Column: Films from Around the World for Kids
A recent Hollywood Reporter article plodded into dangerous territory by questioning why so many adults can’t let go of childhood passions.
“From superheroes, Star Wars and fairy tales to cartoons, the things many of us loved as children remain something we love today — protectively, passionately and even problematically,” suggested the author of “What Happens When Fandom Doesn’t Grow Up?”
Such fierce nostalgia can have negative consequences, he warned – both for those treasured characters, who get stuck pleasing adult fans rather than finding younger audiences, and for the fans themselves, who can feel “incomplete” as adults.
Before you get your Superman tights in a bundle, think about this: If our taste in movies gets stuck at 15, that golden target age of so much that Hollywood produces, how do we learn to appreciate other kinds of films, other ways of telling stories and seeing the world?
Plenty of intelligent adults have no patience for movies that break with familiar Hollywood formulas. They’re put off by things like subtitles, unfamiliar settings or characters, non-linear or slow-paced narratives, unhappy endings or a lack of special effects.
As a parent, I’m convinced exposure is the key to tolerance, curiosity and appreciation – of films from around the world and, maybe by extension, of others.
In this spirit, I recently surveyed friends, some of whom work in the movies, to compile a list of international films they’d recommend to watch with children.
Animated films are an easy start, especially with younger kids. They’re familiar and dubbed, but can still open conversations about faraway worlds.
Japan’s legendary animation director Hayao Miyazaki has multiple titles popular among families, including “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Same with France’s Michel Ocelot, director on the “Kirikou” films among others.
Afghanistan-set “The Breadwinner” teaches lessons about gender and war. It was directed by Ireland’s Nora Twomey, who was also involved with “Song of the Sea” and “The Secret of Kells.”
Other suggestions from friends include Brazil’s “Castle Ra-Tim-Bum,” French fantasy tale “April and the Extraordinary World,” Italy’s “Lucky and Zorba” and the “Tad Jones” adventure films from Spain. Not animated, but reputedly fun for the littles, is Danish superhero trilogy “Antboy.”
For older kids, the French stop motion “My Life as a Zucchini” addresses some heavy issues of grief, abandonment, bullying and adult misbehavior but, as one friend put it, also conveys a sense of the possibilities and growth in overcoming such challenges.
Coming of Age
There’s nothing like seeing your own struggles depicted on film. Some live action movies friends have recommended for tweens and above include 1950s-set Swedish dramedy “My Life as a Dog,” the Italian classic “Cinema Paradiso” and that whirlwind of Parisian whimsy, “Amélie.”
One of my personal favorites is the New Zealand movie “Whale Rider,” about a Maori girl fighting to break gender barriers in her family and community. An Australian friend told me about the Perth-set “Paper Planes,” about a boy intent on competing in the World Paper Plane Championship in Japan.
Other options for teens include the UK’s “Billy Elliot,” about a ballet-obsessed boy from a working-class family, or the more recent “Sing Street,” a Dublin-set coming-of-age story about a boy who starts a band to impress a girl. “Life is Beautiful” and “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” are two kid-centered but still potentially upsetting (especially “Boy”) Holocaust movies.
If your teen enjoys realist fare, you might try Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” a French classic about a wayward lad that helped define a mid-century movement of mold-breaking filmmakers.
Hitchcock is another great intro to film culture. Most of the sexual innuendo will go over younger heads, but the period look and mystery of favorites like “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest” or “To Catch a Thief” will stay with them, while the effects in “The Birds” or “Vertigo” are now low-tech enough not to scare. Older kids might enjoy the clever dialogues of “Strangers on a Train” or “Rope.”
Classic movies tend to move slower and are often in black and white, a good exercise in focus for young viewers. Why settle for remakes when you can enjoy the original “Mary Poppins” or try older takes on favorite tales, like Jean Cocteau’s 1946 “Beauty and the Beast.”
My family, like others, has appreciated both “On the Way to School,” a documentary following four kids from far-flung locations on their often-arduous treks to school, and “Babies,” which exposes vastly divergent cultural norms (and resources) in newborn care.
The website www.kidworldcitizen.org, which has compiled its own list of kid-friendly films from around the world (some with lesson plans), also recommends “Which Way Home,” about the harrowing journey of several children emigrating from Central America to the US.
Of them all, this may be the most relevant to watch right now.
This article originally ran in The Daily Record.