As a courtesy to you wonderful readers with children on summer vacation, we’ll be taking a stroll down memory lane as we look at the last 35 years of family movies. This is a wonderful time of the year to watch movies together as a family on a rainy afternoon or a sultry day when the summer sun is just too hot to bear.
All the movies I’m sharing with you are rated PG or lower and contain elements that I believe will entertain most if not all age groups. I have seen the vast majority of these films, and the ones I haven’t have either been recommended to me or received positive reception at their time of release. That being said, I realize all parents have different guidelines for acceptable movies, so I always recommend that you watch the movies before your children first in case there may be any objectionable material.
Last week, we began with family movies from 1980-1989. Today, we take a look at some gems from 1990-1999. Many of these films may not only be fun new discoveries for your family but bring back wonderful memories for yourselves as well. I know they did for me!
35 Years of Fun Family Movies: 1990-1999
1990 – THE WITCHES (Rated PG) – I am not well schooled in the world of Roald Dahl, having only seen adaptations of his WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and this wonderful film based on his 1993 children’s book of the same name. 1990 was one of my favorite years for movies in the last few decades, and director Nicolas Roeg’s movie is high on my list of favorites. While staying with his grandma at a hotel in England, young Luke comes upon a convention of witches who want to rid the world of nasty, smelly, horrible little children. Our young protagonist finds himself turned into a mouse and must find a way not only to save himself but children everywhere. I know some parents are sensitive to movies involving witches and warlocks and stuff like that – if you’re in that camp, you can skip this flick. Everyone else sit back and enjoy. Anjelica Huston, as the Grand High Witch, is absolutely marvelous! (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu, and CinemaNow.)
1991 – LITTLE MAN TATE (Rated PG) – Jodie Foster made her directing debut with this wonderful tale of a young genius who can play classical piano, do calculus level math problems in his head, and make works of art that rival Van Gogh but ultimately just wants to have someone to sit with him at the lunch table. It’s the tried and true tale of the extraordinary child who wants nothing more than to be ordinary. This is obviously a deeply personal film for Foster, having been in the motion picture business literally since infancy, and it is always a deeply personal viewing experience for me, someone who has always felt like an outsider and never felt like I truly fit in anywhere. This is probably one of my strongest recommendations of this entire series, especially for school age children who are learning about peer pressure and the importance of acceptance and respect. I really love this movie!
1992 – A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (Rated PG) – Some may consider this an odd choice for a list of family movies, but I couldn’t disagree more. As we look at the very real possibility of having a female president for the first time in our nation’s history, a film like this can be used as a history lesson to see how different things were for women 75 years ago. For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Penny Marshall’s comedy/drama is based on the true story of an all-female professional baseball league that was created as a result of many of the young athletic men of the time being deployed overseas during World War II. Anyone with a sibling will relate to the love/hate relationship between sisters Dottie and Kit that anchors the film, and though a relatively small role, this may arguably be Tom Hanks’ finest hour in my humble opinion. (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Fandango Now and Google Play. Free to Netflix subscribers. Also available for purchase on Vudu and CinemaNow.)
1993 – THE SECRET GARDEN (Rated G) – Do you have a child with more discriminating taste? Possibly a youngster who reads E.M. Forster novels and really wants a DOWNTOWN ABBEY lunchbox? This is the perfect summer movie to enjoy together. Based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, this hauntingly beautiful film is about a young girl whose parents die in an earthquake, and she is sent to live with an uncle who is also in mourning over the death of his wife. While there, young Mary Lennox discovers a cousin she never knew she had and a garden that has been unkempt for years but which may hold the secrets of magic. This is a lovely, ultimately moving children’s movie for those who have an attention span longer than 15 minutes. Younger children and those a little less mature may get bored, but the rest of you are in for a treat. (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Fandango Now, Vudu, Google Play, and CinemaNow. )
1994 – MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (Rated PG) – I honestly have mixed feelings about this choice, but I wanted to include a holiday movie in here somewhere for those of you who like to celebrate Christmas in July. The 1947 original simply cannot be topped! It’s kinda like “The Carol Burnett Show” and Adele songs – if you try to do your own versions of them, you’re inevitably going to come up short. That being said, as far as remakes go, this is actually one of the better ones, although there are a couple changes made from the original, particularly in the courtroom and toward the end, that are unforgivable. Thankfully, the theme is timeless, the actors do their best, and the story is inherently charming and touching and downright irresistible. I mean, come on, when you see Santa speaking in sign language to the little deaf girl, we all believe for a minute or two! (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Google Play, Vudu, and Fandango Now. Free to Netflix and Starz Play subscribers. Also available for purchase on CinemaNow.)
1995 – BABE (Rated G) – This is a very special movie, as evidenced by its surprising nomination for the Best Picture Academy Award along with a slew of other honors. Farmer Hoggett wins a small pig at the county fair. Our fair Babe is spared his life rather than cooked for Christmas dinner and spends time trying to bond with the other animals of the barnyard, eventually discovering that he is a natural sheep herder. What sets BABE apart from other family movies? Well, for one, the quality of the filmmaking is stupendous – the production design turns a simple barnyard into a world as magical as Oz or Neverland. And it’s message of conformity and finding acceptance among those different than yourself can be appreciated by almost anyone – in a way, this would make a great double feature with LITTLE MAN TATE above. Only the coldest of hearts will fail to be charmed by this one! (Currently available for rent on Google Play, Amazon Video, Vudu, CinemaNow, and Fandango Now. Free to Encore Play subscribers.)
1996 – FLY AWAY HOME (Rated PG) – After the death of her mother, young Amy must relocate to Canada to live with her estranged father. It’s rough going at first, as Amy has had no relationship with her dad in the past; however, things begin to change for the better when she comes across some abandoned goose eggs. Becoming a surrogate mother for the geese after the eggs hatch, Amy and her dad join forces in an effort to teach them how to fly south for the winter. Here we have yet another example of a family movie featuring parental death and cute animals; however this film has the distinct advantage of being made by Carroll Ballard, whose 1979 film THE BLACK STALLION is considered by many to be the gold standard of family films. Both Jeff Daniels and young Anna Paquin are quite good; however, be warned that you will be harassed to buy your children a pet goose for the rest of the summer. (Currently available for rent on Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Video. Free to Starz Play subscribers. Available for purchase on Fandango Now and CinemaNow.)
1997 – GOOD BURGER (Rated PG) – In my efforts to be taken seriously as a film blogger and critic of high standards and impeccable taste, I must include this feature from the gang at Nickeloden featuring the comic stylings of Kenan and Kel as fast food employees whose restaurant is threatened by a huge new burger joint that opens across the street. Listen, it’s summer – sometimes you need something light and airy, something that requires absolutely no brain power to absorb or digest. I’m not going to say much more as this is not one of my proudest moments, but there are lots of goofy performances and sight gags to keep the kids entertained. (Currently available for rent on Vudu, Google Play, Amazon Video, and Fandango Now. Free to Netflix subscribers.)
1998- THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (Rated PG) – Surprisingly, I rarely hear this movie brought up in discussions of great animated films of the last couple decades. In essence THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for the Spongebob generation, this movie gives us the book of Exodus in cartoon form, featuring the voices of actors like Michelle Pfeiffer, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, and Jeff Goldblum. I saw this twice in the theater when it first came out, and I was extraordinarily impressed, particularly it’s unforgettable rendering of the parting of the Red Sea. There are a few slow spots, and it doesn’t have the greatest of musical numbers, the exception being the Oscar-winning “When You Believe”, but I applaud the filmmakers efforts to bring Biblical stories to the younger generation. (Currently available for rent on Fandango Now, Amazon Video, and Vudu. Free to Netflix subscribers. Also available for purchase on CinemaNow.)
1999 – MUSIC OF THE HEART (Rated PG) – Any youngster who is in band at school or takes piano lessons every week will fall in love with this true life story of Roberta Guaspari, a divorced mother of two desperate for a job who finds work teaching violin to underprivileged children in Harlem. Over the next decade, the program becomes a huge success, only to be threatened with termination due to budget cuts. In order to raise money to keep the program alive, Roberta’s past and present students join forces with musical greats such as Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, and Isaac Stern to put on a benefit concert. This is a fine story that not only highlights the importance of the arts in our public schools but also paints a very personal portrait of the difficulty of divorce not only on the parents involved but also the children. The climactic benefit concert at the end gives me chills literally every time I watch this film. And don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two. (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Vudu, and Google Play. Also available for purchase on CinemaNow.)
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