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

 

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?)

Pretty Big Dig

BR Pretty Big DigHere is a special treat if you have a toddler who loves construction equipment! Canadian filmmaker Anne Troake has choreographed three backhoe diggers into a surprisingly elegant ballet. M. was delighted.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 10/10 (if the child is into construction equipment!)
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 4 minutes
Available for free on Youtube

Lights for Gita

BR Lights for GitaI’ve been looking for films about non-Christmas winter holidays, and this is the first I’ve found that I’ve wanted to show Milo. Based on a book by Indian-Canadian author Rachna Gilmore, this film tells the story of a young girl, Gita, who has recently moved from India to Canada. She is looking forward to celebrating Diwali with her new friends from school, and is disappointed when a snowstorm means that her dad won’t be able to set off fireworks, and her friends can’t get to her house. Gita, her family, and one friend who lives near by, figure out a way to celebrate and light up the darkness in her new wintery home.

I don’t love the animation or illustrations (I prefer the book illustrations), but they are fine. The score is by Normand Roger, whose work I always enjoy. Milo loved it, and wanted to watch several times in a row.

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 8/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 8 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

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

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

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