Family Friendly Movies That Are Actually Good

As a parent, I get tired of much of what is passed off as “family entertainment”, the idea seeming to be that for it to be acceptable for the whole family, there should be no language, nothing suggestive, and nothing more violent than opening a can of Pringles. At the end of the day, what you end up with is product that goes out of its way to be simultaneously inoffensive as the day is long and about as interesting as a five pound bag of fertilizer.

The movie list that follows are movies which I find to be perfect family viewing: good, fun, encouraging, uplifting stories with likeable characters. However, I cannot promise that they have no language or violence, etc. So we will now proceed with a more unusual twist on the family viewing theme.

SAVANNAH SMILES (1982) – a charming story of a seven year old girl named Savannah who, tired of being ignored by her jet set parents, runs away from home (hiding in a car driven by two escaped convicts, of course). Over the course of the next few days, the convicts experience a major change of heart, choosing to look after and take care of the child even when their own freedom is threatened. A beautiful story, well told, but with some cases of language and crude behavior.

HOOSIERS (1986) – Gene Hackman plays a coach with a checkered past who trains a small town Indiana high school basketball team and makes them a top contender for the championship. Hackman is in top form, as is Dennis Hopper as the town drunk and father of one of the players. Excellent production values set against the backdrop of the Midwest in the 40’s highlight this wonderfully inspiring story.

THE BLIND SIDE (2009) – the semi-bio pic of football player Michael Oher, a homeless boy who becomes an NFL first round draft pick thanks to a caring woman and her family. A perfect overcoming-all-odds story, and far more inspiring than the insipid FACING THE GIANTS or other more “family friendly” fare.

FINDING NEMO (2003) – Arguably Pixar’s finest moment, this is the story of a young clownfish who is stolen from his coral reef home, and his father’s journey to rescue him. The sacrificial love of a father for his son is touching, even if it is punctuated by a perfectly cast Ellen DeGeneres as forgetful Dory.

THE LION KING (1994) – the last major hurrah for traditional animation before CGI took over, this film is not to be missed. Great performances by Matthew Broderick and James Earl Jones highlight this tale of an heir to the lion kingdom finding his way back home following the untimely death of his father. The film was criticized heavily for the word SEX allegedly appearing in a cloud of dust (it actually spells SFX, the name of one of the companies involved in the production of the film). If you stop chasing demons that aren’t there, you’ll see what a rewarding two hours this film can be.

STAR WARS TRILOGY (1977-1983) – Forget the prequels, the originals are when the magic happened. Before Special Editions, before CGI, this was the defining of a generation’s new mythology. What other thirty five year old movie still ha kids running around neighborhoods using sticks for lightsabers? Gather your children and get lost in that galaxy long ago and far away.

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) – yes, it is quintessential 80s, but it’s also one heck of a movie. Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd are in rare form in this time traveling romp with drama, comedy, 50’s dance party, and sci-fi cheese. Oh, and the music is pretty good, too. Look for 80s rocker Huey Lewis as a teacher complaining about the music being too loud.

APOLLO 13 (1995) – You know it’s a good movie when you know the ending and are still on the edge of your seat. Director Ron Howard captures the event of the third moon landing mission with remarkable clarity, the special effects don’t look dated (remarkable for any film over ten years old), and the characterizations are all spot on, especially Bill Paxton as astronaut Fred Haise and Ed Harris as Mission Control Flight Director Gene Krantz. If you want to feel good as an American again, this is the movie.

COCOON (1985) – Ron Howard’s other notable feat was this sci-fi drama about a bunch of geriatrics discovering an otherworldly fountain of youth. Not many directors are willing to make a movie where the main cast are all over 60 (except for Wilford Brimley, who was in his 50’s when the movie was made; he’s just always looked old!). The story line is a bit convoluted, which means you have to pay attention or you may not quite get it (just listen any time Brian Dennehy is talking and you’ll be fine). Not exactly E.T. but in many ways a much better film.

MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (1995) – Richard Dreyfuss’ last great role before his career imploded (KRIPPENDORF’S TRIBE, anyone?), this follows a man’s thirty year journey as a high school music teacher, starting out as a “fall back” job which he hates and ultimately becoming his passion. Yes, it borders on melodrama at times, but the overall ride is quite satisfying. I’m surprised Dreyfuss didn’t win for Best Actor that year. Certainly worth watching as an encouragement for anybody who desires to do great things, or wonders if they have in fact made a difference.

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986) – The pride of high school teens everywhere in the mid 80s, John Hughes masterpiece about “one man’s struggle to take it easy” is still good for a laugh today. For my money, Matthew Broderick as Ferris is constantly upstaged by Alan Ruck as his best friend Cameron, and the whole film is an exercise in over the top excess. I mean, nobody has a run of luck that good, and I certainly don’t encourage my kids to emulate the behavior, but it is a funny two hours.

Okay, there are my suggestions…..maybe not exactly “wholesome family entertainment”, but if I may say so, “wholesome family entertainment” makes me want to barf. These are films you can watch with your kids and everybody have a good time.

Now pass the popcorn….

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