The Four Essential Classics That Children Need To See Before They Grow Up (in chronological order)
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Based on the book by L.Frank Baum, this is one of those movies where the script has been memorized by millions of all ages over the years:
“Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too!”
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
Who can ever forget the Lullaby League and the Lollipop Guild welcoming Judy Garland – Dorothy – to Munchkinland after that big tornado dropped her house there?
Or Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch of the West, considered along with Star Wars’ Darth Vader as the greatest villain in movie history?
More than anything else, Wizard of Oz teaches kids about how important home and family is; here’s Dorothy, whisked by a cyclone to a colorful place with a talking scarecrow, a tin man and a cowardly lion who end up being her close friends, and all she wants to do is to get home to her Auntie Em and her Uncle Henry in rural Kansas.
So much so that she spends all her time in Oz trying to do just that, all while trying to avoid a witch that Lord Voldemort would be interested in taking for his bride.
It all goes to show that at the end of the day, there really is “no place like home”.
YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968)
I remember – very fondly I may add – seeing this cartoon feature on TV as a five-year old, as it turned out to be the ideal introduction to the greatest musical act of all time, the Beatles.
If you, as a parent, want to expose to and teach your children about these four great men from Liverpool, you need to start by showing them this film.
Based on a song from the 1966 Revolver album, this movie showed the Fab Four going in a (of course) yellow submarine to a fantasy-type place called Pepperland to face the evil Blue Meanies, eventually driving them out with their music.
Although that was the gist of the plot, it was the songs such as the title track, “All Together Now” and “All You Need Is Love”, as well as the message of love always conquering hate, that makes this more than worthwhile for children to see, along with the colorful and very psychedelic animation.
And we even get to see the real life John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr in a little snippet at the end.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971)
Second only to that Yellow Brick Road, this is a solid number two on my list of all-time best movies for youngsters.
Based on Roald Dahl’s book, Willy Wonka not only teaches kids about the underdog overcoming the odds in the form of Charlie Bucket, but it also shows how not to behave in the form of fat slob Augustus Gloop (I’ve always thought that the character of Dudley Dursley from Harry Potter was based on him), gum-chewing smart mouth Violet Beauregard, TV freak Mike Teevee,
And the ultimate mega-super spoiled brat Veruca Salt, who four and a half decades later still annoys me so much that every time I catch the film on TV or put in the video, I want to jump into the screen, tell her to shut the heck up and smack her upside the head.
With kids like those, it’s extremely easy to root for good-hearted Charlie and his Grandpa Joe.
And you find yourself cheering when he ends up inheriting the factory from Willy, spectacularly played by Gene Wilder.
That, the lessons given and Charlie’s ultimate triumph are what makes this a classic.
Some may prefer the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp, saying it’s truer to the original book.
But in my view there’s nothing like the original.
PETER PAN (2003)
This may come as a bit of a surprise to some, especially considering the more well-known musical starring Mary Martin in the 1950s and Cathy Rigby in the 1990s.
Not to mention Walt Disney’s animated version of the flying boy with tights who refuses to grow up from 1953.
There were a myriad of problems with that play and that cartoon, most notably the fact that Martin and Rigby were forty-something year old women playing a ten-year old boy, with Martin being far too effeminate in her portrayal of Peter.
While the portrayal of the Native Americans in both the Martin and Disney versions were so blatantly racially stereotyped and bigoted, making it a Birth of a Nation with Indians instead of African-Americans, it was truly a miracle that the different Native American tribes didn’t sue the producers to oblivion.
As such, this live action version of the James M. Barrie tale is to me the best version ever made, predominantly due to the fact that unlike the musical, the Peter in this film is played by Jeremy Sumpter, an actual boy!
And unlike the Wendys in the Martin and Rigby versions, Rachel Hurd-Wood was actually a 12-year old girl when this movie was shot, chalking up another point for realism.
Adding to all of that, Jason Issacs’ Captain Hook was truly sinister, not buffoonish like in the musical and particularly the cartoon.
Plus it emphasized a first-love angle between Wendy and Peter, more than in the others, that I really liked; the kiss that she gave him on Hook’s ship was the best first kiss I have ever seen on the big screen.The dilemma that Wendy struggled with on whether or not to grow up while in Neverland was well-played, too.
In short, this 2003 feature was the most realistic and true to the original play and book of all the Peter Pan productions over the decades.
That’s why I would show this version over all the others if I were a parent.
For all those moms and dads out there who disagree with me on this assessment, let me suggest showing this Peter Pan along with the musical and the cartoon, and letting them be the judge.
There you have it – my list of essential films that youngsters should see while they are youngsters.
Though I freely admit that this list is strictly my opinion, I’m confident that there are many people – parents and otherwise – who would agree with this list.
I’m also sure that there are those who would conversely disagree, and that’s okay.
However, whether or not they concur with these choices or prefer other kids’ movies, it must be acknowledged that these four are true classics.
Which is all that I am saying.