5 Magical Children's Films That Actually Respect the Intelligence of Kids
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5 Magical Children's Films That Actually Respect the Intelligence of Kids

By Dustin Rowles | Seriously Random Lists | October 1, 2012 | Comments ()


Over the weekend, Adam Sandler released Hotel Transylvania to the biggest September opening of all time. Reviews have not been terribly kind (including Agent Bedhead's) and part of the reason why is that the writers -- here the otherwise estimable Robert Smigel and Peter Baynham -- don't respect their target audience's intelligence enough to provide some cleverness or ask of our children to experience actual emotion. Instead, there are farts. Our kids deserve more than farts. They deserve to be respected, except the ones that eat their crayons. They should stick to Sander's family fare.

The rest of them deserve movies like these that don't speak down to them.

531212_488.pngHoles -- Holes is extraordinary for not pandering to the supposed intellectual-level that many adults must assume of kids. I don't know why most assholes in suits believe that kids must be force fed idiocy, one-dimensional caricatures, offensive stereotypes, lame gags, and bright colors. It's insulting to kids, who are young adults and not LSD addicts. After all, who is responsible for 80 percent of book sales these days? If 10-year-olds can digest 700 pages of Harry Potter, they deserve more than Shark Tale. Holes is the rare movie that respects the intelligence of most kids. Based on Louis Sachar's Newbery Medal and National Book Award winning novel of the same name, Holes is about palindromic Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf), wrongly convicted of stealing a pair of sneakers and sent off to a camp for delinquent juveniles, where they are tasked with digging holes all the day long. In addition to dealing with the menacing camp supervisors and a hateful warden (Sigourney Weaver) using the boys to find a hidden treasure, there are a number of inventive subplots, which include a kissing bandit, a family curse, and interracial romance. The book may not rival the works of J.K. Rowling, but the film itself is superior to all of the Potter adaptations.

11mill.390.jpegMillions -- Set in a British version of a Tim Burton suburb, Danny Boyle's Millions concerns 8-year-old Damien (Alexander Nathan Etel) and his slightly older brother Anthony (Lewis Owen Gibbon), who stumble upon a bag of cash near the railroad tracks behind their house. Neither brother wants to reveal the discovery, especially to their recently widowed father, because of their humorously naïve fear they will have to give up a large portion to taxes. Damien, who has a Bill Jamesian knowledge of saints, believes the money is a gift from God that he must use to serve the goodwill of humanity by procuring a few slices of pizza for the local hippie teenagers or by donating large sums of money to the Mormons, believing that he'll get in God's good graces by helping out the less fortunate. Anthony just wants to buy cell phones, video games, and, of course, real estate. For both, the point is mostly moot, because in Millions, God has a wicked sense of humor: The money from the sky is not only stolen, but it's in the British Pound, a currency that will be worthless in a few days, when England converts to the Euro. In Millions, Danny Boyle rewrites Shallow Grave for kids as a rousing religious parable in which spirituality and faith trump evil and greed. And it may be the only film I've ever seen where an 8-year-old kid's simple kindness, the unspoiled goodness of his heart, and the heartbreaking altruism of his actions is enough to provoke tears. Not out of sadness. Nor out of happiness. But out of an overwhelming desire that everyone -- kids, adults, humanity -- could be as decent as Damien.

bridgetoterabithia.gifBridge to Terabithia -- Both David Paterson and Gabor Csupo are operating in what they feel is a modern children's film, so they embellish the story with the occasional silliness and theatricality that accompany the genre. Katherine Paterson's book is about and decidedly for children; it makes sense that this adaptation should appeal to them first and foremost. But, of course, Bridge to Terabithia isn't all fun and fantasy; in spite of the film's lighter tones, Leslie's death still feels like an alienating and unbelievably sad turn of events. The movie does seem to understate the tragedy a bit, not highlighting Jesse's individual guilt over her death quite like the book does, but it still extracts a particularly innocent version of loss, complete with denial, rage, and catharsis Bridge manages to get the basics right; Paterson's screenplay does his mother's beloved novel justice, and Csupo's direction, though unremarkable, is honest. It isn't as good as the book -- how could it be? -- but the story is more than strong enough to bolster the weaker elements, giving us a look at friendship and understanding that are probably lost to us the self-destructive journeys of puberty. Would that we were all lucky enough to have something like that. -- Philip Stephens

coraline-2009.jpegCoraline -- Coraline is an adaptation of a much beloved book, which was spawned from bedtime stories that Gaiman told his own daughters before weaving these tales into his own sparingly detailed and characteristically clear prose. Those familiar with Gaiman's writing will recognize that, although his work is often subject to multiple interpretations on the larger themes of life (and death), he doesn't prescribe any particular meaning for his readers. For that matter, Gaiman doesn't bother wasting words on anything that is inessential to the plot. Such simplicity, however, is often beguiling in the case of an author whose prose often descends into fantasy with no notice at all. In a dizzying yet deft manner, Selick uses his own dazzling style to smoothly guide the plot through such transitions. It is an achingly gorgeous film, crafted in diligent detail and accompanied by Bruno Coulais' deathly beautiful score. Much like the heroine herself, Coraline is clever and inquisitive but more than slightly surly at times. Actually, a good measure of the third act comes with quite a bit of scariness for children under ten years. Coraline may come with a PG-rating, but this is really more of a PG² sort of movie. Don't be surprised if, after watching this film, you awaken with a nightmarish start, only to discover that a whimpering child is attempting to climb into your bed in the middle of the night. -- Agent Bedhead

introbg.jpegThe Iron Giant -- Based on Ted Hughes' 1968 short story "Iron Man," The Iron Giant is about a big-ass robot/weapon sent from another planet in 1957 to destroy the Earth, only the Giant loses its memory, forgets its mission, and forms a kinship with a young boy, Hogarth. However, a despicable, paranoid McCarthyistic government agent, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), is hellbent on destroying the Giant, if only because he doesn't understand it (and we always want to kill what we don't understand). And excuse me for saying so, but The Iron Giant is the movie E.T. wished it could have been -- a beautiful, transcendent film full of sophisticated humor about friendship and tolerance that is sweet-natured but not schmaltzy. Adapted and directed by "The Simpsons" alum and future writer/director of The Incredibles, Brad Bird, The Iron Giant is -- above all else -- an incredibly moving animated film that eschews simpering musical numbers in favor of actual humanism and delivers its message not in the form of a silly, platudinous speech, but in the sacrificial actions of the Giant.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Snoopy

    "WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE"!!!! And "Neverending Story"

  • Obst N. Gemuse

    Gotta add "The Indian in the Cupboard" to the list. Good story and a believable kid-character.

  • Lucie

    A Little Princess!!!! "Even if they're not pretty or smart or young - they're still princesses. All of us. Didn't your father ever tell you that?”

    Whatever happened to that little girl? She was so good!

  • Nadine

    She's basically a kajillionare so she didn't do much acting after Little Princess.

  • Lucie

    That's a damn shame.

  • German

    I'd add How to Train Your Dragon, Secret of Nimh

  • GIV

    The Secret Garden fits this category well too.

  • Slash

    Movies "talk down" to kids for the same reason grownup movies talk down to us: because making crap is easier and often cheaper than making something good. And because lots of people are OK with crap. A lot of people (in any business you can name) figure, why go to the trouble of hiring good people, or paying good people a decent wage, when you can hire shitty people or pay good people a shitty wage to turn out crap, if crap will sell as well as something decent? Jesus, look at the crap they churn out on TV. Somebody's keeping E and Bravo in business, and isn't me. I'm not watching the Kardashians or those godawful Bravo shows, but enough people are to make it worth their while to make them. It will always be easier to make crap. Talent is more expensive than mediocrity. And a lot of people don't know the difference between the two. They think fart jokes are fucking hilarious. It's what keeps Adam Sandler in business.

  • Mrs. Captain Piccard

    One of my favorites of all time is 'Duma.' Beautiful movie.

  • dizzylucy

    "Our kids deserve more than farts."

    Not a sentence I ever expected to read, but true. Though there are some kids who only deserve farts. You know the type.

    I loved Millions and Iron Giant. Coraline was far too creepy for me though.

  • Marik

    I recently showed Matilda to my class of kids. They were really engrossed, and it got them all keen to read the book.

  • causaubon

    great list (i haven't seen Bridge to Terabithia but will now mos def check it out.

    the films that i loved growing up, that seem to me would fit well on this list:

    The Dog Who Stopped the War
    The War of the Buttons
    My Life as a Dog
    Stand By Me
    Cloak and Dagger

  • Green Lantern

    OMG "Cloak and Dagger"! Yes.

    "Jack Flack ALWAYS escapes!"

  • I wore my VHS copy of 'Cloak and Dagger' and 'Flight of the Navigator' out, dude.

  • twig

    I wouldn't mind a decent remake of Flight of the Navigator. I mean, it doesn't need one, but it's a cool concept and I would mind seeing it updated.

  • twig

    or 'wouldn't mind,' rather.

  • causaubon

    i forgot to add Something Wicked This Way Comes


  • causaubon


    Hope and Glory
    Emil and the Detectives
    and, fuck it, Bugsy Malone was awesome!

  • I humbly submit Babe and Babe II: Pig in the City. That'll do, Pig.

  • Most/All Studio Ghibli films should probably be on this list. I watched them when I was a kid and loved them and when I grew up and watched them again, there were all these other deeper things within in that I understood now that I was older.

  • no one

    How about The Wizard of Oz? It is based on the L. Frank Baum book. Or is it not a kids movie?

  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox needs to be on this list! Are you cussing with me?!

  • Kala

    We're going to need bandit hats.

  • What's this? Oh, it's just my trophy that I won because I am an athlete.

  • twig

    The book may not rival the works of J.K. Rowling

    The last three books just suck. No one learns, no one changes, we just get to hear how people we knew were evil are still evil, absolutely nothing happens until the last handful of pages of book six, book seven's wedding is in a really stupid place for a bunch of people who already know evil's got their home address. Any character with a hint of depth or complexity dies so we don't have to complicate the narrative, and the moral of the story is that everyone grows up into a boring prat so we can all live the exciting lack of adventure over again.


  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I don't agree on the details, and I'd argue the only really bad one is the last. HBP, though, could've been a little bit better. OotP is too long and relies on Angry Harry for too much and to get him through puberty (because God forbid the real version of it happen to these kids), but is overall still pretty great.

  • twig

    I'm not blaming the author. I think it's clear right where they stopped editing because they had a schedule to keep and knew people would keep reading regardless of how unpolished it was.

    Harry Potter became a media juggernaut, and the story suffered for it. If I had to give an example of how to write an epic story or a complex hero, Harry wouldn't be my first choice.

  • celery

    That is a lot of simplification you have done there, friend.

  • twig

    I could go into detail (Harry, Ron and Hermione making fun of Hagrid after his giant spider dies, because it's funny when our friends are sad and we're inconvenienced by caring, Draco Malfoy's complete lack of character development, Ginny and Harry's completely plot-free romance even though nothing else was happening in book six, the strangely bizarre Hermione and the House Elves plot tangent that went nowhere and only served to make Hermione look like an idiot, learning Dumbledore's backstory through an obituary instead of, oh I don't know, actual prose I CAN GO ON) but I didn't want to overload the comments column.

    I thought books 1-4 were great, especially book 3. After that, it just sort of spun gears until a big fight where we learned good was better than evil because it can punch face harder.

    I've never seen a less magical magical universe.

  • BiblioGlow

    ...Did we read the same book?

  • twig

    *checks cover* Mine says 'Harry Potter and the Meandering Crap". What's yours say?

  • Stephen Nein

    The Iron Giant (and The Incredibles) gets Brad Bird a lifetime pass to my opening weekend dollar.

  • petalfrog

    So 4/5 of the films are based on literature... hmmm...

  • Just what I was thinking, except isn't it all 5? I'm biased as I'm a children's librarian but its hardly a surprise that these are all literary adaptions as generally children's literature doesn't patronise it's audience and that is why it is awesome.

  • Most films are based upon some form of previous work though. Just sayin'.

  • growler

    I'd like to add Because of Winn-Dixie, which had a surprising amount of soul that even Dave Matthews (who wasn't that bad) couldn't ruin.

  • nosio

    Oh god, just thinking about the end of The Iron Giant is making me a bit misty.

  • RAS

    The Secret of Roan Inish should be in this category as well.

  • oilybohunk7

    Then there are movies like Where the Wild Things Are which are based on a children's book but I wouldn't want to take a child to.

  • Wicked

    The Iron Giant gives my eyes the tingles, and makes them eject high amounts of saline liquid, especially in the final act of the film.

  • Mrcreosote

    Am I going back too far to say that "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" didn't talk down to children? Not the Johnny Depp monstrosity, with the father subplot sloppily welded on, but the original with Gene Wilder.

  • celery

    The source material most definitely doesn't either. I read a quote once that said Roald Dahl hated adults and I believe it was correct.

  • oilybohunk7

    My favorite teacher in school used to read us Roald Dahl. It is still a favorite memory.

  • oilybohunk7

    My 9 year old nephew started telling me about watching Willy Wonka at daycare and once I confirmed that he was talking about the original I was so grateful that they showed him the right one and then proud that he loved it.

  • I'd like to just point out that the original with Gene Wilder was "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and the one with Depp was "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." I know you said not the Depp one but wanted people to know which one is which,cause I see a lot of people say "the original,not the one with Johnny Depp." Also I loved both Iron Giant and Holes a lot,Caroline was done really well too.

  • Leigh

    I agree! I just watched it with my 8 year old cousin a few weeks ago. At the end we had this huge philosophical conversation about why Mr. Wonka was mean to Charlie and why he tested him, and how he had to find someone who was trustworthy enough to care for the factory... it totally took me by surprise. She understood a lot more than I thought she would. You don't usually have big conversations about life after seeing most of the crap they produce for kids nowadays.

  • annie

    I saw both Coraline and Terabithia in theaters, and both times, there was a young kid who wailed and cried by the end. One for being scary, the other one for being so completely sad.

  • competitivenonfiction

    I'm 99% sure that was me. Sorry.

  • googergieger

    Son of Rambow?

  • Nieve 'The Threadkiller Queen'

    Superman...........Oh God here come the tears. Damn you Rowles!

  • zeke_the_pig

    Point me to a person in the world who doesn't like - nay, love - The Iron Giant and I will show you the next goddamn Hitler.

  • piedlourde

    I haven't seen it. Does that make me an Iron Giant denier?

  • Fabius_Maximus

    I haven't seen it, and I'm not particularly interested in it. What does that make me?

  • Salieri2


  • zeke_the_pig

    Beat me to it

  • Tinkerville

    The coffee scene is comedy genius. As is the dinner prayer scene. Screw it, it's all brilliant in every damn way.

  • Jezzer

    Eh, it was okay, I guess.

  • no one

    Probably not a surprise but I agree with Jezzer. Iron Giant is a good movie, but I don't think it's any where near a great movie. I think my problem with it is mostly the audio. It just sounds muted, like the recorded a table read and went with it.

  • Jezzer


  • becks

    This strikes me as a "can't see the forest for the trees" kind of statement but to each his own.

  • zeke_the_pig

    I guess that makes you, like - what? Goebbels I guess?

  • TK

    Fucking word, man. The person who doesn't love The Iron Giant has a nest of maggots for a heart.

  • zeke_the_pig

    Fuckin' nest o' Nazi maggots.

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