Quarantine weeks with kids have a way of burning through a movie collection.
Even with the libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and others, there are plenty of households that have already stocked up on “Frozen” and overdosed on “Onward.” At the best of times, the canon for children’s films may seem limited. Disney overwhelms.
But there is a wider world of films for young people. We’ll assume they’ve already amassed a solid base of some of the essentials: “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Iron Giant,” Pixar, The Muppets, and more. So here are a few options a bit further afield – all available to stream, rent, or free – that your kids might not have seen.
• “Fly home”: The outlines of this 1996 film, starring Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels, suggest a familiar, schmaltzy family film, but it’s handled with such grace that it’s beyond the ordinary. Also, the geese are really great. A 13-year-old girl (Paquin) moves in with her father (Daniels) in rural Canada after her mother dies. She adopts an abandoned nest of goose eggs, raises them, and teaches them to fly south for the winter. Available to stream on Criterion Channel. Director Carol Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel also made a film of pastoral beauty and sweet child-animal camaraderie in 1979’s “Black Stallion,” which is streaming on Amazon Prime.
• “Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro”: To stream Studio Ghibli movies, we’ll have to wait until they collectively hit HBO Max when it launches in May. (They’re available outside the US on Netflix.) They’re so good — some of cinema’s most wonderful — you could just pick up copies of “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away,” and “Princess Mononoke.” But for now, you can stream the feature debut of Hayao Miyazaki, the master of animation and co-founder of Ghibli. ‘Cagliostro Castle’ on Netflix isn’t as well known as Miyazaki’s Best. But the liveliness and imagination of the filmmaker are already expressed in this rant which prolongs the exploits of the good-natured thief Arsène Lupin. Here, Lupine discovers that the loot from a casino heist is counterfeit.
• Buster Keaton: No child raised on Buster Keaton can go bad. It’s just a fact. Most children, even the youngest, recognize and laugh at his genius. Keaton’s features are widely available, but many of his equally brilliant shorts can be streamed for free. Among them, “One Week”, in which he tries to build a house; “The Goat”, in which Keaton is mistaken for a murderer; and “Cops”, in which he angers the entire LAPD.
• “Stop making sense”: Concert movies are an underutilized source of entertainment for children. Jonathan Demme’s glorious documentary Talking Heads, available for digital rental and free streaming via Vudu, is a good place to start. And since David Byrne slowly assembles his band – starting with himself, an acoustic guitar and a tape recorder, on “Psycho Killer” – “Stop Making Sense” offers a good step-by-step education on how to build a post-modern funky extravaganza. Plus tips for wearing great costumes and dancing with streetlights. (See also: “A hard day’s Night,” on Criterion Channel and “The last Waltz” on Amazon Prime.)
• “The Three Caballeros”: There are forgotten Disney treasures, too, including this trippy gem from 1944 streaming on Disney Plus. On his birthday, Donald Duck receives a package from his friends in Central and South America. Inside are film reels that bring a handful of individual stories and travelogues that Donald also gets into. It’s a loving but overly exotic celebration of South America with fabulous, surreal moments that mix animation and live action. The film was produced under the wartime “good neighbor” policy of bringing the Americas closer together and fending off any appeals from the Axis powers. All that to say, “The Three Caballeros” isn’t your average Disney movie.
• “Apollo 11”: This 2019 hit documentary, on Hulu, simply follows the lunar mission from launch to rescue, with no talking heads and copious amounts of never-before-seen IMAX footage. It’s a propelling time capsule, one that the next 50 years have only made more prodigious. “Apollo 11,” like the “For All Mankind” archive, captures the thrill and glory of all ages of the moon landing.
• “Pirate! Bunch of Misfits”: Aardman Animations has been reliably producing delights, from “Wallace and Gromit” to “Shaun the Sheep,” for decades. “Pirates! Band of Misfits” (2012) came and went somewhat quietly and did not spawn a franchise. But Aardman’s charm is also present on the high seas. Stream on Hulu.
• “Boy”: Taika Watiti makes children better than any filmmaker working today. Long before his Academy Award-nominated “Jo Jo Rabbit,” Waititi was making comedic, big-hearted films about childhood, including his Oscar-nominated short, “Two Cars, One Night,” and that semi-final second feature. -autobiographical, inspired by this short. James Rolleston stars as an 11-year-old Maori boy and Michael Jackson fan whose stupid ex-convict father (a mule-ridden Waititi) comes home. Available on the free public library streaming service Kanopy.