Welcome to the Read That Again! guide to children's film, cartoons and videos for younger viewers. Looking for good movies that won't warp their little brains too badly? Or maybe some stuff that will? Here are a few of our faves...
This page covers the letter "A."
By the way, we're always looking for new stuff to watch... If you have recommendations, please feel free to write and tell us about your favorites.
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"The Addams Family, v.1"
This is one of those old TV shows that I'm kind of on the fence about... Personally I was more of a Munsters fan, although now I look back on my afternoons visiting with Herman and Lily and wonder if the hours might not have been better spent studying astrophysics or accounting. Anyway, as far as The Addams Family goes, I have also watched my fair share of their reruns as well, although as a kid I found the humor a little dry. Recently, when I was wondering aloud if I should show them to my kid, a friend of mine made an impassioned speech about how the Addams family were the most supportive, stable family on any of the classic sitcoms, and how they never tried to trick each other or keep secrets, etc. Of course, this same friend loves The Flintstones, so the positive social values of the Addamses can't be his only criteria for excellence. Anyway, I think I'm gonna go for it... I'll let you know how it works out. (B)
"The Addams Family, v.2"
"The Addams Family, v.3"
"The Addams Family: The Complete Series"
"The Adventures Of Milo And Otis"
(Sony Pictures, 1989)
This is a wretchedly bad kids' movie which hinges on the cuteness of its animal actors, but subjects them to dangerous or frightening situations (floating down a river, shivering in the snow, being tossed off a cliff...) It's cruel to the animal actors and insincere about the cruelty (the narrator's voiceover ascribes emotions to the animals that are clearly not what they are feeling -- "happy" while obviously distressed, etc.) More to the point, it's a shallow, poorly scripted trainwreck of a film, very slapdash and unbelievable. It's just plain dumb, Teletubbies-level moronic, and insulting to the intelligence of the children it's aimed at. Really: don't bother. (F)
(Walt Disney, 1992)
As the voice of the manic, wisecracking, sarcastic genie, Robin Williams provides a lot of the zip and zing to this lively adaptation of the legend of Aladdin and the magic lamp, which came in the wake of Disney's wildly successful Beauty And The Beast. The script is conventional but compelling and the romance between Aladdin and Jasmine has some fun, prickly moments. Best of all, though, is the suitably nasty bad guy, Jafar, who adds a lot of spice as well. My daughter, in her princess phase, always said she didn't like Jasmine, but don't let that stop you from checking this out. Not a great, immortal classic, but an enjoyable kiddie film nonetheless. (B)
"Alice In Wonderland"
(Walt Disney, 1951)
This is probably my least favorite of the classic Disney animation features... It's a cluttered, uneven muddle that simply doesn't capture the essence of the Lewis Carroll books, mostly because Disney failed to understand the willful spirit of the Alice character... Or indeed, to give her any personality at all. The real problem isn't that this adaptation dilutes or distorts the original story, it's that it just isn't a very good film -- the script is disjointed and confusing and the animation follows suit. Obviously, it being a Disney film, there are millions of people who love it, so take what I say with a grain of salt... But I honestly can't recommend this one. In fact, I'd say it's a dud. (C)
"Angelina Ballerina: The Rose Fairy Princess" (DVD) (2003)
Our daughter loves the "Angelina Ballerina" books, and when we decided to start letting her watch TV, this was one of the first titles I thought would be good for her to watch... Unfortunately, the cartoons are very different from the books, in an entirely negative way. Most alarming of all is how whiny, self-centered and deceitful Angelina is -- almost every episode involves her telling a fib and then having to make up for it. This is horrible role modeling for younger children, particularly since she KEEPS LYING from episode to episode -- there's no character growth, just Angelina being dishonest over and over again, until she gets caught or her conscience catches up with her. I'm also not fond of the ultra-competitiveness shown between Angelina and the other characters. In the books, Angelina always gets the lead role, but she is considerate of others, and shares the spotlight generously. By contrast, these cartoons show a never-ending series of backstabbing and manipulation... The supporting characters, including Angelina's friends, are made more flawed and unlikable than they are in the books. Alice, for example, is transformed from a perfectly nice little girl into a clumsy, self-pitying hanger-on who is embarassed and envious of Angelina's success. The Pinkpaw twins are new characters who seem to have been invented just to be bad guys -- they try to sabotage Angelina at every turn -- and Angelina herself is far less likable here than in the original books. Frankly, I'm amazed that the book's author, Ms. Holabird, allowed such terrible, distorted versions of her stories to be produced. The books are magical, but the TV shows left a bad taste in our mouths. They are not on our "safe to watch" list anymore. Parents who were charmed by the books might want to preview these cartoons first, before letting your kid soak them up... It would be a shame to let them ruin the books for your mouse-loving little ones. (D)
(Walt Disney, 1970)
A lesser, but likable, Disney outing. Sort of a feline mashup/remake of Lady And The Tramp and 101 Dalmatians. Disney movies are usually so mean to cats that it's refreshing to see them cast in a sympathetic light. The characters aren't memorable -- the kittens, one "naughty," the other "nice" are particularly formulaic -- but it is fun having Eva Gabor as the voice of the mother cat. Visually, the delicate, archaic, fine-line artwork is kind of sweet, too, particularly if you're interested in presenting some artwork that looks different than all the other stuff you've looked at... This '60s-ish style only lasted for a few years, and it's a nice change of pace. (B)
"Astro Boy: Ultra Collector's Edition, v.1"
(The Right Stuf, 2006)
The original Astro Boy cartoons, which first aired in 1963, are pretty darn weird, but also pretty darn cool. The early animation is clumsy and crude, but also has a wild avant-garde flair, that makes the most of the vivid contrasts of its black-and-white confines. Indeed, perhaps the best thing about these old cartoons -- besides the groovy theme song -- is the experimental edge of the artwork. Adapted from a popular Japanese manga print comic by pioneering cartoonist Osamu Tezuka, Astro Boy has kind of an intense origin story: a brilliant scientist obsessed with unlocking the secrets of artificial intelligence, goes off the deep end when his semi-neglected son is killed in an auto accident. Setting aside any semblance of scientific ethics, Doctor Tenma builds a robot to replace his child, but rejects the mechanical boy when it doesn't plug the hole inside his soul. Eventually Astro Boy is brought back under Tenma's care, but the casual cruelty of his abandonment (and the first son's abrupt death) is indicative of the emotional brusqueness that underpins this series. The stories tend to be kind of flimsy anyway -- what we really want to see are the robots duking it out and all the weird gizmos they use! Other weird elements include grotesque mobsters, an unnervingly bizarre caricature of Adolf Hitler, some lamentable racial stereotypes (dark-faced cannibals, etc.) and some other stuff that comes with the territory in these old cartoons. But overall, this series is silly, spunky and action-packed, and the "Ultra Collector" box sets provide near-endless entertainment from the original show's four-year run. The Astro Boy series was revived twice, in 1980 and 2003, but methinks the old episodes are the best. (A-)
"Astro Boy: Ultra Collector's Edition, v.2"
(The Right Stuf, 2006)
"Astro Boy" (second series, 1980)
(Manga Entertainment, 2005)
An 8-DVD box set collecting the 1980 TV series, which I have not seen... (-)
"Astro Boy - The Complete Series" (third series, 2003)
This newer, more manic computer-age version of Astro Boy was originally broadcast in 2003. It's too loud and flashy and violent for me... More of an action cartoon and less fun and playful than the earlier incarnations... However, if you're looking for slam-bang action, this 5-disc collection might be for you. There are several single-DVD volumes of this same material, though I'm only listing the first couple... (C-)
"Astro Boy, v.1" (2003)
You can also buy this series There are several volumes in this series, but I'm only listing the first couple... (C-)
"Astro Boy, v.2" (2003)
(Summit Entertainment, 2010)
Despite the presence of Nicolas Cage as a voice actor, this movie adaptation of the Astro Boy story is pretty darn good. With a strong, straight-ahead script that follows the original story arc of the first TV series, this is one of those rare comicbook movies that stays true to the source material while adding modern flair on the technological end. Good computer animation and thrilling special effects... definitely worth checking out! (A-)
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