Top 10 Live-Action Movies for Children

Feb 27, 2006

The Bottom Line Kids are wired for cartoons, but sometimes a dose of actual humanity... or maybe puppetry... is exactly what they need.

Some of the best movies I've ever seen have been targeted at people who can't afford the price of a box of popcorn. Kids movies and 'family films' are big business in Hollywood. Here's a list of what I think are some of the best family friendly movies available at your local video store. My criteria for this list, as with my animated films list, were clean language, minimal violence, and no sex scenes (this rules out movies like Big). I also decided to try to find appeal for all age groups from toddlers through grandparents.

These are all live-action films (occasionally with some puppetry or animation sequences included), and all were originally released in theatres. And since I love them all, they're in no particular order.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
This is the original 1971 Film with Gene Wilder, not the current version with Johnny Depp. I know it's not 100% faithful to Roald Dahl's book, but I love it anyway. The Oompa Loompas, the horrible children, the slightly dopey songs... The new one may be a better movie, but it doesn't appeal to me the way the original did and still does. I can't even count how many times my kids watched this when they were toddlers and into grade school.

Mary Poppins
This is possibly the finest children's movie of all time. For those who've been living under a rock for the past half-century, this movie is about a nanny with magical powers that not only cares for the children, but also helps their stuffy, stoic father rediscover what is really important in life. While the songs and the silliness will appeal to even the youngest children, parents will appreciate the historical setting and the memories from their own childhoods.

The Wizard of Oz
1939 was an excellent year for the movies. One of the best is this screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's masterwork. While this movie differs greatly from the book, it became an icon in its own right for the beautiful performance entered by Judy Garland, the incredible sets and cinematography, the rousing and memorable songs, and those charming little munchkins. While the youngest children may be frightened by the witch and the haunted forest, all but the most timid will make it through to the end for Dorothy's return to Kansas.

The Princess Bride
This modern fable of betrayal, redemption, and true love was an instant classic. With evil little men, a friendly giant, and an obvious good vs. evil theme, this is a perfect movie for any kid or kid-at-heart. Just avoid the R.O.U.S.s (rodents of unusual size) and you're good to go!

Miracle on 34th Street
Nearly every best-of list needs at least one Christmas movie. My list has two. The first is the classic movie about a little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus because it's just not practical. The nice old man who calls himself Chris Kringle is either just an over zealous department store Santa, or the one man who can restore a child's joie de verve.

My mother rented this movie every year for the better part of a decade. It's a Christmas tale about a little girl who finds one of Santa's reindeer; lost, injured, and in danger of missing that all-important flight. This movie stands as proof that the faith of a child overcomes all adversity.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
This movie is only a few months old, but I already consider it one of the best kids' movies ever. Not only did it faithfully reproduce C.S. Lewis' tale of 4 children displaced by war, and magically transported to a land locked in eternal winter; it did it with visually stunning graphics, superb performances, and high-level entertainment for the whole family.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
This movie has always been one of my favorites. Dick Van Dyke is wonderful as an absentminded inventor and single father trying to do the best for his kids. From the zany dance productions, to the magical flights in the flying car, children will be spellbound by this Disney classic.

An evil stepmother, a goblin city, and only 13 hours to rescue the baby... it's a recipe for entertainment. Music by David Bowie will appeal to parents who were kids in the '70s and '80s, as will revisiting Jennifer Connelly's premier performance. The little ones will love the various personalities from Jim Henson's creature shop. This is a feel-good fairy tale for the whole family.

The Muppet Movie
What's not to like about Kermit the Frog? Those in my generation cut our teeth watching Kermit's antics on Sesame Street, and the fabulous amphibian came into his own on The Muppet Show. But he wasn't really an A-list star until he hit the silver screen. Following the green one from his humble beginnings in a lonely swamp to signing a big deal in Hollywood, this movie is a sure winner.

And because it's impossible to actually limit these lists to 10, here are a few more titles that I think are worthwhile and entertaining.

Incredible Journey
Pippi Longstocking
Neverending Story
Herbie the Lovebug (the old version)

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