Five Film Favorites: Films I have seen with my children

The overwhelming majority of films that I now see in theatres are, for lack of a better term, children’s films: films made for and marketed to those younger than twelve. While these experiences have saddled me with a boatload of disappointments, ranging from the mundane to the truly dreadful, there have been gems, truly terrific films that I enjoyed watching. To be clear, I always enjoy taking my children to see films, but I do not always enjoy the films themselves.  I have limited this category to films my children and I saw in the theatres rather than the innumerable films that we have watched on DVD, so the list below essentially captures films produced in the last eight years.

My youngest child is currently six, and since she continues to age, there will be a time in roughly six years or so when I will no longer take any of my children to “children’s films.”  Even though many of the films that I see are lamentable, the fact that a certain ritual will vanish makes me sad.  I suppose that I will have to wait for grandchildren to provide me with another excuse to see children’s films.  Children’s films are like sugary cereals.  You need the presence of  children to justify ingesting and purchasing them.  (“Oh, that box of Captain Crunch is my son’s.”)

Without further ado, my five favorite films that I have seen with my children . . .

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) – Directed by Stephen Hillenburg and Mark Osborne

I can in all honesty say that I have seen this film more than any other film in my lifetime.  And while I grew a little bored by the fiftieth viewing, it is, in truth, a good film.  On the surface, it seems like a simple money-making ploy by Nickelodean: cash in on their biggest cartoon franchise with a major motion picture.  Yes, its creation and distribution probably was a calculated financial decision, but at least the film was fun and well crafted.

Hillenburg and Osborne simply did not take a television cartoon and distribute to theatres.  They created a film, one that played to the dimensions of the cinematic screen.  The SpongeBob cartoons are, like many cartoons, limited in terms of space.  Yet the movie played up to the dimensions of the big screen. In short, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie felt like a movie, not a television cartoon.  And it does what the cartoon does best, present a looniness and wonderful wackiness that can be witnessed in the best of the early Bugs Bunny cartoons.  I can also say, in all sincerity, that this film represents the pinnacle of David Hasselhoff’s film career.

The Muppets (2011) – Directed by James Bobin

I am a lazy man, so I am going simply link to my previous post about The Muppets.  Spoiler alert: I liked it.

Rango (2011) – Directed by Gore Verbinski

Did I mention that I was lazy?

Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004) – Directed by Brad Bird, Ratatouille (2007) – Directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, Wall-E (2008) – Directed by Andrew Staunton, and Up (2009) – Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

I lumped my favorite Pixar films together.  Peter Schilling discussed Pixar Studios in his review of Brave. I have a feeling that I was (slightly) more predisposed toward Brave than Peter, but I am in general agreement with his assessment about the studio and what made many of its films great.  Similar to Peter, I would look forward to the annual release of the Pixar flick, and on more than one occasion, I had a better time than my children.  What I felt made these films so great is that they often seemed to ignore their target audience: children.  They were not made with the thought that they would serve as vehicles for selling action figures, Halloween masks, and various other pieces of plastic crap. These are simply great films that the studio and theatres marketed toward children after the fact.

Of course, not selling oodles of crap to children was a problem. The solution: Cars 2, one of the worst children’s films that I have seen.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) – Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box

Nick Park’s indelible and lovely creations, Wallace and Gromit, had long existed in many wonderful short animated features.  The one and only full-length film about the cheese loving middle-aged inventor and his cracking dog is no less wonderful.  Park’s and the Aardman studio’s claymation have always been superb.  What makes this film and all of the Wallace & Gromit creations so magnificent is that the characters are imbued with a sense of tangibility.  The necessary human, tactile touch required to mold the clay makes these characters seem more human and tactile.

Park also has a sharp wit and sense of humor.  Again, like the best of the Pixar films, Wallace & Gromit was not written and produced for children.  It was written and produced to be an excellent film, and it is.

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About Todd Hunter Starkweather

Todd Starkweather is an Assistant Professor of English at South University-Richmond. He has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Illinois-Chicago; his interests include film, Victorian studies, sport, and post-colonialism.
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