Category Archives: Saturday Night with No Babysitter

It’s a common dilemma: what to rent that would captivate kids without nauseating (or at least anesthetizing) parents? When you’re done with the Pixar catalog, these semi-forgotten stalwarts can repair a collapsing weekend.

The Lego Movie (2014)

As the song says, everything is awesome, from the joke visuals to the machine-gun-fire spew of one-liners and textual gags. Transforming Legos from a line of personality-less building blocks into an iconic and lovably hilarious culture staple is just the first of many surprises of The Lego Movie; getting Liam Neeson‘s career performance out of him might be the last. With Chris Pratt, Morgan Freeman, and Elizabeth Banks.

The Wind Rises (2013)

Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki ‘s final film, portraying the youth of a flight-obsessed Japanese boy who grows up to design airships and war planes for his country prior to WWII. It doesn’t sound like rich material for poetic animated epipanies, but Miyazaki is a wizard, and the film is a eye-candy elegy for everything lost in life, and the exquisite beauty of ephemeral things. The Wind Rises might also be the single best film ever made about flying and the machines that enable it.

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi
Life of Pi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Magnetic and fundamental storytelling from director Ang Lee, from the ubiquitous bestseller, Life of Pi leads viewers of every age comfortably through a life-&-death arc (aboard a floating lifeboat, tensely inhabited by a boy and a tiger), all the way from pure survival drama to wondering about the necessity of storytelling and faith. Visually bedazzling, and though the narrated denouement is sort of questionable, as it was in the novel, it may start young gears turning and conversations rolling.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Wes Anderson‘s stop-motion terrarium-movie, loosely based on an old Roald Dahl story, is a fast-talking, zesty riot, in which the eponymouse George Clooney-voiced egomaniac hero jeopardizes his tabletop country’s animal denizens by stepping outside of his tamed middle-class life and succumbing to his essential fox-ness. Kids will be dazzled in an analogue kind of way – it’s made of handheld toys more convincingly than the sheeny Toy Story films – and parents will be struck be its grown-up comic timing and the fact that, unlike other films of its kind, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a film that remembers but does not mourn childhood, in all of its cobbled-together, dirt-digging, plan-hatching dizziness. With Meryl Streep.

Fantastic Mr. Fox (film)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Iron Giant (1999)

The Iron Giant
The Iron Giant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adapted from the fantasy tale that poet Ted Hughes wrote for his children after their mother, Sylvia Plath, killed herself, this splendid Brad Bird feature is as visually arresting as it is a potent skewer through 1950s Cold War anxieties and arms-race paranoia. The climax, involving an errant nuclear missile, the naive alien robot of the title, and a single inspiring memory of Superman comic books, is a throat-catching marvel.  The Iron Giant has voices by Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr.

Time Bandits (1981)

Time Bandits
Time Bandits (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ex–Monty Pythonite Terry Gilliam’s second solo feature is a nutty, sui generis fantasy-comedy crack-up about a rebel band of time-traveling dwarves bouncing through history (both documented and completely nonsensical). The rambunctious journey is made possible by a certain time-portal map desired by both the underworldly Evil Genius (David Warner) and the beneficent Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson). With tons of in-jokes, pratfalls, cameos, wondrous fantasy ideas, and Pythonesque surrealism, Time Bandits is quite lovable and inventive in ways that Gilliam’s subsequent films haven’t managed; kudos to John Cleese as a clueless Robin Hood, and David Rappaport as the leader of the pint-sized insurrectionists.

Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts (1929–1938)

Rough-hewn but brilliantly funny and captivatingly spontaneous, these seminal Hal Roach Our Gang/ Little Rascals comedies will be a rapturous flashback for parents who remember seeing them rerun on local TV in the 1970s and early ’80s, but anyone, regardless of age, will find them irresistible. The year span noted here is not arbitrary—after 1938, Spanky McFarland got too close to puberty, and the 1940s shorts were just not in the same class.

English: George McFarland as Spanky in "O...
English: George McFarland as Spanky in “Our Gang Follies of 1938” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)