Welcome to the Read That Again! guide to children's film, cartoons and videos for younger viewers. Looking for good movies that won't warp their little brains too badly? Here are a few of our faves...
This page covers the letter "B."
By the way, we're always looking for new stuff to watch... If you have recommendations, please feel free to write and tell us about your favorites.
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One of the greats. A remarkable film adaptation that is actually better than the book that inspired it, with a cool mix of animal actors and animatronics, as well as great human co-stars. The story of an orphan pig who learns how to herd sheep, and the quiet, resolute farmer who trains him. I saw this in the theatre when it first came out, loved it and was delighted years later when my kid loved it as well. The original novel by Dick King-Smith is fun as well, although a bit pricklier in tone than the film, as many of his stories tend to be... Both versions are highly recommended. (A+)
(Universal Studios, 1995)
Set in the Alaskan frontier of yesteryear, this animated film is based on a true historical drama about a heroic Alaskan sled dog who helped bring desperately-needed medicine to an isolated Yukon town. The story liberally recycles archetypal characters from other animated classics (the homeless, noble Balto is strongly reminiscent of Disney's Tramp; his snarling, unscrupulous nemesis, Steele, is a canine copy of Gaston, from "Beauty And The Beast," etc.) but these echoes of other films don't get in the way of a good, action-packed story. The idea of a disease that kills children (in this case, diptheria) may be upsetting to smaller children; parents may wish to explain that this is a disease that has been all-but conquered by an aggressive modern vaccine program. Balancing this is the semi-historical presentation of a bygone era, the pioneer days of the Alaskan territory. All in all, a good film for cartoon-savvy kids who are ready to graduate up from Cinderella and "Sesame Street." Makes a great double-feature with the live-action "Eight Below." (B+)
(Walt Disney, 1942)
Disney's talking-animal classic. In a modern age where pre-teen comedies feature ritual beheadings (well, not quite, but almost...) the old rite of emotional passage of seeing Bambi lose his mother in a forest fire seems pretty quaint and passe. Actually, there are a couple of factors at play with the de-fanging of Bambi, and changing tastes is only part of it. There's also the slow death of the movie matinees -- I remember seeing this movie in a theater as a kid and feeling myself engulfed in the fire, as the wild, licking flames covered the entire huge screen. This sense of awe and terror is greatly diminished on TV's small screen, so the movie becomes just a story and not a spectacle, and this is perhaps more true of Bambi than many other classic kids' films. Still, it's a good one, and you gotta love Thumper, right? Good for smaller kids, although you may still have to talk them through that whole Disney-kills-mommies thing... (B)
"Beauty And The Beast"
(Walt Disney, 1991)
Possibly the best of the big Disney princess movies... It certainly has the best songs! A good, strong script which follows the old fairytale and adds a few nice touches. The preening, bullying badguy, Gaston (and his simpering sidekick, LaFou) is one of Disney's best villains -- and his theme song is awesome, one of the cleverest, most Broadway-worthy of the genre. As for Belle herself, well, I'd say she's a great role model... strong, smart, assertive -- she's no pushover and she's a bookworm, to boot! The Beast doesn't do much for me, but it wouldn't be Disney if there weren't something drippy in there somewhere. On the dark side of things, the symbolic subtext of domestic violence in their relationship is a little heavy for a childrens' film, but it will probably fly over most kids' heads, although they will get the gist of it. All in all, this is a very well-made film, with a good mix of action, suspense, humor and artfulness. Recommended! (A)
"Ben 10: The Complete Season One"
(Turner/Cartoon Network, 2005)
One day my daughter came home talking about this series, which is very popular with the boys at her school, so I picked up Season One to give it a whirl. It's an exciting superhero cartoon about a rambunctious young boy who gets crazy powers after finding a mysterious wristband at the site of a crashed UFO. Several high-power comicbook writers worked on this and it's the kind of TV show I would have gone ape over back when I was a kid: the animation is a little funky (as many kids' shows are) but the color design and graphics are cool, the attitude is hip, and the action is intense. As it turns out, though, my kid was nonplussed by it... She tried to get into it, but stopped watching after a few episodes. I think it was just too loud and too garish for her.. Which was fine by me, because I wasn't really happy about the tone of sarcasm and teasing in the dialogue... Might be true to life for how American teens'n'tweens talk to one another, but it did have an unpleasant ring to it. Anyway, this is a wildly popular show, and if you're looking for super-action, it's a strong contender. (B)
"Ben 10: The Complete Season Two"
(Turner/Cartoon Network, 2007)
Did I mention that this series is very, very popular? Thus, it goes on and on and on... A regular saga, with about a bazillion episodes and numerous box sets to choose from... We never got past Season One, but if you're into it, there's a lot of material to explore. (B)
"Ben 10: The Complete Season Three"
(Turner/Cartoon Network, 2007)
"Ben 10: The Complete Season Four"
(Turner/Cartoon Network, 2007)
(Walt Disney, 2008)
An entertaining, action-packed animated adventure-comedy about a movie-star dog who doesn't know his onscreen "adventures" are actually part of a TV show. This Truman Show premise swiftly gives way to a more conventional buddy-film/road movie format as Bolt gets loose and needs to team up with a streetwise alley cat who helps him get back to Hollywood. The first time I watched this, I was a little nonplussed, but it's grown on me -- it's noisy and a little confusing (my kid's pretty young) but more thoughtful and clever than a lot of other films aimed at this age group. And that "there is no home" theme song can really stick in your head! Definitely worth checking out. (B+)
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