Category Archives: Family

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story (2005)

Dreamer (2005 film)
Dreamer (2005 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story supports the theory that animals provide us both a means to connect with one another and inspiration for us to succeed against impossible odds. The horse in this case is Sonador, and the broken family are the Cranes, who own a Kentucky horse farm devoid of horses. Dakota Fanning gives father Kurt Russell her best puppy-dog eyes, and Sonador is immediately ensconced at the Crane homestead for rehabilitation and a second chance at racing, mending the Cranes’ hearts while they mend her leg. You’ve seen it before, but it’s serious, and the well-seasoned Russell supplies gravitas. With Kris Kristofferson.

The Black Stallion (1979)

Probably the greatest horse-love film that will ever be made, Carroll Ballard’s entrancing take on the Walter Farley children’s book is rich in atmosphere, light on unnecessary chitchat (the grand middle passage, set on a desert island populated only by a boy and a wild horse, is essentially dialogue free), and visually so beautiful it can stop your brain from working. From the shipboard opening (with an enigmatic poker game and a traumatic storm) to the stranded courting of horse by kid (Kelly Reno is fabulous) and beyond, The Black Stallion is a deeply mysterious film—clear, but hinting at deeper ravishments. As a result, it may also be one of the best evocations of the ecstatic currents flowing through childhood.

The Black Stallion (film)
The Black Stallion (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

National Velvet (1944)

National Velvet (film)
National Velvet (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A hallmark family film that is less about a girl’s relationship to her horse than it is about her relationship to her family, her determination, and her adolescence. National Velvet is based on a bestselling Enid Bagnold novel, and features 1940s Technicolor, but none of that is as bewitching as a twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, whose earnest zest for competition lights her from the inside. Well-turned-out performances all around, and with more subtle, genuine moments than fluff, thanks to the good humor of the script and the Oscar-winning performance of Anne Revere as the wise mother.

March of the Penguins (2005)

March of the Penguins
March of the Penguins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To date the second-largest-grossing documentary ever made (after Fahrenheit 9/11), this French-made, Morgan Freeman–narrated tribulation observes the Antarctic emperor penguins as they traverse miles of open ice to mate, lay eggs, and hatch chicks. Fascinating for at least a while, March of the Penguins also indulges in cutesy music cues, anthropomorphic stereotypes, and hilarious assumptions about the feelings of inexpressive marine wildlife.

The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)

Easily the most globally integrated entry in the postmod New Cartoon Wave, The Wild Thornberrys Movie, about a globetrotting, dysfunctional family of wildlife documentarians, made for a fairly rote feature, in which poachers are battled and defeated. Still, there’s no denying the charm of bespectacled, braces-ridden, homely wild child Eliza (Lacey Chabert), who can speak to animals—and who emerges as one of the most stirring heroines in contemporary media. With Tim Curry.

The Bear (1988)

Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär
Ursus arctos middendorffi /kodiak bear/ Kodiakbär (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A French film made with minimal dialogue and dubbed into scores of languages, The Bear is a zoological odyssey that follows a real orphan Kodiak cub who latches onto a full-grown male and attempts to steer clear of hunters. Tremendous unspoiled locales (Canada, the Italian Alps), cute animals, and at least one dramatic confrontation between man and animal that’ll make your eyes bulge.

The Bank Dick (1940)

The Bank Dick
The Bank Dick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bank Dick is perhaps W. C. Fields’s masterwork, in which the unfocused, red-nosed layabout takes a job as a bank guard; the structural demands of employment only add to the Fields persona’s already looming mountain of agitations. Brutally hilarious, especially if you, too, are pickled (on the job?!). Fields was easily the most despicable comic figure in Hollywood history, making dour jokes about his own alcoholic ruin, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know what was funny.

Mystery, Alaska (1999)

Mystery, Alaska
Mystery, Alaska (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A hockey movie for people who play hockey as well as for those who just watch it. In this small Alaskan town,  the greatest ambition and honor is to skate in the Saturday Game—a weekly event that entails skating out of a log-cabin locker room to the cheers of the town’s populace and playing on frozen ponds circled by towering firs and ice-capped mountains (this is a place where snowmobiles and ice skates are used for transportation, not recreation). Of course, plot-wise, the big-city types invade with a deal to play a show game with the New York Rangers. Mystery, Alaska is heartwarming underdog schmaltz without being smarmy, and true fans will appreciate such quirkiness as warming skates with hot potatoes and being forced to slide, bare-assed, across the ice as punishment for transgressions against teammates. Ranger fans will be put off, though: their team are depicted as overpaid, spoiled princes who can only play in heated rinks. With Russell Crowe, Hank Azaria, Mary McCormack, and Burt Reynolds.

The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Essentially The Bad News Bears on Ice, this formulaic story of a self-centered lawyer (Emilio Estevez) who finds redemption coaching a klutzy peewee hockey team garnered enough box office draw and wholeheartedly devoted fans to warrant two sequels, a TV series, and a video game. For the prepuberty leagues only, The Mighty Ducks certainly pounds home the importance of teamwork—and the potential amorality of rich lawyers.

The Mighty Ducks DVD cover
The Mighty Ducks DVD cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Far Horizons (1955)

Donna Reed doesn’t look much like the Sacajawea we have on our dollar coin nowadays, but The Far Horizons isn’t history; it’s Hollywood doing Lewis and Clark (Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston), whose actual trip would’ve made an eventless movie in the traditional sense, and so dramas are invented involving tribal war, a scurvy French trader (Alan Reed—that’s right, Fred Flintstone), and the love dance between Clark and Reed’s dewy Indian maiden. Shot in Grand Teton National Park.

Cover of "The Far Horizons"
Cover of The Far Horizons

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 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)

The Rookie (2002)

The true tale of Jim Morris, a middle-aged high school science teacher who loses a bet with his students, tries out for the majors, and makes it. Though The Rookie was advertised as a kids’ movie, the script never condescends or collapses into silliness, and Morris’s tale is genuinely warming. Americans love the triumph of the underdog against all odds (and what’s more intimidating than growing old?), and The Rookie doesn’t disappoint in this regard: who would believe that a thirty-five-year-old rookie could throw a hundred miles per hour?

The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

There may be people who love this weepiest of sports-legend biopics simply because they’re fans of Gary Cooper, or because they’re hardcore Yankee fans who’ll see any movie with the team’s name in the title, but let’s face it: most of us still get a lump in the throat at the sound of Lou Gehrig (or Cooper doing Gehrig), intoning into the ballpark’s vast echo, “Today-ay-ay, I consider myself-elf-elf the luckiest man-man-man on the face of the earth-earth-earth.” Most of us heard Cooper say it before we’d heard Gehrig (if we’ve heard Gehrig at all), and if the Iron Horse is still a universally beloved ballplayer, Pride of the Yankees has fostered that worship. Because it’s baseball, and it’s the movies, it’s not surprising that the legend supplants the original in the public consciousness. Cooper portrays Gehrig as a lovable, innocent bumbler: witness the earnest clumsiness as he wipes out on a pile of bats; the missed ball when wife-to-be Eleanor (the still underappreciated Teresa Wright) bestows a smile upon him; the aw-shucks waves to the roaring crowd. For millions of Americans, in the war years and after, this movie was a collective dream of baseball, in which a poor immigrant’s son can triumph and live a heroic life in the most democratic of sports. The movie leaves Gehrig at his final field appearance, sparing us the trial of his struggle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Who’d argue that this isn’t as it should be? Does the film depict Gehrig as he really was? Of course not. Baseball fans love the game’s stories, names, stats, and legacies, and this is their Achilles tale, their Greek tragedy. Those same fans know, too, that this film offers opportunities to witness once-living legends Babe Ruth, Bill Dickey, Mark Koenig, Bob Meusel, and announcer Bill Stern, playing themselves.

English: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at United St...
English: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at United States Military Academy, West Point, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)