Family-friendly classics that won’t make you want to claw your eyes out
MOUSE HUNT (1997)
Titanic may be the 1997 flick that everyone’s been kvelling about lately, but for discerning ’90s tots the big cheese was always Mouse Hunt. This glossy, glamorous caper is the perfect way to introduce kids to the grown-up pleasures of vaudeville routines, real-estate melodrama, and Christopher Walken (who cameos as an exterminator). The film goes down like Hanna-Barbera brand champagne.
THE LADY VANISHES (1938)
Watching this early Alfred Hitchcock movie, you may be surprised at how low the Master of Suspense was willing to stoop (there are multiple bunny reaction shots). But it’s Hitch at his frothy, child-friendly best: a screwball romance set on a train that, in its eagerness to please, includes a little of everything—espionage, slapstick, whodunits, Western shootouts. And at the center of the intrigue? A playground ditty encoded with military secrets.
INTO THE WOODS (1990)
This irresistible Broadway musical mashes up the fairy tales of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Jack (of Beanstalk fame), combining breathless videogame plotting with Stephen Sondheim songs so brainy and eloquent they’ll ruin your kid for Tangled. Children will go nuts over the first act (which is self-contained) but might have to grow into the gloomier, more pensive second act. But someday they’ll fit into it, as smoothly as if into a glass slipper.
THE BLACK STALLION (1979)
Even if your son steers clear of horse-lovers—you know, the ones whose Trapper Keepers always smell like hay—The Black Stallion will leave him sobbing. Francis Ford Coppola and E.T. writer Melissa Mathison created the rare boy-meets-animal flick that is staunchly, almost insolently unsentimental. It’s as hypnotic as a dream, as shabby and heartfelt as Boo Radley’s soap carvings. Best of all, the horse isn’t anthropomorphized, or voiced by Don Rickles. He just is.
SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE (1993)
Nora Ephron herself calls this movie a “fable,” and Sleepless’ fumblingly earnest approach to love makes it a great starter romantic comedy. The film seems jerry-built for children: Meg Ryan is seen singing along to “Jingle Bells,” and Tom Hanks tells his son, Jonah, that his deceased mother “could peel an apple in one long, curly strip. The whole apple.” If that amateurish little magic trick has to serve as a stand-in for love, at least it’s a stand-in that kids will understand.
WALLACE & GROMIT IN THREE AMAZING ADVENTURES (1996)
These Oscar-winning British claymation shorts take seemingly drab subjects (window-cleaning, room-renting, oatmeal, cheese) and push them to exhilarating Indiana Jones heights. Inventor Wallace and his soulful, brilliant pooch Gromit live in an obsessively-detailed miniature world, and the little ones will enjoy peering at various surfaces for the impressions of human fingerprints. But when Gromit’s eyes well up with glittering Plasticine tears, they’ll forget they’re essentially watching Play-Doh. —Matt Weinstock