Frozen

This is problematic in all the ways Disney is generally problematic — skinny white princess heroines, love stories that aren’t appropriate for young kids, excessive excitement and drama, etc. — but if you’re looking for a big, entertaining feature film to watch over the winter holidays, it’s enjoyable nonetheless. I know some people think Frozen is a feminist film, but I really don’t see it that way (for reasons similar to this writer here.) I include it as a recommendation mainly because it has encouraged my kids’ love of singing. I really dislike the music — but anything that gets the kids singing, and practising the songs until they get better, is a win in my book. It’s hard to predict what kids will be scared of, but my 3 year old, who is scared of most TV and movies these days, was not scared of Frozen — perhaps because she had heard so much about it before she watched? (I, on the other hand, had nightmares about it!)

Age: 3+, though it really depends on what your kids find scary
Child rating: 9/10
Parent rating: 7/10 for enjoyability, but 4/10 for perpetuating problematic social values and encouraging kids to want merchandise
Running time: 109 minutes
Where to find it: You can buy it on youtube or google play

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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

The North Wind and the Sun: A Fable by Aesop

This is a short, animated retelling of the fable by Aesop. The sun shows the North wind that it’s easier to get people to do what you want by persuasion than by force. The illustrations are nice, and the music is unobjectionable. It’s a bit moralistic (as is the point of Aesop’s fables), but I remember loving these simple morals when I was a kid (and not understanding why my parents didn’t find them as convincing as I did!)

Age: 2+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 3 minutes
Available: free on the NFB website

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

Arrietty

This is a lovely feature-length animation from Studio Ghibli, based on the story The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It tells the story of the growing friendship between Arrietty, a mouse-sized “borrower” girl, and a human boy, Sho. When the Arrietty’s borrower family is discovered by the unfriendly housekeeper Haru, Sho helps them escape to safety. As in most Studio Ghibli films, there is lots of beautiful natural imagery, including some cute potato bugs (giant in comparison to Arrietty), lush greenery, and evocative rainstorms. The music is, by contemporary movie standards, pleasingly sparse, and I appreciated that there were long passages with no music at all. The story is intended for kids 4 or 5 and up, but there is nothing too scary for younger kids, and my 22 month old enjoys it as much as my almost-5 year old.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 94 minutes
Available: only on DVD, so far as I know

Geese Swans (also called The Magic Swan Geese)

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-56-53-pmThis is a nice 1949 animation by Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya and Ivan Ivanov-Vano, based on a Russian fairytale. A young boy is taken away by some evil swan geese which belong to the witch Baba Yaga, and his sister goes to rescue him. On her way, she helps, and is later helped by, an outdoor bread oven, an apple tree, and a stream of milk. M. (4) found the part at the witch’s house a bit scary, so we skipped over that (and this is why I’m rating it 5+, though some kids might be ready for it younger).

Age: 5+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free here

Pick, The Little Mouse

screen-shot-2017-02-19-at-5-19-17-pmHere’s a sweet, wordless animation by Gennady Sokolsky, which tells of a year in the life of a little field mouse, and contains lush imagery of the natural world. There are a few brief moments which some younger kids may find scary – when the mouse is chased by a boy, some sea birds, and an owl – but everything turns out ok.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 17’30”
Available: Available free on Youtube

A Little Silver Hoof

imagesI’m just discovering that there is a wealth of beautifully animated Russian fairy tales made from the 1940s through the 1970s. Many are more suitable for older kids, but here’s one I’ve found that’s suitable for preschoolers, a lovely 1977 animation by Gennady Sokolsky based on a fairy tale from the Urals. A kindly old man takes in an orphaned girl and her cat, and together they win the favour of a magical deer (or goat), which stomps its foot and bestows a rainbow of beautiful gems upon them. (Apparently the region the story comes from is famed for its plentiful gemstones). I love the pacing of this animation — more like a book than like TV. I’m used to Russian animations with lavish orchestral scores, and was a bit surprised to hear this one accompanied with 70s electronic music. The soundtrack is in Russian, but there are English subtitles. Though this isn’t a Christmas tale per se, it’s certainly good for winter holiday watching – but could be enjoyed at any time of year.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 9’30”
Available: There’s a version on Dailymotion with English subtitles

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

Pingwings

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-8-06-43-pmIf you’re in the mood for penguins, but find Pingu a bit too boisterous and March of the Penguins a bit too dramatic, then Pingwings might be just what you’re looking for. It’s a sweet, gentle, and gently humorous show, which tells of the adventures of a family of hand-knit penguin-like creatures living on a farm, with mixed stop motion animation and live action. It’s one of the earlier shows by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin’s company Smallfilms (best known for Bagpuss and the Clangers). The original Pingwings were knit by Peter’s wife Joan. You can knit your own following this pattern from The Dragons’ Friendly Society.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8
Adult rating: 8
Running time: 10 minute episodes
Available: a few episodes are available on Youtube, or you can order the whole series from The Dragons’ Friendly Society