These movies are aimed at kids between the ages of 8 and 12, who have outgrown BAMBI, DUMBO, CINDERELLA, and other animated fare. Most of these films work on two levels: the humour is broad enough to entertain kids, and the story will hold their interest, but there are also elements that will appeal to adults. I don't believe that movies for kids should "dumbed down", like Disney used to do with their "Herbie Goes Bananas" and "Flubber". From personal experience, I can tell you that kids absorb more than the special effects: subtlety of tone and meaning is not lost on them. If you have doubts about this, go to the video store and pick up a movie you watched as a kid and haven't seen since. Sure, you'll notice things you didn't notice before, you may also notice how you intuitively understood which characters were "good" and which were "bad".
Any parent who has strolled down the aisles of a video store looking for something good for their kids to watch knows how difficult it is to find something that is both entertaining and rewarding. There is no shortage of prospects-- most video stores stock upwards of 5,000 titles-- but a glance at the information on the jacket is not always helpful. In the minds of the producers, every film is "unforgettable", "a block-buster", that will "make you laugh, make you cry"... or make you wish you had spent three dollars on something else.
Some movies-- Disney products in particular-- advertise themselves as "wholesome" family entertainment. These include "Herbie Goes Bananas" and "The Absent-Minded Professor". "Wholesome" does not guarantee originality, imagination, or intelligence. "Wholesome" movies may not cause irreparable harm to your child's psyche, but many "wholesome" films will not stimulate your child's imagination or contribute to his or her developing sense of artistic values.
Many of these films are also escapist by nature: they encourage the viewer to fantasize about alternative worlds in which nanny's sing, dogs talk, and "a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down". Escapist entertainment, as a rule, will not encourage your child's sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around him or her.
A good film doesn't have to be realistic, but it should explore and reveal something about human nature or life in general. The humor should tickle, not mock; the characters should be true-to-life, not stereotypes. It should encourage children to admire enduring qualities of honesty, courage, and loyalty.
Parents often underestimate the importance of the meaning of the movies your children watch. Think back to some movies you watched as a child. It is quite likely that you remember one or two of them that opened your eyes in ways that you will never forget, and that may have permanently influenced the way you see the world.
I vividly remember a short film from China called "Skinny and Fatty". It was about a chubby little boy who was mocked and ridiculed by the other children because of his size. One class-mate a slim, athletic boy with domestic problems of his own came forward and befriended him. I remember a comical scene of Skinny frantically trying to help Fatty climb a steel pole in gym class. The rest of the boys became fascinated, as much with Skinny's self-sacrificing loyalty as with Fatty's determination. They stopped their jeering and watched, and broke out into cheers and celebration when Fatty finally made it. Shortly afterwards, Fatty and Skinny had a fight and stopped speaking to each other. I forget what they fought about, but I remember it broke my heart.
Disney would never have made this film. It was too raw, too honest, and the ending was too sad. But I never forgot it. I never forgot how it must feel to be ridiculed because of your physical appearance, and how the courage of one person can triumph over the small-mindedness of thousands. "Skinny and Fatty" was not an overtly Christian film, but it taught me a wealth of things about love, acceptance, and friendship.
The most important thing about watching videos with your kids is to watch the videos with your kids. Sit there beside them on the couch, put your feet up, and enjoy it with them. Let them watch your reactions to the film. Don't be too critical, but do share insights into characterization, plot development, and special effects. Consciously or not, your children will absorb cues from you about what is good, what is bad, and what is just plain ugly. .
The following (in no particular order) is a list of fifteen highly recommended videos for kids. In making the selections for this list, I have tried to balance two paramount concerns: 1) the films should be well-made and original and demonstrate artistic creativity; and 2) the films must be entertaining to children and fun to watch. Some of these selections may lean more heavily towards one or the other of these two facets (some kids will find "The Black Stallion" too slow-moving; some adults will find "Peewee's Big Adventure" trite) but I believe the over-all worth of these films makes them a good investment of time.
And by the way, I've never seen "Skinny and Fatty" again, not on TV, not in the video stores. Maybe that's a good thing: I remember it as a gem. It would break my heart a second time if I ever found out it wasn't as good as I remembered it.