Japanese Studio Ghibli has become renowned in the West for the whimsical and highly magical films of Hayao Miyazaki. His most recent, Ponyo, is a gently moving affair, as much about the world of children as it is for them. Mischievous heroine Ponyo is a goldfish who accidentally upsets the balance of the world when she decides she wants to be a human. It's a delightful look at the world from a height of about three-and-a-half feet.
Kids love spooky stuff. Ghosts, skeletons, vampires, mummies, werewolves: The Nightmare Before Christmas has them all, but not in any way meant to terrify; told in stop-motion animation (the perfect medium for such a weird setting as Halloweentown), the film focuses on a guy who just doesn't quite belong in the ordinary world, but wants to fit in there anyhow — and tries to do so by nicking Christmas, a theme that always resonates with the young.
Told entirely with Jim Henson puppets, one might expect The Dark Crystal to be a fun romp; instead, it's ponderous and grave, telling the story of the last young man of his kind battling to save the land and its people from the dark ravages of the self-indulgent Skeksis. While there is humour, there are also scary moments, and breathtaking moments, all set in a strange, alien world where perils lurk around every corner.
Henry Selick, who directed the acclaimed Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, has repeated his masterful performance with stop-motion film Coraline. Coraline is 11, and feeling neglected by her parents. When she finds a door into another world, with seemingly loving "other" parents (with creepy button eyes), it seems like she has everything she could want. But all is not what it seems...
Over the years, Disney's princess series has become legendary. The latest of these, The Princess and the Frog, is not the best (that honour goes to Beauty and the Beast, available on Blu-ray in October), but in an era where CG animation is the flavour of the day, it is a lush, hand-drawn oasis, reminding us what animation can look like. It is a spectacle of colour and song, and has all the requisite elements for a Disney romp: a beautiful heroine, a handsome hero, a dastardly villain and a jazz-playin' 'gator.
There were raised eyebrows at setting Roald Dahl's classic in America, but the tale of a plucky fox banding together his comrades in adversity and sticking it to the man is more or less universal, and who better to play the cheeky but charismatic titular character than George Clooney? The stop-motion animation style gives it a delightful quirkiness, as well as an injection of nostalgia for older viewers, to whom it may recall comforting British shows on the ABC in days of yore.
Twenty years ago, kids' films seemed a lot darker than the fare of today. One such is Labyrinth. Sarah, resentful of her baby brother, wishes him taken away by the goblins. When this does, in fact, happen (the goblins being quite creepy creatures from the Jim Henson workshop, led by a fabulously attired David Bowie), Sarah must enter the Goblin King's labyrinth and find her brother before the clock reaches midnight.
WALL·E, a robot designed to collect and compact rubbish, is the last sentient thing left on earth after a holocaust. One day his careful routine is disrupted by the appearance of another robot, and a daring adventure ensues. Lovingly executed, perhaps the best thing about WALL·E is that the story is mostly told without speaking — and when your actors are robots without human expression, the level of subtlety to do so is incredible. Best of all, it can easily be followed by children who may not be able to understand a story told with words as they do actions.
The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a vast, breathtaking affair, right out of the dreams of children the world over — and the film brings it and the series' eponymous hero, an ordinary boy who discovers he might just be the one who can save the world from evil, to life. Not only is it a fun tale of wonder, magic and adventure, it also features some truly awesome lollies.
The tale of a favourite toy who fears displacement after his beloved owner receives the latest high-tech gadget toy, and the subsequent friendship that develops, has become something of a kids' classic. It also happens to be the first full-length feature film entirely animated with CGI, and it still holds up today just as well as it did at launch 15 years ago.