DVDs FOR CHILDREN (Adults will enjoy as well)
Caution: Many fables contain witches, ghosts or sorcery. If you should see some element in a movie that might be confusing to young minds, take the opportunity to discuss it with them.
ADVENTURES FROM THE BOOK OF VIRTUES (1996). Based on the bestselling book by William J. Bennett, this superbly animated series is designed to cultivate the best in human qualities: loyalty, courage, honesty, perseverance, self-discipline, respect, etc. Two children, Zach and Annie, face everyday challenges and issues, with the help of Plato, a wise and friendly buffalo, Aristotle, a feisty but loyal prairie dog, and Aurora, a warm and caring red-tailed hawk. With the voice talents of Ed Asner, Pam Dawber, John Forsythe, Mark Hamill, George Segal, Peter Strauss, Wes Studi, Elijah Wood, Alfre Woodard and many others, the cartoonists have sculpted delightful vignettes that are as entertaining to parents as they are to the little ones.
THE ADVENTURES OF MILO & OTIS (1989). Rated G. A great adventure film starring animals, with Dudley Moore serving as narrator. For years, it was the highest grossing film in Japan.
BABES IN TOYLAND (1934 version with Laurel and Hardy). Good battles evil in this lovely musical fantasy.
BAMBI II. Rated G. After his mother’s death, Bambi is reunited with his father, The Great Prince, who must now raise the young fawn and teach him the ways of the forest. The proud parent discovers that there is much he can learn from his spirited young son. Thumper, Flower and Owl return to meet new friends as Bambi’s legacy continues.
I was completely surprised by this screening. Generally, any children’s cartoon movie with a “II” behind the title is a stinker. What’s more, Disney has chosen to take it directly to DVD release. That’s usually not a good sign, either. But I found this to be charming, a real delight. The main ingredients found in the classic Disney toons are the deceptively simple animation and the kid voices. It’s full of life lessons that address the death of a parent, the need for father and son bonding, and a respect for God’s creatures. The filmmakers have given audiences an entertaining film that is both insightful for children and engaging for Mom and Pop. Full of humor, action and pretty pictures, BAMBI II, like its predecessor, is a treasure.
BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993). Voices: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Dana Delaney, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. – G (it does contain lots of comic book style violence, but a well-thought out script, artsy animation, and a moral lesson). Feature-length version of the animated TV series has Batman falling in love while battling both The Joker and a new nemesis to Gotham City, the Phantasm.
BEETHOVEN (1992). Charles Grodin, Dean Jones (against type as the bad guy). Comedy – PG (1 vulgar expression for which the culprit is reprimanded). Escapist fare about a St. Bernard eluding a mad doctor who wants to use puppies for target practice. Soon, the mischievous canine transforms the mundane life of a dysfunctional family. In spite of disapproving critics, both kids and their parents seem to enjoy this film.
THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (1987). This creative animated story of household appliances that come to life when no one’s home is full of positive messages about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. These kitchen machines share several adventures as they go into the world searching for their owner. The talents of several SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni make this silly tale a pleasure for adults as well.
BUGS BUNNY CLASSICS (1941-48). Some of his best.
CAPTAIN JANUARY (1936). Shirley Temple. During the process of putting this book together, I viewed several of Shirley’s films that I hadn’t seen since I was a boy. And you know what–she was fabulous! A phenomenon: gifted and charming and always real. This sweet tale of an orphaned girl raised by a lighthouse keeper is one of her best. Here, she dances with Buddy Ebsen and sings “At the Codfish Ball,” and her guardian teaches her from the Bible, proclaiming “with it you’ll steer a straight course.” This is one fathers will especially enjoy with their daughters.
CARTOON ALL-STARS TO THE RESCUE. This anti drug video, which ran on all the networks simultaneously several years ago, is now at your local video store. Truly an effective weapon against a destructive force that no child is too young to learn about. It’s excellent. Adults will enjoy it as well. Good for starting a conversation with kids.
CURIOUS GEORGE (2006). Rated G. From the beloved children’s stories by Margaret and H. A. Rey, George is an inquisitive little monkey, more lovable than Cheetah. And that’s saying something considering the little guy doesn’t seem to have any family. By day he’s pals with everyone in the jungle as he learns how life works. But at night, he covers up all alone in his tree house built for one. Suddenly, an adventurer shows up wearing a silly hat, looking for a lost treasure. He needs to find and bring back the sacred statue or the museum he works for will be turned into a parking lot. Sadly, the treasure is disappointing and all he returns to New York with is an adoring, inquisitive baby primate. Aided by a gentle story, highlighted by kidfriendly slapstick, engaging songs by Jack Johnson, and funny vocal assistance by Will Ferrell and Dick Van Dyke, CURIOUS GEORGE is a sweet-tempered animated comedy.
DR. SEUSS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO (1966). The Peabody-winning story of a rhyming elephant’s attempt to rescue Whoville is magically animated by MGM/UA and lovingly narrated by Hans Conried. Positive messages for children, including “a person is a person, no matter how small” and believing in things you don’t see or understand: a great opening for biblical discussions.
THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. Public Media Video presents a 4-star adaptation of the C. S. Lewis classic tale. This is really superb programming for the family, complete with terrific special effects, animation, as well as live action, musical score and costumes. A group of children discover a closet that leads to a far-off land called Narnia. (1995’s CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE is also a step up from most children’s fables: the book, and now the film, are full of evocative analogies and iconic images, and while adventures, not sermons, take center stage, most churchgoers will find that the story serves to open a rewarding dialogue between parent and child concerning the Christ-like symbolism found in the pivotal Aslan.)
THE NEVER ENDING STORY, Part II (1990). Rated PG. A fable most kids 8-13 will enjoy with its adventure and special effects. Teaches sacrifices, honor, friendship and courage. THE
ROACH APPROACH: DON’T MISS THE BOAT. (2006) (for kids 3-8) This animated comic adventure for wee ones concerns a family of bugs about to enjoy a vacation in Florida when a hurricane nearly blows them away. Although they are unable to enjoy other activities until the storm passes, Grandpa Lou and Nana use the time to tell their grandson Squiggz the fitting story of Noah’s Ark. With a sound biblical message, this song-filled cartoon manages to captivate its intended audience. My nephews Austin (7) and David (5) each gave it, you should excuse the expression, a “Thumbs Up.”
Also available from the same creator, Bruce Barry: THE ROACH APPROACH: THE MANE EVENT! This adventure is based on the story of Daniel In the Lions’ Den. In this animated adventure, Grandpa Lou takes the Roach kids on a camping trip. As they travel through a drain pipe, Grandpa Lou tells the kids the biblical account Along the way, they learn valuable lessons about faith, friendship and standing up for their beliefs. Both DVDs are available at Christian bookstores (released through 20th Century Fox). Not rated (I found nothing objectionable; the filmmakers are considerate of children’s sensibilities. I suggest parents view these productions with their little ones in order to answer questions and to see if they understood the parables).
ROCK-A-DOODLE (1992). Animated film by Don Bluth with the voices of Phil Harris, Christopher Plummer, Charles Nelson Reilly and Glenn Campbell. When a cocky rooster learns he doesn’t make the sun come up, he goes off to become a rock ‘n’ roll star. I found it a lot more fun than most critics, with several positive messages.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (1993). Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Daniel Stern. PG (a few “oh my God’s” uttered, but I caught no other profanity or obscenity). After a fluke accident, a 12-year-old discovers his once broken arm now serves a deadly baseball pitch. He becomes the youngest member of the Chicago Cubs. One has to suspend all reality for this comedy, but it is a funny, uplifting narrative without condescending to kids.
THE SECRET GARDEN (1993). Kate Maberly, Maggie Smith, Heydon Prowse. Fantasy – G (1 brief scene where the children chant a nonsensical phrase). A Dickens-esque tale of an orphan going to live with her brooding uncle in 1800s England. The classic story of three children discovering a magical garden is a nearly perfect movie with atmospheric direction, endearing performances, striking photography, and positive messages of hope, responsibility and the need to be loved. Also worth a look, the 1949 version with Margaret O’Brien and the 1987 British version with Gennie James. Both are 4-star productions.
WEE WILLIE WINKIE (1937). Shirley Temple, Victor McLaglen. Comedy/action. My favorite starring the curlyhaired moppet. Shirley is sent to live on a British outpost in India with her mother and her grandfather, the Colonel (C. Aubrey Smith). Inspired by Kipling’s GUNGA DIN and directed by, get this, John Ford.
WHITE FANG (1990). Klaus Maria Brandauer, Ethan Hawke. A young man befriends a wolf in this Jack London tale. Beautifully photographed in Alaska. Caution: some perilous situations may frighten very little ones.