Saturday, February 22, 2014

Introducing Children to Classic Movies

Winter is almost over and springtime is approaching - a great time to clean house, lose weight, learn a new hobby, and pick up some new interests. And what better interest is there than classic movies? We certainly can't think of any, so we thought we'd undertake the ultimate Classic Movies for Those Who've Never Seen a Classic Movie Before list. Never heard of one of those before? Believe me, there are plenty. Since it is such a loooong list we have broken it up into five different groups: 

  • Children 5-8 ( that's what you're reading here )
  • Children 9-12 
  • Teens 13-19
  • Adults
  • An Introduction to Silents

This will probably take us over a month year to write, so for now we'll just focus on introducing children to classics.

Why should you introduce children to classic films? Simple - because why should they be limited to today's entertainment? There is a wealth of great films to be savored and enjoyed. At present, there are roughly 25,000 films easily accessible to the public through online streaming, cable television, dvds, and vhs tapes. Limiting oneself to only what the current media offers is like never reading a book written before the year 2000, or never playing a sport that wasn't invented within the last 15 years. Golly!

This list doesn't read as the "best classic films children should watch"....instead it's a compilation of some of the best films to get your child introduced to classics. Let them discover their favorites on their own. Think of this as a launching pad into the realm of the classic film galaxy. 

First off...some basic tips ( take it from a former child ) : 

  • Start with more recent films and work backgrounds in decades. If your children enjoy 1990s films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Home Alone already, then start introducing them to the 1980s classics like The Goonies, E.T, Pippi Longstocking, and Ghostbusters, then the Kurt Russell Disney flicks, Star Wars, Freaky get the picture. NOTE: If your children are under 7, throw this tip out the window. So long as a classic film is in color, they'll enjoy it. 

And that leads us to the second tip : 

  • Begin with color films. Children might be turned off just because the movie is in black and white. "Eeeeew, what an old movie...was the world really in black and white then?". That's not the best reaction you hope to hear. Once they come to appreciate films from all generations, they'll have plenty of time to get into the black and white films. This doesn't apply to slapstick though...The Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers somehow transpose the realm of color. 

Lastly ( and most importantly! ) :

  • Never push a film on them because you enjoy it, or just because it is a renowned classic. Introduce your kids to movies that you believe they will like based on their interests. A boy who loves space and rockets will enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Reluctant Astronaut, and October Sky much more than The Sound of Music or Shane. This doesn't mean you should always limit the movies to their tastes ( heck, discovering a new interest is one of the best qualities of watching a film! ), but when starting out, it is best. 

Alright, so 'nuff of the prep-talk...on with the films! 

Children 5-8 Years Old 

Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 )

A young pre-007 Sean Connery stars in this classic Irish tale of leprauchens, pots of gold and banshees. Great special effects ( utilizing matte shots by Peter Ellenshaw ) make those little people seem surprisingly real. 

Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang! ( 1968 )

This film has it all - eccentric inventors, castles, airships, a deranged king, a wicked child-catcher, a beautiful heroine named Truly Scrumptious, a windmill house, and best of all....the flying car herself - Chitty. What's there not to like? Okay.. it is a bit on the lengthy side. 

Doctor Dolittle ( 1969 ) 

Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Dolittle has a long runtime but it moves at a sprightly pace ( except during the court sequences ) and features such beautiful location shooting and music that it's hard to resist. Rex Harrison plays an engaging Doctor even if he does seem rather stiff. 

Back to the Beach ( 1987 )

My sister and I grew up with this goofy film and loved it to pieces. Watching it a few years ago I realized how risque some of the quips were, but all that stuff eluded us as children ( and we were quite perceptive kiddies ). This film marked a return of the 1960s beach icons Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Pee-Wee Herman, Jerry Mathers, Don Adams and Bob Denver ( Gilligan's Island ) all make guest appearances. It features some great surf numbers Jamaica Ska!, Bird is the Word, and California Sun.

Flipper ( and Flipper's New Adventure ) ( 1963 )

Who can resist a squeaking dolphin? Flipper is the king of the sea, faster than lightning and friends to you and me. Flipper's New Adventure features Sandy on a secluded island with a young Pamela Franklin and it's up to Flipper to rescue them. Note : girls will find a new heartthrob to drool over in Luke Halpin, who was the Zac Efron of his time. 

The Incredible Journey ( 1963 )

If dolphins don't appeal to your wee ones, try cats and dogs. In this film, two dogs and a cat take an incredible journey to find their way back home to their owner. Simple story....compelling film. I've never seen the 1995 remake, but that's a children's classic too. 

Godzilla's Revenge ( 1969 )

Don't like cats and dogs? How about giant reptiles then? Godzilla films can be enjoyed at any age, but this flick is especially geared towards little Godzilla fans. A young boy comes across a bully everyday on his way to school and during his naps he dreams of the great Godzilla instructing his own son on how to gain courage to fight his enemies. Nice monster mush.

The Incredible Mr. Limpet ( 1964 )

And while we're on the subject of reptiles, here's a fishy flick. Before Finding Nemo there was....Mr. Limpet! Don Knotts plays a mild-mannered fish lover who stumbles into the Atlantic ocean during an outing at Coney Island. He finds he loves being under the sea much more than being on land and becomes a hero by helping the US Navy seek out enemy submarines. There's nothing as stirring as watching a patriotic fish in action. 

The Jungle Book ( 1967 )

Oooh, Ooh, Ooooh, Baloooo! One of Walt Disney's most finger-snapping films to watch. A colorful plot, engaging characters, down-right jazzy music and plenty of action make this an all around winner for all ages. It will introduce your children to the world of Rudyard Kipling too. ( Time to bring out Wee Willie Winkie ). Other late Disney animated classics to enjoy : The Aristocats, The Rescuers and Robin Hood

The Little Rascals

Spanky, Alfalfa, Stymie, Darla, Spot, Chubby....the ragamuffin little group of kiddies known as Our Gang ( and later The Little Rascals ) have entertained youngsters for over 80 years. If you never heard of them till now, then what box have you been hiding under?

Mary Poppins ( 1964 )

Take a jolly holiday with your children and secretly enjoy this classic for yourself as well. P.L Travers was a hard one to convince when it came to Walt Disney filming her beloved books, but we're sure glad she was won over. Can you tell we like Disney films? 

Miracle on 34th Street ( 1947 )

This classic airs every Thanksgiving on television and has yet to lose its charm. Tales of faith have a way of lasting. John Payne counted it as his favorite film. Maureen O'Hara and a young Natalie Wood also star. Interestingly enough, Santa is revealed but there are no elves to be seen anywhere in New York. 

Peter Pan ( 1953 )

Pirates, a flying ship, mermaid lagoons, indians, twinkling fairies...that James Barrie certainly knew what children liked best. Make sure you got a stock of pixie dust on hand to sprinkle the kids with when the film is over. You might as well get them started flying at a young age. 

Pollyanna ( 1960 )

Girls will love Pollyanna, boys will....roll their eyes? This just isn't a boys flick. An orphan girl gets - reluctantly - adopted by her stiff aunt and annoys her to no end with her "goody two shoes" attitude. But, like a true Disney film, Pollyanna wins her over completely by the end of the picture and comes to realize what a wise little girl landed in her lap. This film teaches a wonderful lesson on always looking for the good in people, and for the good in adverse situations. 

The Red Balloon ( 1956 )

A little boy finds a red balloon in Paris and follows it on its drifting adventures. The Red Balloon won the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Short Film upon its release and has been a standard for many short films since. 

Pete's Dragon ( 1977 ) 

An orphan runs away from his foster parents and, along with his invisible dragon friend Elliott, comes to the town of Passamaquoddy and befriends a lighthouse keeper and his daughter. This was one of the Disney Studios weaker films, but when you're young you don't really pay attention to the quality of animation or any of that jazz.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ( 1937 )

The film that launched Walt Disney films into feature-length stardom. With its new digital hi-def transfer it looks stunningly sharp and as fresh as ever. A true classic never ages. Like fine wine it just gets better with time. Other animated Walt Disney classics to enjoy : Bambi, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Dumbo.

The Three Lives of Thomasina ( 1964 ) guessed it...another Disney film. And this one is a darling! The Mary Poppins girl ( Karen Dotrice ) loves her beloved cat so much that when she thinks the pussy dies, she begins to waste away herself. It takes her daddy's prayers and the help of a kindly "witch of the woods" to bring her back to strength. 

The Wizard of Oz ( 1939 )

We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.....Did you really think this list would finish without a mention of The Wizard of Oz

Coming Soon :   Introducing Children to Classic Movies Part 2 - Children 9-12 Years Old


  1. I feel very strongly about getting young ones watching classic films, so I love this post! My nephew is now six, and we've had him watching classic films since day one. Mary Poppins was the first film he really loved, but he rapidly expanded from there. So far he hasn't noticed that movies in b&w are any different from color, and I hope it stays that way. He absolutely loves Laurel & Hardy, and quotes dialogue from various shorts all the time. We showed him The General with Buster Keaton and he loved that as well. He did ask why they weren't talking, but he moved right past that. Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, and the Disney animation films all suck him right in. I own Darby O'Gill, so hopefully we'll be showing him that one soon. Maybe for St. Patrick's Day this year!

    1. Laurel and Hardy! How did I miss them? This list features most of the really popular classic films, we put the more juicy titles in the 9-12 age group, even though they are perfectly suitable for younger children as well. I hope your nephew remains appreciative of films from all generations throughout his life. We're planning on watching Darby O'Gill this St. Paddie's Day too. Some films just never get stale. :-) Glad you liked our list! We'll post a downloadable pdf of titles once we finish the series.

  2. Love the selections. Mary Poppins is one of my favourite all time films. Also if you haven't already, check out the original Parent Trap with Hayley Mills. Maureen O'Hara is simply amazing in it and its a great Disney film for the kiddies!!!

    1. We're glad you liked our post! We certainly have seen The Parent Trap ( it's one of our favorites ) and it will be listed in Part 2 - for children 9-12 years old. Just about ANY Maureen O'Hara film is great for children, she made so many wonderful movies.

  3. The classic Disney (animated and live action) have been a constant in our family and inadvertently (Thanks, Walt) proved a gateway to an interest in classic movies. "Hey, Janet and/or Gavin, want to see what Timothy the mouse from "Dumbo" really looked like? That's Ed Brophy in "All Through the Night". Listen to his voice." Basil Rathbone ("The Wind in the Willows"), Peter Ustinov ("Robin Hood"), Sterling Holloway ("Winnie-the-Pooh", etc.), Mickey Rooney ("The Fox and the Hound"), etc. It worked wonderfully. Andy Devine ("Robin Hood") was an early favourite. My daughter eventually used George Sanders ("The Jungle Book") as bait to show her teenaged friends "Foreign Correspondent".

    "Never push a film on them because you enjoy it..."
    Where were you with this advice 15 years ago when the hubby and I were enjoying "Die Hard" on TV and our eight-year-old daughter glared at us, called it inappropriate and huffed out of the room?

    1. Gosh, I never thought about that. I can see how kids would be drawn in to seeing their favorite characters "in person". I think I was 15 years old before I realized that Phil Harris was Baloo! And yes, "never push a film on them because you enjoy it" was learned from experience!

  4. I LOVE the very thought of this BLOG. Children and classic films should be a perfect fit, given the opportunity and your list is wonderful. I've watched and loved all of the movies you've listed her, both as a child and as a parent watching them again with my own children. Well done!

    1. Nooo....did you really watch ALL these films Kat?? lol! I think you could have come up with your own list twice as good as ours based on all the movies you've seen. I'm glad you like our picks though!

  5. A very fun idea for a post and I wholeheartedly concur with POLLYANNA, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, and, of course, OZ. However, I'd nix CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and PETE'S DRAGON; I'm just not a fan of either one. One movie I show to friends' children that always resonates is THE COURT JESTER. They'll do the "chalice in the palace" routine for days!

    1. If you were to watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Pete's Dragon for the first time as adults, then they would both seem very unappealing....but when you grow up with them they are really delightful. I feel that way about Willy Wonka ( it's not a film I grew up with )...I just don't understand the appeal that has with so many. My sister and I just adore Chitty though...I've never found another film that opens so thrillingly. Just a simple black screen and the sound of engines starting up. We're prejudiced however, our father was our very own Professor Potts and since we were homeschooled we grew up in a similar environment. We're glad you like our choices Rick and we certainly will be including The Court Jester in Part 2!

  6. I'd like to add that Darby and Chitty Chitty both have scary sequences that parents should watch out for. And I was afraid of the Wicked Witch of the East when I was little.

    That said, my 2-, 4-, and 6-year-olds all love Mary Poppins and Cinderella, and my girls like The Aristocats really well too.

    The Apple Dumpling Gang is another good one for younger viewers, as there's nothing very scary in it, though it does involve some mild western violence. But there's also lots of slapstick to start them giggling!

    1. You have a point there Hamlette....the Banshee and the child-catcher are still quite scary to look at ( and we're over 20. Ha! ). When we were younger we exercised the hands-over-your-eyes movement quite a bit and managed to enjoy alot of great movies without getting scared. Come to think of it though, some of the animated Disney villains scared the bejeebers out of us- Ursula the Octopus, the Beast, etc.

      Don Knotts films are wonderful for kids ( except The Love God ) and another really good, but not very popular, western Disney film some may enjoy is The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin starring Roddy MacDowall. It's very tame and yet adventurous.

      Thanks for your input Hamlette!

  7. Wonderful! I was started in the film world with Disney classics, so I can say it is indeed a great start! I only came to see the live-action Disney films recently, and I loved them! Even Dr. Dolittle, so often critized, was a huge fun to watch.
    Waiting for the second part!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post Le! Be sure to check out Blackbeard's Ghost and The Strongest Man in the World when you start delving into the Disney live-action classics. Those are fun to watch!

  8. Although at times I sound like 100 (and I am not) I have to say if children watched the films in your review and hundreds of others like it from those years; surely they would be better off for it? These films are innocent and fun. Like you; I and most people over about 35 grew up watching these as kids and have the memories of our favorites and favorite parts. These are movies you can rest assured you can allow children to watch and not worry about what they may see. The Incredible Mr Limpet and Wizard of OZ stand out for me. I always enjoy watching Don Knotts in any movie. A classic actor with a gift for comedy.

    1. Thank you for your comment! Yes, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Children also derive another benefit from watching classic films : they gain an appreciation of film ( and music...and culture ) from generations other than their own. Classic film fans never go around saying "Eeeeew, a 1950 song. That's oooold!". ( Actually, 1950 is rather new when you think of the history of film ). Films gives you a real appreciation for every decade past and opens up so many different avenues to explore.

  9. Great post. Got some ideas for my 9 year old son. One thing tho: the name 'Our Gang' came first, THEN 'The Little Rascals.'

    1. Thank you for the correction ( I always get the two names confused ). We're glad you got some ideas from our post!

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