Most households with children still living at home probably have a video library stocked to the gills with dozens of high-profile animated, fantasy, adventure, and young adult features. It’s also a good bet many of these productions have been viewed dozens of times each and perhaps have grown a tad too over-familiar.
The following list includes some movies that might have flown underneath your radar and, in some cases, are better than their higher-profile competition. Hopefully you and yours will discover (or maybe rediscover) these off-the-beaten-path gems. All titles are available on assorted streaming services.
‘The Iron Giant’ (1999)
Based on the 1968 novel of the same name by Ted Hughes, this was the first animated feature from writer/director Brad Bird (“Ratatouille” and the “Incredibles” flicks). Set in New England during the Cold War, it centers on Hogarth, a boy who befriends the title character (voiced by Vin Diesel). With equal parts comedy, drama, adventure, and period thriller, it’s a heartwarming classic for the ages and is the only non-live-action production on this list.
“Good Will Hunting” meets “Kramer Vs. Kramer” is the best way to describe this little-seen winner about Mary (Mckenna Grace, “I, Tonya,” “The Handmaiden’s Tale”), an orphaned math prodigy, and her enduring relationship with her guardian uncle Frank (Chris Evans). Offering superb support are Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, and British stage legend Lindsay Duncan as the mother and grandmother who is trying to come between Mary and Frank.
Notable for its use of diminutive cameras specifically made for this project, this mostly dialogue-free, gorgeously-shot documentary from filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou takes place over the course of a single day in the French countryside. The stars are the insects, birds, and mollusks which go about their daily business foraging for food, building dwellings all while avoiding becoming their neighbor’s next meal.
Set 20,000 years ago in what is now Europe, the subtitled “Alpha” is an intense adventure which refuses to dull or soften its edges for the sake of commercial viability, yet is eminently watchable. By almost anyone’s definition, it’s an art film, but also one completely lacking in the kind of pretense that often turns off mainstream audiences. In the end, it’s a heart-tugging “boy and his dog” flick, with a wolf instead of a dog. The PG-13 rating is spot on and parents might want to preview the trailer before allowing younger family members to watch it.
The sole G-rated title from director Martin Scorsese is also his only movie shot in 3D. Asa Butterfield (“The Space Between Us”) plays the title character, an orphan living above a Paris train station. While befriending a shop owner (Ben Kingsley) and starting a puppy-love romance with Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”), Hugo sets out to discover his late father’s connection to a silent movie made by French auteur Marie-Georges-Jean Méliès.
‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ (2019)
Based on the book by Garth Stein, the most intense title on this list might not be suitable for easily upset youngsters, but for all others it will be a deeply bittersweet, life-affirming experience. Told from the perspective of the Golden Retriever Enzo (voiced with unaffected wry humor by Kevin Costner), the story delivers a plethora of unexpected plot twists which, if even only hinted at here, would likely ruin your initial viewing experience.
‘The Sandlot’ (1993)
The oldest title of the bunch has aged incredibly well and could easily be included on any Top 10 Best Baseball movies list. With Denis Leary, Karen Allen, and James Earl Jones in brief but key supporting roles, the nearly dozen unknown juvenile actors rise to the occasion and deliver winning performances without ever appearing to try too hard.
‘Eddie the Eagle’ (2016)
This sleeper sports uplift drama occasionally relies on non-fictional embellishment but never to the point of making it impossible to believe. Born with poor vision and needing leg braces for most of his childhood, Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton, “Rocketman,”) wanted nothing more than be an Olympic skier. In 1988, he became a national hero to his native British countrymen and to anyone who has ever been told “you can’t do it.”
‘The Parent Trap’ (1998)
One of two dozen screen adaptations of the German book “Lottie and Lisa” by Erich Kästner, this version (not to be confused with the 1961 movie of the same name), also marks the acting debut of Lindsay Lohan. In what many consider the best role of her tumultuous career, Lohan plays twins who were separated at birth and eventually team up together in an effort to reunite their divorced parents (Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid).
‘Bridge to Terabithia’ (2007)
Based on the immensely popular young adult novel by Katherine Paterson, this movie is the textbook example of how good Hollywood can be when setting out to produce the ideal family film. AnnaSophia Robb (“Because of Winn-Dixie,” “Soul Surfer”) and Josh Hutcherson (“The Hunger Games” franchise, “The Kids Are All Right”) star as young nature explorers who cross the titular bridge and discover a fantasy world beyond their wildest dreams.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles.