The Aristocats

This is (vintage) Disney, so it goes without saying that there are sexist stereotypes, casual racist stereotypes, and unnecessarily sexy animals – but if you’re prepared to overlook that, it’s an enjoyable film. The illustrations are quite nice (especially the backgrounds), the story is fine, and the music (by the Sherman Brothers) is pretty good. (My main question is: why are there so many drunken characters? I saw drunk cats, a drunk goose, and a drunk guy at a Parisian café – and I was only watching about half the time! Of course this went over the kids’ heads – but I still wonder why they’re there at all. Drunkenness isn’t appropriate for 4 years olds, or 10 year olds – but this is clearly a film for kids, not adults. I guess we can chalk this up to 1970?)

Age: 4+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 78 minutes
Available: I rented it from Google Play

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The Reluctant Deckhand

 This is a gentle coming-of-age story, which tells of 10 year old Tess joining her mother on a summer-long fishing trip in the waters off of Vancouver Island. At first reluctant and a bit scared, Tess gains in skills and maturity throughout the summer and ends up looking forward to the next summer’s trip. The illustrations are beautiful watercolour paintings by Amanda Forbis, cut-out animated by Jan Padgett (who is also the the author of the book on which this film is based). The intended audience is perhaps 8-12 year olds, but it’s suitable for kids of all ages. My 5 year old loves it, and there is nothing in it that scares my 2 year old.

Age: I’d say the ideal age is 8, but really 4+ (or 0+) is fine
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 33 minutes
Available: free on the NFB website

Apple Tree House

Apple Tree House is one of our favourite newer CBeebies shows (along with Katie Morag). It’s geared towards kids in the 4 to 8-ish age range, though fine for younger kids too, and centres around the gently humorous daily adventures of three primary school kids on an urban council estate. The cast is wonderfully diverse in terms of ethnicity and age, and the kids are (usually) refreshingly free of gender stereotypes. Both of our kids (ages 2 and 5) love it, and I love the way the characters non-didactically model kindness, cooperation, and caring for friends, family, and community.

Age: The stories are geared towards 4+, but it’s fine for younger kids too
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 15 minutes
Available: on the CBeebies website

Shaun the Sheep (TV series)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-11-45-41-amShaun the Sheep is a stop-motion animated TV series from Aardman Animation, starring the eponymous Shaun, who first appeared as a character in the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave. These 7-minute episodes are wordless and quite delightful, and mostly involve the sheep getting themselves into and out of a variety of humorous scrapes. The show is a bit more boisterous than we usually want our kids to see: it’s better as a Saturday morning show than for watching before bed. (The spin-off show Timmy Time, intended for toddlers, is even more chaotic, so we are avoiding that one entirely). On the negative side, I find the theme music a bit repetitive, and it tends to get stuck in the head.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 7 minute episodes
Available: CBBC, Google Play, and Youtube

I Want a Dog

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-2-51-17-pmThis is another NFB adaptation of a book by Canadian/American author and illustrator Dayal Kaur Khalsa, with animation by Sheldon Cohen and music by Zander Ary, performed by Neko Case. It tells the story of young girl named May who comes up with an ingenious way to convince her parents to get her a dog. It’s a sweet story of overcoming obstacles with good-natured persistence. Though the story is really for kids age 4 or so and up, L., now 14 months, loves it too. “Doggie! Doggie! Doggie!”

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 10 minutes
Available: for free here on the NFB website

 

The Snow Cat

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-34-58-amThis wintery story is based on a book by Canadian/American author Dayal Kaur Khalsa, adapted by Tim Wynne-Jones and animated by Sheldon Cohen. A grandmother tells her young grand-daughter the tale of Elsie, who lives alone in a cabin near the woods, and longs for a companion. Elsie makes friends with a magical snow cat and an injured goose, and comes to find comfort and companionship in nature and the cyclical return of the seasons. This story can certainly be taken at face value, as a magical tale, but it is also about coming to terms with loss, change, and death – and indeed Khalsa wrote the book as she was coming to terms with her own diagnosis of breast cancer. (M., looking over my shoulder says “it’s sad because the cat melts,” but that it is nice when that cat returns as a cat-shaped pond.)

Age: 4+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 23 minutes
Available: for free here on the NFB website

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-11-47-25-pmThough I had the book, I somehow never saw this animated, musical version from 1966 when I was a kid. I’ve enjoyed discovering this classic with M. The animations are bright, lively, and true to Dr. Seuss’s illustrations, and the music is good. There’s a nice anti-consumerist message, in a format that is easy to discuss with a 4 year old. M. was scared the first time through (worried that the Grinch would prevent Christmas from coming), but has since requested to watch it many times.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 22 minutes
Available: for purchase on Google Play, or, in sections, for free on Youtube

Ponyo

BR PonyoM. (3 years old) and I were both home sick today, so we decided to watch another Miyazaki film, Ponyo together. It’s the fastest-paced, most dramatic movie he’s watched yet, and if I had it to do over again, I might wait until he was 3 1/2 or 4. I don’t think M. thought it was too fast paced, but he did want me to keep reassuring him that everything in the film was just magic, and not real. Of course he also wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over. (Update: we started watching it for a second time several weeks later, and M. decided it was too scary, and he’d rather watch Totoro. I’ve updated my age rating to 4+.)

Ponyo is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale “The Little Mermaid,” and tells the story of Ponyo, a goldfish-girl, who wants to become a person, and her friend Sosuke, a 5-year old boy. (I’m a little bit confused how she can be a goldfish who comes from the ocean, but can be kept alive in a bucket of fresh water. I guess magical goldfish-people can live in both salt and fresh water?) Ponyo’s attempt to become a person unleashes both the intense worry of her father, the wizard Fujimoto, and all kinds of wild energies, which take the form of storms at sea, a great flood, and a sea full of Devonian-era fish. In order for Ponyo to become permanently a person, Sosuke must promise that he loves her, both as a fish and as a person. He does, she is permanently transformed, and order is restored to the world.

I’m generally not a huge fan of animated films, but this one is hand drawn, and has many very beautiful scenes. My favourites were all the underwater scenes. M. loved these too, and he especially loved recognizing copepods and other plankton in the introductory section, which are what his dad studies as an oceanographer.

I know that needing to be loved by a human (man) to become a human (woman) is a common fairy tale trope, and in this case comes directly from The Little Mermaid. But it does come across as a bit strange in the context of a modern retelling, which involves 5-year old children rather than adults. It’s the one place where this feels almost too much like this is a retelling of an existing story, transposed into a new setting, rather than an independent story in its own right.

In short, I would recommend this, and will be happy to watch it again with M., but it’s not quite as perfect as Totoro.

Age: 4+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 101 minutes