Another new weekly feature: Wednesday Lists. This week, titles that I recommend as your child’s first introduction to feature-length films.
These movies have been carefully selected to be a) benign enough that your child is not frightened, b) interesting enough to warrant repeated viewings, and c) of sufficient quality that those repeated viewings do not drive parents around the bend!
Age: 2 and 3. 2-year-olds do not always, however, have the attention span to last through an entire movie. Which is not a bad thing, you can stick to shorter TV shows until they are ready for longer programs.
Theatre vs. Home: Watching a movie in a real theatre is certainly an exciting experience for a child, but it can also be a little overwhelming. Too-loud sound systems, and the enormous image can make a mildly alarming scene feel absolutely terrifying. Unless your child is particularly fearless, for their first few movies I highly recommend viewing an old tried-and-true title in the comfort and security of your living room.
Company: Nothing helps a child’s comfort level like having mommy or daddy next to them on the couch for support! The good news here is that very young children love to watch the same show many, many times over, so by the nth viewing your presence won’t be required (unless you really want to watch it too). Repeated viewings (ad nauseum) may seem boring to us, but they allow young children a satisfying sense of mastery, as they know exactly what comes next, and can recite lines of dialogue along with the movie.
Okay, so here’s the list – you can click on the links to read more in-depth reviews of each:
1. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977) – This Disney animation was made back in the days before the Mouse was guilty of egregious crimes against A. A. Milne’s original. I must emphasize, I am NOT recommending the plethora of Disney’s Pooh-product out there. I am only talking about this first movie, which is actually quite good, as it successfully matches the tone and voice of the original books. This film is made up of a collection of short stories adapted directly from Milne’s books and told in the same relaxed, meandering fashion. There’s some really lovely animation here and fantastic voice-work as well. And terrific songs. No villains or scary stuff; the plot is driven variously by weather, whim, and Pooh’s passion for honey. (Available on amazon.)
2. The Little Bear Movie (2001) – There are many preschool TV shows that put out feature-length straight-to-video movies. This is one that we enjoyed a lot. A very gentle film, with a minor, natural threat (an ominous predator in the wild, which isn’t overplayed). Much more screen time is spent on fun and silliness than on anything serious. And the pace is nice and slow – long scenes played out without the frenetic cutting that’s far too prevalent these days. (Available on amazon.)
3. Mary Poppins (1964) – I know, this is long, long, long (139 min!) but it’s buoyed along by amazing songs and dance numbers, and the charm of absolutely everyone involved. No bad guys, no threat at all. Practically perfect in every way. (Available on amazon.)
4. Tinker Bell (2008) – Gorgeous to look at, and gentle enough for the young. All about fairies and their role in the changing seasons. No villains as such, apart from one snarky girl, and a brief chase from a hawk. The only scary thing about this movie is the juggernaut of Disney fairy merchandise which will soon be steamrollering its way into your home. (Available on amazon.)
5. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) – Not so well-known here, this Japanese film is a gentle, wonderful story of two sisters and their rather unusual new friend. Note, however, that their mother is in the hospital, and at one point the older sister worries aloud that she might die. I almost dropped this title off the list because of this mention, but it’s really not overplayed, and at the end (over the credits) they show the mother coming home to a happy reunion. (Read full review for more on this, plus the only ‘startle moment’ in the film.) (Available on amazon.)