Clark Family Film Recommendations
A note of explanation: My wife Cari and I have three kids. Broadcast television being such a wasteland, we used to rent live action videos the entire family could (hopefully) enjoy on Friday nights. The kids being older, now, and having agendas and schedules of their own, we no longer do this. We've assembled quite a database in the seven or eight years we watched movies as a family. While it is true that most of the recommended ones portray parents and parenthood in a positive light, we did stumble across some rotten films, too. Learn from our experience!
I like British casts and productions, if you couldn't tell from this. I also tend to favor sweet, Hayley Mills-style films with an absence of violence, sex and swearing.
Here are my recommendations as well as the ones to avoid.
By the way, Screen it.com is a very useful site for checking out a film's content. (One of Roger Ebert's "ten most useful films sites," in fact.) It tells you everything you need to know, without political bias. I have approved and disapproved films using this resource. I imagine Hollywood hates it...
A word about Disney: The Disney live productions prior to about 1990 vary in quality, of course, but are all generally inoffensive for family use. However, it seems that under Michael Eisner's watch the company has begun to travel the low road, adding vulgar humor into their movies. I believe this is in keeping with the lamentable coarsening of popular American culture in general. You may note an exasperated tone about this in my writings.
Finding Nemo - Yet another Disney-Pixar winner. They haven't made a bad one yet.
Max Keeble's Big Move - This one seems more like a Nickleodeon production than a Disney film, but has some of Disney's trademark vulgarity. (Did we need to see the kid at the urinal?) It was generally entertaining; my daughter said it was "good," but wasn't sure if she'd recommend it to friends. She did, however, watch it twice. She liked the "Making of..." part at the end, which describes what life is like for child actors.
The Princess Diaries - Ahhhh... this is more like it. Disney should have been making films like this long before now. Funny, clever, cute and classy all at the same time. It's great to see Julie Andrews back in action, too. This film has "sequel" written all over it...
Galaxy Quest- A funny premise (sci-fi actors get approached by aliens to save their race) and a clever plot involving Trekkies. There are some great moments in this film, nearly all of which have to do with actors tired of their roles or fans who can't get enough of them.
Toy Story II- Just as clever as the first movie, with a bit more heart thrown in. A sequel that surpasses the original film, a rare thing.
Cars- Perhaps my favorite of the Disney-Pixar collaborations and an instant classic.
Ratatouille- A cute film... Pixar does it yet again! Recommended and entertaining for all.
Inspector Gadget- A cute film, nice special effects, good story line. The only thing I didn't like about it was the now-passe groin kick "humor" sequence that Disney thinks modern audiences demand. That theme music is nearly as maddeningly catchy as "It's a Small World."
The Monkey's Uncle- Goofy, passe and old-fashioned with no sense of social relevance or up-to-date cinematic humor. Annette's hair looks like a crash helmet. I loved it.
Mighty Joe Young- A good one, as far as giant monkey films go. Good cast and special effects. None of the now-usual Disney vulgar humor.
A Bug's Life- Another breezy and creative computer-generated effort in the style of A Toy Story. When it comes to computerized bug films, however, I liked Antz a little better because it was shorter and more to the point (and had a more clever soundtrack), but this is an excellent film as well.
Rocketman- Despite what must now be required Disney flatulation gags, the lead actor in this is funny and odd enough for me to recommend it. The plot isn't exceptionally creative, but the rocketman is a good comic actor who more than holds up his end of this film.
Toothless- A clever and unusual premise (how many films about the tooth fairy can you name?) and an especially satisfying ending. The end-of-innocence theme is executed better and more touchingly than in most films I can think of, too.
Flubber- At least as good as the original which, unfortunately, is in black and white. (My kids don't like black and white films, and moan and complain when I propose watching one.) This is a highly entertaining film with some clever uses of special effects technology. (As for me, I was drooling over the red '63 Thunderbird - I've wanted one of these ever since I was a kid - but I digress.) As with Jumanji, Robin Williams puts forth a restrained performance, thank goodness. The only part of this film I didn't like was some flubber exiting the bad guy's anal orifice at the end - I thought this was really, really tacky.
Air Bud- A cute film about a boy, a dog and basketball, in pretty much this order. The only objectionable thing about it is the absence of a father, this time dead. (One suspects the Disney writers, like Shirley Temple's, are unable to write an interesting story line with an intact family.) Anyway, the shots of the dog playing basketball are novel and funny.
Air Bud, Golden Receiver- Another cute film. Disney gets the kid a step-father in this one. The shots of the dog playing football are novel and funny, but when they can get him to play hockey, then I'll really be impressed. My guess is that Disney is going to wear this concept out until it's paper-thin.
Toy Story- A film deserving of all the praise it has gotten. Fresh, clean, inventive and thoroughly entertaining. Surely you've seen it by now, haven't you?
The Mighty Ducks I- Better than D2 because the idea was new and more realistically smaller-scale, although D2 was better than most sequels. D3 was politically correct and just awful. Stick with the first one, which works on many levels and is entertaining.
The Parent Trap- A Disney classic (for good reasons), and one of my favorites. Unhesitatingly recommended. Maureen O'Hara, a woman for whom Technicolor was invented, is really something to see in this. All Disney films should be this good. (NOTE: There's a remake of this film out. Since you can't improve on perfection unless you "update" it for "contemporary audiences" in some politically correct way, I'm not going to bother seeing it! But my kids claim it's good.)
Pollyanna- Ditto. Another favorite of mine. Cari points out that just about any 60's Hayley Mills film was good. This is the cinematic version of the feeling one gets when walking along Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland - a longing for the charming, innocent, turn-of-the-century American past that is probably completely mythical but not the less real for being imagined and so badly wanted.
Summer Magic- Another sweet old Hayley Mills film. My kids found it sort of corny - and it was - but, hey, Disney did that sort of thing better than anyone. I may well be the last man left in America who will admit to liking Burl Ives.
The Moon-Spinners- Once again, another good Hayley Mills film. This one has some really nice photography on the Isle of Crete.
Mary Poppins- Of course. Everyone loves this one and my family is no exception.
Freaky Friday- Not just a good Disney film, but a good film, period. Wonderful acting from Jody Foster and Barbara Harris. A real surprise and another personal favorite of mine.
Freaky Friday(the remake)- An excellent film, and a sensible update. The slapstick chase sequence is absent from this remake, but you don't really miss it. I have come to the conclusion that the core idea behind this film - a teenager switching places with her mother - is such a promising story line that it would be hard to louse it up. Jamie Lee Curtis is wonderful in this.
The Three Lives of Thomasina the Cat- A clever script, excellent British casting. An off-beat Disney film.
Darby O'Gill and the Little People- I thought this would be a fuddy-duddy film and a real bore, but it was enchanting and clever.
That Darn Cat- The 1965 original was good but this 1996 remake is even better, something that doesn't happen very often. (There was no way I was expecting Christina Ricci to be better in this than Hayley Mills.) Well cast - how could somebody not like a guy with a name like "Doug E. Doug?" - and clever, with great production values and music; this is how to update a 60's film.
Snow Dogs- An enjoyable film. However, the promos made it look as if the dogs spoke to one another during the course of the film, and when I rented this one it was in the hopes that they did. They don't except for one dream sequence. So it's a good film, and recommended for your family, but don't expect clever winking, smiling and talking dogs the way I did.
I like British productions. You can be common-looking or even homely and still be a star. In America, we have celebrities. In Britain they have actors.
Nanny McPhee- Mary Poppins for an edgier 21st century. Pretty good. I liked the, "I'll stay as long as I'm needed but not wanted. When I'm wanted and not needed, I'll leave" plot device.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events- It took me a while to warm to this one, mainly because of Jim Carry's usual over-acting and the weird subject matter, but I liked it after all, and so did my kids. The closing titles were fun, too.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone- An excellently cast British production and a family classic, unless I am greatly mistaken. I will not dwell on comparisons between this movie and the book because when I saw the movie I hadn't read the book - I enjoyed the film on its own merits. I can see J.K. Rowling took some of her Hogwarts School material from another wonderful British work, Tom Brown's Schooldays (an excellent film, by the way).
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets- Another excellently-cast and produced British production. I have high hopes for this franchise that, so far, have been met.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban- So far, so good, and another worthy entry. It's fun watching the primary threesome - Potter, Weasley and Granger - grow up.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire- Perhaps the best installment so far. Far darker in tone than the previous movies, and Dumbledore seems less powerful and all-knowing. But that's okay... Harry is becoming an adult.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix- The darkest and least enjoyable installment so far. One reviewer called it "workmanlike," and this sums it up in one word. It tells the story and advances the plot, but that's about it. Good and well-made, but not fun. Luna Lovegood is an example of excellent casting, however. She seems genuinely "witchy."
The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring- A bit ponderous at times (usually whenever the choir is heard as incidental music), but an excellent film anyway. Great cast. I guess Christmas, 2001, was a time for wizards and magic...
The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers- A letter to my son at college: "This film was ponderous and overlong - far more so than the first. My rear end felt every second of the 170 running minutes of this film. The battle sequences looked like a video game, and I got real tired of seeing the human lead, that surfer-dude elf and the dwarf emerge unscathed from battle with seemingly millions of orcs. (Another problem: I know what 10,000 troops look like from doing major reenactments with 10,000 participants. What was depicted in the CGI looked more like a few hundred thousand orcs.)
Your mother's assessment was, "I could have done without seeing this one." She thought it was overly violent, but I disagreed. It was PG-13 violence. In other words, the dwarf could plunge his axe into an orc's chest and withdraw it unbloodied. So it was nowhere as violently real-seeming as "Saving Private Ryan" or "Glory." I guess she was emotionally responding to those frequent shots of terrified women and big-eyed children. Some of the dialog was oddly colloquial; I'm sure Tolkien didn't have the hobbits on the tree exclaiming "Yes!" And in a film where everyone has long hair - and thus a wig - it was pretty obvious when an extra wasn't wearing one. This is the biggest hair and dirty fingernails production since "Braveheart." (Elijah Wood, by the way, has funny-looking fingernails.) The surfer-dude elf snowboarding down the staircase while firing arrows was an obvious nod to the fanboy element of the audience. The two most interesting things in this film to me: 1) The stunning New Zealand cinematography, and 2) Smeagol/Gollum. For being only bits and bytes he was scripted pretty well, with an interesting schizoid personality. Some of the human actors could take lessons from him, in fact. I thought he was the stand-out success in the film, which leads me to a question: Why employ actors?
The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King
The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King- Still a bit ponderous at times, but I think this installment was the best of the series in that it moved the story on at a fairly fast clip. I liked architecture of the city of Minas Tirith, and the last sequences regarding the way the ring was disposed of were pretty interesting. I'm not sure the books ended the same way as this movie - with characters boarding a boat for Avalon or someplace in the West (Los Angeles?). Smeagol/Gollum is still the best actor in these films...
Chicken Run- I know Nick Park is British, and all of the chickens have British dialects, so I'll count this one as being British! Anyway, it's a wonderful and inventive film. State of the Art claymation - and an entertaining family film as well.
Wallace and Gromit - The Curse of the Were-Rabbit- A lot of fun and, as is the case with the other Wallace and Gromit productions, very well detailed and convincing.
How Green Was My Valley- Was this British or Hollywood? I'm not sure, but it's a wonderful tale about growing up in a Welsh mining town, and concerns itself with the joys and pains of growing up. A wistful celebration of family; I loved it, my kids thought it was only "okay."
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride- A very jolly adaptation of "the Wind in the Willows" which stars most of the Monty Python troup (it's directed by one of them). Neat special effects, clever songs and just a joy and a treat to view. Great cast, neat special effects, wonderful countryside scenes and an all-around excellent production.
Fairy Tale - A True Story- An exquisite film in every way. There are special effects, but they're sparingly used to good effect. I wouldn't have thought Harry Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle and little fluttering fairies would all make sense in a film together, but they do in this one.
The War of the Buttons- Highly entertaining, takes place in Ireland and benefits by the scenery. The non-actors who play the "warring" rivals are appropriately convincing. My girls were thrilled to see the Irish girls take part in the "battles."
Black Beauty(The recent Warners Bros. release) - Filmed in England with a British cast. Wonderful cinematography. Normally I can't get excited about animal films, but this one is an exception.
The Secret Garden(the recent British production) - Excellent child cast and acting.
The BorrowersA BBC production for television. A television adaptation of the books about people six inches tall getting menaced by cats, humans, falling objects, crows and gassing. Suspenseful and true to the books, but the story is spun out in the usual leisurely British fashion. (I don't object to this at all, but my son tuned out. My girls liked it a lot.) The segments hosted by Richard Lewis are unnecessary and best fast-forwarded through.
The BorrowersThis one is a 90 minute film with John Goodman, and it is also enjoyable. Since it is a movie and not a teleplay it is perhaps more accessible, but it is not as faithful to the books. (For this reason I prefer the BBC production.) Still, this movie has a likable British cast, well-filmed action and a interesting plot.
The Adventures of Johnny Lingo - Okay, technically this one isn't British - it's from New Zealand. Wonderful cinematography, an interesting cast and a great coming-of-age story with a decent message about self-esteem.
The Sixth Sense- More of a ghost film than a horror film. A clever screenplay and a restrained performance from Bruce Willis. Not for small children.
The Twilight Zone- For older children. I saw some episodes during its first run on TV (1959-1964) when I was 3-7, and was frequently freaked out. But it has never been equalled.
The Haunting(the original) - An atmospheric British thriller in black and white. No ghosts are actually shown, which is one of the things that makes this a superior film: the power of suggestion. Not for very small children, obviously.
The RingPG-13. My daughter claims that this is the scariest film she has ever seen. It is not the scariest film I have ever seen. Again, not for very small children, obviously. Not bad... but not as appealing or clever as The Sixth Sense.
Village of the Damned- A well-paced, well-directed British thriller that even my older son liked.
A Simple Wish- Martin Short plays a bumbling fairy godmother in this and is excellent. A clever, charming production with good use of special effects.
Something Wicked This Way Comes- A scary, evocative film that's not too scary for kids. I don't know why this one wasn't more successful than it was. A good father/son theme throughout, and Dad's a genuine hero in this one despite his age - hooray for that!
The Witches- The best screen adaptation of a Roald Dahl story. Personally, I find Dahl's stuff dark, morbid and usually bizarre. He must have had a wretched childhood.
Hocus Pocus- Better and more mainstream than the witch film cited above, but I got tired of hearing about a kid's virginity being used as a running gag and spoken of as if it were something to be ashamed of. (He's only 16, for Pete's sake.) Bette Midler is really good in this film. The lead kid actor - Omri Katz - was the star of one of my favorite Saturday morning TV shows, "Eerie, Indiana" (1991).
Eerie, Indiana - Not the FOX remake; I mean the original series with Omri Katz. A clever and witty show that never failed to entertain. Sort of like Twilight Zone for the Saturday morning crowd.
Casper- A fun movie, and a good vehicle for Christina Ricci. An especially nice part is where human form and substance is finally given to the cartoon character to reveal that there was a boy behind the ghost. (Don't bother with the prequel for video release only "Casper - A Spirited Beginning.")
Nature and the Outdoors
Roy Rogers and Gene Autry - Roy's and Gene's films are decidedly out of fashion today - maybe that's why I like them. But there isn't anything in them that wouldn't make a kid want to be a better person, I think. I became a fan in my late 40's. Don't know why. An antidote to Hollywood pessimism and cynicism, I guess.
The Endless Summer
The Endless Summer- The classic 1966 surfing film. Not really a family film, but there's no reason why it couldn't be. I thought it was dated but charming, with sometimes hilarious narration.
Iron Will- Scenic and, for an inoffensive family film, unexpectedly gripping on an adult level.
White Fang- Same comments as the film cited above. Good for kids who have an interest in wolves, as my son did.
The Yearling- If you can get past the corny dialects and Claude Jarman's rather cherubic, pouty face, a really good film. Takes place in Florida c. 1870, which is certainly offbeat. Very nice early Technicolor photography and a memorable use of Delius' tuneful "Florida Suite." I think my daughters really liked it better than they claimed.
It is proverbial wisdom that the best Trek films are the even-numbered ones, and this truism has remained in place for twenty years!
Star Trek I- Boring and overlong, with an idiotic ending. Special effects emphasized over good old plot and character development. Miss it.
Star Trek II, "The Wrath of Khan"- The best of them all, in my opinion. The original cast is still viable, and this one has the unbeatable drama of the death of Spock and a really good youth/age theme.
Star Trek III, "In Search of Spock"- A lackluster production, but not too bad. Just disappointing after the previous film.
Star Trek IV, "The Voyage Home"- Despite a rather heavy-handed save the whales eco-message, this one is light-hearted and fun.
Star Trek V, "The Final Frontier"- Almost as bad as the first one, with a really lame "What is God?" theme. Has an old-looking and overweight Lt. Uhura doing a fan dance. Avoid.
Star Trek VI, "The Undiscovered Country"- A better effort, but not as good as #2 or #4. By this time it was getting obvious that the original cast was too old to be flying around the galaxy.
Star Trek VII, "Generations"- The death of Kirk and the first film with the Next Generation cast. Probably the best of the odd-numbered ones.
Star Trek VIII, "First Contact"- Almost as good as the Wrath of Khan. An excellent film, but very dark, gritty and dramatic, unlike the usual Star Trek fare.
Star Trek IX, "Insurrection"- Not a bad film, but nothing special. About as good as an above average TV episode. Low points include Picard doing some Latin dance moves and singing Gilbert and Sullivan.
Star Trek X, "Nemesis"- Better than Insurrection, not as good as The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. What really bothered me about this one was the by-now tired ploy of killing off a main character (Data) but still hedging the bets for a sequel. As with Star Wars, it's time to give this franchise a rest. Due to low box-office performance for this entry, they did.
Star Trek XI, "Star Trek"- A convincing reboot of a tired franchise and a good film to boot. With the exception of a young Kirk lowering himself onto a green-skinned girl in her skivvies, I don't recall anything here especially objectionable for a young audience.
As far as this series goes, I can pretty much take it or leave it. But I recognize that this is mostly a generational thing and that people who were kids in 1977 grew up loving it.
Star Wars Episode I - the Phantom Menace
Star Wars Episode I - the Phantom Menace- Most kids will love it for the special effects (although my son thought the only good part was the pod race scene). I thought it was a colossal disappointment. And no, a bigger screen won't fix a muddy plot and an annoying alien (I refer to the endlessly annoying Jar-Jar Binks). Who was the "Phantom Menace?" Who cares?
Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones- Marginally better than SW1, but pretty much the same comments apply. Talky, rather boring in places, overlong and a disappointment. It seems like the fans are doing the script writing; this series has lost its way. Time to retire the franchise.
Star Wars Episode IV (the original 1977 movie)- The best of the lot because Lucas had to try to win an audience. It all seemed so exciting and novel back then: the dirty, battered spacecraft, flying in those channels in the Death Star and dodging beams and pillars, the Death Star itself, production values, the orchestral score, etc.
Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back- About as good as the first movie except for that "I'm your father" business, which I thought was pretty lame. The unresolved conclusion kind of bothered me at the time, but I now see that it's part of the serial nature of the films.
Star Wars Episode VI - The Return of the Jedi- So big, bad Darth Vader was really a good guy after all, and gets a sort of deathbed repentance, later appearing as a chummy ghost with a victim of his. (Worse yet, in later prequel films he gets called "Annie.") And yet another Death Star gets destroyed (we've seen it before). Paugh. The first suggestion that Lucas' bag of tricks isn't bottomless.
In The Style of Comic Books
The Incredibles- One of the best of the Disney/Pixar collaborations, which is really saying something. They're all good. The first and only animated/genre film I left the theater thinking that it deserves a Best Picture Oscar. I wonder how long can Pixar keep it up...
Spider-Man- All of my comic book-savvy friends were telling me that they thought this was the best film adaptation of a comic book character thus far, and I have to agree. It's exciting and sweet. My wife, who knew nothing about the comic book character, enjoyed this - so that's a recommendation. My favorite part was at the end of the credits, when they played that goofy animated Spider-Man theme song from the Sixties: "Spider-Man/Spider-Man/Does whatever a spider can..." etc.
Spider-Man II- One of those rare cases where the sequel is better than the initial installment. I really liked the railway car rescue.
Iron Man- Along with the first Spider Man film, the best film adaptation of a comic book character thus far.
Thor- Not especially bad, not especially good. Generally inoffensive - but am I the only one who noticed that the most powerful character in the story - Odin - takes a colossal nap through the whole thing?
Captain America- Once again, not especially bad, not especially good and generally inoffensive. Plays fast and loose with what America was like in the 1940's however, so if you have the least interest in World War II history you're likely to groan.
The Incredible Hulk- The second film from 2008, not the first one. This one is pretty good - I have to admit that despite the fact that I have never liked the Hulk in the comics, I liked this film adaptation.
X-Men- An excellent adaptation with a good cast, screenplay and action. Concerns itself in an effective way with themes of tolerance and acceptance.
X-Men II- Not bad, not bad... but I could have done without the feminist Wolverina character.
X-Men III- Pretty horrible, but as many main characters get killed off or depowered, it spells the end of the series. No big loss.
Mystery Men- This film was critically panned, but I found myself laughing (rather guiltily) all through it. I liked the Saturday animated super-hero spoof "the Tick" when it was on, and since this film has much in common with it, I enjoyed this as well. (Despite an occasional off-color dialog and a flatulent super-hero named "the Spleen," played to the hilt by the former Pee-Wee Herman.) My son didn't care for the film much, but he watched it all the way through, which is becoming a rare thing for family film nights. (It was hard to find appropriate fare for teenage girls which still appealed to an older boy.) Anyway, I enjoyed this tale of second and third-string misfits desiring to be super-heros. It was well cast and had a clever premise, despite its flaws.
Batman, the Movie- The 1966 production with Adam West. I figured if the movie was anything like the TV series the kids would like it, but it was pretty lame. The only really good part is at the beginning, when a big rubber shark tries to take a bite out of Batman, who is hanging from the Bat-ladder (which is suspended from the Bat-copter) - we all thought this was hilarious. Miss this one.
Batman- Forget about Batman, this is the Jack Nicholson Show, playing, as usual, himself. A poor start, with a lot of campy, quirky Tim Burtonisms that reduce this to the 90's version of the campy 60's TV show.
Batman Returns- Not quite as bad as the first film, but not much better. The Penguin is a Burtonesque remake entirely unlike the comic book version - which is not a good thing. The Catwoman is interesting. Some sexual innuendo.
Batman Forever- Getting rid of Tim Burton was a good move, but nipples on the bat-suit wasn't. Too flashy and over-the-top for my taste.
Batman and Robin- This Robin is not at all like the comic book version - once again, not a good thing. Being older, he becomes more dispensable. Why does Batman need a willful twenty-something around? I don't know. Batgirl is dispensible, too; three's a crowd. (Will Bat-Mite and Bat-hound be introduced as well?) However, Arnold as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy are good villains.
Batman Begins- The best movie in the series so far. Dark and humorless when it should be - which is most of the time. Click here for what I think the perfect live action Batman film ought to be like. Batman Begins isn't far from it.
The Dark Knight- Highly lauded, but, to me, a disappointment. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker is off the mark, this film is over-long and what's Batman doing in Hong Kong in what seems like a scene from a James Bond film (complete with a scene with Q - Lucius Fox - demonstrating spy gear)? I got bored fairly quickly with this one.
Batman, Mask of the Phantasm- This is an animated film, but a good one. Somewhat better than the follow-up, Subzero, which features Mister Freeze. Both are worth watching if you like Batman. (As far as I'm concerned, the 1992 television animated series is by far the best realization of the comic book character, and much better than the live-action films, which tend to be overblown and campy.)
The Mask of Zorro- A bold, passionate film with love, revenge, action, a sweeping score and good-looking actors and actresses in the grand old Hollywood epic tradition. The swashbuckler's swashbuckler. Rated PG-13 because of violence and, I presume, Zorro's brother's head kept in a jar. (Zorro sips some of the embalming wine - eck.) The only thing wrong with this is something that's wrong with Hollywood in general: the now-obligatory lead female who can duel, fight, etc. as well as any male - a sop to feminists. Pleeease. I'd almost be willing to bet the next Zorro will be female: Zorrina.
The Rocketeer- Just a lot of fun. Some swearing. Lots of references for adults to enjoy.
The Phantom- Unexpectedly wry and clever, with plenty of action. Like Rocketeer, lots of references for adults to enjoy.
The Shadow- The Batman films should have been more like this, with a 30's pulp literature feel. My 7 year old fled when a nasty, snarling little living dagger stabbed somebody in the hand, and there's some lame sexual innuendo between the male and female leads. Intelligent use of special effects. Great film!
Dick Tracey- Everyone liked this. I had to choke down the presence of an over-vampy Madonna, whom my wife tells me was a good actress in this film. The production is stylish and cartoon like, with the truly freakish criminals (Flattop, Pruneface, etc.) faithfully executed in latex.
The Avengers- Not the movie (which is horrible); videotapes of the 1967 TV episodes are now available. These are just a lot of fun. My girls like Emma Peel's fashions. (So did I.)
Ritchie Rich- I recall the comic books were always clever and fun - so is this movie. It's nice that the writers kept the family angle in it.
The Flintstones- A really clever adaptation of the old Hanna-Barbara animated series. The cast is great, there's all sorts of visual gags and the plot makes sense. Liz Taylor is great as Fred's disliked mother-in-law.
Films Especially for Girls
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl- A nice little Canadian production with warmth, substance and heart. It was better than I thought it would be; my wife and I both enjoyed it. A fine family film and a great way to sneak some history into your child's brain.
The Journey of Natty Gann- A Disney film and all that denotes. Good.
Nancy Drew- Better than I thought it would be; I especially liked the fact that it made her studiousness and intelligence (not to mention her clothing sense) cool and hip. There are more than enough beauty and glamour films out there for girls...
Nancy Drew (four Bonita Granville short films)- From the late 1930's. Dated, but a lot of fun. Excellent acting from Granville and Frankie Thomas, who plays the long-suffering Ned Nickerson. Granville is a bundle of energy and Thomas is her reluctant assistant - they have good chemistry together.
Enchanted- An odd, un-PC movie in that it suggests the triumph of the Princess over the feminist. I loved it; I'm sure my girls would have as well when they were girls. (They wanted Barbies, not briefcases.) Disney seems to have moved away from the inevitable groin kick and into urinating (a dog) and defecating (a chipmunk) animals, which is their new edgy schtick, I guess. Anyway, a fun and clever film - "for the whole family!"
The Powerpuff Girls Movie- About as enjoyable as the series on Cartoon Network, which is enjoyable, indeed. The only problem I had with this film was an extended destruction-of-Townsville sequence that started to drag. Also, I suppose had I not cracked a wisdom tooth during this film I would have a happier opinion of it. But if your kids like the PPG, they'll like this.
Legally Blonde- My daughters love this film, but I can't stand it. I'm not in the target demographic, obviously.
Josie and the Pussycats- The only complaint I have with this one is a couple of unneeded double entendre jokes using the band's name, but otherwise it's a fast-moving and clever movie with catchy music and an engaging cast. The fellow playing the band's manager is an excellent actor. This film has corporate greed and media manipulation as a theme, which makes me wonder: there are all sorts of corporate logos (for real companies) in this film - did the companies pay for it to appear in the movie as advertising or did the film's producers obtain legal clearance to use them? If the companies paid for it, I'm not sure it's the kind of exposure they'd want! Anyway, I bought my daughter the soundtrack for her 12th birthday and she is very happy with it.
Alice in Wonderland- (A Hallmark television production.) I can't imagine a better live-action production or a better cast. Well, maybe a blonde as Alice, I suppose. Anyway, Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat was inspired casting. The production follows the book fairly closely, which means that this may be a little strange to modern viewers - but hey, it's a bizarre story anyway, isn't it?
Ever After- About as gorgeous a retelling of the Cinderella story as can be made: a good screenplay, wonderful cast, beautiful French scenery and really well-done costumes. My only complaint is the tiresome revisionist post-feminist stuff Hollywood puts in these films. (It's not sufficient to be beautiful, the invariably "spunky" heroine these days has to be intelligent and know how to fight with swords; this Cinderella rescues the Prince from gypsies and herself from the bad guy, and spouts improbable anachronistic rhetoric about freedom for peasants.) Nevertheless, a charming film and highly recommended.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister- An even better account of the Cinderella tale than above, this one presents an historical tale (set in 17th C. Holland) as a possible basis for the story. An attractive production with a good cast and an excellent, creative teleplay.
Snow White- Stars Miranda Richardson in a stunning performance as the evil queen. The actress who plays Snow White looks, well, unusual. But this, the special effects and the odd twists and features of this teleplay all work well. Once again, an attractive production with a good cast and an excellent, creative teleplay.
Spiceworld- Truthfully, I didn't think much of it - it compares unfavorably with the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" - but let's face it, this film wasn't designed for fathers. My girls loved it. I could have done without the scenes of dancers' rear ends and comments to a pregnant friend about keeping her legs closed, but my wife declared this one "not bad." So the recommendation here comes from my daughters, not me.
Madeline- A wonderful, high-spirited film, my daughters absolutely loved it. (My son tuned out entirely.) I like it a lot, too - I guess I'm partial to films with nuns in them.
The Little Princess- A vast improvement on the Shirley Temple version, with better production values. Some of the scenes are nothing short of magical.
Hairspray- Don't be concerned about this being a John Waters film co-starring Divine; it's light-years removed from his usual freak shows. This is just a lot of fun and Ricki Lake and Divine are great in it. Lots of dancing.
American Grafitti- The all-time greatest teen cruising film ever made, but really more appropriate for teens than families. Not really a "family" film; there is some strong language. A justifiable classic, however.
The Beautician and the Beast- With Fran Drescher, who basically does a convincing job of playing herself. My wife and girls thought this was a charming little fable, and so did I. But that voice... a little goes a long, long way.
The Trouble with Angels- With Hayley Mills. Somewhat old-fashioned, and it starts slow, but with a rare and excellent message about service to society, with a satisfying ending. The more I think about this film, the fonder I get of it. One of the better nun films I can recall.
The Red Shoes- Called the greatest film about ballet ever, and so it is. It was a little over the heads of our girls, but on the whole they enjoyed it. More of an general audience film than a kid's film, and our son tuned out entirely. Artsy.
The Baby Sitters Club- A good girls' film. Even my son watched it with a minimum of expected grumbling and complaints. My only complaint was the divorce angle, where a Dad proves to be a zero. (Divorce is a depressing constant in the books.)
Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea- Justifiably well-liked videos, they're perfect entertainment. Girls seem to like these more than boys. So what do boys know? Can't talk these up enough... possibly the all-time best film adaptations of childrens' books, ever. (And I am also a fan of the books.)
Princess Caraboo- A charming, innocent little mystery in the style of Masterpiece Theater productions, not necessarily just for girls. A real sleeper - this film should be better known. Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline are excellent.
Troop Beverly Hills- A cute film, the only thing wrong with it is the occasional swearing. Shelly Long is likable in this. My favorite part is when she becomes depressed and, on a binge, polishes off a crate of Evian water. Her friend walks in, looks at all the empty bottles and asks "Haven't you had enough?"
Little Women- (After the Louisa May Alcott classic, with Winona Ryder as Jo.) A wonderful excursion into Victorian family life, mores and manners. Calling it "timeless" and "a classic" is trite but descriptive. An excellent production.
Little Men- (After the Louisa May Alcott classic, with Mariel Hemingway as Jo.) The further adventures of Jo March, this time nurturing troubled boys in a home-based school. This one, a Canadian production, is somewhat truer to the Victorian spirit, being more sentimental than Little Women. All told, I prefer Little Men to Little Women - but hey, I'm a guy.
Dungeons and Dragons
Legend- One of those really scenic, well-produced films that an entire family can watch. No sexual content, and no swearing. Tim Curry is an amazing "Darkness." Remarkable makeup and settings.
Willow- Same comments as Legend. Nice landscapes, excellent cast, off-beat plot.
Dragonheart- Well acted by the puppet that represents the dragon. A good film for older kids. Some violence, of the dry sword variety (stabbing, but no blood).
The Dark Crystal- A Jim Henson puppet/muppet movie with mystic overtones. Nothing offensive in this one; my girls liked it. The characters' family relationship with the Muppets was too close for me to take it seriously, though. Still, it's good family entertainment and I liked the orchestral score.
Christmas films good and bad
Holiday Inn- In my opinion, the greatest Christmas movie, ever. Not to be confused with the inferior "White Christmas" (starring Danny Kaye, whom I can't stand), this one pulls off being sentimental and sophisticated at the same time. Features great tunes by Irving Berlin and terrific dancing by Fred Astaire. It is important to note that contrary to public knowledge, this and not White Christmas was the premier of the hit song of that name. One shortcoming: it's in black and white. Never has a film cried out more for colorization! (My guess is that it won't get it, due to the dated, sterotypical portrayal of blacks.)
Jingle All the Way- You would think Hizzoner Arnold couldn't do comedy, but he does. This one has a novel twist: Dad starts out as a jerk but thanks to good intentions, persistence and Christmas magic becomes a real hero. Hooray! A wonderful film, and with the plot being about the last minute rush to find a certain popular toy, we've all been there before. Sinbad lives up to his promise in this one, too.
The Nightmare Before Christmas- Actually more of a Halloween film, but what the heck. Full of good music, amazing puppetry and art design, if you can get past the dark Tim Burton storyline. Unique and recommended.
A Christmas Story- A wry and funny look at Christmas, elementary school and family life in the Midwest in the late forties, narrated after the fact in Wonder Years style. A newfound classic in my house - even my teenaged son liked it!
A Christmas Carol- Of course, but which one? My vote goes to the 1951 British production with Alastair Sim, originally called "Scrooge." His Christmas morning transformation is the most convincing on screen, and this one is, as is usual with British productions, well-cast. So many memorable actors and actresses... It also has a favorite British character actress - Kathleen Harrison - as Scrooge's housekeeper.
Home Alone 1 and 2- While I didn't care for these at all, my family did. The kids liked the slapstick violence and the concept; my wife wants a house like Kevin's. Personally, I find Macaulay Culkin just plain annoying in these films.
Home Alone 3- Is this a Christmas film? I don't recall. Anyway, I figured they'd be pushing their luck with a third film, but in many ways this is the best of the bunch. Getting rid of Culkin was a good start, for instance, and the premise of the kid having to handle things by himself is more believable in this one.
The Santa Clause- As much as I like Tim Allen, I have to pan this one. I hated the divorce theme and content. (I find the topic adds an unwelcome touch to any family film. Too bad Hollywood has to feel that it must make films more relevant to modern society. Whatever happened to escapism and simple entertainment?) My kids pretty much liked it, though. Being in a strong family-centered home they're inclined to not care about the divorce theme, I guess. But I found this generally downbeat for a Christmas film.
I'll Be Home for Christmas- A vehicle for Jonathan Taylor-Thomas, and a good one. Clever storyline, good acting. Not a great Christmas film, but a good one. My only complaints center on a flatulating dog and the use of the word "butthole." (Come on, Disney, take the high road.)
A little voice tells me never to rent "Santa Claus, the Movie," so I haven't. (My little voice was confirmed recently by seeing this film entered in a "Worst of" book.)
My daughters especially like musicals. Meredith once wrote on her Christmas list that she wanted "Any Judy Gardland video," which is a testament to the appeal of this talented actress, generations later.
Once Upon A Mattress- Carol Burnett is the queen in this excellent update, Tracy Ullman the princess. Great costumes, dancing and production. I liked Tommy Smothers in it as well - a wonderful cast.
Hairspray- A film based on the Broadway musical which was based on the film above. Got that? Divine seemed more believable as Traci's Mom than John Travolta is here, but this is still a nice little musical with memorable tunes and dance sequences. That's Entertainment! (Volumes 1, 2 and 3) - We got the five DVD boxed set for Meredith, who liked volumes 1 and 3 the best. (More Judy.) Great stuff for kids and adults. Now she wants to see the old Esther Williams films... Chicago - Lots of great music in this one and some great Bob Fosse dance sequences, but too much sexual content for it to qualify as a family production. (PG-13 ratings are now unreliable as indicators of suitable content.) Reminds me a lot of Caberet. Damn Yankees - A very tuneful musical, and a funny one to boot. We especially liked the "Two Lost Souls" number. Gwen Verdon's dancing is riveting! (Something to keep Dad's interest.) Rent this one and you'll give your kids an excuse for emphasizing the first word in the title without getting chewed out for swearing: damn Yankees! Quidam - A Cirque de Soliel production. A video of an actual Cirque circus performance, with a French/European sensibility; my daughters liked this one a lot. (However, avoid Alegria, mentioned below.) Dralion - Another Cirque de Soliel production, about as good as Quidam. The other thing that bothers me about it is the freaky singer of questionable gender.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown - A musical about American class distinctions, mostly. The sinking of the Titanic scene was a little bizarre. Anyway, the girls liked the costuming and sets. The music and dance bits were okay. Borderline so-so recommendation.
Funny Girl- It had its moments, but two hours of Barbra Streisand is simply more than I can stand. Omar Sharif seems miscast in this. (Why is a Jewish girl going out with a guy who looks and sounds like a Palestinian?) My daughters didn't care much for it, either.
State Fair- The first of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical movies and perhaps the least well-known. Gorgeous technicolor with a wealth of detail about life in 1945. The songs aren't quite up to the standard of their later efforts, but this is an engaging production. My daughters liked it.
42nd Street- I was expecting this to be sappy and dated. It is dated, but in an enjoyable way as it's loaded with Thirties sass and style. The "Pretty Lady" numbers are great, and the movie's snappy theme song was bouncing around in my head for days afterward. This is a terrific film!
Top Hat- To call this "much ado about nothing" would be giving it dramatic heft it doesn't have. What it does have, however, is great dancing from a young Fred Astaire and an equally young Ginger Rogers. Not a favorite, but not bad at all. Dated. Irving Berlin music.
Babes on Broadway- It's always great to see Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland in action as they are so talented, but the plot of this is too predictable and just drags.
Summer Stock- Not bad, but it doesn't quite gel. Once again, worth seeing if only because of Gene Kelly and Judy Garland.
My Fair Lady- Somewhat long for younger kids, but with those great songs and Audrey Hepburn, who can quibble? A wonderful production.
Kismet- Where Disney got "Aladdin" from. Great music, neat costumes and sets. We all liked this one, although Howard Keel seems a little too virile to be a poet beggar.
Kiss Me, Kate- I would have thought I'd like something more or less about Shakespeare set to Cole Porter's music, but this one was kind of boring. In fact, I snoozed through part of it. The part near the beginning where Ann Miller dances all over Howard Keel's furniture was pretty interesting.
The Music Man- I liked this one. The only problem with it is that at 151 minutes it's too long. (And maybe Robert Preston seems a little too old for Shirley Jones.) It's sort of a musical version of Disneyland's Main Street, USA, if such a thing could be a musical. My daughters didn't care for it much, though, and they're our primary audience for musicals.
Easter Parade- Sort of a belated follow-up to "Holiday Inn." There are a few good numbers in this Fred Astaire-Judy Garland musical (Notably, "We're a Couple of Swells"), but taken on the whole it is somewhat slow. Still worth watching, however.
Brigadoon- Disappointing, and Gene Kelly isn't given much of an opportunity to improve things.
The Harvey Girls- A musical in the best color-saturated Technicolor style. My girls love old musicals (my son could care less), and this one was surprisingly good. There isn't much to it in the way of plot or character development, but it does have Judy Garland in it, who more than carries anything she stars in. What a talent! This one has a weak good vs. evil theme (the "good" Harvey restaurant and the "evil" Alhambra saloon); but it appears even the good girls can wear redder-than-red 1940's lipstick and remain chaste. Features the song "On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe" done up as an great extended dance sequence.
Bye Bye Birdie- American teenager culture just before the Beatles. (Would you believe Ed Sullivan is one of the stars?) A great favorite with my girls who saw it at a sleepover and literally demanded I check it out. It's a cute musical, if a bit of an offbeat one (there are some odd musical numbers in this). My girls have been performing the songs ever since they saw it, which is probably the best endorsement I can give. (NOTE: The 1963 original with Ann Margret is vastly superior to the 1995 remake with Vanessa Williams.)
Grease- Some of the language is a little rough and suggestive, but this is one neat musical - "the senior year we wish we'd all had." My girls really liked it - but I found myself using the fast forward occasionally for the scenes with sexual content of some kind.
Cats- An excellent video of a legendary Broadway production. My youngest daughter has been running around the house singing the songs. My son doesn't like it at all.
Carousel: I thought the plot was rather bizarre in this one. There was very little of circuses or carousels in it, and the lead character wasn't exactly sympathetic. The songs were only okay. A lesser Rogers and Hammerstein musical, if there is such a thing.
Flower Drum Song:Just kind of okay.
Singin' in the Rain: Called, along with American in Paris, "the greatest musical of all time" - but not by me. It's okay.
The Sound of Music: Universally loved, and for good reason. Still, I find the scenes with the Von Trapp children saccharine, and Julie Andrews a little too virginal. (But she's a wonderful singer.) Not my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical. My daughters, however, can't get enough of it; Meredith was even motivated to read the autobiography "Forever, Lisle," by Charmaine Whatshername. I can't complain about something that gets a child to crack open a book.
South Pacific: The film (from the play) that made America mad for things Polynesian back in the Fifties. A great soundtrack and plot ruined by some truly bizarre coloration during the song sequences. This film badly needs to be remade - but I doubt if Hollywood could do it these days, cynicism and sexuality being so much in vogue.
Meet Me in St. Louis: A good musical but not, I think, a great one. (Anything with Judy Garland is at least watchable.) There are some good songs but not much going on in the way of plot.
On the Town: A favorite. Sinatra's great, the Leonard Bernstein score is wonderful, the plot is amusing, Gene Kelly dances - what's not to like?
High Society: Not as entertaining as I thought it would be. In fact, I thought it was boring. Even Frank Sinatra's singing couldn't redeem it.
An American in Paris: Yes, I know - this is regarded as being possibly the greatest MGM musical of all time. But I thought it was disappointing. I don't recall any of the songs, and by the time we got to the famous extended dream sequence using Gershwin's score, I had tuned out. Why is this film so highly regarded?
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: Just a lot of fun. The barn-raising dance number is as athletic as anything I've seen short of West Side Story, and the whole premise of the film - the (lack of) civilization of isolated men living together badly - is unique and clever.
West Side Story: My all-time favorite musical, but somewhat too intense for family fare, I think. While there's nothing objectionable about it, the plot is heavy and doom-laden. The conclusion is a real downer, too. (Well, I was bummed-out the first time I saw it on TV as a 16 year-old.) But my daughters love it and run around the house singing songs from it all the time.
The Tales of Hoffman: An art film; a filmed ballet or opera, really. Perhaps the best ever. (This was Powell and Pressburger's follow-up to The Red Shoes, acclaimed elsewhere.) I would have thought it a bit too artsy for my daughters, but they liked it. Never underestimate children, I guess.
The King and I: One of Rogers and Hammerstein's finest, which is really saying something, and probably my favorite. We all enjoyed this one - except for the son. (I guess a beheading or two would have attracted his interest.)
Cabaret: A favorite of mine, but certainly not family fare. They'll just have to wait. I really like the musical numbers - the plot isn't especially interesting to me.
Oliver!: A somewhat grim musical with some excellent musical numbers and dance scenes; it should be about 20-30 minutes shorter, however. I didn't think they were making family musicals this good as late as 1968.
Storybook International- Perhaps you've seen these on TV somewhere; an animated sequence the episode, with an Allan-a-Dale type singing, "I'm the storyteller, and my stories must be told..." These are a series of gentle and witty stories adopted from folktales and shot with international settings and actors. All are narrated by a woman with a British voice. They are excellent; my kids and I used to watch these occasionally. There are over sixty in all and are available via amazon.com. Well recommended for ages five to about twelve.
The Wonder Years - Simply put, one of the most enjoyable and well-written family series ever to appear on television. The general consensus is that the earlier episodes were better, but I liked the later seasons (as Kevin moved into High School), too. Truly quality television.
Napoleon Dynamite - I left the theater not really sure if I liked this film or not. I'm still not sure. That doesn't happen very often. But teens think it's cool, and I have to admit that I found its good-heartedness appealing. My daughters like it a lot.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Fun for middle schoolers, not quite as much fun for adults. Still... not bad.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, Rodrick Rules - Once again, fun for middle schoolers. As an adult I liked this one somewhat more than the original.
Big Fat Liar - Starring Frankie Muniz, scripted and paced sort of like an episode of "Malcolm in the Middle." Clever, colorful and fast-moving. Nothing objectionable about it and quite fun.
Spy Kids- Clever and inventive with interesting special effects used in interesting ways. I liked the fact that the mother and father had strong roles in it. All too often kids films are kids only, with the adults being dolts.
Spy Kids II- About as good as the first installment, but without the surprise value. I sense that Hollywood will extend this concept way past its welcome.
Agent Cory Banks- Okay, this kid spy concept is beginning to wear thin. However, Frankie Muniz is, as always. likable and interesting
My Big Fat Greek Wedding- Not really a family film per se, but no real reason why it couldn't be. This film is as good as nearly everyone agrees that it is. Warm-hearted and funny.
Ice Age- Another clever and fun computer-animated film in the style of Antz, Monsters, Inc. and a host of others. It occurs to me that I have liked every one of these computer animated films that have been released, starting with Toy Story.
Snow Day- I didn't care much for it, but my twelve year old saw it three times and liked it. There is an annoying kid who flatulates as a running gag and a memorable portrayal by Iggy Pop (!) as an ice rink manager who insists upon playing Al Martino records. The usual Nickleodeon fare. Nowhere as good as "Good Burger," better than "Harriet the Spy."
Mission to Mars- Better than 2001, Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Possibly the best contact-with-alien life film I've seen. Rated PG, good special effects. Nothing especially objectionable, good special effects.
Who Am I?- I think this one is Jackie Chan's best. The usual eye-boggling stunts, of course, but with a novel beginning which takes place in South Africa and a more interesting than usual plot.
Gorgeous- In this romantic comedy Jackie Chan plays a different sort of character. There's really only one fight scene, but it's a good one. The only real drawback is the incidental music, which I found really annoying. Kind of a Jackie Chan date film, if there is such a thing.
Shiloh- A good family film about a boy striving to keep a dog from a rednecky owner who abuses him, but one suspects there's an agenda of some sort behind this film. The dad is generally unlikable, and hunting is portrayed as an activity for the heartless. Not a bad film, however, and recommended.
The Long, Long Trailer- A 1952 movie with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who lug a 40 foot trailer around on their honeymoon. A funny premise that they do well with; it's full of those I Love Lucy character actors and bit players. The excessively cheerful mechanic is memorable: "Remember, use the trailer brake first! It will be your best friend!"
Stuart Little- A cute film but not an entirely successful one. I didn't like the swearing cats. Still, smaller kids will like it.
Planet of the Apes- Everyone in the family liked this one. The only objection I had about it was the occasional "damn" coming out of Chuck Heston. We all got a kick out of the famous final scene.
October Sky- An inspiring and well-told story about boys and rocketry, which subject is dear to me, wishing, as I did, that I could explore space. A good family film - my son was even interested.
That Thing You Do!- A tuneful, clever and funny movie. Even my 15 year-old son was interested.
Antz- A cute film and a refreshingly short one. The expressions they can do with computer animation these days is amazing. The only things I didn't like about it was the occasional swear word and the fact that that creep Woody Allen did the primary voiceover role.
The Truman Show- This one lived up to the hype. A surprisingly good family film, if such a film - derived as it is from equal parts Twilight Zone and The Prisoner - can be called a family film. And Jim Carrey was more than simply endurable in this, he was actually likable.
Godzilla- Not the lame-o Japanese films, but the more recent big budget one. My girls liked it, my son tuned out. (I would have though he'd have liked it too, but go figure.) At 141 minutes I found it somewhat long, but it was lively. Rated PG-13 for some reason, must be violence. No gore that I could see, no sex and very little swearing.
Paulie -A charming film with a clever screenplay. Indeed, one of the best animal films I have seen.
Mouse Hunt- A cute film. A bit odd in places, but a cute film. If it weren't for the fact that the bad guys get clobbered in the style associated with the Home Alone films, I'd even call it unique.
Leave It to Beaver- I kept waiting for some big plot element (crooks or a kidnapping, for instance) to crop up in this but one never does. That's okay, though, because this is just a story about an eight year old kid in a neighborhood in just the same way the TV series was. Inoffensive in every way and a nice, entertaining film for families. What really won me over is that the Dad was not only important to the story but intelligent, caring and supportive - hooray!
Good Burger- Kenan and Kel are really funny in this, a much better movie from Nickoleodeon than "Harriet the Spy." Entertaining from start to finish with no sex, swearing or flatulence jokes (Disney take note). Also has Sinbad, who is almost always fun to watch and listen to. A family favorite, in fact my son has large potions of it memorized. The database analyzers at Blockbuster must wonder why we rented it so often. (I finally got a copy on e-Bay.)
My Girl- A sweet film but a sad one. Meredith, in trying to recall the term "tear-jerker" called this one a "cryer-maker," and so it is.
Pinocchio- The one with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, although he's only in the film in person for the last 10 minutes or so (no big loss). Wonderful puppetry and filmed in Europe, it has a look all its own. Everybody in the family liked this one.
Jumanji- Little if any swearing and no sexual content, and just flat out entertaining. Normally I hate Robin Williams, but I liked him in this one. Good story, good effects, clever premise.
The Sandlot- Some swearing, a little sexual innuendo, but the overall quality of its backwards look at boyhood in the 1960's makes it worth it. I'm very fond of this film.
Babes in Toyland(the 1930's version with Laurel and Hardy) - My kids loved this one because it was so unexpectedly antique in production style. And then there's that weird, unlicensed Mickey Mouse character running around...
The Three Ninjas- Some swearing and the now-cliche groin kicks, but entertaining and clever. Avoid the inferior sequels.
Tall Tales- Usually you couldn't drag me kicking and screaming to see a Patrick Swayze film, but he made a convincing Pecos Bill. (My favorite Pecos Bill, however, is still the Disney cartoon from the 50's with Roy Rogers' narration.) I wish this had more of Catherine O'Hara's "Calamity Jane," though.
The "Our Gang" shorts- These hold up amazingly well, and kids of all ages have enjoyed these for more than 70 years! An indication of its intergenerational appeal is the fact that Meredith, when she was about five, cried herself to sleep once, upon being told that Darla Hood died a number of years ago. She comforted herself by the fact that there was a "new Darla" (this was about when the inferior movie was released).
Cool Runnings- Offbeat, and clever, with a likable cast. (It's offbeat because, unlike all other Disney films, the team in question doesn't win the game, match or race.) The more Disney sports-related films you've seen, the better this one will look.
Jackie Chan's First Strike- Great action, and Jackie Chan is by far and away the most likable of the current crop of martial arts stars. Teenage boys will like it, obviously. PG; nothing really objectionable in this. I'm sure everyone in America knows by now he does his own stunts, which is a notable feat.
Mr. Nice Guy- Another vehicle for the incredible and likable Jackie Chan. In this one he's a TV cooking show host who just happens to be extremely fast, skilled and athletic. (Uh-huh.) Those stunts are truly innovative and amazing. In many ways the best part of the picture (as with "First Strike") comes at the end, in the stunt bloopers section. Warning, however, the language in this one is occasionally rough, and the PG-13 rating should be taken seriously. (The violence isn't very bad.) First Strike is a better choice for younger viewers.
Babe- Same comments as with Toy Story. I think it and not Braveheart should have gotten the "Best Picture" Oscar. Anyone can make a good war film; a good talking pig film like Babe is a rarity. In fact, I've never quite seen a film like Babe. Someone correctly called it "The Citizen Kane of talking pig films," and so it is.
Babe II - Pig in the City- This script doesn't have quite the same appeal and focus as the first film, but this one is worth watching nonetheless. A charming fable; how do they get those human expressions on those animals?
Wizard of Oz- Of course. If there's a more memorable or magical kids' film it doesn't come to mind. One of the really few films deservedly called "a classic."
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - The humor was kind of low-brow and the videotape was over three hours long. This film has some moments, but by and large my kids tuned out.
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie - Aside from the live action opening, when the pirates sing the theme song, this is pretty boring. I fell asleep watching it, something that never happeend with the shorter TV episodes.
Drop Dead Gorgeous- A wickedly funny film but not really a "family film" - it has too much swearing in it for that. (The f-word is used in this rated PG-13 film, which gives you an idea of the direction Hollywood is headed.) It's about unlikable beauty queen contestants in Minnesota.
The Haunting(the color remake) - An elaborate set, but the storyline is hokey and the special effects are just plain over the top. Not as thrilling as the original!
My Favorite Martian- This movie was about on the level of most other newer Disney productions. Not especially good, not especially bad. In this one Disney has reworked their now dreary de rigueur bathroom humor to include a scene where the two protagonists are seated in a shrunken car, which is floating in a toilet. Then a big fat guy sits down to use the toilet... laff riot! (This more or less sums up the depressing humorous sensibilities of modern audiences, I think.) Also, there's an annoying animated spacesuit that does nothing more than get on one's nerves in the manner of a hack comic from the Catskills. There's also a cloying resurrection scene.
The War of the Worlds(the 1953 version with Gene Barry) - My kids seemed to think it was "okay." Not a whole lot to recommend it, just "okay."
Hook- There's really nothing objectionable about this film - no sex or swearing - and my kids enjoyed it. The reason why I put it in the so-so category was because I hated it! It's over-produced and paced like a TV ad. Steven Spielberg incorporates a (supposedly) touching and/or inspiring moment every five seconds or so; where there's a heartfelt hug to swelling music or one of those odd-looking kids raises a fist in triumph about something. After two hours of this one wishes for a little subtlety. Watching this film, for me, was like eating big pieces of heavily-frosted cake one after the other. Just too, too much.
The Parent Trap- There's nothing really wrong with the 1998 remake, but the original production has a better cast is and is really a better film. Stick with the classic.
Lost in Space- A perfect film for a twelve year old boy, but I didn't like it. About a gazillion dollars were spent on special effects and production, but the cast is unlikable and annoying. They even made the character of Will Robinson more irksome than he was in the TV series - something I thought couldn't be done. The only reason I didn't put it into the "Do not rent" category was because my wife thought it was okay. Convoluted plot, abrupt ending.
Clockmaker- Not good enough to be recommended, not bad enough to go into the "Avoid at all Costs" section. Like a mediocre after-school special. Nothing objectionable, just sort of eh.
Kindergarten Cop- An uneasy mix of a Ivan Reitman family film and the usual Arnold violence. My wife liked it, but I'm not comfortable giving it a recommendation as a family film.
Any of the three Addams Family films- The first two were rated PG-13, the video only release was a rather boring (but inoffensive) PG. My oldest daughter thought the best one was the first. None of them appealed to me at all - I prefer the TV episodes.
Meet the Deedles -My daughters thought it was "okay," my son didn't care for it. This film seems to try too hard to be offbeat. Has a tasteless flatulence scene in it in keeping with current Disney standards.
Mister Magoo- It bored me and seemed generally unfunny. My daughters sort of liked it, though.
The Happiest Millionaire- I'd have liked to have given this one a recommended rating, but frankly it's way too long; there are too many scenes that could have been cut.
Joey- A family film that looks and seems different, mainly because it's Australian. Too much slapstick and overtly comic acting for my taste and probably for teenagers as well, but younger viewers should like it. (My daughters didn't think it was anything special, however.)
Blackfriars Bobby- A little-known Disney film about a dog in Scotland. It bored the kids, and we had a difficult time with some of the dialects. Normally I like British productions but this one deserves its obscurity. But - watch this and you'll know who "Blackfriars Bobby" was, which is useful for impressing Scots.
Men in Black- Clever script, but the swearing and alien gut splatter turned me off. (Some scenes were downright gross.) Rated PG-13 for good reason: the scenes with the alien bug are too intense for younger children.
The Mask- Jim Carrey and special effects. Both get tiresome pretty quickly. Teenage boys will like it, though.
It's a Gift- One of the great W.C. Fields films, but one that didn't seem very funny to my kids.
Monty Python's "And Now for Something Completely Different"- Rated PG but not really for kids (there's sexual humor and some nudity). Not all of the skits make sense to kids, let alone be deemed funny. I normally love British humor, but I didn't find this one especially good.
Jungle-2-Jungle- I would have liked this one a lot better had it not been for the divorce angle, a running gag featuring urination, a passing gas sequence, a reference to male endowment and the by now usual Disney kick, hit or slam in the crotch. All that and some mild swearing. A surprisingly coarse film. What's more, a love angle between a thirteen year old and a twelve year old kind of made me fidget. The boy lead was likable; we'll probably be seeing him again somewhere.
George of the Jungle- This could have made it into my recommended list - it's quite funny - except that after seeing "Jungle-2-Jungle" I'm convinced the Disney people now think urine, flatulence and oblique comments about male endowment constitutes humor. (An elephant pees, an ape farts and a woman, gaping at a nekkid George, comments "I can see why he's the King of the Jungle.") With some mild swearing, too, for good measure. Oh, did I neglect to mention the now commonplace groin kicks? Gotta have those. The guy playing George is likable, but I do wish Disney would start taking the high road.
I haven't seen the live action "Jungle Book" yet, but I bet I know what some of the comedic elements will be...
Wild America- A good film in spite of, you guessed it, urination, flatulence and language. (There's probably a groin kick in there someplace, but it doesn't spring to mind.) Mostly for Jonathan Taylor Thomas fans, however. The premise is interesting and what's more, it actually happened. (Sort of.) I put it in the so-so category because it narrowly misses the mark for recommended.
Yours, Mine and Ours- Not a bad film - it has its moments - but I'd like it better if so much of the film wasn't based on getting the two adults together. (The pacing seems to be off.) I'd like to have seen more on how a family of 20 gets domestic activities accomplished. Also, let's face it, Lucille Ball looks a little too old to get pregnant. Good anti-teen sex message in it, however.
Mr. Bean- I'm a lukewarm fan of the TV series, but the character really isn't well-adapted to a movie-length production. Parts of it drag despite Rowan Atkinson's incredible face and mannerisms. At any rate, this is more easily endured than anything with Jim Carey.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?- This one got on my nerves. Too much cheesecake and plot complexity to really be for kids, too frantic for adults. It's an interesting experience to see Mickey Mouse chat with Bugs Bunny, of course, but that kind of novelty wears thin pretty quickly. The final scenes with the bad guy getting crushed by a steamroller frightened my youngest. A novelty film.
Newsies- The Bowery Boys meet West Side Story meets Disney. Clearly an ambitious film by Disney, but one that was only marginally successful and critically panned. Still... the tunes are pretty good, and the dance sequences are interesting - but the plot is just plain silly (it is based, however, on an actual New York City newsboys strike of 1899). What I find interesting is that there seems to be many web pages devoted to this film. Hmmm. Could achieve cult status someday. Watch it and you decide! Anyway, it gets a so-so rating because my kids weren't terribly interested in it. (I imagine that could change when my daughters get to be about the same age as all those boys in the film, however.)
The Secret of Roan Inish- Like "War of the Buttons," for fans of Irishness. An Irish film that, while good for adults, sort of left my kids cold. Not terribly clear or understandable. Are we meant to take the metaphysical stuff at face value, or is it all literal? Oh, it's about seals, family traditions, myth and stone houses with thatch roofs.
First Kid- I thought I would like this one more. Sinbad's good, but there's something missing here. Innocence, perhaps? Maybe this film is just a little too slick.
Condorman- Eh. My son, who liked comic books when we watched this, sort of liked it.
The Brady Bunch films- Slick productions that poke fun at the Seventies, my kids generally liked these, but I found the sexual humor getting in the way. The PG-13 ratings should be taken literally.
Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar- This film seemed a lot better when I saw it as a kid!
The Ghost and Mister Chicken- Same comment, but my wife thought it was "cute."
The Sons of the Desert- Same comment, but I've seen Laurel and Hardy stuff I've liked better.
The Indian in the Cupboard- There's something about this film that I didn't quite get, and the kid lead was sort of weird-looking.
The Carpool- The kids liked it, but Tom Arnold isn't very funny to me.
The Black Hole- My kids found it boring and left, but I sort of liked it, especially with the uncharacteristically freaky (for a Disney flick) trip through the hole. You probably won't like the film. The public didn't, when it was released.
Angels in the Outfield- Dad's a schmuck. The same story was done better as the Mighty Ducks.
The Big Green- Somewhat better than "Angels in the Outfield," but overall an unimpressive Disney sports film. Rent Air Bud or the Mighty Ducks instead.
101 Dalmations- Nice sets and scenery, good acting... but for some reason I didn't really care for it. Maybe I don't like remakes of animated features.
James and the Giant Peach- Great effects, same old grusome Dahl characters. Eh.
Just about any Shirley Temple film- The girls watch and enjoy these, but my son leaves the room. (Who can blame him? I used to as well, when I was a kid.) For adults, these are sometimes unwatchable. Didn't that kid ever have an intact family? The "Our Gang" shorts are much less affected and cloying.
Miracle on 34th Street (the remake)- The obvious question here is, why remake it? The original was perfect and timeless. I suppose putting in swearing and an annoying girl (the actress who played "Matilda," see below - Natalie Wood was much better in pulling this off) updates it. Pah.
Back Home- A story about a WWII British refugee girl returning to her mother (Hayley Mills) after the war's end. It was pretty downbeat, but girls owning the "Molly" American Girls doll and reading the books associated with it might find this one interesting. (My girls didn't.) Dad's a jerk. Shellshocked in a way, but a jerk.
Duck Soup- This is a Marx Brothers classic, but I don't know why. The humor seems out of date and it's just kind of weird and old-fashioned. My kids didn't like it, and I was frequently bored. (In fact I snoozed during the Groucho mirror sequence, when there was no sound.) The only reason why it doesn't belong in the "Avoid At All Costs" section is because it isn't objectionable in any way, but don't bother unless you like the Marx Brothers.
Avoid at All Costs
The Fantastic Four
The Fantastic Four- Lame, too much humor, too little action - just plain awful.
Daddy Day Care- Nothing really objectionable about this one save the plot, dialogue, humor and direction. I tuned out very early.
The Perfect Storm- The fishermen are unsympathetic and, as a correspondant correctly described them, "yucky." Good special effects - of course. But many, many films can make that claim these days. It doesn't mean they're worth seeing. This one isn't. The Master of Disguise - A very weak comedy containing very little, if any, intelligence. Dana Carvey is simply annoying in it. Alegria - A Cirque de Soliel production. When circus performers are dressed strangely and act weird, it adds an exotic touch to the circus performance. When this is instead part of a lame love story with a really terrible enslaved children plot, it is boring and trying too hard to be artsy. Quidam was much better. A Night at the Roxbury - Rated PG-13, but don't believe it. Too much sex, too much language, too little humor.
Superstar - Another Saturday Night Live skit turned into a movie. This one has too much sexual humor for families, I think, and a really lame plot.
The Abyss- Abysmal. An overlong film with the most thoroughly unlikable female lead I have ever seen in the movies; a character only a feminist could love. At one point a Navy Seal duct-tapes her mouth shut; I'm sure people in the audience must have cheered. (Me, my son and another teenager did.) Contains a lot of swearing, an unlikely deep water E.T. plot and a drawn-out, overwrought and therefore unintentionally hilarious recovery-from-drowning sequence. (Unfortunately the woman recovers.) This film was written and directed by James Cameron. It's bad enough I wasted 140 minutes of my life watching this; I won't devote three hours to seeing Titanic.
First Knight- The reason why Arthurian literature has been so popular for so long is because it contains universally attractive themes. Try to turn it into an anachronistic click flick with a feminist Guinevere, a toy boy Lancelot, an improbably democratic (and clean and tidy) Camelot and an overly mature King Arthur and you fail miserably. "Excalibur" is a much better film, but is rated "R." The 1950's "Knights of the Round Table" is colorful, but badly dated. Hit the books instead.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes- Too lame, too violent, too much swearing. (For some unaccountable reason the videotape claims this is a "G" film - I don't believe it.) Anti-religious and anti-military, too. None of the novelty of the first film.
Warriors of Virtue- A poor combination of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Star Wars and Muppets, with an impossibly muddy plot and bogus eastern mysticism. The bad guy is way too hammy. Lots of shots of muppets flying through the air doing Kung Fu kicks. More boring than objectionable. (This film puts me in mind of a project some Koreans approached a friend of my wife's about. They wanted a story integrating angels, Santa Claus and kung-fu fighting. Fortunately the whole idea went away.)
The Pink Panther(the original 1964 movie) - Boring, overlong and just not funny. We all tuned out after the first hour. Based on the good word-of-mouth this series has, the sequels must be better.
Rush Hour- Normally I like Jackie Chan films, but this one has entirely too much swearing and not enough of the usual great Jackie stunts. It's funny in places, but not in enough places. Stick with the ones I mention above.
Fly Away Home- An improbable enviro-thriller about a goofy bearded earth-dad and his fourteen year-old daughter, whom he recklessly endangers in an effort to escort some geese home via ultralights. (They nearly hit some buildings after emerging from a fog bank, and at one point a fighter squadron is put on alert and nearly scrambled. I found myself hoping this lame duo would be blown out of the air for endangering civil air traffic by flying without a flight plan and the necessary approvals.) At the end, they and the geese are greeted by what looks like a collection of cheering health food store employees, and the geese are shown happily frolicking in the water, while a thwarted capitalist frets and admits defeat. A film only a Sierra Clubber could love. Paugh.
Small Soldiers- A waste of good special effects. Not only is the dad an angry jerk, he's inept. (So is the teenage male lead, who apparently must rely on his girlfriend for aggression.) Not only are there anti-dad and feminist slants, there's also anti-military and anti-corporate slants as well. The worst thing about this film is that at the end, the nasty corporate tycoon gets away completely unpunished, buying off the rest of the cast with checks. An unlikable, cynical film.
Casper - A Spirited Beginning- A completely unlikable Dad, toilet humor, a lame villain, uninteresting cameos and a mindless plot put this video release film into the "Avoid at all Costs" category. (It even bored my eight year old; even the special effects couldn't redeem it.)
Austin Powers- Way, way too much sexual "humor" for families and nowhere funny enough for adults. Even the Sixties nuances can't redeem it. Anyway, I thought it was so bad I left the room. (I would have popped the tape out, but my wife insisted on finishing it.) This should be rated R, in my opinion. The fact that this film is considered mainstream speaks volumes about the coarsening of our society.
Betty Boop for President- Now, I will admit to liking the bizarre Boop cartoons coming out of the Max Fleisher studios; they are enjoyably warped. (The ones with Cab Calloway songs are minor classics.) But with this eighty minute video, somebody had the unfortunate idea of stringing a lot of them together with a really bad musical soundtrack and lame voiceovers and plot exposition by Tommy Smothers. The overarching storyline - or lack thereof - is that Betty is running for president (with some inexplicable detours in the plot). Not just really weird, but boring. I think Betty is enjoyed best in the original eight or ten minute cartoons.
Matilda- This one is grim and wretched. Based on a tale by Roald Dahl (who I am now convinced must have had one miserable childhood himself) and directed by Danny DeVito, it is one hour and twenty minutes of child abuse. (I'm not kidding. We're not just talking about an incident here or there. The nastiness is continuous and unrelenting.) The final ten minutes of resolution do not make up in any way for what came before. This "family" film is mean, unpleasant, negative, vile and a waste of time and money. There are countless close-ups of what has to be the ugliest woman on film since that (Throw) "Momma" (From the Train) actress last graced the screen, and it is downright unbearable. Avoid it like the plague.
Contact- Poorly paced and overlong by about a third, with a really lame subplot about faith. It also contains the usual anti-religious elements Hollywood seems to love and the most disappointing anti-climax I've seen in a long time (the alien landscape - when an unlikably butch Jodie Foster gets there - looks like the air-brushed art on the sides of conversion vans). Stargate did a lot better with pretty much the same premise.
Alone in the Woods- A really, really low-budget version of Home Alone, with the lousiest of casts. The biggest low spot in this film is when one of the bad guys is actually shown sitting on a toilet. (The kid fires a flare into the sewage line - hilarity ensues). This even beats the scatological humor Disney is doing these days (see reviews for Jungle-2-Jungle and George of the Jungle). Ignore the promising cover art - this one really sucks.
Kazaam!- Shaq is a fair actor, but this one is burdened with a dysfunctional family and a lame plot.
Space Jam- Boring and lame; the special effects represent a major waste of computer processing power. Michael Jordan is okay, but the Warner Bros. cartoon characters are far more entertaining in the classic 40's and 50's shorts. This one seems like one long commercial of some kind. After seeing this and Kazaam!, I have a new policy: No more films with superstar basketball players. (I can hardly wait to see what family film they cook up for Dennis Rodman...)
Popeye- Boring, with a lame plot, close-ups of Shelly Duvall that made me fidget uncomfortably (the same technique was used to good effect in "the Shining") and really bad songs. I mean really bad songs. Two memorably weird ones were: (In a diner) "Every day it's food, food, food..." and Olive Oyl singing about Brutus "He's laaaarggge..." All this plus you keep waiting for the spinach intake and the Daah-da-da-da-dah-da-dahhh accompanying theme that only appears at the very end. A horrible film.
Curley Sue- Too much swearing and the actress playing the title role overdoes it too much to be really cute in any sort of a natural, unaffected way. My kids didn't even like like this one. I will admit to really liking the title sequence and theme music, though.
The Little Rascals- If you're used to the Hal Roach shorts which inspired this movie, you'll find this disappointing. Not a successful update. (And was it necessary for Alfalfa to run around in his underwear?)
The Amazing Panda Adventure- Dad's a zero and pretty much remains that way. Has a lame ecological theme. My kids were generally bored stiff with it, and so was I.
The Goonies- Has lots of swearing, some sexual content and an extremely lame plot. As usual in a Steven Spielberg film, the parents are helpless dolts.
Babes in Toyland (the Disney one with Annette Funicello)- Really boring.
Johnny Tremain and the Sons of Liberty- We rented this one during the 4th of July weekend. I tried, but this one was so dull my kids walked out of the room.
Man of the House- Jonathan Taylor Thomas is an unlikable snot, Chevy Chase is no longer even remotely funny. Mom is forgettable.
The Three Ninjas Kick Back (Number 2 of 3)- Nowhere as likable as the first movie. Lame.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory- I found it unlikably bizarre, and Gene Wilder acts as if he hates children, or at least would prefer not to be acting with them; I would think this would be the kiss of death for a film about kids. I disliked the music as well, especially "the Candy Man." Those singing gnomes with the orange faces and green hair freaked my kids out. This is claimed to be a children's classic; I refuse to believe it.
Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang- Looonnnnggggg, and with curiously morbid anti-child elements, attributable, I suppose, to the fact that Roald Dahl co-wrote the screenplay. They should have stuck with the book more closely. Generally has a European look and feel to it. (I like foreign films a lot, but this isn't a compliment in this case.)
Pete's Dragon- Maybe it was the unlikely casting of Helen Reddy as a mother figure and an ancient Mickey Rooney as a father figure, but there was something about this film nobody in my family liked.
The Gumby Movie- Here's where the parents and the kids clashed on the matter of taste. I thought this was weird and boring, but my kids loved it. If you think you can sit through it, by all means rent it, but be warned: it doesn't make much sense. Oh, and the production values are just as lame as in the old TV series, which I found surprising.
Mrs. Doubtfire- Hated this one, too. It has a wrenching divorce theme (I suppose this is how Hollywood gives these films "current interest"). And, as I mentioned above, I really don't like Robin Williams. A little of him goes a long, long way, and there's a lot of him in this film.
E.T.- Yeah, yeah, I know, America went ga-ga over it. I found it unwatchable. The adults are idiots and the extra-terrestrial is cloying. And that "heartlight" stuff is something only Michael Jackson would like. Did I mention my anti-Spielberg bias in my review of Goonies? My kids would probably like it, but I haven't been able to choke down my distaste of the film to rent the video.
Baby Genuises - I haven't seen it, and won't. A good friend of mine, whose opinion I trust, called this one of the worst and most stupid films he has ever seen. And he didn't just rent it. He took his kids and some of their friends to see it when it was in the theaters, and wound up paying about $80 for the experience. (Theater food, as everyone knows, is a real rip-off.) Every now and then I like mentioning this film to him just to see the crestfallen look upon his face. So, as Beli Lugosi says in "Glen or Glenda," bevare! (NOTE: I see a Baby Geniuses II has been produced. No, I won't be renting this one, either. The Internet Movie Database - an invaluable resource - has it in the Bottom 100.)
That's a lot of movies, huh? You know, watching television sometimes gets a bad rap. While it's true I could have been out at a park throwing a Frisbee around with my kids or something like that, instead of watching all these films with them, there is something to be said for the experience - and I wouldn't have traded it for the world.