Song and Dance Man

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1989

Song and Dance Man

Karen Ackerman, text

Stephen Gammell, illustrations

Alfred A. Knopf, 1988

30 pp.

Age: 4+

Interests: family history, grandparents, song and dance, theatre

Other books on family history: They Were Strong and Good, Grandfather’s Journey

Next: pull out the old family photos!

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Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

Annie Get Your Gun

Colour, Musical

Released: 1950

Rated: Approved (G)

Length: 107 min

Age: 4+  (5 or 6 for fuller comprehension)   (commonsense media sez 6+)

Scary Factor: nothing scary

Violence: a lot of guns, naturally, but all used for target shooting; only one re-enactment of an Indian attack, make sure kids understand it’s all a big circus act and nobody is really being shot; Frank gets mad at one point and punches somebody, but it’s a rather isolated event

Other: racial insensitivity, depicting Native Americans as uncivilized for comic purposes; lots of “ugh’ and “how”-type dialogue

Interests: famous women, history, cowboys, Wild West, circus/theatrical, musicals

Next: for girl cowboys see Annie Oakley (1935), Calamity Jane (1953); for Wild West musicals see Calamity Jane (1953), The Harvey Girls (1946), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954); or visit your library to find historical accounts of the real Annie Oakley and her times

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The Music Man (1962)

The Music Man

Released: 1962

Rated: G
Length: 151 min.
Age: 6+  (for comprehension)                     Commonsense media sez: 6 +

Scary: nothing violent, only the talk of angry townsfolk about tarring and feathering Hill

Sexual Innuendo: in some dialogue and songs, but all G-rated and too oblique to be picked up by small children

Interests: musicals, song and dance, marching bands, history, small town life, con men

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Released: 1968
Rated: G
Length: 144 min. (with an intermission at the 1:27 mark)
Age: 6 and up            Commensense Media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: fantasy adventure story abounds in peril but all is exaggerated and cartoonish; the Baron and his spies are too bumbling to be truly scary; the Child Catcher on the other hand is extremely creepy, he’s the scariest thing in the movie, especially when he captures Jemima and Jeremy

Intense Scenes: all the children living underground is a rather pathetic sight, it stuck with me as a child; Caractacus and Truly posing as dolls is a bit suspenseful, but mostly amusing

Questionable Language: apparently Grandpa says “ass” at some point

Other Violence and Mayhem: the Baron and Baroness are pretty weird, especially the Baron’s sly attempts to do away with his wife, particularly during their cutesy song together before the party; in an earlier scene the Baroness is ejected high into the air, she floats gently down thanks to her large skirts and the Baron hauls out his shotgun and shoots at her! (the resulting holes in her billowing skirt bring her down quickly, and he expresses disappointment that he only hit her skirt!)

Interests: cars, inventions, magic, action, adventure, castles, scientists, inventors, spies, musicals

Next: Ian Fleming book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (very different plot)
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Happy Feet (2006)

Happy Feet

Rated: PG for some mild peril and rude humor

Length: 108 min.

Age: 6 + (with reservations – read full review)          Commonsense Media sez: 5 +

Scary Factor: leopard seal lunging right at the camera and ensuing chase; long sliding sequence with avalanche; another hair-raising chase with orcas; close call with boat propeller

Intense scenes: Mumble is cruelly ostracized and finally banished from the colony; when he’s in the zoo Mumble becomes clinically depressed, to the point of madness

Language: idiot, stupid, blubber butt, lardface, fool, etc.

Sexual content: suggestive lyrics in pop songs; much preoccupation with mating season; lots of sexually suggestive body language and innuendo (especially Lovelace)

Interests: penguins, antarctica, ocean, sea creatures, environmentalism

Next: March of the Penguins (documentary)
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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”…

Annie (1982)



Rated: PG (language)
Length:  126 min.
Age: 5 and up.       Commonsense Media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: Annie is kidnapped, shoved into a car and taken away; she is also chased by Rooster (shouting “I’ll kill ya!”), climbs to a great height on a bridge, dangles over the edge before being rescued

Violence: the orphans are very rough with each other; Annie punches out a bigger boy, knocking him down; much slapsticky shoving about, pratfalls, foot-stomping; less amusing is moment at climax when Miss Hannigan tries to stop Rooster and he punches her, knocking her out; also, a ‘bolshevik’ tries to kill Warbucks with a bomb (a brief and rather lighthearted event)

Also: lots of verbal threats, between orphans and from Miss Hannigan (who likes to holler “kill kill kill!”), most used for humour

Language: “shut up”, several “damn”s, “hell”

Bad Behavior: Miss Hannigan is drunk most of the time (makes her own bathtub gin); grownups smoke quite a lot

Sex: Miss Hannigan throws herself at every man she encounters, in a manner, shall we say, unusual for a children’s film; Miss Hannigan lounges about in her lingerie; Rooster and his girlfriend paw one another, fully clothed

Interests: musicals, song and dance, New York, history

Next: OTHER MOVIE MUSICALS: Singin’ in the Rain (all ages), Mary Poppins (3), Meet Me in St. Louis (4), The Music Man, The Wizard of Oz (4), The Sound of Music (6), STAGE: see Annie the musical live if you can

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Meet Me in St. Louis (1945)

Meet Me in St. Louis

Rated: Canada – PG (parental guidance?! probably because of Hallowe’en sequence) ; USA – Approved
Length:  113 min.
Age: 4 and up. (more for comprehension and attention span)

Scary Factor: Hallowe’en scene (see below)

Intense stuff: the Christmas Eve scene with the snowmen makes me cry, but I don’t think children will be such marshmallows over it!

Interests: history, family, musicals, song and dance, old movies

Next: Judy Garland: The Wizard of Oz

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