CinePile: Best Movies For Kids Both Big & Small
Kick back with kids movies that rule, and win tickets to Tim Burton's 'Alice: Through The Looking Glass'.
Back in primary school, the Australian Classifications Board was my arch nemesis. Every Friday night, my little brother and I, clad in matching dressing gowns and slippers, would get driven to Video City Midland, where we’d painstakingly select our pile of PG-approved two-new-releases-and-three-weeklies. And every week, my little brother and I would sneak an M15+ out of the Horror section into our pile... only to have Mum pull it out and tell us to go back and choose "a more suitable one". It's ironic right, that when you become an adult, and can finally go nuts on the M15+s, you find yourself (of your own volition) watching more and more movies with a PG/G rating. Not even accompanied by children...
An opportunity to enter into fantasyland presents itself soon via Disney’s Alice: Through The Looking Glass - the official sequel to Tim Burton (of Edward Scisshorhands and Beetlejuice fame)’s take on Lewis Carrol’s absurdist storybook classic Alice in Wonderland. Back when it was released in 2010, Alice in Wonderland made over $1 billion globally, and really kick-started the live action storybook movie craze amongst Hollywood producers. Since then, nearly every animated Disney feature has been turned into a live action film: Peter Pan, Cinderella, Snow White & The Huntsman (and this year's sequel), The Jungle Book and more. Soon, we'll be watching Emma Stone take on Cruella Deville in 101 Dalmations spin-off film Cruella, Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, and Reese Witherspoon as Tinkerbell...with Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, The Sword in the Stone, and Dumbo (another Tim Burton) all slated for 2017, too.
To celebrate Alice: Through The Looking Glass’ release, we thought we’d take a look at some flicks for young folk that very much appeal to our inner big kid. We’ve gone for a mixed bag of live action fairytales (if you’re after something to prime you for Alice) as well as some all-time animation faves.
Win! One of 15 in-season double passes to see Alice: Through The Looking Glass, thanks to our friends at Walt Disney. ‘Like’ Pilerats on Facebook, then Facebook message us your name, mailing address, and all-time favourite ‘big kids’ movie. Comp closes 26/5/2016.
Alice Through the Looking Glass
The film, which is helmed by The Muppets / Da Ali G Show writer James Bobin, witnesses Alice return to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travel back in time to save the Mad Hatter. All the charismatic stars of the original return: including Mia Wasikowska as Alice Kingsleigh, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen. It also features Alan Rickman (RIP – this was his last significant role) as the Blue Caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, and Bobin’s old mate Sasha Baron Cohen playing a new character called Time - a peculiar creature who is part human, part clock. From the looks of the trailer, all the calling cards of the first Alice are there: incredible production design, vibrant CGI, awesome costumes and magical 3D effects. Sasha Baron Cohen doing Disney, though...Here’s the latest trailer, set to Pink’s version of Jefferson Airplane’s psych-rock classic White Rabbit!
Animated movies for big kids:
The coolest thing about Wall-E is that a large part of the film happens without dialogue - making it a universal story that crosses not only age, but language barriers. The first fourty minutes of the film are just pure cinematic poetry, as we meet Wall-E, the last of the solar-powered robots to remain 700 years into the future, and get to know his plight through Pixar's unparalleled abilities to invoke humanity with their incredible animated facial expressions. The other great thing about this movie is the interesting ideas it presents; about environmentalism (it’s basically a computer-generated cartoon vision of our own potential extinction) and staying true to yourself - its not just mindless action and laughs. If it wasn’t an animated story it would work really well as a science fiction film; in fact there’s heaps of awesome sci-fi references in the dialogue that geeks will pick up!
Anime master Hayao Miyazaki is pretty much the Walt Disney of Japan, and this flick is kind of like the Miyakazi version of The Little Mermaid. Ponyo centres on the friendship between a five-year-old boy, Sosuke, and a magical goldfish princess, Ponyo, who yearns to be human like her friend. Ponyo uses her magic powers to turn into a little human girl and live with Sosuke’s family... soon though, they find out that Ponyo's transformation has set the mystical balance of the human and animal world off kilter. It's rewarding to dive into this one a little deeper (excuse the pun), too - Ponyo and her ocean world represent the creative subconscious of the human mind, contrasted by Sosuke and his life on the land, which represents the outer, conscious human mind. When these two worlds meet and balance each other (fantasy and reality), harmony and happiness is achieved.
Ponyo has a fantastic, dream-like mood, and is really visually stunning - Miyazaki continues to create animation drawn by hand, giving his work an organic, artistic quality much richer than CGI and the narrative is pretty profound. Watch the Japanese original, but it’s worth checking out the English-language version too, adapted by Toy Story's writer - voice work comes from Liam Neeson, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Tina Fey.
The Iron Giant
Weird to think this is 17 years old! Still holds up, and is definitely a fave. In this 1999 animated adaptation of Ted Hughes' 1968 Cold War fable The Iron Man, a 9-year-old boy, Hogarth, discovers a scared, lonely, alien robot that has crash-landed near the town of Maine. The two quickly become friends. When a paranoid government agent becomes determined to destroy the Iron Giant (this was the 1950s, the decade when science fiction was preoccupied with nuclear holocaust and invaders from outer space), Hogarth puts all his efforts into trying to save him. It’s directed by Brad Bird, who went on to do The Incredibles, and its non-digital style is similar to the Japanese animation style. It’s a super charming flick, with likeable characters and an underlying message - the Iron Giant learns from the little boy that he is not doomed to be a weapon because ‘you are what you choose to be.’ If you liked the more recent Big Hero 6, you’ll likely get into this one.
How To Train Your Dragon
Another cool 'unlikely friendship' movie akin to the Iron Giant, based on the book by Cressida Cowel. A hapless young Viking, Hiccup, is a Norse teenager from the island of Berk, where fighting dragons is the norm. Hiccup’s dad is a chief Viking, and a dragon trainer, and Hiccup aspires to hunt dragons, but becomes friends with a young dragon named Toothless, and learns there may be more to the creatures than he assumed. There’s a good message in this one about tolerance and realizing that your enemy may not be as different as you think, and Toothless is super charming and not immature, he’s also not totally transparent and has depth and mystery to him which is rare for creatures in animated films (especially Dreamworks’ ones – silly donkeys, karate pandas etc). Also - the flying scenes are pretty cool! Check out the sequel, too.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
This 3D film’s based on a book from the 80s about a kid called Flint who lives on an island in the Atlantic that survives by catching and canning sardines. When the sardine market collapses and the citizens grow tired of eating their own sardines, he decides to save his island by creating a machine that can convert ordinary water into any food on Earth (mostly, food that kids love): hamburgers, ice cream, jellybeans, etc. But things don’t go according to plan, and the machines go out of control. Cloudy is action-packed, inventive fun, and a kind of loopy story. But loopy good – it’s strength is that it never takes itself too seriously. The giant aerial battle against the army of mutant food and ‘foodalanche’ are highlights, and make the most of the 3D.
The LEGO Movie
This one surprised us. The 3D computer animated story, which is the first full-length adventure to feature Lego, follows mini-figure Emmet, who is mistakenly identified as the key to saving the world and drafted into a fellowship of strangers on an epic quest to stop an evil tyrant – although Emmet is hopelessly underprepared. The gags come thick and fast, with the movie poking fun at the genre cliches we're all so used to. The voices are awesome, you get a cool history of Lego products, and there’s a clever story driving the film, too. And the cleverest thing of all – the film basically functions as a big bright ad to buy Lego!
This winner of an animation is kind of for video games what Toy Story was to toys. It tells the story of arcade-game character Wreck-It Ralph, who, tired of always being the bad dude, and decades of seeing all the glory go to his opponent Fix-It Felix, decides to take matters into his own hands, hopping through games to show he has what it takes to be a hero. While on the qust, Ralph accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens the entire arcade. This screwball comedy is original, witty and full of heart. The characters all have have problems humans can identify with and there’s a heartfelt message about staying true to yourself.
Fantastic Mr Fox
Director Wes Anderson brought his offbeat charm to this stop-motion version of the Roald Dahl children’s classic about a dapper fox (voiced by George Clooney) who aims to pull off one last, impossible heist. The visually stunning animation, clever witty plot, great voicing and Wes Anderson’s trademark sense of left-field humor make this one a winner.
This 2009 computer-animated comedy-adventure film from Pixar is a simple but awesome story, with a huge emotional range – only ten minutes in and we had tears rolling down our cheeks. Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a 78-year-old balloon salesman, is about to fulfill a lifelong dream. Tying thousands of balloons to his house, he flies away to the South American wilderness. But grumpy Carl’s worst nightmare comes true when he discovers a little boy named Russell is a stowaway aboard the balloon-powered house. The little boy eventually helps the widower to understand that he still has life left to be lived; he teaches him to let go of the past and embrace the moment. The animation’s great too.
Live Action movies for big kids:
Snow White & The Huntsman
This version saw the fairytale re-imagined as a Sleepy Hollow-esque action-adventure Gothic Horror, presumably to attract the Lord of the Rings and the Twilight viewers. It pitted Kristen Stewart’s Snow White against evil queen Charlize Theron, with Chris Hemsworth’s The Huntsman character taking on a larger role than in the original – he’s sent by The Queen to kill Snow White, but ends up becoming her protector. It didn’t fare too well at the hands of the critics, but it’s visually awesome looking, we get to see a grittier side of Snow White, and the story that has a good dose of feminism.
Okay so this one’s rated R, so not technically for kids – although in Spain classic fairytales written for kids are genuinely scary, parable type warnings, basically the antithesis to Disney. Spanish director Guillermo del Toro’s contemporary fairy tale is a super dark one. To escape the scary facist goings on in World War II in Spain, including her mother being re-married to a sadistic army captain, young girl Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) retreats into a fantasy world – although it comes with its own set of dangers and monsters. The best thing about this movie is that it doesn’t hold back – it’s sometimes terrifying, and violent. And as far as visual inventiveness goes, del Toro’s tale is hard beat – the creature effects are amazing.
The story’s been mined across pop culture but when this live action dramatic version helmed by Kenneth Branagh, an English actor/director who mostly works in period films (and directed Marvel’s Thor) first came out, our intrigue was piqued. And indeed, Branagh applies his Shakespearian sensibility to extract earnest and multidimensional performances from the all-star cast, led by Downton Abbey’s Lily James as the title character (with Cate Blanchett as Cinderella's stepmother, Derek Jacobi as the king, Stellan Skarsgard as the king's adviser, and Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother). Blanchett in particular, whose evil villain Lady Tremaine is depicted in 40s femme fatale mode. If you’re not interested in seeing a re-relling of a familiar story (a fairly tame re-telling at that) watch instead for the visual splendor of the whole thing: the costume and production designers put in some serious work.
This one sees Disney poke some fun at itself, which is always cool. Amy Adams plays a princess, Giselle, whose dumped out of the animated world and transported to modern-day New York City. LOLs ensue – including gags about Disney princesses’ tendencies to break out into song, to talk to animals and to sew new dresses with unmatched speed, and to marry blokes they’ve just met. There’s an actual fairytale that runs through the humour as well, which characters you start to care about. Adams acting is great too, total screwball.
Alice Through the Looking Glass hits Australian cinemas on May 26.