As a massive film fan I cannot wait to introduce our daughter to the magic of the movies. I often day dream about showing her the first Star Wars Film, the Wizard of Oz and when she’s quite a bit older some Hitchcock and Tarantino films (if the bride from Kill Bill turns out to be her favourite character in a film then my work as a Dad will be done!).
From around the age of two we started exposing our daughter to Disney and Pixar films with mixed results. Some films she was very engaged in, others incredibly bored and from the age of three she started getting scared of certain films, especially the monkey with the cymbals in Toy Story 3. Now, nearly 4, she is able to enjoy the majority of animated films we show her, although getting her to sit down for more than an hour when at home is never easy.
As someone with a keen interest in the history of films, when it comes to classic animation it’s hard to look beyond the Walt Disney Animation Studio. Whilst the studio has had it’s ups and downs in terms of quality (there are clearly defined eras in the studios output and we are lucky to be going through another really good period currently) for me it’s still the number one producer of animated films (although I should point out that Asian animation such as Studio Ghibli is something I would like to start watching). Don’t get me wrong Pixar has made some all time great films (which could probably form another Top 5 list), but I personally wanted to introduce my daughter to the fairy tale / classic literature inspired films of Disney.
Here are my 5 Disney films to introduce your child to the Magic of the Movies.
Snow White and Seven Dwarfs (1937) is not only an important film (it is the first feature length animation ever made), but is also a classic in terms of story telling and setting the tone for many Disney films that followed. It has, what I think, are the key ingredients to a perfect Disney film. Gorgeous animation, a plot with both happy and sad moments including a mild sense of threat and memorable songs (I think it’s fair to say that a large majority of Disney’s best films have catchy songs, although there are some exceptions). My daughter likes it because it has a princess with small animal sidekicks, although the portrayal of women is somewhat dated compared to modern Princesses (more on this later). Snow White is also a good measure on whether you child can handle some of the more sinister elements to Disney films as the wicked Queen is genuinely scary.
Alice in Wonderland (1951) Out of all the films on this list this is probably my wild card pick. Based on the literary nonsense novel by Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland doesn’t have much plot (much like the source material), but it has a uniqueness in terms of story, the Mary Blair style of the animation and the comedy. For a film that is not as acclaimed as many other Disney films, there are many iconic characters throughout and there is something about Alice in Wonderland that captures the imagination and makes me curiouser and curiouser…
The Jungle Book (1967) was released in one of the less popular eras of Disney animation (although I personally like a lot of the films in this era such as Robin Hood and The Aristocats). It was also the last film Walt Disney himself worked on. Based on the Rudyard Kipling novel The Jungle Book stands out as the best from this period of Disney animation. It has great characters such as Baloo, King Louie and of course the menacing Shere Khan. The songs in The Jungle Book are among the best in any Disney film, especially the jazzy “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You”. If your child likes animals then they are bound to love The Jungle Book.
The Lion King (1994) No list of Disney films is complete without at least one film from the Disney Renaissance (1989 – 1997) a period where Disney could do no wrong and released classic after classic. It was hard to know which film from this period to pick, but the Lion King just pipped it for me, especially as a film to introduce young children to. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King has an amazing voice cast (James Earl Jones as Mustafa and Jeremy Irons as Scar stand out), a great story, some humour, some amazing songs which help move the story along and an opening sequence which is possibly my favourite 5 minutes of animation ever committed to film. Like most Disney films, The Lion King has it’s dark moments, but without them the high stake of the film simply wouldn’t be earnt. Simply one of the best animated films of all time.
Moana (2016) is the most recent Disney animation and my word is it fantastic. Based on Polynesian mythology, Moana is the story of a chieftains daughter (don’t call her a princess despite the animal sidekick!) and her adventures across the pacific ocean with the arrogant, yet amusing demi-god Maui. The animation is stunning, the songs are catchy and have been stuck in my head for months (Your Welcome!), but what makes the film for me is that Moana is a strong independent girl who can stand on her own two feet, she does not need a love interest or a man to save her. As a father of a daughter I cannot stress how important it is for her to be exposed to characters such as Moana. Since Tangled Disney have been very good with their portrayal of woman in their films and whilst I wouldn’t deprive my daughter of watching the older films involving Princesses (all which have a Prince as a love interest etc etc…), it’s great that there are now more modern and less patriarchal portrayals of women in animated films. Moana is the cinematic role model I would want my daughter to look up to. Well at least until she chooses to want to be like Princess Leia or Rey!
A few words on Frozen. I am sure some of you are surprised that the cultural behemoth that is Frozen has not made my list. Yes the songs are great, there are strong female leads and the story is decent. Not mention it’s one of my daughter’s favourite films, but I still don’t think it’s a bona fide classic yet. In terms of recent Disney films I actually prefer Tangled, Big Hero Six , Zootopia and the aforementioned Moana.