I’ve been asked by my friend and colleague, Alana, create a list of family friendly films. Now, this challenge is both easy and hard. It’s easy because there’s no shortage of family friendly films. But that abundance of options is what makes it hard. How does one pick from such a plentiful list? Another challenges comes the way memory erodes our impressions of these stories. There are so many films from my childhood that I remember, but not especially well. Do I remember this film well enough to recommend it in terms of quality? What about in terms of age-appropriateness? Also, how does one judge one’s memory of the quality of a film, when one hasn’t seen it in decades?
Then there’s a couple more problems. First, do you recommend the extremely popular films? On the one hand, why would you, if families have already seen them? But if the films are that famous, it’s often because they’re quite good. Or maybe I could choose a film that is unknown, obscure, or has become less famous as time goes by? That could work. I remember watching Disney films in my 80s childhood from the 50s and 60s that still held up 20 years later–but then again, some of those older films felt dated.
All of these considerations are challenges, but they are not insurmountable. To overcome them, I’ve created three sub-lists: deep loves, deep cuts, and might be’s
Deep Loves: These are films that are deeply loved and (I’m guessing) still well-enough known not to be classified as obscure.
Deep Cuts: Some of these films were at one point classics but have since drifted at least partially into obscurity. Some of these films never really made a big splash, but are still worth watching. Some of them might be so recent people are still getting to know them.
Might Be’s: These are films that might be kid-friendly, depending on the age of the kids and the nature of the family. Families differ. Some are like the Flanders, and some are like the Simpsons. Some are like the Bradys, and some are like the Bundys. These Might Be’s are films for the Bundy family-side, or films that for a different reason, you might want to think twice about.
These are films that are deeply loved and (I’m guessing) still well-enough known not to be classified as obscure.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971), This is one of my all-time favorite childhood films. I recently re-watched it, and it actually went up in my estimation upon re-watching. I actually wrote a review of the film recently for this very blog. Music, drama, Angela Lansbury. This film is appropriate for all ages.
Home Alone (1990), I haven’t seen this movie in quite some time, but I must have watched it 100 times in the 90s. It’s laugh out loud funny. The first couple times I saw the film, which was in the theatre, I could barely contain my laughter, especially in the third act. A classic of the slapstick genre and a film that shows Joe Pesci’s acting credentials, this film is appropriate for all ages.
Jumanji (1995), This is a well-made film. It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it, but it’s one of Robin Williams stronger performances, and it will keep you on the edge of your seat in terms of the action. The comedy comes naturally as Williams and others navigate a board game gone wild. While this film is age appropriate for all ages, you might think twice before showing it to particularly young children. I could imagine small children getting scared by what they see on screen.
Finding Nemo (2003), This film has such a powerful message, I chose it as one of my blockbuster animated films to feature. “Just Keep Swimming” is such a powerful message–and not the only one in the film. Of the handful of lessons I’ve learned in my life, “Just Keep Swimming” is near the top. This film is a tour-de-force of comedy and wisdom. Also, it stars Albert Brooks, who I personally think is highly underrated.
Ratatouille (2007), I almost left this one off because it’s been so long since I’ve seen it. But I remember it having a good message about not letting others define who you are. It also has a great soundtrack, and stars Patton Oswalt. Now Oswalt is no Brooks, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a fine actor and comedian. Appropriate for all ages.
Some of these films were at one point classics but have since drifted at least partially into obscurity. Some of these films never really made a big splash, but are still worth watching. Some of them might be so recent people are still getting to know them.
At Night at the Opera (1935), This is a classic film from the 1930s, and it’s possibly the most famous Marx Brothers film of all time. Whether you show this film to your kids mostly sort of depends on the attention span your kids have. This film has numerous hilarious scenes, some that have become iconic as some of the most famous moments in film history. It also lacks the quick editing that modern films have; this gives it a slow feel. It basically just depends on how your family feels about a funny film that’s a bit slow in its editing. Appropriate for most ages, but not small children. A lot of the humor is based on verbal wordplay, and it will go over the heads of young children.
The Red Balloon (1956), This is an example of a film that was a well-known classic during its time. Children would know the film from television or from school screenings. It’s primarily visual, or at least with little dialogue, but a very powerful score in the background. This is a moving film that I think you’ll enjoy. Appropriate for all ages. Interesting bit of trivia: the director of The Red Balloon, (Albert Lamorisse), also created the widely beloved board game Risk.
The Goonies (1985), This was the classic kid/general public crossover films of the 80s, and one of Steven Spielberg’s films in the first half of his career. The Goonies, lovable rejects, underdogs, and dreamers, are characters that have inspired millions since the film came out. The characters are lovable as well. May not be appropriate for younger children.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), This film works on so many different levels. It could be a kids film, a family film, or a film one studies in a film analysis course. This film is one from Joel and Ethan Coen, still relatively from their early years. It’s also a perfectly constructed screwball comedy. Young children might not enjoy this film (but maybe?), but for children about 10 and up, it might be a good pick.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018), I recently watched this sequel to Mary Poppins (1964). It’s perfectly cast, with lots of fun musical numbers, and a good message. It does run a little long, but otherwise a good family pick. Appropriate for all ages.
Films that Might Be Family Friendly . . . depending on the family.
These are films that might be kid-friendly, depending on the age of the kids and the nature of the family. Families differ. Some are like the Flanders, and some are like the Simpsons. Some are like the Bradys, and some are like the Bundys. These Might Be’s are films for the Bundy family-side, or films that for a different reason, you might want to think twice about.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), I re-watched this film about ten years ago, and seem to recall being surprised at some of the scenes in terms of content and language, especially earlier in the film. But maybe I’m wrong. It seems odd to put E.T. on the “maybe” list, but some scenes might be a little too inappropriate for young children or some families. Nevertheless, this is a classic, and one that everyone should watch, sooner or later. Appropriate/Inappropriate for all families.
Oscar (1991), I first watched this film when I was about eleven years old. I love it. Most people hated it, or felt relatively indifferent to it. I’m putting this film on this list because it’s one of my all time favorites, both in general and from childhood. It’s a screwball comedy with a comedy of errors plot. (If you like the comedy of errors episodes of Frasier, you’ll probably like this film. If you didn’t, then you most likely won’t this film.). Once in a blue moon, I’ll find someone who loves this film, as much as I do, and it’s like a cosmic connection for me. There is lots of innuendo about sex and violence, but none shown on screen. Appropriate/Inappropriate for all families.
The Rocketeer (1991), I probably haven’t seen this film since it came out, or close to then, but I think it’s due for a resurgence, given our society’s love for superheroes and comic book characters. I honestly can’t remember enough about the film to definitively say what is or isn’t inappropriate in the film, but based on google searches, conversations I’ve had with others, and my own memory, it’s likely pretty safe viewing. There will be some violence, and you should know there are Nazis (they are the bad guys). I just remember it as a fun movie. Appropriate/Inappropriate for all families.
The Sandlot (1993), This film is about baseball, childhood, stories that get better with time, and a sense of nostalgia. There are scenes in this film, notably with the life guard character, that just wouldn’t be filmed today. Nonetheless, this film is a very endearing look at sports, myths, and belonging. It does have some questionable language content, and it is going to be edgy for a family film, but it is a classic that is well worth watching. Appropriate/Inappropriate for all families.
Troop Zero (2019), This film is a new film to Amazon Prime. It’s about a young girl who dreams of going into outer space or contacting aliens. She puts together a Birdie Scout troop, finds friends and learns more about life, as she tries to approve her quest. The film has frank depictions about bullying, so it might not be appropriate for all kids. Appropriate/Inappropriate for all families.