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

Royal Ballet – Beatrix Potter Tales

BR Royal Ballet Beatrix PotterThis is the film version of a ballet version of the Tales of Beatrix Potter, performed by members of the Royal Ballet. The tales are told wordlessly, with lavish scenery and costumes, lush music, and colorful, characterful choreography by Frederick Ashton. We all enjoyed this, and M. laughed out loud a number of times. Our favourite so far is The Tale of Two Bad Mice (perhaps not to be watched if your kid is in the mood to copy what he or she sees on the screen).

Age: 0+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: multiple stories, mostly in the 5-10 minute range
Available for free on Youtube in the UK. (Possibly not elsewhere?)

The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends

BR World of Peter RabbitThis is a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. Each begins with a short live action vignette of Beatrix Potter at her home, followed by the story itself. Each episode sticks closely to the original, both in illustrations and in wording, though some episodes intertwine two books. Anytime I’ve noticed a detail that is not in the published version of books, it turns out to be something from an earlier, unpublished version. The music is well-composed (by Colin Towns) and well-performed.

So far M. has watched three of the episodes, many times each. We have not grown tired of any of them, and we’ve enjoyed watching the creative play that has grown out of M.’s engagement with the characters. I’ve included The Tailor of Gloucester episode as a separate entry on this blog, since it’s great as a Christmas movie.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes per episode

The Tailor of Gloucester (from The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends)

BR Tailor of GloucesterThis is one episode from a series of nine beautifully animated versions of stories by Beatrix Potter, first shown on the BBC in the 90s. The whole series is reviewed here, but I’ve included this one as a separate entry because it takes place at Christmas time, and makes a great Christmas or winter movie. There are a few parts of this that are not in the published version of the book, but it turns out they were in an earlier unpublished version. I love all the meticulous research into the folksongs sung at the various animals’ Christmas parties (all mentioned in the unpublished version).

M. has watched this about 50 times in the past 3 months, and has developed a fascination with yellow taffeta and red silk twist thread, and is spending all his time drawing “waistcoats for mice!” We still enjoy it too.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 26 minutes
Available free on Youtube

Kipper

BR KipperKipper is an animated TV series which ran from 1997-2000, based on books of the same name by British author Michael Inkpen. M. and I had previously read a few Kipper books, and decided to watch our first couple episodes of the TV show last night. M. loved it, while my feelings were slightly more mixed.

The animation is based on the illustrations, and is simple, cute, and fairly slow moving – a nice contrast with the frenetic pace of so many children’s cartoons. The stories are sweet and gently humorous. And the characters are all really nice and helpful to each other, which is great, especially since young kids are so prone to imitating the behaviours they see.

I was initially annoyed that almost all of the characters are male, but I’ve since come to see it as a sweet tale of  caring and gentle male friendship, in a world that too often portrays male characters as solitary or rivals or needing female characters to provide the emotional connection. Also: M. always put up such a fuss about brushing his teeth until he saw Kipper brush his teeth!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 7/10
Running time: 8 minute episodes
Some episodes available free on Youtube

Microcosmos

BR MicrocosmosThis is a great whole-family film, which consists entirely of stunningly beautiful close-up footage of insects and other invertebrates. We always watch videos on the computer, but this made me wish for a larger screen.

There is nothing scary, and the level of drama is appropriate for a toddler: a dung beetle trying to push a ball of dung which gets caught on a thorn, a crow eating ants, stag beetles fighting, etc. There’s a famous scene of two snails having sex, about which M. asked “are they hugging?” We said yes. (We would have answered more if he had asked more, but that was all he wanted to know). M. was particularly captivated by the moths, the rhinoceros beetle, and of course the dung beetle.

The soundtrack is by French composer Bruno Coulais, and contains a nice balance of recorded insect sounds and insect-inspired instrumental sounds, with occasional more typical movie-style music for the dramatic sections. The film contains very few words, so don’t worry if you can’t find the English version. I’m rating it as age 2+, because I think a younger child wouldn’t appreciate it as much, but there would certainly be no harm in watching it with younger kids around.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 9/10 (M. did get restless at one point, but I think it was because he wanted to eat dessert).
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 80 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

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