Put down Frozen and step away from the telly, mama. And no, don’t reach for the other stack of Disney DVDs either. You don’t have to do this to yourself anymore. Now that I’ve gotten to the point where Elsa and Anna are practically burned into the backs of my eyelids, I went off and found ten non Disney animated films to shake things up a little bit at home. With films about everything from fantastic foxes to unlikely detective duos, here’s the best films for boys, girls and parents. (We need to survive the inevitable rewatch after all…)
The Book of Life (PG)
Take the kiddos out of Dubai for a little while and check out this stunning children’s film set in Mexico. It revolves around Manolo (Diego Luna), a young and passionate guitar player who must choose between a life spent bull fighting like his family wants or pursuing his true love Maria (Zoe Saldana). After two gods place bets on whether Maria will marry him or Joaquin (Channing Tatum), things go awry and he winds up in the underworld, struggling to find his way back to love and life on the Day of the Dead. Funny, captivating and all parts thoughtful, this beautiful and deeply cultural indie is one you’ll love. Plus, it’s full of great pop songs that you’ll be able to jam along to.
Probably one of the most underrated animated films ever, Spielberg’s crack at bringing this witty ginger journalist to life is one that’s absolutely delightful. Based off the beloved comics of the same name by Herge, the film follows Tintin (Eddie Redmayne) and his resourceful pup Snowy as they sniff out clues and solve mysteries together. Tintin unwittingly purchase a model ship, which is the key to a wild mystery that involves pirates, treasure and a down-on-his-luck ship Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who seems to be at the heart of all this. It’s chock full of adventure and thrills with a story that captivates immediately, perfect for tots who just can’t sit still.
This beautiful story of courage and kindness has two key elements that guarantee it’ll be a sure-fire win with the tots. One, it’s completely animated. Two, it’s all about animals. Don Bluth’s masterpiece tells the tale of Balto (Kevin Bacon), a half-wolf outcast who just wants to belong somewhere. Based on a true story, the children in Balto’s town fall sick and sled dogs are needed to help bring medicine to the town’s inhabitants – including his best friend Jenna’s owner. It’s got a lot of depth to it for a kid’s film, plus it’s produced by Steven Spielberg and features loads of great voice talent including Phil Collins as a dopey polar bear (yes, really) and Winnie the Pooh himself, a.k.a. Jim Cummings. Be prepared for one of the most beautiful Northern Lights sequences ever.
Ice Age (PG)
It’s hard to believe the very first Ice Age came out 13 years ago, but this hilarious pre-historic film still holds up against the blockbusters of today. Three reluctant friends, Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo), Diego the sabretooth tiger (Denis Leary) and Manfred the woolly mammoth (Ray Romano) come across a lost baby and set off on an exciting journey to reunite him with his family. Save a tissue box or three for tears of laughter and the bittersweet ending, mama.
Fantastic Mr Fox (PG)
Definitely a choice for the mini film buffs out there, this utterly charming adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel by Wes Anderson is one that’ll please the whole family. It’s a quirky stop motion film where George Clooney plays the ambitious and somewhat arrogant Fantastic Mr Fox, who has a penchant for petty crime and grand schemes. After promising his wife (Meryl Streep) that he won’t steal from farms anymore, Mr Fox winds up lapsing and throws the lives of his entire community into chaos when the farmers strike back. Kids will love surly offbeat Ash (Jason Schwartzman), Mr Fox’s son who wants desperately to be fantastic but falls short nearly every time.
I’m a huge Studio Ghibli fan, so it was only natural that one of their films would find their way here. Kiki’s Delivery Service is easily Miyazaki’s most family friendly film, following the adventures of a young witch named Kiki (Kirsten Dunst) and her talking cat Jiji (Phil Hartman) who have just moved to a bustling city. After realising that one of the only things she’s really great at is flying, she sets up her own delivery service and helps out around town. Of course, she attracts the attention of a boy named Tombo (Matthew Lawrence) who’s obsessed with anything aviation and is determined to be her friend. With lots to say about friendship, family, being resourceful and staying true to yourself, there’s loads of lessons wrapped up in this fun adventure.
* To the detail oriented mamas out there – this is originally a Japanese film by animation house Studio Ghibli, but Disney does all the distribution/dubbing in the States.
It’s no surprise that How To Train Your Dragon is still one of Dreamworks’ best family films (the sequel and The Croods were good, but not quite up to scratch). Hiccough (Jay Baruchel), the unlikely pre-teen hero of this animated film, is one of the clumsiest vikings in the village and not so great at the whole dragon slaying thing, much to his father’s disappointment. After cooking up an invention to catch a dragon, he finds himself capturing and befriending a super rare Nightfury and has to make a choice: go with his gut and defy tradition or follow in his father’s footsteps. Keep an eye out for Netflix’s new TV series as well!
Okay, this isn’t exactly a faithful retelling of what happened to the Russian royal family, but this film’s super fun all the same. Anastasia (Meg Ryan), one of the last remaining members of the royal family, ends up in an orphanage after the Russian Revolution and without any memories – she only knows that she has to go to Paris. She winds up allying herself with two conmen, the cuddly Vladimir (Kelsey Grammar) and surly yet attractive Dimitri (John Cusack), who want to cash in on a massive reward they’ll get for reuniting her with her grandmother. With magic, romance and grandeur to spare, this is definitely a princess film that gives Disney a run for their money any day. The music’s also fantastic, you’ll probably have Once Upon a December stuck in your head for days.
The Iron Giant (PG)
An oldie but a goodie, The Iron Giant is kind of like E.T. or Lilo and Stitch with robots. One night, something falls from the sky and Hogarth (Eli Marienthal), an outspoken young boy with a terribly unfortunate name, ends up meeting a gigantic robot (Vin Diesel) from outer space. As their bond grows stronger and stronger, a government agent arrives to destroy Hogarth’s new friend and he’ll have to summon up all his courage to protect his new friend. With beautiful messages about prejudice, love and the futility of violence, this a film that never condescends to its viewers and stays with you for years and years.
Take everything you thought you knew about fairytales and fairytale characters and spin it all on its head – then you might get something even fractionally close to Shrek. After a swarm of fairytale characters and an excitable talking donkey (Eddie Murphy) move into a short-tempered ogre called Shrek’s swamp, Shrek (Mike Myers and a dodgy Scottish accent) strikes a deal with the little yet loud Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) to win back his land. He takes up the mantle as an unlikely white knight and heads off to save Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) from a dragon’s castle, not realising she has a secret of her own. There’s never a dull moment and loads of laughs for the kiddos with a few sly ones for the parents, making this a film that’s easy to rewatch.
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