some of the films are going to skew a little more for older kids. It’s up to you to figure out what is appropriate for your specific family. I tried to avoid films that most people are familiar with and hopefully it will turn you on to some new choices for your family. If you click on the title of any of the films it will take you to its IMDB page that will help you with the ratings on the films. So let’s get this started.
Adventures in Babysitting (1987)
Chris Columbus directorial debut is a great homage to John Hughes films and while there is a bit of language and mild violence in the film it is good for older kids and is a lot of fun. The plot is, Chris Parker agrees to babysit after her “dread” date stands her up. Expecting a dull evening, Chris settles down with three kids for a night of TV… and boredom. But when her frantic friend Brenda calls and pleads to be rescued from the bus station in downtown Chicago, the evening soon explodes into an endless whirl of hair-raising adventures! Babysitter and kids leave their safe suburban surroundings and head for the heart of the big city, never imagining how terrifyingly funny their expedition will become! There is a lot of great comedy and some danger but not too scary and even has the first big screen appearance of Marvel Comics Thor. There is some mild language and the F-Bomb is dropped but as a great joke. This one is going to be for a bit older kids but there is nothing too bad in this.
Based on the fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle this lush animated film is done by Rankin/Bass who did the animated christmas specials Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman among others. The plot is, From a riddle-speaking butterfly, a unicorn learns that she is supposedly the last of her kind, all the others having been herded away by the Red Bull. The unicorn sets out to discover the truth behind the butterfly’s words. She is eventually joined on her quest by Schmendrick, a second-rate magician, and Molly Grue, a now middle-aged woman who dreamed all her life of seeing a unicorn. Their journey leads them far from home, all the way to the castle of King Haggard. This is a great fantasy film that has a great voice cast for it including Jeff Bridges and Mia Farrow. There is some scary spots but nothing to bad. It’s a really great adventure film for kids that might not be quite ready for the Harry Potter films but like fantasy type stories.
This is a great stop motion film also by Rankin/Bass that is basically all of the “Universal Monsters” but in a more playful and less scary than the live action ones for kids. The plot is, When Dr Frankenstein decides to retire from the monster-making business, he calls an international roster of monsters to a creepy convention to elect his successor. Everyone is there including Dracula, The Werewolf, The Creature, Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and many more. But Frankenstein’s title is not all that is at stake. The famous doctor has also discovered the secret of total destruction that must not fall into the wrong hands! If you kids are fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas then they are going to love this film. Tim Burton was very much inspired by this film when he made Nightmare. There is a lot of tongue in cheek stuff here and some very mild scary stuff but nothing to major. This is really good stuff if you are looking for a different animated film for the family.
This film when first released tanked at the box office but has went on to become a beloved classic modern fairy tale that if you haven’t shown this to your kids then shame on you. The plot is, A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather). There is nothing here that is not in any good Grimm’s fairy tales and is not watered down like some of the Disney adaptations. Every kid needs to see this film and they will truly be inspired by it. It’s a true classic!
Nominated for best animated film in 2009 a really amazing animated film from Ireland. The plot is, Young Brendan lives in a remote medieval outpost under siege from barbarian raids. But a new life of adventure beckons when a celebrated master illuminator arrives from the isle of Iona carrying an ancient but unfinished book, brimming with secret wisdom and powers. To help complete the magical book, Brendan has to overcome his deepest fears on a dangerous quest that takes him into the enchanted forest where mythical creatures hide. It is here that he meets the fairy Aisling, a mysterious young wolf-girl, who helps him along the way. But with the barbarians closing in, will Brendan’s determination and artistic vision illuminate the darkness and show that enlightenment is the best fortification against evil? For me this is the film that Pixar’s Brave should have been more like this one. Filled with adventure and mythology and some really great animation. There is some violence because of the war type situations and a few scary scenes with the wolves and the monsters but nothing outrageous. It has a great story with nice fantasy elements to it.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
This is the film that started both Tim Burton’s and Paul Rubens careers and it’s a really great family film. The plot is, The love of Pee-wee Herman’s life is his bicycle. When it is stolen, he is send on a wild cross-country adventure after a fortune-teller tells him his bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo. Along the way, Pee-wee encounters an escaped convict, a waitress with wanderlust and a jealous boyfriend, and a mysterious female truck driver. While I see a lot of plot descriptions that refer to Pee-Wee as a man-child I think that is a very narrow-minded way of thinking of the character. So what if Pee-Wee acts like a kid, there is nothing wrong with him and in fact I feel that keeping that child like outlook on life is good for you. There is some mild scary moments with Large Marge in the truck and some clowns but this is a really great adventure film for kids and they will fall in love with his adventures. This is a really must see family film!
This film is probably the greatest american hand drawn film released in the last decade. Directed by Brad Bird who brought together an amazing crew of animator to make this modern animated classic. The plot is, What if a gun had a soul? A gigantic mobile weapon from another planet is sent to destroy Earth, but is damaged on arrival and loses its memory. It is soon befriended by a young boy, Hogarth, who is an outcast at school and relishes the chance to have a real friend. However, soon the paranoid government agent Kent Mansley arrives in town, determined to destroy the giant at all costs. While there were a lot of great animated films released in the 1990’s this film is the one that makes me cry like a baby every time. The story is simple perfect and it has one thing that is missing from a lot of animated films, Heart. It never falls into the traps that most animated films suffer from. If this movie doesn’t touch your heart then you do not have one. There is some mild scary moments with the attack and the film is very emotional but it has some really amazing life lessons that you can discuss with your kids. This is a must watch for every family.
To this day I still do not understand why people hate this movie so much. The plot is, A young driver, Speed Racer, aspires to be champion of the racing world with the help of his family and his high-tech Mach 5 automobile. I am a big fan of the original Japanese cartoon that this movie is based on and so it had a lot to prove to me. People may have been overwhelmed with the hyper stylized realism look that the film has but at the core of the film is how important family is. There is some violence in the film but it’s more in line with the cartoony tone of the film. Both Speed and Trixie are very strong young characters that kids will like. Probably not for young kids but if you are looking for something different this is definitely that and a lot more.
Loosely based on a true story this wonderful movie from director Cameron Crowe brings his great storytelling to this wonderful family film. The plot is, Benjamin has lost his wife. In a bid to start his life over, he purchases a large house that has a zoo. This is welcome news for his daughter, but his son is not happy about it. The zoo is need of renovation and Benjamin sets about the work with the head keeper, Kelly, and the rest of the zoo staff. But, the zoo soon runs into financial trouble. The staff must get the zoo back to its former glory, pass a zoo inspection, and get it back open to the public. Crowe is a master storyteller and his other films while great are not kid friendly but this one is a great family film. The thing that you might want to watch out for with the kids is that it’s a very emotional story but other than that there is no real violence and some very mild language.
Now we are going old school with this one. The plot is, Scientist Jan Benes, who knows the secret to keeping soldiers shrunken for an indefinite period, escapes from behind the Iron Curtain with the help of CIA agent Grant. While being transferred, their motorcade is attacked. Benes strikes his head, causing a blood clot to form in his brain. Grant is ordered to accompany a group of scientists as they are miniaturized. The crew has one hour to get in Benes’s brain, remove the clot and get out. This is classic science fiction adventure at it’s best and kids might learn a little bit of science from it. There are some mild scary moments when the crew gets attacked by white blood cells but overall there is really nothing major to keep kids from seeing this film.
I saw this movie four times in the theater when it was first released and absolutely fell in love with it. The plot is, Farmer Hoggett wins a runt piglet at a local fair and young Babe, as the piglet decides to call himself, befriends and learns about all the other creatures on the farm. He becomes special friends with one of the sheepdogs, Fly. With Fly’s help, and Farmer Hoggett’s intuition, Babe embarks on a career in sheepherding with some surprising and spectacular results. The best way to tell you is one of the time that I went to see the film in the theater was a boy about 10-13 wanted to sit closer to the front and he sat in front of us. His mother told the two other boys to go an sit with him. I thought for sure that they were going to talk and be trouble during the film, and you know what? You could hear a pin drop in that theater. Every kid was mesmerized by this amazing film and so will your family. There is some mild themes and it can be emotional but nothing major. If you have not seen this film then it’s a real must for a family film night.
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
This is a really fun and goofy movie for the family. The plot is, Ted “Theodore” Logan and Bill S. Preston esquire won’t graduate if they don’t do well in their history presentation. This would be both bogus and uncool! A dude called Rufus comes from the future in a telephone box to help them, as their lives are apparently rather important to the future of mankind! They travel through time doing some interesting research for their history presentation, and generally being excellent to each other! There is some mild language and cartoony violence but older kids will get a kick out of this film. The nice thing about the film is that it shows that if you apply yourself you can accomplish thing that some may think that you are not capable of.
That’s if for round one. Hopefully there are some films that you haven’t thought of for your family and add to your list of films to see on family film night. Hit the comments and tell me what you think.