Happy 2012! Time to turn over a new leaf, reboot the hard drive, and look back on some of our favorite family movies of 2011. Here’s our list, but as always, feel free to add your own in the comments below.
10. Dolphin Tale. There’s just something so cheerful about dolphins, isn’t there? Especially Winter, the dolphin who plays herself in this sweet film based on a true story. When Winter loses her tail, a boy named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) rallies folks to make a new one for her. Despite the contrived dialogue and predictable ending (and really, thank goodness for that), I love this family-friendly movie about making miracles happen. Directed by Charles Martin Smith; PG for some mild, thematic elements; best for ages 7+; read full review.
9. Rango. Ok, so maybe this animated flick starring Johnny Depp as a strange lizard in a strange town isn’t what you’d call classic family fare. But that’s why I like it. Instead of the dumb one-liners, cliche storylines, and cotton-candy animation so prevalent in many family films, it delivers edgy characters, creative dialogue, and a storyline that takes the western genre in a new direction. Directed by Gore Verbinski; PG for rude humor, language, action and smoking; best for ages 12+; read full review.
8. Super 8. When I mentioned adding this to the list, a friend wondered if it should go into the “family movie” category. I think it does, though it’s geared for teens. The main characters are kids with believable dialogue, and there’s a family element to the storyline, as well. Think of it as E.T., only with scary monsters, kids with a Super 8 camera, and a frightening train crash to start things off. Directed by J.J. Abrams; produced by Steven Spielberg; PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use; best for ages 14+; read full review.
7. Real Steel. I didn’t have high hopes for this movie, but was pleasantly surprised when it delivered not only intense fighting scenes (who knew I could get so involved in a robot boxing match?), but also a sweet storyline about a deadbeat dad (Hugh Jackman) who sees the light. Directed by Shawn Levy; PG-13 for some violence, intense action and brief language; best for ages 12+; read full review.
6. The Help. It’s a 1960s’ history lesson, a racial drama, and an entertaining story all wrapped into one. And because The Help weaves an engaging story about wealthy white families in Mississippi and the black maids who cook, clean and raise their children, it offers a real-life peek into a troubled time in our nation’s history. Directed by Tate Taylor; PG-13 for thematic material; best for ages 13+; read full review.
5. Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I’m not a big Jim Carrey fan. His movies usually deliver hit-and-miss jokes, goofy faces, perhaps a scene where he topples over a chair. But what elevates this movie beyond typical Carrey fare is the cute, cuddly, emotional penguins that drive him crazy and pull at our heartstrings. Sure, the ending is predictable, but it’s a still a solid comedy that’s fun for the whole family. Directed by Mark Waters; PG for mild rude humor and some language; best for ages 6+; read full review.
4. Arthur Christmas. The days of eight tiny reindeer and a sleigh brimming with toys are long gone. Now Santa delivers presents in a gleaming state-of-the-art hovercraft complete with stealth ninja elves who deliver gifts to homes a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Way to bring the classic Santa tale into a whole new generation. Directed by Sarah Smith; PG for some mild rude humor; best for ages 6+; read full review.
3. Kung Fu Panda 2. It’s not often that a sequel is better than the first movie, but this panda-tastic film delivers lots of fast action, great lines, and positivity for everyone, especially adopted kids. Rock on, Furious Five. Directed by Jennifer Yuh, PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild violence; best for ages 6+; read full review.
2. Hugo. A fairy tale train station bustling with activity. Bakery carts filled with warm scones and buns. Wooden armoires with ornate carvings. Wise librarians who love books. Women in knitted berets selling flowers. Brave and resourceful kids. Hugo is a Dickensian gift wrapped with a beautiful story about a time in France’s post-war history when movies were melted down to make shoe heels. And yet, it’s a hopeful story where people learn to find meaning and purpose in life again. Directed by Martin Scorsese; PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking; best for ages 8+; read full review.
1. The Muppets. It’s a big happy film with splashy musical numbers, all the characters we know and love (along with a bunch of Hollywood celebrities), and a story that pays homage to the Muppets’ rich history. The Muppets is the feel-good movie of the year, one that makes you believe there’s still goodness in the world, still things worth fighting for, still a reason to get up every day. Thank you, Jim Henson, for creating characters that are still relevant in our modern world. Directed by James Bobin; PG for some mild rude humor; best for ages 5+; read full review.
Did your favorite family movies make the list? Add yours and expound on ours in the comments below.