Are family movies becoming extinct? Is it worth plopping down $50+ to take my kids to the theater? Will I cringe and cover their eyes during parts of the movie? These are questions I get all the time, and frankly, the answers vary from week to week.
It really does seem like filmmakers churn out these kiddie cliche-fests with very little thought, but how did the family movie biz fare in 2010? It’s true, there were some stinkers, but also a few that had me theater-tweeting, “You’ve GOT to see this movie!”
Here are the top ten family films of 2010 that inspired me, made me smile, and gave me hope that the family movie genre is alive and well.
1. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Beautiful is the word I use to describe this Zack Snyder-directed film about a young barn owl named Soren who must find the legendary Owls of Ga’Hoole in order to save his world from evil forces. A spiritual storyline, gorgeous animation, and a great voice cast that includes Helen Mirren, Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten make this film a winner. Snyder takes full advantage of the 3D elements, including one scene that catches every raindrop on young Soren’s head and every gust of wind that ruffles his feathers. We don’t just see his exhilaration, we feel it. Rated PG for some sequences of scary action. Buy on Amazon.
2. Secretariat. If you’ve been around long enough to remember watching Charlie the Lonesome Cougar with your family on Sunday nights, Secretariat takes you right back to those Wonderful World of Disney days. I admit, I had some doubts when I first heard that Disney was releasing yet another movie where a long shot achieves greatness, but this one really works. It’s a combination of things: the true story of Penny Chenery Tweedy, Diane Lane as the housewife who takes on the good old boys of the racing industry, director Randall Wallace’s attention to detail of the 1960s era, and John Malkovich as the colorful trainer Lucien Laurin. Rated PG for brief mild language. Buy on Amazon.
3. Tangled. Between 2009’s The Princess and the Frog and 2010’s Tangled, it’s clear that the Disney princess genre hasn’t gone out of style. Tangled has everything: fun characters, great voices, gripping action, lovely songs, tenacious girl power, and a heartfelt message about following your dreams and becoming the person you were always meant to be. Rated PG for brief mild violence. Buy on Amazon.
4. Toy Story 3. It’s an action adventure! It’s a touching family story! It’s an edge-of-your-seat thriller! The third installment of the Toy Story franchise features an excellent tale that’s not just tossed out there for the sake of finishing up a trilogy. Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the toy box gang find themselves smack in the middle of another big adventure — and dire peril, at one point — but rest assured that all turns out well. Parents, if you have kids headed towards those college years, better take a hankie along. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Rated G. Buy on Amazon.
5. How to Train Your Dragon. Based on the book by Cressida Cresswell, this Dean DeBlois-directed film tells the story of a young Viking teen named Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), who lives on the island of Berk. Youngsters are expected to learn the art of dragon-slaying, but Hiccup doesn’t roll that way and finds himself up against the old guard Vikings who believe all dragons are bad. It’s a story about living up to your parents’ expectations, going against the grain, and gently nudging people to believe in something new and different. Rated PG for sequences of intense action and some scary images, and brief mild language. Buy on Amazon.
6. Flipped. Directed by Rob Reiner, this coming-of-age film about young love in the 1960s contains no explosions, no car chases, no weapons and no killings. It’s not in 3D, and the kids are thoughtful and respectful, not bratty and obnoxious. The parents act like real parents – flawed and doing their best under the circumstances. Flipped is a simple film that gets right to the heart of human connections and emotions. The fact that it does so with superb acting, a simple story, and a great production filled with nostalgia is truly remarkable. It makes you wonder why we don’t have more films like this. Rated PG for language and some thematic material. Buy on Amazon.
7. The Secret of Kells. Though this charming, Oscar-nominated film was released in 2009, it traveled the film festival circuit for much of 2010. As big-budget, CG-animated films crowd the theaters, along comes a hand-drawn movie like The Secret of Kells: a story of light and dark, goodness and evil, and artistic vision that brings the Book of Kells lore to both children and adults. The animation has a magical, other-worldly quality that mirrors Celtic folk art, making the film not only an interesting story, but also a lesson in art history. Also, Aisling’s song, sung by Christen Mooney, is one of the most haunting and beautiful tunes I’ve ever heard in a children’s film. Read my interview with director Tomm Moore. Rated PG. Buy on Amazon.
8. Ramona and Beezus. G-rated movies are few and far between these days, so I’m always thrilled when they come along. Even better when the movie is tied to a beloved children’s book series by Beverly Cleary. Ramona and Beezus follows the misadventures of 9-year-old Ramona Quimby, played by adorable newcomer Joey King. It contains no goofy characters, no dumb adults, no bratty kids, and no sexually-charged scenes. My hope is that other filmmakers will make similar movies, but my fear is that this particular brand of innocence is becoming extinct. I hope they prove me wrong. Rated G. Buy on Amazon.
9. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Ok, so the kids spent the better part of the movie camping out. And sure, the dream sequence with Harry and Hermione was awkward and weird. Still, you can’t accuse director David Yates of not following the book by J.K. Rowling. This installment of the Harry Potter series made me sad, joyful, terrified and proud of the sacrifices that Harry, Ron and Hermione made to ensure the safety of the wizarding world. In some ways, I’d like to jump ahead to next July and see how it all ends. On the other hand, I’m happy to wait and savor each moment while it lasts. Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality.
10. Despicable Me. If it wasn’t for those adorable minions and the “It’s so fluffy!” line, this movie about a villain named Gru with a heart of gold wouldn’t have been as memorable. Still, Despicable Me is a winner on many levels. It’s really cute, the story is engaging and never boring, and the characters have enough depth that you really care about what happens to them. Rated PG for rude humor and mild action. Buy on Amazon.
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Images: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Universal Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures