Nowadays the overwhelming majority of films directed at families are animated, using cute characters and slapstick humour to pull in a broad audience. The recent Earth to Echo, however, harkened back to the Best Family Films of the eighties, like E.T. and The Goonies.
These movies combined contemporary settings with fantastical adventures, using adult and child characters to broaden their appeal. They very rarely make them like that anymore, but they do still make them.
Here are six of the best.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Whereas the most popular family films of the last century involved children in a contemporary setting, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe combines a period setting with a fantasy world. During the evacuation of children from London in World War II, Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan are sent to live in an estate in the countryside.
The children discover a magical world through a wardrobe, inhabited my magical creatures and an evil witch. Whereas the children are helpless to make a difference in the war in their own world, they find they are the only hope for the people of Narnia, who have been oppressed by the White Witch for too long. Featuring magic and battles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has a plot more digestible to young children than The Lord of the Rings, but still hints at an epic scope that adults can enjoy.
The Chronicles of Narnia series has not been as successful as some might have hoped, with maybe not enough action and compelling plot to satisfy its audience, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has enough to offer to a family audience to be included on this list.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Tintin IS an animated film, but not in the traditional sense, as A-list Hollywood actors were motion captured and translated onto the screen through the use of computer wizardry. It portrays a real world, with (for the most part) real world physics. It also tells a quite complicated adventure story.
Tintin is young enough for children to be able to identify with, particularly his hunger for adventure, whilst the story is exciting, and the action thrilling. The plot might stretch the concentration of the younger viewers, but the pace doesn’t slow up for a minute, with something going on on-screen at all times to hold their attention.
Well choreographed action scenes, plenty of laughs and the all-important nostalgia factor mean that Tintin is a must watch for all the family, and one of the most compelling family action films of this century.
2011’s The Muppets has a leg-up on the competition by being a sequel of sorts to the Muppet movie series that began in 1979 with The Muppet Movie. The Muppets introduces a new character, a young man named Walter, who serves as an avatar for the younger viewers who are being introduced to the characters for the first time.
Walter, the world’s number one Muppet fan, finds his dreams coming true when he becomes involved with the groups efforts to come together once again, in an attempt to save the old Muppet studio. Walter is backed up by his human best friend Gary, and Gary’s girlfriend Mary. Children found themselves enticed and delighted by the colourful characters, and silly humour. Parents enjoyed the nostalgia, as well as the more adult directed humour revolving around Jason Segel’s Gary and Amy Adam’s Mary.
With great humour, familiar characters and some great original Muppet-style songs, The Muppets is a great time for all, with something on offer for every age group. A great old-fashioned fun family movie with enough contemporary ideas to make it relevant to the children of today.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Curse of the Black Pearl differs from a lot of the family films on the list as it doesn’t have a child protagonist. It DOES, however, have an equivalent in Will Turner. He’s treated very much like a child by characters in the film at the outset, and the audience is introduced with him to the world of pirates.
There is plenty of action, though the film could hardly be called violent. The fantasy elements allow the children in the audience to exercise their imagination, and there is plenty of slapstick humour, along with more subtle and sophisticated jokes which provides entertainment for the whole audience.
Curse of the Black Pearl, unlike its subsequent sequels, snaps along at a fast paced, with the plot perfectly constructed to keep even the most impatient minds constantly amused. It is a throwback to a more innocent, fun type of action movie, one that doesn’t rely on gunplay and loud explosions for thrills. The perfect family film.
J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is the closest in tone to the beloved family films of 30 years ago, as it is the director’s homage to the movies that he loved as a child. Set in 1979, it focuses on a group of kids who get together to make their own movie, an experience that is interrupted by an almighty train crash.
The crash results in a string of strange occurrences and spooky goings on that terrorise a small town, and its inhabitants. Intrigue is introduced as the government appear to be trying to cover up the accident, and eventually the full horror of the situation becomes realised. The children have to pull together to survive, in a thrilling adventure that pays tribute to the likes of The Goonies.
Super 8 is a film suited perhaps more to a family with older children, with some strong language and action that might be frightening for younger children. These are elements, however, that were a staple of family movies once upon a time.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
The 21st century family film warhorse, the Harry Potter franchise had already drawn in adults and children alike through the novels long before the first movie was released. Whilst you could put any of the film installments on this list, the first film has been chosen to represent the series as a whole, as it encompasses the childhood wonderment arguably better than any of the rest.
Children are introduced into a fantastical world of wizards and magic, through the familiar device of young children starting at a new school. The storyline is simple enough for children to follow along, yet rich enough for the adult audience to also become invested, allowing for a full family experience.
The Harry Potter series has been, quite rightly, the most successful family movie series of the 21st century, and has become a blueprint for fantasy and family movies over the last thirteen years. The series has grown up with its audience, and provided hours of entertainment for families to sit down together and enjoy.