DVD Alternatives For The Family
by Phil Boatwright

Now, there’s no way I can find films devoid of everything objectionable. I have tried, however, to collect a list of films that entertain, and in many cases send a positive message to your children about friendship, compassion or responsibility. If you find something objectionable, place the film on pause and discuss the offending subject with your kids. You might find that to be the most rewarding part of the entire film experience. NOTE: Click the linked films to read the Preview review.

For little ones under the age of ten...

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat serve as tour guides through this Dickens classic about the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. As for the scary moments in this G-rated musical, the folks at Jim Henson Productions delicately handle these scenes, presenting humor to ease children out of any fright they may experience.

The Adventures of Milo & Otis (1989). Rated G. Great adventure starring animals, with Dudley Moore serving as narrator.

Adventures From The Book of Virtues. Based on the best selling book by William J. Bennett, this superbly animated series is filled with exciting adventures and inspiring messages for little ones.

Dr. Suess - Horton Hears A Who. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Rhythmic lessons dealing with faith, perseverance, importance of every life.

Little Miss Marker (1934). Shirley Temple in the Damon Runyon yarn about a little girl left with a crusty bookie as a gambling I-O-U.

Wee Willie Winkie (1937). My favorite Shirley Temple film. The curly haired moppet is sent to live on a British outpost in India with her mother and Grandfather. Inspired by Kipling's Gunga Din.

Bambi II (2006). After his mother’s death, Bambi is reunited with his father, The Great Prince, who must now raise the young fawn and teach him the ways of the forest.  The proud parent discovers that there is much he can learn from his spirited young son.  Full of life lessons that address the death of a parent, the need for father and son bonding, and a respect for God’s creatures, the filmmakers have given audiences an entertaining film that is both insightful for children and engaging for Mom and Pop. Full of humor, action and pretty pictures, Bambi II, like its predecessor, is a treasure.

Because of Winn Dixie (2005). A lonely 10-year-old, abandoned by her mother and ignored by her grieving minister father, prays for a friend. Soon after, an energetic stray pooch scampers his way into the little girl’s heart while she shops for macaroni and cheese at the local Winn Dixie. As the two bond, she finds that they are having a positive effect on the friendless and disenfranchised in her small, rural community.

For older children...

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). An impressive spectacle with polished dialogue, exciting sword-play, colorful sets and costumes, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

Akeelah and the Bee (2006). Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) is a precocious eleven-year-old from south Los Angeles with a gift for words. Despite the objections of her mother (Angela Bassett), Akeelah enters various spelling contests, for which she is tutored by the forthright Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), and the proud residents of her neighborhood. The film has several positive messages, including caring and sacrificing for others. It also reminds each of us that while there are dark valleys we must go through on our travels through life, green pastures also lay ahead.

Shiloh (1997). Michael Moriarty, Blake Heron, Scott Wilson, Rod Steiger. A boy discovers a low-life neighbor is mistreating his animals. The lad sets out to save a beagle that runs away from the abusive hunter. More substance than in most boy-and-his-dog movies. Lessons are taught concerning the value of your word and you can't run away from your problems. And that dog - he could give Snoopy charm lessons! PG (1 mild expletive, but I caught no harsh language; the one animal fight is staged with the cooperation of the American Humane Assn.; the villain kicks his dogs and mistreats them which may upset little ones).

Where The Red Fern Grows (1974). Set in Depression era Oklahoma, tells of a young boy, who more than anything, wants a pair of hunting dogs. With hard work, he earns enough to buy a pair of pups. As he trains them, he learns life lessons. A low budgeted production, but replete with examples of courage, and character development. Rated G (a tragic accident occurs where a teen bully falls on his own knife; a fight between the dogs and a mountain lion, but is fairly tame by today's standards).

The Bear (1989). Wow, what a great film experience. It follows an orphaned bear cub and his new protector, a huge Kodiak. There’s no Disney-styled narration or cutesy voice-overs. “The Bear” is simply a captivating, humorous look at the daily life of these two mammals. The film takes place in 1885 British Columbia, with stunning, often breathtaking photography, locations and some truly touching moments. Caution, there are a couple of frightening scenes. Hunters are after the Kodiak. Dogs and horses are wounded by the bear when he is cornered. But no animals were actually harmed during filming. I believe little ones can handle it if parents are there to reassure. Standout moment: an unprepared hunter comes face to face with his quarry. After some rather loud roaring, the huge mammal takes pity on the frightened hunter and walks away. Later, the bear is also spared. Rated PG.

The Iron Giant (1999). Animated kids adventure about an imaginative little boy who befriends a giant robot who doesn't seem to know how he came to be (something we never learn, although it appears in the beginning that he came from space). Highly entertaining, with humor aimed both at kids and adults. Set in the '50s, it's a little hard on the military and government secret agencies, but it also deals with spiritual issues, stating, "Souls don't die, they go on forever." Suggesting both filmmatic and thematic ideas from “The Day The Earth Stood Still” and “King Kong,” “The Iron Giant” is smart, funny, and exciting. However, parents should view with little ones, both to reassure and to explain certain messages.

National Velvet (1944). More than anything, a 12-year-old girl (Elizabeth Taylor) wants to enter the Grand National Steeplechase on her beloved horse, Pie. Engrossing story from a child’s point of view, with a terrific supporting cast and breath-taking photography. A young girl competes in a man’s world.

Captains Courageous (1937) A great bonding between man and child, with Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew.

Harriet The Spy (1996). Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O'Donnell. An inventive 6th grader learns life lessons from her Mary Poppins-like nanny. Positive messages including responsibility, compassion, using your imagination, and the fruitlessness of revenge. PG(a couple mild expletives, but no profanity; our heroine extracts revenge, but quickly learns how destructive vengeance can be to oneself; she smarts-off to her parents in one scene, but it becomes evident that there is a loving relationship at home).

Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965). Terry Thomas, Stuart Whitman, Benny Hill. The Great Race set in the air. Amusing. Caution, 1 obscenity.

Eragon (2007). Edward Speleers stars in this epic fantasy-adventure about a young farm boy whose destiny is revealed with the help of a dragon. Reminiscent of Dragonheart, another period tale of knights, dragons and the never-ending struggle for justice, Eragon contains messages of bravery, sacrifice, and the need for doing what is right. And though there is a demonic sorcerer, this good vs. evil parable is more Narnia than Hogwarts, and is not an attempt to interest youth in the dark arts. Rated PG for several intense battle scenes and several demonic-looking creatures who do battle with the good guys.

Sky High (2005). The son of two superheroes is entering an elite high school designed to mold today’s power-gifted students into tomorrow’s superheroes.  But there is a problem for young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano). He has yet to receive his powers. Indeed, there is a growing fear that he is doomed to be a powerless “sidekick.” To make things worst, an overbearing gym coach, a school bully and girl problems are becoming super frustrating. Ah, but world-rescuing powers are on the way, and Will and his parents are about to save mankind while discovering that sidekicks are heroes too. Occasionally, a film aimed at the family succeeds in pleasing child and parent, alike. This one does. Where most of the comic book adventures this summer have been less than stellar, “Sky High” is fabulously funny family-friendly fare. PG (devoid of objectionable language and crudity, the script maintains an uplifting standard due to creativity and respect for audience members; there is cartoonish violence – come on, it’s a story about caped crusaders and arch villains – therefore parents should attend with little ones, but the filmmakers are careful to add humor to the battle scenes in order to ward off fears; lessons are learned about respecting others and the film presents a positive family example).

And something for the family to view together…

Black Beauty (1994). Narrated from the perspective of the horse, this episodic, sometimes slow-paced adventure is beautifully photographed, with life lessons for children. A close adaptation to the Anna Sewell animal-rights classic, it concerns the life of an extraordinary horse as it passes from one owner to another. Starring Sean Bean and David Thewlis, this G-rated movie is a great film for the family. There are several films with the same title, but this 1994 production is the best.

A Bug’s Life (1998). Computer generated animation about a worker ant who takes it upon himself to locate tougher bugs that will protect his little village from invading insects. Unfortunately, our bumbling hero recruits a motley group of circus bugs that think they are going to entertain the invaders.

Charlotte’s Web (2006). What an incredible story, completely involving, yet loaded with life lessons for children and reminders for adults. Based on E.B. White’s classic about a spider who befriends a shy piglet, this is a classic – not just one of the best family films of 2006, but of ever. Rated G (there are a few comically perilous situations for the Rat, and there’s the threat that Wilber will be turned into bacon by summer’s end, but the filmmakers managed to tell an involving story without graphic or excessive violence; and although it is a witty, heartwarming story, there are a few flatulence jokes, as well as a few other crudities sprinkled throughout).

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005). Not since Dorothy landed on the yellow brick road have young and old alike entered such an enchanting world. Its story and dialogue are witty for adults, its magical look spellbinding for kids. PG (Though there is no blood and the filmmakers attempt to avoid excessive brutality, this good vs. evil tale does include violence – from bombs exploding to a wicked witch slapping a youngster to wolves attacking to an all out Braveheart-like battle. There are a few jolting scenes and several scary moments; parents should attend with little ones in order to reassure. The kids learn life lessons, the film is pro-family and the spiritual insights are distinctly biblical).

The Court Jester (1956). Danny Kaye is hilarious impersonating a royal jester in Medieval England. One of the great clowns, Kaye is well supported by Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury, Mildred Natwick. "Oh, I see...the pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true."

Wide Awake (1998). Joseph Cross. A young boy enters 5th grade while dealing with the death of his beloved grandfather. The boy, terrifically played by young Joseph Cross, learns forgiveness, compassion and faith. PG (1 obscenity from the lead's best friend; 1 mild obscenity repeated over and over as the lead runs from a bully, but when he passes a cross with the suffering Christ on it, the boy apologizes; 1 expletive from the football coach; the boys innocently examine a magazine featuring a bikini-clad woman, but I did not feel this was exploitive and the picture is not predominantly shown to the audience - the youngsters are merely curious about the opposite sex; deals poignantly with the loss of a grandparent).

The Great Race. (1965). Rated G. A comic spoof of old-time melodramas, with Jack Lemmon very funny as the villainous Professor Fate, Tony Curtis stalwart as the Great Leslie, and Natalie Wood luminous as a suffragette. I think this film has some of the greatest site gags of all time, plus a great sword fight between Leslie and the evil Ross Martin. It also has the pie fight to end all pie fights.

The Incredibles (2004). This hilarious, action-packed, animated adventure has a put-upon superhero family now denying their superpowers and living under a government protection plan. Taking on grown-up themes such as the suspicion of infidelity and a barrage of violent do-or-die histrionics, Pixar Animation Studios and filmmaker Brad Bird (The Iron Giant) incorporate cartoonish slapstick with thoughtful PG-rated wit.

March of the Penguins (2005). In the Antarctic, every March, the quest begins for penguins to find the perfect mate and start a family. This courtship begins with a long journey – a trek that will take hundreds of the tuxedo-suited birds across seventy miles of frozen tundra to a location where the courtship will begin. It’s rated G and though it depicts harsh life and death struggles, it does so in a family-friendly way. It’s full of impressive, almost unworldly locations and amazing cinematography, and most importantly, it sends a powerful message concerning the importance of life. Nature is telling us about the sanctity of life. In a time when audiences are subjected to pro messages concerning euthanasia (“Million Dollar Baby,” “The Sea Inside”), the need for abortion (“Vera Drake”), and desensitizing images of violence toward our fellow man (most films), here is a film that reveals creatures in the wild sacrificing all in order to preserve life.

Monsters, Inc (2001). Voices of John Goodman, Billy Crystal, James Coburn, Jennifer Tily. Set in Monstropolis, a thriving company town where monsters of all shapes and sizes reside, the film follows the misadventures of Sulley and his best friend, Mike. Both work at Monsters, Inc., the largest scream processing factory in the monster world, where Sulley is the top kid Scarer and Mike is his enthusiastic Scare Assistant. The main power source in the monster world is the collected scream of human children. At Monsters, Inc, an elite team of Scarers is responsible for gathering those precious natural resources. Complicating matters, however, is the fact that monsters believe human children to be toxic and direct contact with them is forbidden. When a little girl (named Boo) accidentally follows Sulley back into his world, he finds his career in jeopardy and his life in utter chaos. Assisted by Mike, he schemes to rectify his mistake but the trio becomes caught up in a series of complications and unexpected intrigue. Another Disney delight, this is a fun one for kids and one the parents will enjoy as well. Great expressions, and life lessons and good triumphs. Not as magical as “Toy Story,” but still loads of fun. G (The opening shots may start to frighten little ones, but the scene quickly turns into slapstick comedy; the monsters are more funny looking than scary; one scene towards the ending may also alarm small ones, but the film’s stars keep the whimsy quotient high, thereby relieving the panic factor; the children at the screening seemed amused by the proceedings).

The Prince of Egypt (1998). The story of Moses is vividly brought to animated musical life through the sophisticated work of DreamWorks Studios.

Support Your Local Sheriff (1969). A very funny western send-up with drifter James Garner hired as town sheriff. Also stars Walter Brennan, Jack Elam and Bruce Dern.