There has been a swift decrease in the quality of children's films over the years. It's something I have noticed both as a keen cinephile and as a concerned parent. School holidays and a cinema timetable have become more of a pain than a pleasure. With CGI claptrap, mindless sequels and remakes, the multiplex is packed with nonsense that calls itself children's cinema. In fact more than often I have paid for a family ticket and then spent an hour watching disengaged kids running up and down the aisle, hurling popcorn in the air and generally rioting whilst there parents sleep or moan about their kids' behaviour on their Facebook app. The "powers that be" need to understand that you can't churn out any old rubbish because some folks have standards, and so do their kids.
So, let's take a stand and stick two fingers up at the family ticket, the sticky floor and the stale, overpriced popcorn. Let's stay at home and watch something memorable, powerful, visceral and moving instead. If you're not going away this summer, here are a few suggestions of alternative films that will take you around the world and back, without them having to leave the sofa.
PLEASE NOTE: The following recommendations are for rainy days or evenings only, as we are in the throes of an obesity epidemic and nothing beats climbing a tree or a game of knock down ginger.
The Red Balloon (France, 1956)
A timeless fairytale by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse. This wonderful film features hardly any dialogue and captures the joy of adolescence and the beauty of imagination by focussing on the relationship between a big red ballon with an enormous personality and an inquisitive little boy. The film captures perfectly the bond between children and their toys. It's stunningly filmed, in a glorious location and is as engrossing as it is enchanting and at only 35 minutes you could get it watched in less time than it takes most children to tie their shoelaces and get their coat on.
My Neighbour Totoro (Japan, 1988)
An animated Japanese fantasy film from Studio Ghibli and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film follows two sisters and their adventures with friendly wood spirits in post-war rural Japan. The film is full of heart and the joy of childhood innocence, adventure and exploration. The film exists without the confines of a traditional plot and instead explores the wonder of a situation allowing the characters within and the viewers to stretch their imagination and venture on an incredible journey. Totoro is one of the reasons DVD players have a repeat button and there's always something fresh to be discovered from multiple viewings.
Whistle Down the Wind (UK, 1961)
Alan Bates stars as a dangerous and bearded uxoricide on the run and takes refuge in a barn on a remote Lancashire farm. The farmer's three children discover him and because of his facial hair and the influence of Sunday School they mistake him for the second coming of Christ. Director Bryan Forbes balances the chiaroscuro aspect perfectly in both theme and aesthetic. The astonishing performances from the children, including Hayley Mills, make the film as moving as it is laugh-out -loud funny. Guaranteed to make the term "Gentle Jesus killed my kitten" an often repeated phrase in your household.
The Kid (USA, 1921)
This is the greatest introduction to Charlie Chaplin, once they've sat through this, your kids will be begging you to watch Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Funny and heartbreaking in equal measures. The film follows the Tramp as he finds a baby in a bin and does his best to raise him. Contradictory to the grim Eastenders-esque synopsis, the film is hilarious, slapstick style and provides solid evidence that silence is indeed golden.
The First Movie (International, 2009)
This documentary follows director Mark Cousins as he introduces the children of a Kurdish village in Iraq to the escapism and wonder of cinema, both by introducing them to various films by way of a make-shift outdoor screen in the village and by handing them cameras to capture their own lives on film. The result is a moving, raw and true education of Iraqi culture. It will most certainly challenge your children's existing knowledge of the country that they might have acquired from the media. The First Movie features a star-making and memorable role from little Mohamed. Your kids will feel like they've made a new friend by the time the credits roll.
Whale Rider (New Zealand, 2002)
This 2002 feature from director Niki Caro is based on the novel of the same name. The film stars Keisha Castle-Hughes as Kahu Paikea Apirana, a 12-year-old Maori girl who wants to become the chief of the tribe but her grandfather believes that this is a role reserved only for men. The film is sensitively directed and unfolds at a natural and affecting pace, mainly thanks to the remarkable performance of its young lead. An astutely touching film, guaranteed to have you reaching up your sleeve for that crusty tissue.
Life is Beautiful (Italy, 1997)
A novel and sensitive way to educate your children on the holocaust. Roberto Benigni, in an Oscar winning performance as a father, desperate to protect the innocence of his young son during the savagery of the Second World War. Life is Beautiful is a funny and moving exploration of how love conquers all - even the Nazi regime. Younger viewers may find it hard to keep up with subtitles but the UK DVD release has an English language dubbed version, which doesn't detract from the overall power of this film. You will definitely need a new tissue for this film, possibly a full box.
Children of Heaven (Iran, 1997)
This Iranian film from 1997 is played with great purity and grace and is a genuine pleasure to devour. Mohammad Amir Naji plays Ali, a young boy who, after losing his sister's shoes sets out to win her a new pair. His role is acted with such incredible depth and passion, that you are guaranteed to be completely drawn into his plight. The relationship between the young siblings is believable and any viewer with a brother or sister will find this gem hard to resist.
Empire of the Sun (USA, 1987)
Steven Spielberg's emotive adaptation of JG Ballard's semi autobiographical novel follows the story of a young English boy as he is forced to adapt to life under Japanese occupation during World War II. It's both terrifying and sadly, as relevant as ever. It is quite gruesome in parts but is nowhere near as bad as the six o' clock news. It includes a powerful central performance from a young Christian Bale, so if your child has any reservations about watching it, tell them Batman is in it.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA, 2012)
Nominated for several Oscars and deservedly so, Beasts of the Southern Wild is an original fantasy film that follows the adventures of 6 year old Hush Puppy as she anticipates the death of her father. After ice caps flood her bayou community, the young girl learns the way of love and courage as ancient aurochs are hot on her tail. Beasts... is a real feast for the eyes with breathtaking visuals and a heartwarming score. A thoroughly juicy and fruitful film for the whole family, that is perfect in every way imaginable and totally owned by an awe-inspiring performance from young Quvenzhane Wallis in the lead role.
All of the above have been tried, tested and thoroughly enjoyed by a 10 year old girl and an 8 year old boy. Whilst once being moderately satisfied with pretty colours or cute animations, they now realise there is much more to film than endless re-hashes, Disney re-masters, sequels and migraine inducing 3D crap-fests. Both now have a true understanding of 'quality' and quite rightly require their films to have a pocket full of soul and a raison d'être beyond the soulless milking of the multiplex cash cow. Feel free to add to the list by commenting below with your own recommendations.