Clearly we have to put our own tastes aside when watching a film with the kids. Sometimes it pans out; other times, less so. I recall a cinema visit in 2003 with my then nine-year-old son. We’d gone to see The Hulk – his choice – a film so tedious I had to chew my arm off at the elbow, leaving my hand reassuringly in the popcorn, while I made my escape under the seats under cover of darkness. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are films ideal for all ages, and here in alphabetical order are ten of the best…
COOL RUNNINGS (1993)
The true-ish story of the Jamaican bobsled team’s entry into the 1998 Calgary Winter Olympics, Jamaica not being a country noted for its snowy peaks. John Candy plays the coach, working against the odds and his own human failings. Plenty of laughs, plus ramped-up tension – in real-life, the Jamaican team crashed before the finals and were disqualified – make this a joy to watch.
THE IRON GIANT (1999)
I will not lie: I wept buckets, sitting beside my then five-year-old son (and it’s only a cartoon). Based on the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes’ 1968 novel, The Iron Man, the film tells of the friendship between a young boy, Hogarth, and a giant robot, at the height of the Cold War. When the US Army learn of the robot’s existence, the man versus machine roles become reversed as the robot exhibits the humanity the generals sorely lack. (I’ve just spotted that Vin Diesel voiced the robot, but don’t let that put you off.)
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003)
Seriously lengthy, at 143 minutes, but the action simply pulls you along as the time disappears (the same cannot be said of sequels 2 and 3, which drag like soggy bell-bottoms). Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly and Geoffrey Rush co-star, but the show is stolen by the comic turn of Johnny Depp playing Keith Richards playing the pirate captain, Jack Sparrow. Great gags, fabulous swashbuckling and an opening sequence to die for. Enormous fun.
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (2007)
If in doubt, reach for The Simpsons. My two-year-old loves it for the colours – “Yay, Simpsons!” she cries, the moment the theme tune strikes up – my 16-year-old loves it for the humour, and I love it for both those elements, plus the fact that it keeps everyone happy. When President Schwarzenegger orders a glass dome to be built over Springfield, to contain all the town’s pollution, only Homer can save the day. Co-starring Spider-pig.
SPIRITED AWAY (2001)
Oscar-winning, highest-grossing film in Japanese cinema history, also included in the British Film Institute’s Top Ten Films You Should See By the Age of 14 (as is Toy Story). This exquisite animation, directed and written by Hayao Miyazaki – his Howl’s Moving Castle is another must-see – tells the story of a ten-year-old girl, Chihiro, spirited away into a fantastical land of spirits and monsters, where she must save her parents from a witch’s curse. Ravishing, beguiling and utterly wonderful.
TOY STORY (1995)
You’ve probably seen it – if not, do so now! – but no list could claim to offer a Best Of without including this Pixar classic. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen voice Woody and Buzz Lightyear, talking cowboy doll and space-ranger action figure, treasured toys of their master, Andy. Will Buzz replace Woody in Andy’s affections, and can they escape the clutches of next door’s brat, Sid? Genuinely funny, genuinely heart-warming, practically flawless. The sequels are just as good.
Another one that involved me weeping copiously – and I’d had to be cajoled into watching it! Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature and only the second animation (after Beauty & the Beast) to be Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Up tells the story of a widowed old man who turns his house into an aircraft using of helium balloons, and flies to remote Paradise Falls in the company of a young boy and a dog. Way, way more moving than that makes it sound.
THE INCREDIBLES (2004)
I rewatched this only recently, with my four-year-old daughter, and it’s testament to the script – and her maturity/genius, natch – that she sat through the whole 1 hr 55 min quite happily. The Incredibles has everything a child could wish for: deeply cool family unit, ginger-haired baddie, superheroes, action, adventure and a short, bespectacled fashion designer named Edna. And it’s great for adults because it’s also very funny. No coincidence it was written/directed by Brad Bird, formerly of The Simpsons.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (1987)
Famously adapted from his own novel by William Goldman, he of Adventures in the Screen Trade fame, and directed by Spinal Tap’s Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride is narrated by dearly departed Columbo himself, Peter Falk. No further recommendation required, surely? It’s a romantic comedy, which may put off boys, as may the Princess bit in the title, but it’s a fantasy too, and a cult classic, so Sellotape them to the sofa and slide in that DVD.
Another stonker from the never-dull Pixar people, who feature thrice further in this list. If the plot doesn’t sound up to much – robot binman falls in love – don’t let that put you off. This is robots-with-human-traits, as lovable and moving as baby-pigs-with-human-voices, set in space and laced with green issues. Pixar don’t just do amazing animation, they also do spot-on scripts. Oscar-winning Wall-E came top in TIME magazine’s Best Movies of the Decade.