What is it about a movie that makes a lasting impression? Characters? Effects? Plot? The emotions it evoked at the time? The people you were with? Perhaps simply the weather? I hold a special place in my heart for the moves I loved as a child. I think most people do, to a certain extent. When I see the majority of the kids’ films today I find myself sighing deeply in an “oh, they don’t make “˜em like they used to” kind of way. Technology aside I got to thinking; do they really not make children’s movies so great anymore, or were mine not that great to begin with? To get to the bottom of my problem, I’ve gone back to visit some of my absolute favourites from childhood and put them to the test of time.
Labyrinth (1986) d. Jim Henson
Kicking it off with a bang, I went straight to Labyrinth. What I remember as an almost nightmarish onslaught of goblins and mini-monsters controlled by an all-seeing, super creepy Wizard of Oz type man was not too far off the mark. Minus the fact I didn’t have any trouble sleeping afterwards. Jim Henson truly was a genius. Some of the effects might look comical today, but those Muppets were truly something else back then. Cute, frightening, cuddly, and mischievous, you just couldn’t judge a Muppet by its fur. David Bowie as Jareth, the Goblin King was rather menacing. Not just his deliberately tight pants but his throwing babies in the air and popping up out of nowhere. He had that “I just don’t know when he’s going to pop up and send everyone to the Bog of Eternal Stench” aura that actually did frighten me as a child.
On my revisit, with my wise adult eyes, he’s just a really lonely Goblin King who wants a baby. Or he wants Jennifer Connolly. Maybe he’s in love! Either way, he’s not that bad. But perhaps we didn’t push him far enough in the movie. The freaks and creeps and goblins are certainly more comical now, as you might expect, but I have no idea how we survived watching this as children! All in all, Labyrinth was a very WTF?! experience for me. I’m not sure if I would recommend it to young children any time soon, but sure, it translates to this time. As an adult, I’d say leave the past in the past. It was better as the vague fantasy nightmare.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) d. Steve Barron
As a child, TMNT was hilarious. The turtles were cool, and funny, in addition to having sweet ninja skills. What made the Ninja Turtles magical for children, aside from their ooze-induced growth and high functioning brains, were the action and the language. How many people went around saying “kowabunga”? Or bruised their faces trying to whip nunchucks around? The turtles were the karate kid times four plus funny.
Twenty-two years later, the ninja turtles have not lost their charm. What’ funny this time around though is how much I forgot the “teenage” aspect of the title. They are such teenaged boys; from the energy, the eating, the angst, the pranks. I didn’t really notice before. The depth behind the story actually kind of comes out, too now. It’s not just action, there’s some politics, sarcasm, and human truth hidden behind the 4-way high fives and the “gnarlys”. I really enjoyed watching this one again. While remaining hilariously ’90s, it was kind of touching. Definitely transferable to today, and definitely worth a revisit.
The Last Unicorn (1982) d. Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
I rented this animated movie every other week as a child. Why nobody had the insight to just make a purchase is beyond me, however, there are some surviving copies I got my hands on. What I loved about this movie was of course, the unicorn, but also how badass everything seemed. The unicorn was a bit of a hot-head, Molly and Schmendrick the magician had it out for each other, the evil characters were pretty darn evil, and of course, the giant red bull. I think most kids were a little wary of trees for a bit after seeing the magician smothered into one’s enchanted bosom! It was dark and sinister, but magical all the same.
I must say I was a bit taken aback when I watched it again recently. The Last Unicorn did not age very well. I absolutely loved this movie as a kid, I’ve read the book as an adult (amazing), but even the vocal talents of Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Mia Farrow, and Jeff Bridges couldn’t pull it together for me. It was a choppy sort of story, with awkward pausing and short, half-explained and unfinished scenes. I felt a little silly and unfulfilled by the end. Maybe I filled in all the gaps as a kid, or maybe to a kid there are no gaps, I don’t know. What I can conclude is that yes, kids can watch it, and should watch it absolutely. Biweekly. Adults should leave it alone; it’s better as a memory.
Edward Scissorhands (1990) d. Tim Burton
I’m not sure I understood this one as a kid. There was some spooky mansion, a freaky guy with sword hands, suburbia, haircuts, love, cougars, jealousy, and we’re back at the mansion being spooky. Needless to say, I loved it and it left a lasting impression. I didn’t even realize it was Johnny Depp until I hit university, there’s the magic of Tim Burton. I loved the falseness of the village, the classic, slightly off-ness of it all that signals Tim Burton. Most of all I guess I really wanted to find someone to cut my hedges like that. The possibilities were endless.
On my renewal of this film, I got it. And it was good. A commentary on the fickleness of trends and society, jealousy and prejudice, it was a bit sad. At the same time; come on, a guy with scissor hands! The pea-eating scene cracked me right up. That’s just mean. For this one, I’d say sure, it’s transferable to today and yes, enjoyable as an adult. I think most Tim Burton films have a lot to offer all-ages audiences, and Edward Scissorhands is no exception.
The Princess Bride (1987) d. Rob Reiner
A thousand times, yes! This movie literally does have everything; it’s funny, sweet, and adventurous. There are villains and princesses, fantastical creatures, torture, love, sword fights! As a child, and as a teenager in fact, I was absolutely smitten by this fairy tale. There was enough exaggerated and physical comedy to have me roaring with laughter no matter who I was watching it with. There was some kind of buccaneer spiritedness in the movie that made it so much fun to watch.
As an adult, I’m still charmed. There aren’t a whole lot of new discoveries, but somehow it’s not boring still. This movie is timeless and a masterpiece. The bizarre cast of characters strikes a chord with any age. And, if we’re all being honest, doesn’t everyone like a love story with sword fighting? I rest my case. The Princess Bride takes the cake for childhood revisits. I expect to be able to watch it again in a decade and still enjoy it.
This is just a sample of a long list of long ago pedestaled kids movies. I think I’ll save the rest for another rainy day, and see if they hold up today or not. But don’t just sit back and take my word for it. Have your own trip down memory lane and let us know what you find.