Unless their name is Brad Bird or Hayao Mayazaki, film writers tend to work with films aimed at adult audiences. Whether it’s George Miller’s post-apocalyptic world in Mad Max or Martin Scorsese’s constant flow of gangster flicks, the greatest directors have always worked with more mature themes.
That’s why some of the biggest surprises of the past few decades are when these incredible directors give up what they’re known for and create a children’s film instead. However, although they are vastly different in tone, many films still have many parallels to the directors’ other works.
ten Happy Feet (2006)
There are a lot of classic movies from 2006, and although happy feet isn’t exactly one of them, it’s certainly one of a kind. It’s hard to believe that George Miller, the genius behind the Mad Max series, made a film about singing and dancing penguins, but the animated film still has parallels with his other films.
The 2006 film’s ending is so sudden, as it switches from underwater scenes to politicians arguing in what looks like the War Room of Dr Strangelove. They then ban all fishing in Antarctica in what is an abrupt end. In a way it’s not that different from Mad Max in that they both deliver strong messages, as the action series warns the public about addiction to fossil fuels, which leads to environmental collapse.
9 Jacques (1996)
Francis Ford Coppola had one of the best streaks in film history for a director in the ’70s, and that can be proven by the sheer number of Oscars he’s been nominated for with each film. The Godfather, The Godfather II, The Conversation, and apocalypse Now are all classics, but they’re all obviously aimed at mature, exceptionally violent, and dark viewers.
What followed was a string of box office bombs in the ’80s, but nothing could have prepared audiences for Robin Williams’ extremely schmalzy children’s film, Jack. The film is about a young boy who ages four times faster than normal. The film does not have any of the director’s hallmarks, and it is more of a Williams film than a Coppola film.
8 Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Wes Anderson films have always had a charming fantasy about them. Their symmetrical and colorful appearance might even make some believe that movies like Rushmore and Rocket in bottle were made for children. But despite their coming-of-age themes, idiosyncratic films score highly at R.
However, in 2009, Wes Anderson adapted Roald Dahl’s novel Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it’s a perfect blend of Anderson’s style and a faithful adaptation of the source material. Tim Burton almost done Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is interesting because the styles of the two directors are very different – although both have a strong visual bent.
7 School of Rock (2003)
Slacker movies about stoners in the 70s like Dazed and confused to extraordinarily unique science fiction films like A Darkly Scanner, director Richard Linklater is a jack of all trades. And in 2003, he abandoned adult concepts for a musical starring mostly children with Jack Black. Rock school follows a lazy rocker who inadvertently becomes a teacher in a prestigious school, to found a group with his class.
While it has a completely different tone to his other films and caters to a much younger audience, it still looks a lot like the director’s other films thematically. This is one of the best fish out of water movies, it follows ordinary characters in their daily lives, and just like Dazed and confused, it’s basically a coming-of-age movie.
6 Where Are the Wild Things (2008)
With the help of Charlie Kaufman, who wrote the screenplays, Spike Jonze developed a distinct style with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The director has been called a prodigy for his unique surreal approach to relationships. The movies played out reality in fun and weird ways, but there was an inherent sense of hopelessness for the protagonist of each movie.
That’s what made it shocking when Jonze followed that punch with Where the wild things are, one of the most uplifting and positive children’s films ever. However, the director returned to his usual pessimistic and absurd approach with her, one of the director’s best comeback movies.
5 Millions (2004)
Danny Boyle is best known for his groundbreaking film Trainspotting, which is about a group of heroin addicts who will do anything to get their next dose. Apart from that, his filmography includes The beach, who follows a backpacker on a dark mental journey to Thailand, and 28 days later, a post-apocalyptic horror film.
The director followed the zombie movie with Millions, an adorable film about a boy who commits random acts of kindness after finding millions of pounds. Looking at his filmography, it’s no surprise that Boyle wanted to make a benevolent film like Millions. Making all those dark and sinister films can surely wreak havoc on a director.
4 Hugo (2011)
With directors making leftist choices and subverting fan expectations with particular projects, Martin Scorsese Hugo is one of the most surprising. After making so many rocky gangster films, the director made a film about an orphan who lives within the walls of a train station in Paris. Not only that, but it was also shot in 3D. But that mustn’t have impressed the director, as Scorsese ditched 3D after trying it once.
However, the whole movie is a love letter to the cinema, as it follows Hugo’s discovery of cinema. And in that regard, it is the most typical Scorsese film he has ever made given that he has spent so much of his career preserving cinema and even started The Film Foundation in 1990.
3 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Tim Burton is known for his Gothic style. Between Beetlejuice, Edward in the hands of money, and Sleeping Hollow, the director combines dark visuals, fantasy horror, and characters with deep-rooted abandonment issues. Given that, Charlie and the chocolate factory is really in its wheelhouse, because the 2005 children’s film features all of these trademarks as well.
While preschoolers would love the film and it is clearly aimed at children, there are still some grim moments in the film that are distinctly burtones and might scare some off. However, that’s still nothing compared to the terrifying Tunnel of Terror scene in the original. Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
2 Oz the Great and Mighty (2013)
Best known for the iconic evil Dead series, it took a while for director Sam Raimi to finally delve into children’s films. Raimi had directed horror and superhero movies like Dark man, and revisionist westerns for 33 years before leading the Oz the Great and Mighty.
However, Raimi was a genius director’s choice by the studio, as his background in horror directing helped elevate the scenes with the Wicked Witch of the West. Oddly enough, the film is closer to the dark tone of Back to Oz than it is in the original.
1 Pinocchio (2021)
We don’t know much about the next one Pinocchio movie other than that, it’s directed by Guillermo del Toro. The director is best known for his creature films like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and The shape of water, which would scare the daylight of children if they ever saw them.
However, if del Toro was directing a children’s film, Pinocchio would be the best choice. As the director has created visually spectacular creatures like Amphibian Man and Pale Man, there is no limit to his imagination with talking puppets and donkeys. Pinocchio will be released on Netflix by the end of the year.
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