Monday, February 15, 2010

Issue 12 – The One About Talking Animals, Fanciful Creatures and Wishing Upon Stars

For once, this is not a rant. It's a tribute. In celebration of the recent Disney release, The Princess and the Frog, I want to take a look at memorable kids' flicks. I say “recent” release because, for reasons unfathomable to me, England has to wait longer than the rest of the entire freakin' planet for new movies to come out. (OK, so maybe it's a little bit of a rant. It's my blog. I'm entitled.)

Everybody's got their favourite kids' movie. I'm not sure why, but for 99% of the population, that seems to be E.T. I'm afraid I somehow missed the boat for that one. I never understood the appeal. Maybe because there were no lightsabers involved; I got bored.

Of course, science fiction and fantasy were massive parts of my childhood, even pre-Star Wars. The majority of the films I remember with fondness fall into one of those categories. Most played in our household were '80s classics like Short Circuit (“Johnny 5 is alive!!”), Mac and Me (mainly because it was on TV every single school holidays), The Neverending Story (“Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh...!” - I desperately wanted my own Falcor), Batteries Not Included and Flight of the Navigator.

The musical was (and is) another favourite genre. But Zac Efron was barely a glimmer in his daddy's eye, so there was no High School Musical or Hannah Montana for me. Oh, no. I was raised on the true greats: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bing Crosby, Donald O'Connor and Elvis Presley. They weren't exactly kids' films, it's true, but what kid doesn't love a good song and dance? These guys, together with Judy Garland, Debbie Reynolds and Ginger Rogers, were my heroes.

This brings me to another couple of movies of which I never understood the appeal: The Sound of Music and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I don't think I've seen either one of them all the way through, because they send me to sleep. The Sound of Music is well and good while it's all drops of golden sun, whiskers on kittens and yodelling goat-herds, but as soon as the war starts....*snore* As for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, all I ever remember of it is Dick Van Dyke, “Truly Scrumptious”, the car itself and a horrible mess of bright colours somewhere in the middle. Just thinking about them both makes me want to go for a nap.

The earliest and clearest memory I have of a movie is going to see Bambi. It was quite possibly my first trip to the cinema, and it was a traumatic experience. Ill-prepared for the fate of Bambi's mother, I recall being so emotionally damaged that I steered clear of animal movies for many years afterwards, in case one of the characters got injured or died.

Two things that children's films (especially animated ones) abound with are great music and quotable quotes. As a kid, “The Sleeping Beauty Waltz” was one of my favourite tunes to play on the piano, and who among us doesn't sub-consciously sing “Hi-ho, hi-ho...!” whenever they pick up a shovel? The Lion King, Tarzan and Shrek are the more recent soundtracks that spring to mind. Despite having a massive celebrity-crush on Jonathan Taylor Thomas, and thinking Simba was beyond cute, I never thought The Lion King itself was anything to write home about (I was obviously old enough, at the time of its release, to not be traumatised by Mufasa's death), but the soundtrack is even now on my iPod. As for quotable quotes, all three Shrek films really take the cake...A layer cake, of course. (Please excuse me; I have a severe case of Compulsiveshrekquotitis, which means I'm constantly telling people, “That's a niiice boulder”; screaming, “Not my gumdrop buttons!”; or wanting someone to, “Play da moovie, yaah.”)

In compiling a list of my favourite children's movie characters, it soon became clear that animated ones led the pack. Pixar are the masters of creating the memorable and unique, but some of the classics are just as unforgettable. Here's my list, in no particular order. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments section below.

Puss in Boots (Shrek 2, Shrek the Third)

Just when we thought Andrew Adamson couldn't top the asinine Donkey, along came an Ogre-killing kitty in thigh-high boots. Voiced with elegance and flair by Zorro himself (Antonio Banderas), Puss is a master of sword-play, charm and getting on Donkey's nerves. His “please take me with you” eyes could melt even the hardest of hearts. He's intelligent, witty, a hit with the ladies and a darn good karaoke singer, to boot. (No pun intended.) Pray for mercy from Puss....In Boots.

Boo (Monsters, Inc.)

Awwww.....Everybody loves a cute kid. Especially a cute kid in a monster suit. She certainly manages to work her way into Sulley's heart with her inane chatter, her cute little pig-tails and her hapless ways. What a treasure.

Wicket (Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure; Ewoks: The Battle For Endor)

The Ewoks. You either love 'em, or you hate 'em. Personally, I don't mind the little guys at all. They're a bit like Wookiees, but mini. And Wicket W. Warrick (so named in honour of his human counterpart, Warwick Davis, who played Wicket in all three movies) is actually quite endearing. At first skittish and frightened, he eventually shows his brave heart and becomes one of the real heroes of the Battle of Endor.

Falcor (The Neverending Story series)

Who wouldn't want a pink, talking, flying dog/dragon? Seriously! Enough said, really.

Doug (Up)

Talking dogs are nothing new in movies, but a talking dog that still behaves like a real dog is actually something unusual. Doug is a member of a pack of guard dogs that have been given special collars to translate their barks and whines into English. Unfortunately, Doug was not born with the heart of a killer and is frequently the brunt of the pack's jokes and brutality. He is, nevertheless, an invaluable companion, faithful and--

Herbie (The Love Bug; Herbie Rides Again; Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo; Herbie Goes Bananas; Herbie: Fully Loaded)

Eat your heart out, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Flying cars are nothing when compared with the likes of Herbie. Intelligent and very, very cheeky (possibly the inspiration for Bumblebee?), this little VW Beetle has a penchant for chasing bad guys, falling in love and driving off on his own, but he always comes through in time to win the race for his owner, Jim Douglas.

Aslan (The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian)

I've said it before: my favourite book of all time is The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, so I was both excited and nervous when I heard it was being made into a movie. All sorts of things could have gone wrong, but the most important thing was to get Aslan right. Memories of the dodgy puppet in the old, BBC miniseries immediately sprang to mind, but, upon hearing that Liam Neeson was to provide his voice, relief set in. I should have had more faith in Andrew Adamson from the start – Aslan is note-perfect: kind, powerful, wild, joyful, loving, strong and regal – all the things he should be as King of both Narnia and our own world. The Pevensie children know that everything comes right when Aslan arrives, but his enemies run in terror from his roar – after all, he's not a tame lion.

Ray (The Princess and the Frog)

I fell head-over-heels for this little guy the second he arrived on screen. Looking a bit like Jiminy Cricket's hobo cousin, he's a Cajun firefly with bent antennae, missing teeth and the biggest heart you ever came across. He happily lends his light to Tiana and Prince Naveen, but he shines brightest for his lady-love, the beautiful Evangeline.


WALL●E carries on the tradition of cute robots, but he takes it to the next level. Whereas R2-D2, Johnny 5 and the like are fairly limited in their ability to express emotion, WALL●E has a full arsenal at his disposal. Left on a deserted Earth with only a friendly cockroach for companionship, he spends his evenings in his little home, watching Hello Dolly and dancing with himself...until he meets the sleek and beautiful EVE (the Mac to his PC) and everything changes for him.

Edna Mole (The Incredibles)

Could you find a more flamboyant and brilliant seamstress? Well, I'm sure I don't know, Darling! But I think not. Ed-na MOOOLE (and Guest) is the highlight of The Incredibles, for me. She's a tiny bundle of sheer creative genius; her business is high fashion for the discerning superhero, and she knows it well. Very well. Her suits are lightweight, durable and machine washable (that's very important) – but do not suggest a cape. NO CAPES!!

Jiminy Cricket (Pinocchio)

This little guy is sent by the Blue Fairy to be Pinocchio's conscience as he discovers life as a “real boy”. He has taught several generations of children to, “Give a little whistle! And always let your conscience be your guide.” Good advice for anyone, really. Of course, his most famous song has undoubtedly had millions of kids stargazing as they dream about their futures because, after all, when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.