Frogs and Toads: Max’s Magical Journey (Kikkerdril)

This is a slightly odd, but enjoyable film that follows 6 year old Max and his friend Jesse on their adventures in the countryside as they try to find frog spawn for Max’s older brother, who claims he needs it to regain his voice after surgery. I love the kids’ adventures and the beautiful natural scenery, but there’s a little bit of mild rudeness (between brothers, and between Max and Jesse before they become friends) which I find unnecessary. The film is originally in Dutch, and dubbed in English. I’m glad not to have to read out subtitles to my kids, but the mismatch between the kids speaking and the dubbed-over voices is a bit disconcerting. I do recommend this film – but it’s not perfect.

Age: 5+
Child rating: 9/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 33 minutes
Available: I had to order the DVD for this one


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

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

Volgens de Vogels/According to the Birds

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-46-19-pmThis is a truly beautiful hand-drawn (pencil on paper) animation by Dutch artist, illustrator, and animator Linde Faas. There’s no storyline, but it portrays nature – birds flying, leaves falling, dandelion seeds blowing – in such a life-like and compelling way that I simultaneously want to go camping, want to do some drawing, and want to spend the afternoon at an art museum. The beautifully-recorded soundtrack is simply birds singing, leaves rustling, wings flapping, and other natural sounds. (I’m always so glad to find a filmmaker who doesn’t unnecessarily superimpose music when it isn’t needed.)  M. (4) and L. (16 months) were entranced too. I’m really looking forward to exploring what other films Faas has done.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10
Adult rating: 10
Running time: 5 1/2 minutes
Available: free here and elsewhere

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

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

All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride

BR All Aboard! The Sleigh RideIf you are looking for an extremely slow-paced, meditative film for a wintery or Christmasy night, this is it. All Aboard! The Sleigh Ride consists of nothing but two hours of footage of Sami reindeer herders following an ancient postal route through the taiga forest of Northern Norway, beautifully filmed by BBC Four. The soundtrack is simply a recording of the journey, with no music or voiceover. Occasional written texts provide some contextual information. M. was entranced for the first hour, which is really quite a long time for a toddler to watch nothing but a couple people and a couple reindeer moving through the snow. Then he was ready to move on to something else (though he continued to ask questions about reindeer for several days afterwards).

Age: 0+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 8/10
Running time: 2 hours
Available for free on the BBC Four website


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

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