Top 5: First Movie Musicals for Preschoolers

I’m not including here the animated Disney ‘musicals’, first because they are pretty obvious choices, and secondly because, with some exceptions, the music is often forgettable. I’ve chosen to focus instead on glorious, old-school, Broadway-style live action movie musicals. (Mary Poppins being a borderline case, but it’s mostly live-action.)

The grand old MGM musicals should boggle your child’s mind with the brash, over-the-top craziness of it all. I showed That’s Entertainment to two four-year-old girls last summer, and during the Esther Williams swimming sequences, well, their jaws were on the floor. Remember, that which you and I find cheesy, they may regard as nothing short of miraculous.

5 MUSICALS

1. Mary Poppins (1964) – 2+          (This title on amazon.)

2. Meet Me in St. Louis (1945) – 4+          (This title on amazon.)

3. The Wizard of Oz (1939) – 4+          (This title on amazon.)

4. Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – 5+          (This title on amazon.)

5. Annie (1982) – 5+          (This title on amazon.)

Singin’ in the Rain is the only one of the five with a plotline that isn’t immediately child-relateable – that is to say, it doesn’t have a child or teen protagonist with problems children can easily identify with and understand. However it should still grab young viewers with its humour, energy and verve.

If you’re not sure about the plotlines, and whether your child will find them interesting or even comprehensible, here’s my bonus suggestion:

6. That’s Entertainment, Vol. 1 (1974) , Vol. 2 (1976) – age ? (both rated G) : These DVDs are simply compilations of song and dance numbers plucked from many old musicals. An excellent introduction to the world of old movies and musicals, though you may have to fast forward through the ‘modern-day’ introductions from aging stars.

I’ve got a long list of runners-up, so keep tuned for “the next top 5 musicals”…

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Top 5 ‘First Movie’ Picks for Preschoolers

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.)


The Little Bear Movie (2001)


Rated: G
Length:  75 min.
Age: 2 and up.

Scary Factor: a mountain lion slinks around but is quickly chased off; flashback to Cub getting separated from his parents during a storm, which isn’t altogether scary simply because it is a flashback; mountain lion returns at end, menaces Goose and Little Bear, then is scared off

Interests: animals, nature

Next: Little Bear TV series
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Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins

Rated: G
Length: 139 min.
Age: 2 and up.

[ Commonsense Media sez: 6 and up! However they also say: “Parents need to know that this is a fine movie for children of any age.”  I suspect the age 6 is recommended primarily for full plot comprehension, ie. the business at the bank, the suffrage movement, etc. ]

Scary factor: Nonexistant. A movie with no jeopardy! No violence! No villain! The only potential trouble spot, and one which bothered my daughter, was when dotty old Admiral Boom shoots fireworks at the chimney sweeps (none are hit, it’s all colour and noise). My daughter’s alarm, however, was due to a previous experience with noisy fireworks. We simply muted the sound during that scene until she decided she wasn’t scared anymore.

Interests: song and dance, magic

Next: for song and dance, how about the That’s Entertainment compilations, full of great sequences from MGM musicals. For more Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, Sound of Music or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, though they’re more suitable for older audiences.

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