List: Top 10 Children’s Films Not Necessarily for Children


Originally posted at reeltimepodcast.org

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo was released a couple of weeks ago, and it is still going steady at the box office, largely because of the word of mouth among adults. So that got me thinking about movies aimed at kids that may be enjoyed more by adults and movies that parents should watch before showing them to their kids due to their subject matter. So, for this Top 10 List I decided to list some of the best children’s films that may not be completely suitable for children, but rather appropriate for adults.

Here is my list: 

10. Return to Oz

Directed by Walter Murch

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies. It is sweet, colorful, and has the right hint of darkness. Return to Oz is colorful, but the darkness overtakes the sweetness to make one of the most disturbing children’s films I’ve ever seen.

First off, Kansas after the tornado is a bleak and depressing place. Also, remember sweet Auntie Em? Well, it turns out that she is tired of Dorothy talking about Oz and she is willing to go as far as paying a doctor to give her niece shock treatment to stop her. Not only that, when she finally goes back to her beloved Oz after escaping the hospital where she was being treated, she finds out that it has been destroyed by the Nome King and her friends have either been turned to stone or captured. And Emerald City is actually being run by a woman that collects heads so that she may wear them whenever she wants to, so you know she’s going to try to get Dorothy’s at some point. That doesn’t even begin to cover all the twisted things in the movie (wait until you see the 80s-inspired Wheelers)

Return to Oz may not be able to stand next to its predecessor, but it’s a fun movie. Just don’t show it to little kids that are enamored with the Judy Garland classic.

9. Fantasia

Various Directors

I may not like Fantasia as much as others, but there is no denying that it is a benchmark in animation history. The animation is still outstanding, the music is brilliant, of course, and it pushed the limits of what animators could do with their talents and imagination. And being such an experimental film, this film is not for everyone, including today’s youth.

First off, Fantasia moves at a glacial pace, this alone will be enough to turn a majority of the population off. The “Rite of Spring” segment is the best example of this. It actually makes the birth of the universe scene in The Tree of Life feel like a Michael Bay action set piece.

Second, some of the segments, like “The Dance of the Hours” and the “Nutcracker Suite” are so abstract and bizarre that at times they are too weird to be enjoyable though (the former is my second-favorite segment, though).

And finally, some of the segments are way too dark for a child to handle, namely the “Night at Bald Mountain/ Ave Maria Segment.” The first part of this segment actually sent shivers down my spine when I recently watched it. It’s beautifully animated, but the imagery is scary. And I’m not sure children will get how deep this segment actually is. It perfectly illustrates how good and evil go hand in hand, and how ultimately good triumphs.

8. Labyrinth

Directed by Jim Henson

Despite the appearances, Labyrinth is actually a movie that older children could enjoy. It’s got a simple but classic story, awesome puppeteering, gloriously trippy images, and some really great comedic moments. But this particular movie is not on the list because the story is something that only adults will understand, but rather the little things that are sprinkled throughout. Like they say, the devil is in the details.

First off, only an adult (or young adult) that knows some music history will understand how awesome it is to see David Bowie playing the villain. We all know he is in it, but when he makes his entrance a sense of awe wraps itself around the movie. From then on, all Bowie does is chew scenery, but he does it so well. He’s clearly having fun and not taking things too seriously, otherwise his musical number would not have been as funny and enjoyable.

But the main reason why this is here is that it simply has too much Bowie penis for the kiddies. It’s not like he pulls it out and starts to swing it around. It’s just that his pants are way too tight and you just see it there, moving around,  and you just can’t help but look towards it. It’s not like the filmmakers weren’t aware of this, as one of the character pretty much has a conversation with Bowie’s member.

Labyrinth is a movie that the whole family can enjoy, but it will definitely play better for the adult crowd.

7. The Incredibles

Directed by Brad Bird

On the surface, The Incredibles is one of the best superhero movies of all time, and one of the best action movies of the last few years. But underneath it all are controversial themes that even adults have a hard time dealing with. The biggest of them, and the reason why those who dislike it dislike it, is the Ayn Rand-ness of it all. Although it’s never been confirmed that Brad Bird is a believer of Rand’s theories, there’s no denying that there is some of of that going on. The most obvious example has to be the argument that Mr. and Mrs. Incredible have about Dash’s Fifth grade graduation ceremony. Here’s the exchange:

Helen: I can’t believe you don’t want to go to your own son’s graduation.
Bob: It’s not a graduation. He is moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.
Helen: It’s a ceremony!
Bob: It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity, but if someone is genuinely exceptional…

Here, Mr. Incredible is clearly irked that he and his family are being forced to hide their powers, and that is part of what Ms. Rand’s theory is about. Much like her, Mr. Incredible believes that since he and his children have superpowers, they are clearly superior to everyone else and that they should be able to, more or less, be considered gods among men.

Add to that the instability of Mr. Incredible as he reaches middle age, the commentary of being happy to have something until we grow tired of it, and Syndrome’s obsession leading him to become evil and his ultimate plan involving corporate culture, makes The Incredibles a movie that is too deep for the kiddies to completely understand.

6. Zazie dans le metro

Directed by Louis Malle

I’m not quite sure if this is actually considered a children’s movie. After all, the book which it is based on is not for kids as it is a riff on the clichés, and the movie is a wall to wall riff on camera tricks and story-telling techniques. But since it is the story of a precocious child, I decided to include it.

Depite being made in the 60s, I believe that this is a movie that modern children could handle. There are some fun and inventive editing tricks, hilarious gags, and it’s very chaotic and almost overwhelmingly precious that it puts to shame other modern movies that have attempted the same. But at the same time, modern parents, especially the conservatives and the PC ones might want to keep their children away from it. For the former group, the sexual tension that is present during one scene between two women during one scene, and the fact that Zazie’s uncle is a cross dresser that works in what appears to be a sleazy establishment should be enough to make them angry. For the latter, I don’t think they would approve of Zazie cursing at everone (“Ass” being her favorite one), setting a crowd against a man by calling him a pedophile to get out of trouble, and then her being chased through Paris by a man that may very well be an actual pedophile.

Then there’s the fact that it is in French. That should scare most of America.

I find this movie to be an excellent exercise in filmmaking, and I would be happy to show it to my children provided I ever have some. The visuals alone should keep the younger kids entertained, but I’d wait until they could read to understand some of the jokes.

5. Coraline

Directed by Henry Selick

Coraline may be animated, overtly stylish, and feature wacky characters, but it is the stuff of nightmares.What could be more scarier for a child than moving to a new house in the middle of nowhere, being neglected by your parents, and then finding someone that acts as a surrogate only to find that they later want to sew buttons into your eyes?

Thanks to the imagination of Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick’s smooth and impecable stop-motion animation and the atmosphere that it creates, Coraline is one of the most effective horror movies of the last few years. I’ve showed this movie to a few of my younger family members, and I’ve been told that after watching it, some have even had nightmares. So, don’t be fooled by the fact that it is animated. If you don’t want to traumatize your child, wait until they’re a bit older to show them this movie.

4. Bridge to Terabithia

Directed by Gabor Csupo

Bridge to Terabithia had one of the worst and most misleading ad campaigns that I’ve ever seen. The trailers sold this as a fantasy in the vein of The Chronicles of Narnia as it focused on the fantasy aspects of the story.

The fantasy aspects of the film that Disney heavily relied on make up only about ten to fifteen minutes of the whole running time. The rest is a story of a young boy that is being forced to grow up too fast by his dad simply because he is the only son he has, and how his life is changed when he meets someone else that seems to be the complete opposite of him. Bridge to Terabithia is a story that tries to teach us to keep our mind open when we are opening doors into completely different worlds, whether it is a world where a child can still be a child, or a world ruled by wacky creatures. A great example of this happens when the kids are headed back home from church. Leslie says that that she had never been to church, and Jess is immediately concerned for her soul. But then she says something along the lines of why would God send someone to hell simply because he or she doesn’t go to church, since after all he has many more important things to worry about.

Bridge is also a story about loss, and how to get the best out of tragedy. If you’ve read anything about the book or the movie, then you know what happens. I knew it before I watched it, and I feared that it was going to be overtly manipulative. The event and its aftermath are handled with such grace that I did not expect from a Disney movie. Even as I was fast forwarding through it to get the screenshot above, I could not hold back the tears.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

Directed by Spike Jonze

I saw Where the Wild Things Are during its opening weekend run. Halfway through, a kid that was sitting next to me told the person that was with him “I’m bored. Can we go now?” When the movie was over, being in awe at what I had just seen, I thought about how it was possible that this kid was bored. But as the days progressed and I read reactions around the web, I came to the realization that despite the PG rating, this was a film about childhood, yet not necessarily an accessible film for kids.

Where the Wild Things Are is just not about a kid that goes on an adventure after his mom sends him to his room. Rather, it is a more dramatic and less colorful Wizard of Oz. Max, our lead character, is from a broken home, looking for a brief window into freedom, he runs away. Once he gets to the island where the Things live, they are just not monsters he can have fun with. Each one of them is a representation of his personality and of things that are going on in his life. Spike Jonze may not have crafted a movie that will be immediately enjoyed by the average kid, but he made a movie that will grow in value once the years progress.

2. The Witches

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

The Witches opens with a grandmother telling her grandson a bed time story on how to recognize witches who are hiding in plain sight. The boy then asks her how she knows that witches are real. She responds that when she was a little girl, her best friend disappeared. The police never found her, but she knew that she had been taken by a witch for two reasons. One was that her neighbor happened to be a person that fit all the physical characteristics of a witch. The second was that one day she went to the missing girl’s house and took a look at a painting that had always been there, and she noticed something new. A little girl had appeared in the painting and she had never been there. Then as time passed, the little girl in the picture grew old, until one day she disappeared from the painting. Then, the boys parents come in to say good bye before going to a party, and they tell grandma to cease with the stories. The next morning, the police come to say that the parents were killed in an accident.

That’s some seriously dark stuff, isn’t it? Well, that is all from the twisted mind of Roald Dahl, so you can imagine how creepier it gets through the eyes of Nicolas Roeg, the man behindWalkabout and Don’t Look Now. And we still haven’t gotten to the part where the boy and the grandmother go to relax in a seaside hotel, and there just so happens to be a witches’ convention going on where they are plotting to turn every kid in England into mice by opening up candy shops and contaminating the candy with a potion.

Once we get to the hotel part the movie is not so dark any more and it sort of turns into a B-horror movie, mainly thanks to Anjelica Huston’s glorious scenery chewing  as the Grand High Witch and the fact that the kid, our hero, is turned into a mouse and he still has to stop them. But even then, Roeg fills the screen with plenty of twisted images like one above.

The Witches is terrific fun but I would have hated to see this as a child. So parents, be considerate and watch this before deciding whether or not to show it to your five-year-old.

1. Bambi

Directed by David Hand

Having seen it for the first time this year, I can tell you that Bambi is one of the harshest movies about the nature of humanity that anyone is likely to watch.  The best thing about it is that it feels organic and it is not played for cheap emotional reaction. It shows us that tragedy can hit anyone anywhere, even to the curious young child living in a beautiful world.

The third act features some rather unexpected sexual imagery and commentary that I don’t think would be there had the movie been made today. For example, Flower the skunk, is at first very feminine and we gather that she’s a female. But, once we see them grown up, Flower is very much a male. When Owl is teaching them about being “twitterpaddled,” Flower asks that if even he can experience that feeling.  Owl then looks at him in a weird manner, and he reluctantly says yes. Yes, there is a bit of homophobia in Bambi. And don’t even get me started on the sexual-looking images.

Then it all concludes with one of the most intense and scary scenes in any animated movie.

Bambi may be the best Disney animated feature, but you really have to be an adult to truly enjoy its genius. There is absolutely no way that I could have put anything else at the number one spot. Sure, the kids will enjoy it because of the cute animals and the pretty colors and they may learn a lesson or two along the way. However, only adults will truly get the genius of it.

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