Last week, I wrote about how best to enjoy the last few days of summer with your children. Specifically, one of my suggestions was curling up with a bowl of popcorn and watching an animated movie. So, this week, I’d like to offer a list of unusual but wonderful movies to watch with your family. But first, I’d like to tell you a story.
Growing up outside of Boston in the 1980’s, my father, Tim, would go to the movies at least three times a week. After work, he would open the paper, read movie reviews, shed his coat and tie, grab a quick bite to eat, then head to the movies.
But let’s be clear. My dad didn’t visit multiplex theaters that showed mega hits like Ghostbusters or Terminator. Instead, he would drive across town to see independent foreign films at The Coolidge Corner Theater, a local favorite for intellectual lovers of cinema. My father, a beloved regular, was so passionate about this place that he paid for a mini brass plaque, with his name on it, to be fastened to the arm of his favorite seat. When an unsuspecting moviegoer sat in his chair, dad would flash his drivers license and insist that he or she move. In short, my father was very serious about his movie watching routine.
On the weekends, my father shared his love of movies by taking me and my siblings to Blockbusters to rent a family movie. On Saturday nights, my family would pig pile on my father’s bed and watch our chosen films together. Dad would quietly point out interesting special effects, witty bits of dialogue or beautiful settings and costumes, gently teaching us about both the craft and magic of the movies. Without me knowing it, my father deeply ingrained in me a love of film that grew and grew over time.
Years later, as a single woman teaching at a Japanese preschool, I too took myself to the movies. Like my father, I would shed my Crayola stained jeans after work, read reviews, grab a bite to eat, then head out for a night at the movies.
During the day, however, I was immersed in imaginary play with my students. We would act out scenes from Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and of course Frozen. I was always relegated to the role of Olaf. Always.
Then, one morning, my students surprised me. Instead of reenacting our standard movie scenes, they bombarded me with requests to play characters from Japanese films. Needless to say, I was at a loss. I quickly learned that these animated films were well respected classics from Studio Ghibli. So, over the next few weeks, I binge watched them all. Let me just say, I was more than pleasantly surprised, I was incredibly impressed.
But I didn’t stop there.
I started watching all sorts of critically acclaimed animated films from overseas. I then tackled wonderful but lesser known movies from Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. Lastly, I viewed a dozen or so animated shorts. After months of movie watching, I felt fully prepared to reenact any and all movie scenes requested by my students. And, needless to say, I became an expert on animated films.
So now that you know the whole story, let’s get right to it.
Here is a short list of lesser known but truly fabulous films for your family to consider.
The Song of the Sea is a folktale about selkies, or seals that transform into humans. This is a touching story about a young boy, his deaf sister and their journey back home.
Wolf Walker, another Irish folktale, is about magical wolves and the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. The bravery of girls is beautifully celebrated in this film.
Secret of the Kells is a dazzling magical adventure about an impending Viking battle and a boy who must bravely use magic to save his town. Warning, there are images of war and violence. This is for older children only.
Ponyo, a beautiful movie from Studio Ghibli, tells the story of a sea creature who bonds with a curious boy and threatens the balance of nature. This film is visually spectacular and unusually imaginative.
My Neighbor Totoro, is the story of two sisters who move to the country with their father while awaiting the recovery of their sick mother in a nearby hospital. These girls encounter enchanting friendly spirits in their home and nearby forest. This film is another classic gem from Studio Ghibli.
From The United States
The Iron Giant In this film, set in the late 1950’s, a giant alien robot befriends a small town boy from Maine. The boy, along with his local accomplices, try to save his robot friend from government workers determined to destroy him.
The Princess and The Frog is a truly refreshing take on a traditional princess film from Disney. The characters are diverse and the jazz inspired musical numbers are exceptional.
Klaus A spoiled young postman gets sent away to a frigid wasteland populated by unfriendly grudge obsessed people. I don’t want to ruin the plot, so I’ll just say that this Christmas origin story is tearjerkingly good.