I was writing another post for today, but it’s turned out to be far squirrlier than initially anticipated, so instead I’ve decided to make a short list of kid’s movies that I love as an adult. The only children’s movies I’ve talked about on here are Up and Wreck-It Ralph, neither of which I cared for, so I figured it’s time I gave the adolescent film genre some props. Because if I’m being honest, kid’s movies are basically my favorite.
Oh, and none of these movies are Pixar or Disney films. Because Pixar films being the best (at least up until recent years) sort of goes without saying, and Disney really has a strangle-hold on the genre, and I think the rest of the studios need some love. My undying love & loyalty to the Lion King, of course, but not on this list.
I’m what you might call a “dog lover,” to put it mildly, so no surprise that the first movie on the list is all about dogs. Specifically, huskies. Balto came out the same year as Toy Story and was thusly shut out of box office sales, but it’s an adorable little film in its own right deserving of some love.
The titular character, Balto, is a husky-wolf hybrid, ridiculed by both humans and other, more pure-bread dogs in his home town of Nome, Alaska. When the children of the town fall sick with diphtheria, a sled dog team must be sent for the medicine to save them. The team gets lost in the blizzard, however, and the outcast Balto (along with his goose friend Boris and polar bear friends Muk and Luk) is the only dog brave enough to search for them. Trials and tribulations ensue, with particular attention to a very nasty grizzly bear, and in the end Balto saves the day and all the children.
Balto is the ultimate underdog story, not least because it is literally about a dog. It’s an adorable movie with some pretty top-notch scenery design (the northern lights bits alone are worth watching the whole film for), and it always puts me in a good mood. Did I mention that it’s all about huskies? Because it’s all about huskies.
How to Train Your Dragon
Of course, no list of non-Disney children’s movies, no matter how short, would be complete without this gem. How to Train Your Dragon has gotten a lot of attention (as well as a sequel coming to theaters this June), and for good reason: it’s freaking adorable.
You probably already know the gist of this film, but for those who don’t: Hiccup is the son of a viking chief, but his tendency toward brains over brawn has put him on the outs with his father. While the other vikings are busy defending the village from dragons, Hiccup engineers a way to catch one, which he is then unable to bring himself to kill. Instead, he names it Toothless and winds up training it, and ultimately saves the whole village and all the dragons by furthering dragon-viking understanding and comradeship. That’s a terrible summary, but you get the idea.
The winning note in this film is the dragon, Toothless. Toothless is adorable. Despite being huge and scaly, he basically behaves like this huge, fluffy, adorable cat-dog hybrid beast, complete with tail-chasing and licking and nuzzling. The rest of the dragons are equally well-realized, to the point where I don’t even care about the fact that the rest of the movie is built around a highly implausible viking society in which Americans apparently grow up to be Scotsmen. Who cares? Dragons.
The Iron Giant
I love a good genre inversion, and the Iron Giant is basically as good as it gets. The film is built around the premise of a giant, evil, invader robot landing on Earth, like you might see in a scifi apocalypse movie, only the robot looses its memory and instead the whole film turns into this absurd fish-out-of-water narrative. It’s actually a lot like Lilo & Stitch, narrative-wise, only instead of a small fluffy blue dog, the alien invader is a giant-ass armed robot (Iron Giant predates Lilo & Stitch by 3 years, btw).
Hogarth is a social-outcast young boy living with his mother in 1957 upstate Maine, just outside of a military base. When Hogarth discovers the amnesiac metal-eating robot lost in the woods, he jumps at the opportunity to make a new friend, however destructive he may be. Enlisting the help of local scrap-yard owner and artist Dean, Hogarth manages to keep the robot largely a secret from the nearby military base, while teaching it that it can choose to be a good guy instead of a bad guy. Then Hogarth accidentally sets off the robot’s defense system by pointing a toy gun at it, the shit completely hits the fan, and the movie ends with a nuclear bomb blast. No, really. It’s okay, though; the robot saves the town by absorbing the whole blast itself, thereby proving that even an evil killer robot from outer space can be Superman.
I’m sensing a theme in these movies, but once again, the main reason to see this film is because it’s so cute. Seriously. The giant robot is adorable, especially when he’s trying to figure out how to be human and just failing miserably. Plus, the kid’s name is Hogarth. Hogarth. How can you not like that?
Based on the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name, Coraline is the tale of a girl who feels neglected by her busy, artist parents, particularly her mother, and finds solace in an alternate-world version of her own life in which she is the center of attention. This parallel world is accessed through her closet, and at first she loves the magical beauty and doting attention of her Other Mother, but soon she discovers that in fact mystical parallel worlds are terrifying as fuck. This is definitely a movie to put in the “horrifying fantasy world” category.
The main appeal of this film is the absolutely gorgeous animation and set design. Coraline might very well be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. It combines a wide variety of different animation styles, including claymation and hand-drawn illustration in addition to digital rendering, plus 3D printer-made set pieces, all of which were specially crafted for the film. Basically, Coraline is in a category of its own when it comes to film animation. You could pause every frame and just stare at it for hours. The quirky characters inhabiting this beautiful world are also well-worth your attention, though like most children’s films, the side characters are far more interesting than the protagonist herself. Definitely a film worth staring at on a regular basis.
In the interest of full-disclosure: it is entirely possible that I only still like this film because I have nostalgia-glasses for it. This was one of my favorite films growing up. I wanted to be one of those fairies. Despite the heavy-handed environmentalism message and the sometimes shoddy animation, I still love this film to pieces and nobody will ever take it away from me.
FernGully follows Crysta, a young fairy who is sure humans have returned to the forest, despite the village elders insisting humans were driven extinct by the destruction spirit Hexxus (played by Tim motherfucking Curry). With help from an escaped lab-bat Batty Koda (Robin Williams), Crysta finds a logging settlement on the edge of the forest, where she accidentally shrinks logger Zak down to her size. The three have some wacky adventures, and then the loggers accidentally free the evil spirit Hexxus from his tree-prison, and he begins wrecking havoc on the forest. The fairies and Zak must band together to save the forest, and Crysta discovers her inner powers and becomes the new protector of the rainforest.
Yeah, so the plot is heavy-handed and corny as hell, but you know what? This is a delightful film, if only because it makes you want to be one of those fairies so freaking bad. Plus, it’s literally the same exact plot as Avatar, but like a million times better, so haters can hate, I’m going to go watch FernGully again.
“That missile is targeted to the giant’s current position! WHERE’S THE GIANT, MANSLEY?” -General Rogard, The Iron Giant