The Incredible Journey (1963)

The Incredible Journey (film)

The Incredible Journey

Released: 1963

Rated: G

Length: 80 min

Age: 3+

Scary Factor: various dangerous situations for animals are rather tamely presented, not disturbing at all, and no notable injuries are sustained; cat is swept away in river but later rescued; a man shoots at dog rummaging in garbage can, but mainly to scare him away; cat is chased by a lynx but escapes

Interests: pets, cats, dogs, wilderness, nature, Canada, adventure

Next: read the book The Incredible Journey



Fantasia (1940)

Fantasia (film)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Released: 1940

Rated: G

Length: 120 – 124 min. (varies depending on what version you have)

Age: some parts 3+, others 5+ (see below)  Commonsense Media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: Mickey attacks renegade broom with an axe and savagely chops it to bits; battle to the death between two dinosaurs; a gigantic devil rises over a mountain commanding a host of demons, the dead rise from their graves

Also: some modest (dare I say artful) nudity among fairies and mythological creatures; much wine drunk by very tipsy god Bacchus

Interests: classical music, fairies, mythology, dinosaurs, ballet

Next: the movie Fantasia 2000; live symphony concerts for children; Nutcracker ballet live or movie version

Top 10: Princess Movies

Yes, this week it’s a Top 5 x 2! The princess issue is a controversial one these days, but so many little girls love love love their princesses that it’s hard to avoid the whole genre. If you’re giving in to requests for the Disney Princess franchise, but unsure of which movie to start with, I list them here in order of age appropriateness. (And I include one non-Disney.) Generally the newer films are much scarier than the old ones, more violent and with ever more terrifying villains.

There is a raft of other, mostly live-action “princess-themed” movies out there (Princess Diaries, et al), but I’m sticking to the basic fairy tale and revised fairy tale versions here. (Click on the titles with links to go to full reviews.)

So dig out your tiaras, friends… here we go…

1. Disney Princess Enchanted Tales – Follow Your Dreams (2007) – age 3+

Real entry-level fare. A straight-to-video offering, includes two short stories about the everyday lives of Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and Jasmine (Aladdin). Mediocre entertainment, but innocuous for even the youngest princesses.

2. Cinderella (1950) – age 4+

The villain here is just a very mean lady, no evil magic or mayhem involved, so this isn’t as scary as many other movies. At the same time, it’s got an overload of lovey dovey romance, which isn’t such a perfect fit for the very young.

3. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) – age 4+

This one started it all, in terms of princess movies, but also in terms of feature-length animation. Still lovely to look at after all these years, this movie has aged beautifully. Snow White predates the sexier Disney princesses, so she’s actually got a somewhat realistic shape for a young girl. And the dwarves are still pretty funny.

4. Thumbelina (1994) – age 4+

Aha, not a Disney movie, I know. This lesser-known Don Bluth film tells another classic princess tale, this time by Hans Christian Anderson, and stays pretty faithful to the original. Teeny tiny heroine is kidnapped by toads, menaced by bugs and almost married off to a mole, while the brave prince of the fairies searches for her.

5. Sleeping Beauty (1959) – age 4+

The reviews at the time were not kind, but I really like this one. It’s elegant and gorgeous, with some dignity and restraint. A fairly straight-ahead presentation of the traditional tale (with a few alterations). The music is sublime. Maleficent is truly spooky, and the dragon at the end is scary but the battle is quite short.

6. Tangled (2010) – age 5+

Even though this was rated PG for mild violence, and all others on this list are rated G, it is much less scary than the titles below. Some bonking with a frying pan, and a stabbing (he recovers).

7. Beauty and the Beast (1991) – age 5+

One of the modern-era Disney flicks, the violence is heightened in this one. The Beast is truly terrifying at the start, but soon becomes nearly cuddly. Lots of slapstick and fighting. Two terrific song sequences.

8. The Little Mermaid (1989) – age 5+

The first modern princess movie from Disney, and the one that revived the entire company. This set the pattern for the Broadway-style musical films that Disney still churns out. Music and characters are good, but villainess Ursula the Sea Witch is very, very scary. And they give the Anderson tale a happy ending.

9. The Princess and the Frog (2009) – age 5+

A total twist and remodelling which bears no real relation to the old Grimms tale. Characters are engaging, voodoo sequences quite frightening, one death near the end makes this more suitable for older preschoolers.

10. Aladdin (1992) – age 6+

Not one of my favourites. The songs zip along so fast I couldn’t keep up, the racial slurs are frequent, Jasmine is plucky but scantily clad at all times, Robin Williams  tells jokes no child will get, and the scary is very.

So which ones are actually great films? My short list…

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Magical and enchanting. Prince is stiff and Snow White’s voice is annoying, but that’s the worst of it.

2. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

I said it before, I’ll say it again: Elegant and gorgeous.

Hmm. Pretty short list. Both are absolutely beautiful, have just enough loyalty to the original tale to retain a little magic, and just enough of the dark side to have some bite… without beating us over the head with the awesome forces of the powers of evil, yadda yadda. And no A-list actors doing the voices, either – another irritating and distracting trend of late.

Top 5: Ocean Movies






In honour of my own upcoming weekend campout beside the ocean… five family movies about the mysterious and fascinating deep.

1. Fantasia 2000 (1999) – for age 3+  (just the “Pines of Rome”)

Okay, this is just a part of a movie, but the “Pines of Rome” sequence, featuring a pod of soaring whales, is stunning. (This sequence is totally suitable for the very young, though other sequences in the film are significantly scarier, more suited to 5 or 6 year olds.)

2. Ponyo (2009) – age 4+

An entirely different take on the basic “Little Mermaid” fairy tale. Magical forces out of balance cause the ocean to rise and submerge a coastal town… but no one is hurt in this adventure, which all hinges on a little fish striving to become a human girl.  Underwater scenes are breathtaking. (Read full review.)

3. Finding Nemo (2003) – age 4+

Wonderful fish adventure, highlighting many ocean species along the way. Funny and smart, scary moments but plot moves through them quickly. Sure to spark an interest in learning more about sea creatures. (Read full review.)

4. Pinocchio (1940) – age 5+

Underwater scenes only occur in last part of this movie, but Monstro the whale is unforgettable, if a bit scary. (Read full review.)

5. Blue Planet (2001) – age 5+

Okay, this is a BBC series, not a movie, but don’t forget to follow-up fantasy ocean stories with non-fiction and documentaries. And a trip to the aquarium!

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.


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”…

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.)

Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams (2007)

(straight to DVD)

Rated: unrated

Length: 56m

Age: 3 +

Scary factor: nonexistent

Interests: the Disney princess brand

Tinker Bell (2008)

Rated: G
Length: 78 min
Age: 3+               Commonsense Media sez: 4+

Scary factor: Biggest scare is a brief scene with a hawk; the fairies flee in terror and hide. The hawk has Vidia cornered briefly but she escapes. Two stampedes of Sprinting Thistles are momentarily alarming, but the plants are more of a nuisance than a directed threat.

Intense scenes: the aftermath of the second thistle stampede, in which Tinker Bell has inadvertently destroyed all the work of the entire fairy community, could be emotionally intense for some – along the lines of “she’s in so much trouble!!!”, but things are soon set right again.

Another brief gag: a squirrel is hit in the head with a nut, and bursts into tears. Done for humour, and happens very quickly.

Warning: Excessive Merchandise Alert!

Interests: fairies, magic, nature, seasons, spring

Go to review for 2nd Tinker Bell film – Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)

Black & White
Rating: USA: Approved
Length: 133 min – other versions: 117 min (edited version), 142 min (with overture and exit music)
Age: suitable for 3, but for plot comprehension 4 or 5

Scary Factor: Oberon in black and his bat-people minions are a little unnerving, particularly when they seem to be rounding up the beautiful fairies at the end. Other than that there’s nothing violent or threatening. Viewers may wonder about the small orphan boy fought over by Oberon and Titania, but the toddler keeps smiling whether he’s with one or the other and seems to be treated well, so it shouldn’t be an issue. (He weeps only when Titania ignores him during her fascination with Bottom.)

Interests: magic, fairies, Shakespeare, old movies

Next: MOVIE: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999) is more for 12+ crowd (PG-13); BOOKS: traditional fairy tales, Peter Pan, Tales from Shakespeare by Charles & Mary Lamb, Shakespeare’s The Tempest (in a picture book version)

Preparation: picture books or other abridged versions of the Midsummer Night’s Dream story – helpful to know the plot first!


All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.