Watching a favourite animation movie is much like going back to a favourite book – it's comforting in its familiarity and there are new perspectives to discover in that familiarity. But if the umpteenth viewing of Madagascar sets your teeth on edge, it's time to overhaul the DVD collection. Here's a list of non-animated movies – some known and some lesser known – to liven up boring weekend afternoons. Although the entire family will enjoy these movies, there are some movies in the list below, that will appeal more to girls than to boys and some, more to teens than to tots. But do check on the internet for certification and age-appropriateness for these movies.
In Unaccompanied Minors (2006), siblings Spencer and Katherine are asked to wait in the Unaccompanied Minors room when the airport they are flying out of gets snowed on Christmas Eve. The children in this room are on a rampage, wrecking and messing up the place. Spencer enlists some kids to help him make Katherine's Christmas special. The children pull out all the stops to make the most of the snowed-in Christmas, even as they give the surly Mr. Porter the slip many a time.
Set in Africa, The Gods Must be Crazy (1980), is about the adventurous journey undertaken by a bushman (N!xau) to the end of the earth, to dispose an object that is the cause of much unhappiness and unrest in his tribe – an empty bottle of Coca Cola!
Nim's Island (2008) is about eleven-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin), who lives on a secret island with her marine biologist father, Jack (Gerard Butler) and her animal friends. Nim replies to an email on her father's behalf while he's away. It turns out that her favourite author, Alex Rover wants some help in fleshing out details for the next book in the adventure series. When Nim's father goes missing, she tells Alex Rover that she is scared. Little does she know that the author of the swashbuckling adventures is actually a woman (Jodie Foster) who is too scared to even step out of her own house! Based on the book by Wendy Orr.
In Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker (2006), fourteen year old Alex (Alex Pettyfer) discovers that his uncle Ian Rider (Ewan McGregor), who died under mysterious circumstances, was actually a spy. Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy) of the MI6 enlists him to undergo Special Forces training to become a spy himself. Rider's first operation is to find out the motive behind Darius Sayle's (Mickey Rourke) generosity in creating and donating Stormbreaker personal computers for schools. Lots of nifty gadgets, cool chases and the big question - is Ian Rider really dead? Based on the series by Anthony Horowitz.
If your children have the patience to watch an old-fashioned musical, there's nothing quite like The Sound of Music (1965) to have them romping through the house singing Do Re Mi over and over again! Maria (Julie Andrews), who wants to become a nun, is sent as a governess to mind the seven Von Trapp children. Maria ushers in some much needed colour and music into the household, ultimately discovering that a warm heart resides within the stern Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer). Lots of music set in the wonderful landscapes of Austria.
Long before March of the Penguins, there was the nature documentary, 'Animals Are Beautiful People' (1974). Shot entirely in Southern Africa, it's a crash-course in geography featuring the many species that inhabit the deserts, river and delta of the region. The excellent background score is a perfect fit for the antics of some of the most adorable creatures and the commentary puts the habits of wild species in context of our own urban lives.
Viva Cuba (2005) is a Spanish movie set in Cuba, about two friends - a boy named Jorgito (Jorge Milo) and a girl named Malu (Malu Tarrau Broche). They come from different social backgrounds and their mothers hate each other. When Malu's mother wants to leave the country, the only person with any power to stop it is Malu's father. The children set out in search of Malu's father, to dissuade him from signing forms that would take Malu and her mother away. Along the journey, the children discover the true meaning of friendship.
Based on Simon Carr's true story, The Boys are Back (2009) is about sports journalist Joe's (Clive Owen) whose life is turned upside down by the death of his wife. He now has to bring up their son, Artie, all by himself. When, Joe's son, Harry, from a previous marriage arrives from the UK, Joe tells him that he runs 'a loose ship' with as few rules as possible in the house. Harry and Artie forge a close bond even as Joe learns to juggle the demands of work and home. This is a movie that steers clear of cliches and raises the all-important question “How much discipline is too much? How much is too little?”
Parenthood (1989) has an ensemble cast that portrays parents with different challenges in child-rearing. Gil (Steve Martin), a sales executive, is torn between work and home. Helen (Dianne Wiest) is a single parent who gets more than she can handle when her teenage daughter gets married and becomes pregnant. Nathan (Rick Moranis) is obsessive about his daughter's IQ. Frank (Jason Robards) wants to help his grown-up son Larry (Tom Hulce) deal with a gambling problem, but finds himself bringing up a grandson! Funny and heart-warming.
An edited version appeared the September 2011 edition of Parent Circle Magazine.