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.
We began with family movies from 1980-1989. Last week, we took a look at some gems from 1990-1999. Today we enter the 21st century with movies from 2000-2009. 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: 2000-2009
2000 – LIFE-SIZE (Unrated – I would consider it PG) – I suppose including this title is sorta cheating because it actually wasn’t a theatrical release but a movie made exclusively for the Disney Channel. It’s also a questionable choice because I don’t care to admit to first watching and enjoying this film about a pre-meltodown Lindsay Lohan bringing a doll played by Tyra Banks to life when I was 27 years old. Thankfully I had eight and four-year old nieces at the time, so I used them as an excuse to watch this a few dozen times; but just between you and me, they may not have been present during a couple viewings. In many respects this is a very obvious, clumsily made, juvenile undertaking, but I couldn’t help but be touched by the underlying story of a young girl desperate to fill the void left by her deceased mother, and I found myself genuinely moved at the climax. That being said, be forewarned that this movie has a singing and dancing epilogue at the very end that is probably the most awkward, uncomfortable thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
2001 – JIMMY NEUTRON: BOY GENIUS (Rated G) – This animated film from Nickelodeon Movies has the distinction of being among the set of nominees for the very first Best Animated Film Oscar, along with MONSTERS, INC. and winner SHREK. While not on par with either of those two other movies, this is still a fun, breezy comedy based on the Nickelodeon cartoon series about a 10-year old boy and his robot dog. Jimmy, being the titular genius that he is, always seems to be inventing new gadgets and contraptions, sort of a MacGyver for the toddler crowd. Jimmy often dreams of a life on his own, even though he’s not even a teenager yet, but an alien kidnapping in his hometown of Retroville makes him realize the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. This is harmless fun that will keep the kiddies occupied and possibly allow you time to get some work done around the house. (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, CinemaNow, Google Play, Vudu, and Fandango Now. Free to Netflix subscribers.)
2002 – SPELLBOUND (Rated G) – I said it before in my review of AKEELAH AND THE BEE (also a wonderful family film well worth checking out), and I’ll say it again here and now – there is nothing more exciting than a spelling bee. I was originally going to use this film in my Great Movies You’ve Never Heard Of series, but I thought this was an even better venue to discuss how wonderful this movie is and what a great G-rated gem this can be for the whole family. This documentary follows eight incredibly gifted youngsters who are competing in the renowned Scripps National Spelling Bee. We witness the intense pressure they not only place upon themselves but also get from their parents, friends, and teachers. In many ways these kids are like participants in a mental Olympics, and while some thrive under the pressure, some succumb to the intensity. Take some time to discuss with your kids afterwards the pressures they face at school and among their peers – this may be a very relatable movie for many of them.
2003 – FREAKY FRIDAY (Rated PG) – For the most part, I’ve been trying to recommend some lesser known films for our series. This remake of the 1976 Jodie Foster comedy/fantasy did really well at the box office, making over $110 million, but I rarely hear it discussed nowadays, which is a shame because it’s a wonderful piece of commercial moviemaking featuring a performance by Jamie Lee Curtis that is beyond outstanding and seriously deserved awards consideration. Mom Tess and daughter Anna are having a contentious relationship, to say the last. After a magical visit to a Chinese restaurant, both find themselves the next morning having switched bodies and over the course of the next 90 minutes discover things about themselves and each other that will impact their lives forever. Nothing new here, folks, but the filmmaking and performances are above average making this a surprisingly enjoyable film for all ages. And I want to say it again – Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance here rivals that of Tom Hanks in the similar-themed BIG. (Currently available for rent on Vudu, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Fandango Now. Also available for purchase on VidAngel.)
2004 – FINDING NEVERLAND (Rated PG) – If you took my recommendation from the previous installment and enjoyed THE SECRET GARDEN, this fantastical movie about author J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired him to write PETER PAN is going to be right up your alley. For those youngsters who know Johnny Depp only from the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies, his fine and understated work here will be a revelation. Those familiar with the story of Peter and Wendy and Captain Hook will enjoy finding scenes here that parallel those that eventually made it to Barrie’s creation that, of course, has been the basis of countless movies, television shows, and stage productions. I would be remiss not to spotlight the work of young Freddie Highmore here, who gives one of the best children’s performances I’ve ever seen. If you don’t shed a tear or two during his final scene with Depp, your heart is made of stone! (Currently available for rent on Amazon Video, Google Play, CinemaNow and Vudu. Free to Tribeca Shortlist subscribers.)
2005 – CHICKEN LITTLE (Rated G) – Somehow I missed this movie when it first came out back in 2005, and while hardly among the best of Disney’s oeuvre, it’s still a very entertaining and certainly family friendly film that has something for everyone. I must admit that one of the aspects I responded to most strongly was its unpredictability – when I started the film, I certainly wasn’t expecting a Steven Spielberg-like space fantasy complete with a lost extra terrestrial and a climactic battle worthy of WAR OF THE WORLDS. I had no idea where this picture was heading, and that’s very impressive for this type of movie. Along the way we also get a touchingly complicated relationship between a father who has lost his wife and a son who has lost his mother. We learn the importance of trust and communication between parents and their children. And any movie that ends with the song Don’t Go Breaking My Heart can’t be all bad! (Currently available for rent on Fandango Now, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Video. Free to Netflix subscribers.)
2006 – WORDPLAY (Rated PG) – My apologies if this list of films may be getting a little too cerebral compared to the others, but I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving this highly enjoyable independent film off of my list. Basically a celebration of the crossword puzzle, the main gist of the story follows New York Times puzzle maker Will Shortz, but other puzzle lovers highlighted include Jon Stewart, former president Bill Clinton, and baseball player Mike Mussina. It’s amazing how much humor, suspense, intrigue, and fascination can stem from such a topic, but filmmaker Patrick Creadon does a wonderful job delving into the worlds of the word players. Anybody who loves crosswords, search-a-words, Sudoku or anything like that will likely find this movie fascinating to watch. (Currently available for rent on Vudu and Amazon Video. )
2007 – HAIRSPRAY (Rated PG) – Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined a musical based on a John Waters movie to be among the titles on a family movies list. For those of you unfamiliar with Waters, he is an underground director from Baltimore known for his questionable taste and outrageous camp classic movies. That being said, the motion picture wizards whipped up a miracle and produced this film about a talented but overweight young girl who wants to join an American Bandstand-like dance show in the 1960s and in the process joins the fight for integration. A fantastic cast (including John Travolta in drag), songs you’ll be singing for days, and a dazzling 10 minute finale are just a few of the joys this film has to offer. I distinctly remember seeing this in the theater when it was first released and literally smiling non-stop from the opening credits till the final song. This is the definition of a feel-good movie! (Currently available for rent on Google Play, Fandango Now, Vudu, Amazon Video, and CinemaNow. Also available for purchase on VidAngel.)
2008 – FOOD, INC. (Rated PG) – I thought long and hard about whether to include a documentary about the United States food industry on such a list, but I finally conceded to do so. I have long believed that movies can be sources of enlightenment as well as entertainment, and I believe this film can not only be a source of some brilliant conversation afterwards but possibly affect young people in their future decisions. The film addresses many aspects of modern day food preparation and processing, from the treatment of the animals being raised for slaughter to the restaurant employees being paid minimum wage and not being treated much better than the animals themselves. Admittedly much of this will go over many kids’ heads, and there are a couple animal scenes that might disturb younger viewers, but this may very well change hearts and minds of viewers young and old alike. (Currently available for rent on Google Play, Amazon Video, and Vudu. Free to Netflix and Hulu subscribers.)
2009 – PONYO (Rated G) – If your family has a love for animated films and likes to try things out of the ordinary, give this Japanese fantasy a try! Originally released in 2008 in Japan, it came out stateside in 2009 for American audiences re-dubbed with the voices of familiar actors such as Tina Fey, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, and Liam Neeson. The film revolves around a goldfish princess who longs to become human after developing a friendship with a human boy. The director is Hayao Miyazaki who has made many award-winning animated films such as SPIRITED AWAY, PRINCESS MONONOKE and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. If you are only familiar with Disney and Pixar animation, give one of these films a shot! You may be surprised by the beauty and originality of these films compared to what we are used to in North America. (Also available for purchase on VidAngel.)