The Wind in the Willows (1983)

br-wind-in-the-willowsThis is a very nicely done stop-motion animated version, which sticks closely to the book. We watched about half an hour of it, and then M. (4 years old) complained that it was “boring.” I tried to convince him that there’s no such thing as boring, that this was a very nice film, and that he should give it a chance. And then I burst out laughing because I realized that I had always found The Wind in the Willows (whether as a book or a movie) boring too. I include this here because it is good, and I wish we liked it – but we just do not seem to be a Wind in the Willows family. (It’s not that we’re immune to the charms of early 20th century anthropomorphic British animals – we just seem to prefer the Beatrix Potter tales!)

Age: 1+
Child rating: N/A (we’re not the right ones to judge)
Adult rating: N/A
Running time: 79 minutes
Available: there are various free versions online

Frog and Toad are Friends; Frog and Toad Together

BR Frog ad ToadWe’ve been postponing watching the film versions of many of the books we like (such as the Moomintrolls and the Gruffalo) so that M. has the book version in his mind first, but we’ve already been reading Frog and Toad to him for two years, and since this movie version is voiced by the author, Arnold Lobel, we figured it wouldn’t stray too far from the original spirit or aesthetic of the books. Each of these movies consists of several short, gently humorous vignettes, reenacted in claymation. The humour is often on several levels – some silliness (eg. Frog pouring water on his head) that appeals to toddlers, and some subtler, more philosophical humour that only older children and adults would get. The claymation is generally lovely, though occasionally falls into a bit of an “uncanny valley” (if one can call it that for frogs and toads).

Age: 2+
Adult rating: 8/10
Child rating: 8/10
Running time: each movie 18 minutes
Available free on Youtube

The Boy and the Snow Goose

BR Boy and SNow GooseIn this gentle, slightly bittersweet story, a boy rescues an injured snow goose and nurses it back to health. The boy and goose have magic-filled summer together, but must say goodbye when the goose migrates with the other geese in the fall. The boy spends the winter dreaming of the goose, and is happily (though briefly) reunited with the goose when it returns in the spring.

The visuals are book illustration style, in muted colours, with simple, slow-paced animation. The soundtrack is by Normand Roger, whose music I always enjoy.

In one scene, a child briefly threatens to throw a stone at the goose. Though nothing bad happens, you may wish to postpone watching this film with your toddler until they are already aware that people sometimes do mean things like that. (Or you could use it as an opportunity to discuss that before they encounter it in real life.)

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child rating: 9/10
Running time: 10 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

The Snowman

BR The SnowmanThis is a sweet, gentle adaptation of the book of the same name by British author and illustrator Raymond Briggs. The animation comes from the book illustrations and the music is pleasant. Great for cozy watching on a cold, dark winter afternoon. The Snowman and Snowdog is an equally pleasant sequel.

Age: 1 1/2+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 26 minutes
Available free on Youtube

My Neighbour Totoro

This is the first feature film we watched with M. (aside from Babies, which put him to sleep), and he loved it. I was worried that the scene where the little sister is lost would be scary for him, but I think he was caught up in the moment to moment action, and not worried about her. My one criticism is that the kids are a bit shouty with each other.

Age: 2 1/2+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 86 minutes

David Attenborough (various)

Only watch the episodes about smaller gentler animals – avoid the ones about large predators! When M. was a baby, we watched various Attenborough episodes, and they would sooth him to sleep. One of his first words was “A-bu-wa”! We haven’t tried them since he was older, but I’m sure he’d love them now too.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: usually an hour
Some episodes available free on Youtube

The Friendly Giant

This is a well-loved Canadian show, which ran from 1958 to 1985. Usually I want to watch anything M. watches with him, so I will know if there’s anything it would be good to discuss afterwards, but this is so gentle and calming that I don’t mind leaving him alone to watch it. Each episode consists of The Friendly Giant (Bob Homme) playing recorder and talking with his friends, a giraffe and a rooster, and reading a story or hosting a musical guest. It’s perfect for a cold winter day that’s too stormy to go out, or a kid that’s home sick and needs some warm, comforting entertainment.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 6/10 for adult enjoyment, 10/10 for feeling good about your kid watching it
Running time: 15-minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtune

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

This is a great US show: 895 episodes were made from the late 1960’s through 2000. I think most American and Canadian kids who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s watched it, but we’ve just moved to Scotland, and we’ve been surprised to find that no one here has heard of it! Most episodes consist of some very honest, gentle discussion of things young children might be thinking about, a visit somewhere (a fire station, an orange grove, a string quartet, etc.), and the Land of Make Believe, where characters work through more complex emotions and story lines. It’s a bit slow-paced for parents, but provides lots of good material for discussion with your kid afterwards. Mr. Rogers has a real gift talking to children about things that matter to them, but without talking down to them. M. found the Land of Make-Believe a bit intense at first, so we used to have to skip that part. Fred Rogers was also trained as a musician, and wrote all the music. In addition to the regular episodes, there are 8 mini-operas, with well-composed, serious music, and storylines that young kids find very engaging.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 10/10
Parent rating: 7/10 for watching enjoyment, 10/10 for values imparted and post-show discussion with kids
Running time: 30-minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtube