I’m starting a new “top 5” series for movies. Eventually I hope to do so for songs as well. In both cases, I’ll break it down by genre.
Finding good movies can be difficult. I’m here to offer some of the best picks from my own experience as a passionate cinephile who’s also not ashamed to suggest that there are some movies no Christian should watch, at the risk of being called a fundamentalist. To start off, here are my top five family movies.
A great family movie must…
1. Have only negligible content issues, if any.
2. Be well-made (of course this applies to all, but family movies certainly aren’t exempt!)
3. Be fun.
4. Be something even small kids could appreciate (this is why I chose to leave off movies like The Princess Bride, because a 3-year-old won’t really “get” a lot of the fun in the movie).
5. Have a happy ending.
So without further ado, I present….
5. The Aristocats
When people get misty-eyed and nostalgic over “old Disney,” I always want to reply, “Oh, you mean the 60s? Yeah, that was great!” But I know they’re really talking about the 90s, which to them is like, a hundred years ago or something. I guess I’m just an old soul, but in my opinion, the older the better. No, Snow White wasn’t the greatest Disney film ever made, but they improved fast. I may be committing heresy by not putting Bambi on this list, and indeed, I think it’s perhaps the best animated film ever made. But The Aristocats is even more fun and attention-holding for the younger viewers, hence I prefer it as a family film.
The characters are all memorable: Duchess as the sweet but classy rich girl, charismatic leading “man” Thomas O’Malley, Edgar the butler as a devious villain out for cash, the three adorable kittens, Roquefort the loyal mouse, Scat Cat and his lovable gang of ragged rejects… and more! Something’s happening in every frame, the music is instantly fresh and memorable, and the voice acting is spot-on. Phil Harris is the voice behind Thomas O’Malley and will charm your socks off. O’Malley and Baloo the bear were two characters of his I grew up on. Here’s the show-stopping musical number “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” (written by the ubiquitous Sherman brothers). I understand that some scenes from Paul Winchell’s Chinese cat have been scrubbed from recent editions for politically correct reasons. What a shame. I loved that character.
4. The Black Stallion
Although I enjoy the book, I believe the film surpasses it, if only because of Caleb Deschanel’s breath-taking cinematography on the “island half” of the movie. If I were making a list of the best-shot movies, this would be hovering somewhere near the top. (Despite which, Deschanel wasn’t even nominated at the Oscars. For a nice film-lover’s rant on just how unforgivable a crime this was, see here.) The score by Carmine Coppola is fascinatingly understated, incorporating elements of Middle Eastern music for an atmospheric effect. Together, they create moments of surpassing beauty that require no dialogue. As for the Black… well, just look at him! He and his small rider capture the mystic union of man and beast as perfectly as it’s ever been captured on film.
3. Homeward Bound
Based on the novel The Incredible Journey, this is an off-beat adventure romp that never fails to be entertaining, exciting and poignant. I still come back to it over and over. Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox and Sally Fields truly make their animal characters come alive on the screen. Toss in a great score, and you’ve got the whole package of family film excellence: a reminder that “sacrifice, friendship and even love are more than just the mushy stuff.” Here’s a montage of some of Michael Fox’s classic moments as the exuberant young bulldog Chance (through whose eyes we see the story unfold):
Okay, okay, I have to include the last scene. “Best movie ending of my childhood” does kind of sum it up.
2. Star Wars
Yes, we’re going aaaaaall the way back to 1977 for this, the one, the only, the original, the true Star Wars. Need I say more? I have to give credit to George Lucas: He may have ended up ruining his own good idea, but he did have one good idea, and that’s the movie that started it all. Combining elements of the western genre, Japanese comics, and pure fantasy, plus ground-breaking special effects and arguably the greatest American movie score ever composed, this was quite simply lightning in a bottle. Everything worked. And it launched the career of one of Hollywood’s most successful leading men (I’m speaking of course of Mark Hamill). Here’s a swatch of the film that wasn’t ruined by Lucas’s re-edits.
1. The Sound of Music
If only all of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musicals were as good as this one. Brilliant songs, stellar acting all-round, and an epic tale of love, patriotism and integrity. The perfect family film, still holds up as a bona fide classic after all these years. It’s surprisingly hard to find clips from the movie online, but someone has put the whole thing on dailymotion with Asian subtitles. To watch the very best scene, click here and scroll to about 35:30 minutes, where Captain von Trapp addresses the audience at the family’s last performance and then begins to sing “Edelweiss.” When he is unable to finish, Maria continues for him as the crowd joins in (with the Nazis in the front row looking very uncomfortable). It’s a powerful moment. I don’t care if you’re not Austrian, I question your patriotic spirit if that scene doesn’t stir you and/or bring a tear to your eye.
Looking back over this short list, I notice that a common element of all five films, even the non-musicals, is great music. I guess that shows that an excellent score can take a film that’s already great and give it that X factor that really makes it stick with you.
[2014 Update: A Rodgers and Hammerstein channel has now posted short clips of some of the film’s best songs. Click here for the opening title number and check out related videos for more!]
So what are your top 5 family movies?
The Jungle Book
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Lassie Come Home