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Good Children’s Movies (2010-15):  Green Leaves & Another Brick Road
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Good Children’s Movies (2010-15): Green Leaves & Another Brick Road

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David Appleford itcherUpon the arrival of the 21st century, the studio that had dominated family entertainment for decades suddenly found itself facing competition from unexpected quarters. Studios like Dreamworks and 20th Century Fox developed their own animation departments to such a degree with popular films, well-liked characters and new franchises that the folks at Disney had to come up with something special in order to put them right back at the top. In 2013 they did exactly that. But their instant classic release didn’t just dominate the animation market; like a speeding juggernaut, everything had to get out of its way. ~ David Appleford

A Little Bear Breaking Records

Once the first decade of the new millennium passed it was obvious that the market for family-friendly films was as equally profitable as any other market. In fact, animated features like 2010’s ‘Despicable Me’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ were so big, it was obvious to Hollywood that the industry was never going to be as it was.  

Disney saw competition like it had never seen before. Animated features such as ‘The Croods,’ ‘Rango,’ and the off-shoot of the Shrek films, ‘Puss in Boots,’ seemed to come out of nowhere, and families flocked to theatres in ever-increasing numbers. Even Lego got in on the act with the truly hilarious 2014 release ‘The Lego Movie,’ where we soon discovered that everything was apparently awesome.

But it wasn’t just animation that was working; live-action family films were doing just as well. Quality came in the shape of that little bear from darkest Peru with a taste for honey. ‘Paddington’ not only broke records in its native Britain but also in countries that had never heard of the Paddington Bear books.    

So this is what Disney did. In addition to raiding their previous animated classics and turning them into successful live-action films like 2014’s ‘Maleficent’ and 2015’s spectacular ‘Cinderella,’ they went back to the drawing-board, so to speak, and released what would become the most commercially successful animated feature of all – ‘Frozen.’

If by this point parents have seen enough of the wintry adventures of Elsa and Anna, then consider the following five films as an alternative. Some of the names may sound familiar, especially considering that at the time of compiling this short list they’re all just a few years old, but the rewards will be great. After all, you can hear the lyrics to ‘Let It Go’ only so many times before you want it well and truly gone. Hopefully, these will help.

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Bubbly Children’s Movie Recommendations

‘Arrietty’ (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010)

Human beings are dangerous. If we’re seen, we have to leave. My parents said so…

Technically there are several titles used for this wonderful Japanese animated feature. The working title was ‘Little Arietty.’ America calls it ‘The Secret World of Arriety’ while on its home turf of Japan it’s called ‘The Borrower Arriety.’ The Japanese title is perhaps the most appropriate; even if you’ve never heard of the character, the film’s inspirational source may sound familiar. ‘Arrietty’ was inspired by the English children’s classic ‘The Borrowers’ by Mary Norton.

The Clock family is just four-inches tall. They live in other people’s homes, hidden away so that no one can ever see them. When no one is around, they come out from hiding and take things, little things, to make their home-life down below a little more comfortable. The Clocks don’t see what they do as stealing, they’re just borrowing. Then one day the youngest daughter, little Arriety, is discovered by a human boy, and that changes everything.

The story of ‘The Borrowers’ has seen several adaptations, including a ’73 made-for-TV movie, two BBC productions, including a sequel, and a ’97 live-action film with John Goodman, but none can claim the sheer visual beauty of this Japanese animated feature. If you want your child’s imagination to soar, this is the film. The fact that the story might look familiar to your child can only help.  

Plus, notice that in the Clocks’ home they have three drinking cups decorated with the playing card symbols of the diamond, the club and the heart. But there’s no spade. In some quarters of the Japanese culture, the spade is considered bad luck.

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‘Dolphin Tale’ (Charles Martin Smith, 2011)

If you don’t wear the tail, you’re gonna die…

Who doesn’t love dolphins? There was a reason why ‘Flipper’ ran for so many years on TV and spawned films of its own. With a snout that looks as though it’s permanently smiling, the dolphin is the watery equivalent of a land-locked loving canine; it’s the ocean-going man’s best friend.

Based on the true story of a dolphin called Winter, ‘Dolphin Tale’ tells of a lonely young boy who finds a fisherman trying to help an injured dolphin get out of a tangled mess. The dolphin is wrapped in a crab trap and its tail is badly damaged. What’s required is an operation to remove the tail, replaced by a prosthetic one. If not, the dolphin may die.          

There were differences between the real-life story and the reel-life one. Developing Winter’s prosthetic tail takes just a few weeks in the film. In real life it was months, but as often happens when telling a story on film, the urgency of Winter’s operation needed a shorter time to get things done. There was even a sequel released in 2014, but it’s the original you should see.

The 2011 film was released in 3D, and even though the gimmick is enjoyed by many on the big screen, if you rent, buy or stream the film in regular 2D for your children, it actually looks sharper and brighter.

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‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’ (Will Fin & Dan St. Pierre, 2013)

I can only imagine how you must feel. Trapped alone in a giant rainbow. Surrounded by colors!

Originally intended as a straight-to-video project, the animated ‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’ appeared so promising to its production company, Prana Studios, that it decided to invest in big screen hype and release it theatrically.  

At this stage, neither Dorothy nor the land of Oz need an introduction. As the title suggests, young Dorothy returns to Oz and the yellow brick road to help out because of a new threat. The evil Jester has the Wicked Witch of the West’s magical broomstick under his control, plus he’s also the leader of those nasty flying monkeys.

The book upon which the film was based was not part of the original L. Frank Baum’s classic series; it came from a new 1989 novel written by Baum’s great-grandchild, Roger S. Baum. Compared to the original stories – or even to the original Judy Garland film, for that matter – ‘Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return’ is no classic, but the cast of recognizable famous voices, including Dan Ackroyd, Kelsey Grammer, Martin Short, Brain Blessed and Patrick Stewart make it fun for the adults while the eye-catching brightness of the animation and the further adventures of the little girl from Kansas should keep children entertained.

As a big screen release, the film did little to no business making only a fraction of its large budget, but for the home market, where it was always intended to be, it’s a pleasant enough diversion for children. And if you want to do them a big favor and they’re new to everything Oz, you might consider playing the 1939 classic first.

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‘The Odd Life of Timothy Green’ (Peter Hedges, 2012)

Please don’t ask about my leaves…

For adults, perhaps the most interesting aspect of this live-action comedy fantasy adventure is the name of the man behind the film’s concept. The story was written by Ahmet Zappa, the third of four children from famous rock musician Frank Zappa. Who knew?

When a young married couple receives bad news from a fertility doctor, they place all of their notes of wishful hopes and dreams of ever having a child in a small box which they bury in their back yard. After an overnight freak storm, the couple wake the following morning to find a little boy called Timothy standing in their kitchen. He not only calls them mum and dad, there’s something else; he has leaves growing from his ankles.

There’s an attractive look to the film – it takes place in one of those small towns where everyone knows each other and the summertime picnic is the social highlight of the year – plus the cast of two likeable leads, Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, make this something enjoyable for parents to watch with their children. Interestingly, Sandra Bullock was originally offered the role of mum, but she turned it down.  

There’s no denying that the story of a boy born from the back yard with leaves growing out of him is nothing short of odd, but there’s also an unexpected feel-good, playful charm to the film. It’s sentimental, sure, but by the end, you’ll be hugging your own child more than ever.

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‘Ramona and Beezus’ (Elizabeth Allen, 2010)

Ramona, you’re your own person. You don’t care about coloring inside the lines…

Based on a series of books by Beverly Cleary, ‘Ramona and Beezus’ is a fantasy adventure of two sisters who use their imaginations to help cope with their problems at home, particularly after dad loses his job and the family fall into debt.

The title comes from the original book though the plot comes from the sequels that followed. Troublesome Ramona (Joey King) is a continual source of embarrassment to her older sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) as she tries to find ways of bringing much-needed income into the family home, though somehow those ideas always seem to go wrong.

This is one of those children’s films where the slapstick, while obvious to adults, creates big laughs for the kids. Plus, the fact that Beezus is played by Selena Gomez, now a hugely successful pop singer, makes the film even more interesting to a child; it’s a recognizable face, one that might still be on a poster hanging on a little girl’s bedroom wall

If your child is curious about the eccentric name of Beezus and where it came from, impress them with this: even though it’s not explained in the film, in the original book when Beezus was born, her family called her Beatrice. But when the child started to talk she couldn’t say her own name properly. It came out as Beezus, and the name stuck.

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Sequels on the Horizon

The future of children’s films after 2015 looks as healthy as ever. With more studios tapping into family entertainment, the competition can only help. The end of 2015 also saw terrific family features like ‘The Peanuts Movie’ and the truly delightful ‘Shaun the Sheep Movie’ on the big screen, which means more quality for the home market once the DVDs are released. Plus, Disney has no intention of letting the future or other studios get the better of them.  

There’s a sequel to the 1977 adventure ‘Pete’s Dragon’ set for 2016 with Robert Redford as dad, while in 2017 keep an eye out for a live-action musical adaptation of the animated jewel in Disney’s crown, ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Emma Thompson will be Mrs. Potts and Harry Potter’s Emma Watson will be Belle. Filming is already completed but because of the effects and all the extra work needed, it’ll be at least another year until its big screen release. Predictions state it will be huge.  Elsa and Anna are already jealous.

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