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

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 Story of Christmas

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 10.05.52 PMThis is a bright and cheerful version of the Christmas story, with luminously painted zinc foil cutout animation against a black background by Evelyn Lambart. The story is told wordlessly with a celebratory renaissance-style soundtrack by Karl Duplessis.

Age: 1+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 8 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

Katie Morag

BR Katie MoragMost of our favourite TV shows are from the 70s but here, finally, is a current show that I can wholeheartedly recommend! If you are Scottish, you probably already know Katie Morag from the series of books of the same name by Scottish author Mairi Hedderwick. For those of you who are not yet familiar with Katie Morag, I’d say she falls into the same general category of kind-hearted, adventure-loving, small-town-dwelling, red-headed heroine as Anne of Green Gables, though the stories are geared towards a slightly younger audience. Katie lives on the fictional island of Struay (based in part on the real life island of Coll, and filmed on the Isle of Lewis) with her baby sister Flora Ann, toddler brother Liam, and parents. Her two grannies, Grannie Island and Grannie Mainland, with their differing values and areas of knowledge, also figure prominently in the stories.

The stories are sweet, gentle and humorous, and the acting is good. The enjoyable soundtrack is by Scottish traditional musician Donald Shaw (a founding member of the band Capercaillie). And there are a number of small details that pleased me – making presents by hand, scenes which include the baby breastfeeding, music-making etc. This series is probably intended for children more in the 5 to 8 year old range, but so far everything we have seen has been fine for a 3 year old too, and M. has really enjoyed it.

Age: 3+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 14 minutes per episode
Some episodes available free on the CBeebies website

The Lion and the Mouse

BR The Lion and the MouseThis is a beautiful and sweet animated version of Aesop’s fable “The Lion and the Mouse,” by Canadian animator Evelyn Lambart (1914-1999). Lambart was initially best known for her collaborations with Norman MacLaren, but later in life developed her own unique and visually arresting style of animation using brightly coloured paper cutouts against a black background, which looks a bit like Russian folk painting. There is no verbal dialogue, but the soundtrack by Maurice Blackburn tells the story in a conversational, semi-improvisatory style. Some children might find the lion a little bit scary, but nothing bad happens, and the mouse and the lion become friends at the end.

(Do be careful if you decided to go on from here to “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” It starts out very gently, but the country mouse takes a gun when he goes to the city. M. doesn’t yet know about guns, so we stopped the video when we got to that point!)

Age: 3+
Adult rating: 9/10
Child Rating: 9/10
Running time: 4 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

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

Hen Hop

BR Hen HopThis is a sweet, short animation of a dancing chicken by Norman McLaren, from the early 1940s. The animation is drawn directly on to the film with pen and ink, and the musical accompaniment is an old-time string band.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 4 minutes
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website

Lines Horizontal

BR Lines HorizontalThis is another collaboration between Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, with a soundtrack composed and performed by Pete Seeger. As the name suggests, the visuals consist almost entirely of horizontal lines (and a handful of slightly vertical ones), moving up and down in different configurations and speeds. The visual effect is mesmerizing, and it’s great hearing a slightly more experimental side of Pete Seeger’s music.

Age: 2+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 6 minutes
Available free on the Nation Film Board of Canada website

Le Merle (The Blackbird)

BR Le MerleThis short film by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart (National Film Board of Canada) is based on a French-Canadian folk song about a blackbird who keeps losing body parts and having them return three-fold. The animation is semi-abstract, with simple white lines and circles representing the bird on a slowly shifting sky-like background. The song is sung by Trio Lyrique, with instrumental accompaniment, arranged by Maurice Blackburn. We all enjoyed this, and M. laughed aloud a number of times.

Age: 1+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 4 minutes 30 seconds
Available free on the National Film Board of Canada website