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? Here are a few of our faves...
This page covers the letter "L."
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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"Lilo & Stitch"
(Walt Disney, 2002)
"Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has A Glitch"
(Walt Disney, 2005)
"Little Bear: Rainy Day Tales"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2005)
If you are looking for good cartoons for very young children to watch, the "Little Bear" series is an excellent choice. These videos are nonviolent and engaging, and teach good values and problem solving. It's not great art, but it is entertaining and won't insult your child's intelligence. Based on a series of books written by Else Homelund Minarik in the 1960s, this is good family fare -- you can park your kid in front of these films and not have to worry about disturbing or inappropriate content. Whew! Thank goodness. (A+)
"Little Bear: Little Bear's Band"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2005)
"The Little Bear Movie"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2001)
"Little Bear: Feel Better Little Bear"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2005)
Includes several stories about Little Bear feeling sick, including an episode spent dealing with the mumps and another with the flu, and one where he gets a tunnyache from eating too much candy. In one story, Father Bear sits by Little Bear's bedside and teaches him the words to Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Land Of Counterpane," which is kind of sweet. (B+)
"Little Bear: Halloween Stories"
(Nick Jr./Nicolodeon, 2006)
"The Little Mermaid"
(Walt Disney, 1989)
One of the "girlier" and more hapless of Disney princesses, the mermaid Ariel sells her soul for a chance to meet a boy, has her voice taken away from her, and in the end needs Daddy to come save her. This being a Disney movie, her mother is of course dead before the movie even starts, and her dad, sea king Triton, is pretty grumpy. There're some entertaining comedic skits with her sea creature buddies, and if subjected to them often enough some of the songs start to sound okay. The film's high point is its deliciously wicked bad guy, the sea witch Ursula (marvelously voiced by Pat Carroll), whose raunchy, burlesque-tinged "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is hands down the film's best song, although the concept of selling one's soul is admittedly a bit dark. (One wonders why Ariel would be so gullible, too, but I guess it advances the plot...) Historically, this film marked the start of Disney's creative (and financial) resurgence -- it won two Oscars and upped the ante for modern animated films, paving the path for Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and other popular kids films. It is kind of cloying, but you could do worse. It's the kind of film that can drive adults nuts, but it is well-crafted and most kids will outgrow it in a year or two... Feminist/anticorporate/alterna families may want to avoid this one (and all the merch that comes along with it) but it does have its charms. (B)
"The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea"
(Walt Disney, 2000)
"The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning"
(Walt Disney, 2008)
A dismal prequel, in which King Triton's grouchiness is explained and amplified with a slapdash backstory that involves (of course) the death of Ariel's mother, and an ill-fated music box made by the surface-dwellers. Naturally, Triton bans music from his kingdom, and makes everyone miserable, especially feisty Ariel and a couple of her randier sisters. After Ariel discovers an underwater underground music club, she rebels, and eventually niceness is restored to the sea kingdom, and Ariel is allowed to express her personality, at least to some degree. Where the original film had some good musical numbers, this one -- ironically -- does not. Indeed, the music in this movie is atrociously bad. Really, really bad -- the kind of stuff that makes parents clench their ears in misery. Likewise, Little Mermaid had a fun villain in Ursula the Sea Witch, but this film's baddie, Marina Del Rey, is insipid and dull, less than a paper cutout caricature. Her sidekick, a poorly voiced, effeminate... um... manatee...? adds insult to injury. If you liked the first film, do yourself a favor and skip this one. (D)
"Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland"
(Our Time, 1989)
This cartoon/anime adaptation of Winsor McCay's fabled newspaper strip is a bit of a letdown, at least if you grew up reading the original. It borrows many of the same ideas as the strip -- a boy named Nemo enters a fantastical land inside the sleeping world, where he meets many odd characters and has some trippy adventures in his dreams. However, it adds several elements that are unfortunate: a cutesy-wootsy, slightly anthropomorphized squirrel that was not in the original is meant to provide comic relief, but is a distraction; more importantly, the big-picture story arc that the movie studio tacked on is kind of a bummer: instead of just moving through a sea of weird dreams, Nemo has to confront his own dark emotions and psychological fears, manifested as a satanic, evil Lord of Nightmares, who is menacing and scary and a little too devilly for my tastes. It all seems so unnecessary, and so completely against the grain of the McCay original. Yeah, sure, if you took some of the more anxiety-provoking scenarios in the newspaper strip seriously or literally, it would indeed seem rather scary - but "Little Nemo" was never about terror or peril, it was about surrealism and absurdity, and above all it was about the incredible beauty and imaginative splendor of McCay's artwork. Some of that sense of wonder is replicated here, but not enough. Instead, he see McCay's vision crammed into a boring Hollywood template of peril and triumph, whereas a more weird, experiential, episodic film, one that honored McCay's wild psychedelic fantasies would have been oh, so much cooler. Oh, well. We still have the print version to blow our minds. And that version is a real treat, if you haven't read it yet. (C)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.1" (Warner Brothers, 2003)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.2" (Warner Brothers, 2004)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.3" (Warner Brothers, 2005)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.4" (Warner Brothers, 2006)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.5" (Warner Brothers, 2007)
"Looney Tunes Golden Collection, v.6" (Warner Brothers, 2008)
When it comes down to who made the best cartoons ever -- Fleischer, Disney, Warner Brothers -- there is no contest. None whatsoever. Warner's Looney Tunes (particularly those by the great Chuck Jones) are the best paced, funniest, most hilarious, anarchic cartoons ever. Bugs Bunny, The Roadrunner, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Pepe LePew, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn -- the roster is amazing. There are also characters with less screen time, like the Tazmanian Devil, and the the ever-awesome Marvin The Martian (who was only in like three cartoons, but is burned in our brains...) and the list goes on. The craftsmanship in these shorts is stunning and there are so many classics that have been making people laugh for so many years. Like many folks, I hadn't realized the extent to which the cartoons we saw on TV as kids had been edited or expurgated, or indeed how many original Looney Tunes there were (approximately the same amount as the number of planets in the Milky Way...) but I did know I loved 'em. And so when, as an adult, I heard that these was a massive effort to open the vaults and make many of the oldies available in big, old box sets, I went for it. And indeed, there is a lot of great stuff on these seven sets of the Golden Collection series. However, at a certain point as a parent trying to turn his kid onto the Looney Tunes canon, I was forced to admit that the ginormous, multi-volume, super-completist box set approach was not an ideal format for introducing the classic cartoon canon to the littlest viewers: too many weird ethnic stereotypes and other remnants of the racism and sexism of yesteryear, along with too many so-so episodes and even a few outright duds, all of which is hard to navigate past to get to the truly brilliant stuff. I'm a big fan, but even I gotta admit when I'm licked. So, I gave in and went looking for shorter, more concise best-of reels, some of which are listed below. But I'm hanging onto these beauties as well, since there's so much great stuff on here, including a lot of historical stuff (the 1930s and '40s Hollywood parodies, the weird and intense stuff from World War Two, the educational films that Jones and his cohorts made during the war and after, and the dozens of one-offs and lesser-known cartoons that are unlikely to see the light of day elsewhere... If you really want to delve into the Looney Tunes world, this is way to go. I'm sure that digital downloads will replace these babies -- soon -- and it will be much easier to sculpt the playlists you want... But for now, at the tail end of the material culture world, this stuff is pure gold. Highly recommended, although I did find them less captivating for little kids than a tighter set of best-of collections would have been. (A++)
"Looney Tunes Super Stars: Bugs Bunny, Hare Extraordinaire"
(Warner Brothers, 2010)
Having sunk my kids' college fund into the archival beauties above, I was unwilling to then turn around and get the punchier "greatest hits" sets out there, and spend more money on stuff I already owned. So, hoo-ray for this humble series which gathers up a bunch of stuff not already included in the "Golden" discs. That's the good part. The not-so-good part is that many of these cartoons come from prints that were reformatted, literally cut, to fit onto TV screens, so the edges of the artwork (and sometimes even the top!) are missing from the frame. Alas! I'm sure that someday the folks at Warner will correct this and put out better, prettier versions, but in the meantime, if you want to see this "new" batch of great old cartoons, this is your best option. I'll go for it, 'cause I love Bugs Bunny... but I do wish it were a better product. (B)
"Looney Tunes Super Stars: Daffy Duck, Frustrated Fowl"
(Warner Brothers, 2010)
Same deal here, but hey, it's Daffy Duck. Yeah, sure, the less-than-perfect formatting is less than perfect, but these cartoons are still pretty fun, particularly the later Chuck Jones material, and having fifteen Daffy Duck cartoons that were not on the earlier collections is kinda nice. I just watched the disc with my kid and we laughed plenty... I mean, it's DAFFY for cryin' out loud! This product may be imperfect, and I'm sure these cartoons will be properly restored someday to a state that will make purists happy, but while the crankypants faction is busy picketing outside the studio gates, I for one will deign to laugh my a** off at these great old cartoons. (B)
"Looney Tunes Super Stars: Foghorn Leghorn, Barnyard Bigmouth"
(Warner Brothers, 2010)
Oh, man. You gotta love old Foghorn. And for my money, this is the best of the Superstars series, so far: it's got nine classic Foghorn Leghorn cartoons that have been buried in the vaults for ages, as well as a few "and friends" add-ons that include Pepe Le Pew, the lovesick skunk as well as some lesser stuff such as the Goofy Gophers, and a slightly stereotype-ridden Elmer Fudd cartoon where he takes pot shots at a pair of lazy Mexican crows who land in his cornfield. The Pepe Le Pew and Foghorn Leghorn carttons are the real gems, although it must be said that a little bit of Foghorn goes a long way: you might not want to marathon your way through this one from start to finish, but using it to spice up a Saturday morning TV session would be a lot of fun. And look! I didn't even try to do a lame Foghorn impersonation in this entire review... I say, I say... I didn't even tryyy! (B+)
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