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


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

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


This is the 70s-est TV show ever (dating from 1972, the same year I was born) – at once wholesome, creative, and… were the creators smoking pot? In this show by British author-illustrators Joanne and Michael Cole, “Yoffy” (Canadian mime artist Rick Jones in real life) animates a variety of homemade finger-puppets, including Fingermouse, Scampi, Gulliver the Seagull, and Flash the Tortoise in a series of gently enchanting stories and do-it-at-home craft projects. My 2 year old and 5 year old both love it.

Age: 0+
Child rating: 10/10
Adult rating: 9/10
Running time: 15 minutes
Several episodes are available free on YouTube


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

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


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

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

Vinni Pukh (Winnie-the-Pooh)

screen-shot-2017-01-22-at-8-11-19-pmThis is a fascinating Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh, with beautiful illustrations and animation by Fyodor Khitruk and a colourful orchestral score by Mieczysław Weinberg. The characters are more animal-like, the scenery more wild, the pacing a bit slower, and the dialogue more enigmatic – interesting to adults as well as kids – than in the Disney animated version most of us are probably familiar with. Khitruk left Christopher Robin out of his telling of these tales so the animals would all be on equal footing as the central characters. There are three 10-minute episodes, available in Russian with English subtitles. I can usually get the kids to just watch without me having to read them out loud!

Age: 3+
Child rating: 8/10
Adult rating: 10/10
Running time: 10 minute per episode
Available: for free on Youtube