Being a father I constantly find myself dismayed by what is currently being churned out for kids today, compared to what I remember watching when I was growing up. True I might be viewing most of these films I hold so dear through the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia, but at least none, feature anything resembling the Disney school of overacting which currently dominates most live action kids shows / movies, with the worst I remember it being was just a lot of moral messages clumsily tacked onto shows including memorably the “I’m so excited” moment on “Saved By The Bell, which is apparently what happens in their world when you choose to use drugs.
So to counter these saturnine sweet, day glow coloured monstrosities, here is my list of films which I enjoyed as a kid and fully intend on corrupting my own kids with in an attempt to maintain some sense of taste for the next generation.
Lighter in tone than its companion piece “The Dark Crystal” while also having the added bonus of staring David Bowie as the Goblin King Jareth. This tale of Sarah (Jennifer Connelly), a teenage girl who stuck with babysitting her half-brother Toby wishes that the goblins would take him away. Needless to say it is a wish that she soon regrets and leading her to making a deal with Jareth to return him if she can complete his Labyrinth within thirteen hours.
Written by Monty Python member Terry Jones who drew inspiration from Brian Froud’s sketches “The Goblins of the Labyrinth” this twisted fantasy tale, manages to blend the humour of the Muppets with a dash of the darkness from “The Dark Crystal” to craft a surprisingly grown up fairy tale, a point no more clearly highlighted by Sarah’s first meeting with her dwarf companion Hoggle, who is seen not only taking a long piss into a pond, but also happily spraying fairies who in this world are less angelic than any of their other incarnations and no doubt the inspiration for the squashed fairies contained within the pages of Froud’s “Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book”. Still such things seemingly weren’t picked up by own parents, much like Firey sequence which see’s them randomly removing limbs (and even eyeballs at one point) on a whim when they let me watch this as a child, no doubt thinking that the Jim Henderson label meant that it would be just like the Muppets, which essentially on the surface it would seem like the more fantastical version of, with the real dark side unlike “The Dark Crystal” only being more apparent on close inspection.
Still packed with colourful characters and a great sense of fun, it’s a fun journey with some great songs on the soundtrack provided by Bowie, while the film itself blends elements of horror, fantasy and even manages a couple of musical numbers (well no point in having Bowie and not making full use of his talents). Made pre-CGI Henderson’s use of pratical effects is nothing short of mind-blowing in places especially with his M.C Escher inspired finale.
Sadly a box office failure meaning that it never received a follow up and marking one of the darker periods of Henderson’s career while also meaning that it would be the last feature film he would make. Despite not having an official sequel we were given one with Tokyopop’s manga “Return to Labyrinth” set thirteen years after this film and following Toby as a teenager being lured back to the Labyrinth by Jareth. Elsewhere last year a prequel graphic novel charting Jareth’s rise to power as the Goblin king ensuring the legacy continues to live on even if it’s not quite in the form the fans would have preferred.
The Flight of Dragons
One of my earliest film watching memories alongside “Gremlins” aswell as my fondest, this tale of Peter (John Ritter), a fantasy game designer who is pulled into a time of magic and dragons, while soon finding his mind trapped in the body of the dragon Gorbash, while tasked with joining the quest to stop the evil wizard Ommadon (James Earl Jones).
Being a big fan of fantasy movies (something that will no doubt become only clearer with this list) this film really appealed to me as a kid, especially as it was one of the few to actually feature dragons, something usually missing from my other favourite fantasy movies and seeing how the rotoscope look of Ralph Bakshi’s “Lord of the Rings” freaked me out, this film was in many ways the replacement for that Tolken void it left me with, even more so considering how both feature an epic quest and an assortment of fantastical creatures. Even more interesting when looking at the film as an adult is the ideas about the war between magic and science which is currently waging in this world, with magic starting to fail due to humanity putting their belief into science.
Sadly this film is yet to receive any kind of re-release treatment, meaning that to get hold of a copy you will have to either stump and pay someone’s inflated prices for a VHS copy or alternatively find a bootleg or steaming copy, which occasionally show up in predictably variable quality.
While on the surface it might seem like yet another fantasy movie, this one also has quite a few elements of sci-fi thrown into the mix, much like “Yor: Hunter of the Future” with the film being set on the planet Krull, which is invaded by the entity known solely as “The Beast” who travels the galaxy in his mountain-like spaceship called the Black Fortress, with his laser staff welding henchmen “The Slayers”. Having kidnapped Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) on her wedding day, her would be husband Colwyn (Ken Marshall) armed with the mystical weapon “the Glaive” he sets out to rescue her with a mis-matched band of heroes which include a clumsy magician Ergo (David Battley), Cyclops Rell (Bernard Bresslaw), Ynyr the Old One (Freddie Jones), aswell as a band of fugitives (whose number include a young Liam Neeson).
For some reason this film always makes me think of “The Princess Bride” which honestly despite its cult following never rung with me the same way that this film does, while it also manages some surprisingly scary moments such as the pursuit by giant crystal spider, while director Peter Yates has zero quarms about killing off many of your favourite characters, many in truly heartbreaking ways as is especially the case with Rell. All in all a surprising movie from the same man who also gave us the Cliff Richard Cheesefest “Summer Holiday”.
Ebirah, Horror of the Deep / Godzilla Vs. The Sea Monster
True I could have gone with one of several Godzilla movies for this spot, especially considering how big a part of my childhood film watching (not to mention my adult film watching) I had to resist the urge just to fill all six spots with Godzilla movies. So why this one and not say the ultimate monster smackdown of “Destroy All Monsters” or even the flying Godzilla antics of “Godzilla vs. Hedorah”?
No instead I have decided to opt for the film which started a lifelong obsession, which see’s four friends ship wrecked on a mysterious island by the giant shrimp Ebirah, were they soon find a organisation called “The Red Bamboo” has enslaved the local natives who worship another Toho classic Mothra, with the Red Bamboo using the natives to help them make heavy water for their own purposes, aswell as a chemical which prevent Ebirah from attacking their ships. Luckily for the friends they find Godzilla who with the help of a lightning rod is soon awoken and soon sets about dealing with both the Red Bamboo and Ebirah in a number of memorable battles.
The first of five Godzilla movie to be directed by Jun Fukuda, who would later direct another of my favourites “Godzilla vs. Gigan” Frequently over looked by some fans a reason which has never been clear to me, especially when it plays out even on its most basic level like a fun adventure movie and serves as a perfect introduction to Godzilla. Ironic then that this film was originally written as a King Kong movie, with the wonderful title “Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah”, only for Toho to switch Kong with Godzilla, yet leave most of the script the same, meaning that Godzilla shows some truly random behaviour including the use of boulders to destroy the Red Bamboo Base and drawing strength from electricity. It still remains though one of the more fun Godzilla adventures and the perfect starting point for kick starting your kids own Godzilla obsession.
While like most kid I was obsessed with “Star Wars” growing up, it would be George Lucas’s other world, which honestly I held more dearly and that was the one I was shown here in which the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) ruthlessly hunts for the prophesied baby Elora who will bring about her downfall and whose makeshift raft washes up on the shore near the Nelwyn village were farmer and aspiring conjurer Willow (Warwick Davis) lives. Realising the danger the child brings with it, the village soon nominate Willow to return the child to the world of Daikini (humans), only to soon discover that he has been tasked with being her guardian and tracking down sorceress Fin Raziel to bring down Queen Baymorda, while gaining help from the boastful master swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and a pair of bickering brownies Rool and Franjean (Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton).
Owing more than a slight debt to “The Hobbit” seeing how both Wilow and Bilbo are everymen who have no intention of going of on an adventure only to find one thrust upon them, while at the same time equally sharing a number of similarities to Lucas’s own “Star Wars” ensemble, something which I should really explore further at some point. Still the film has the same fun sense of adventure that “Star Wars” does only transferring it to a medieval setting, while Davis proves himself more than capable of playing the leading man in a rare starring role which doesn’t require him to be under heavy prosthetics, with his grumpy antics and constant rants about responsible parenting, which include him criticising Madmartigan for daring to engage in a high speed carriage chase surprisingly never growing old thanks to the madcap heroics of Kilmer’s Madmartigan balancing things out. Equally of note is the fact that the film features one of my all-time favourite villains, the skull mask wearing General Kael (Pat Roach), who is badass until the end, while I can’t help but feel also helped influence the design of the Lord of Bones in “Game of Thrones” who interestingly also wears a similar skull mask.
I would include “Legend” on this list, but so many of the reasons I love that movie are generally covered by this film and “Krull”, but still why not show your kids all three and blow their little minds, while no doubt making them much more rounded people or just setting them on the path of being fantasy fans which is equally no bad thing.
Honestly I don’t know one child of the 80’s who did not want to be one of “The Goonies”. Hell even now I still want to be part of this group of misfits, who set off in search of the treasure of the pirate One-Eyed Willie, while trying to elude the criminal family the Fratellis, led by the grotesque and dominating Ma Fratelli (Anne Ramsey). These characters weren’t just characters in a film to me, but thanks to the way the film is shot, it felt that I was part of this group of possibly the coolest kids ever as they went off on this crazy treasure hunt.
Still there is something about this adventure which I still get a kick out of all these later and perhaps it is down to how these aren’t just another group of smart mouthed kids getting one over on a bunch of slow witted adults or bumbling crooks (although the Fratellis are hardly criminal masterminds), but instead they are essentially a realistic bunch of kids with their own quirks, who do the same things that I did when I was their age, such as picking on their chubby friend Chunk (Jeff Cohen) by forcing him to do things such as the truffle shuffle. Equally it could be down to the fact that director Richard Donner is never afraid of putting them frequently in real danger, be it facing one of the many booby traps which line the way to the treasure of One-Eyed Willie, but also at the hands of the Fratellis who not only kidnap Chunk but we also have scenes of Ma even threatening them with a gun, something which was a lot more common in the 80’s as also seen in “ET” though thankfully these scenes haven’t been erased with the remastered versions, like the FBI agents suddenly carrying walkie talkies in ET.
There is however for all the hijinks and questionable family entertainment (the running joke of Chunk and the dead guy comes to mind) the film does contain a lot of heart, such the bond that Chunk forms with the deformed Fratelli brother Sloth (John Matuszak) or Andy (Kerri Green) making out with the wrong brother, all making for magical childhood moments, as the more madcap ones such as Data’s gadgets or the group shaking the pipes under the city, leading to exploding toilets and randomly disappearing shower taps, which even now continue to amuse me as much as they did the first time, proving that some adventures are just timeless.
It’s kind of ironic that the best Beatles movie is one which only features them in a contractually required cameo at the end. Still set in a psychedelic wonderland known simply as Pepperland, were the music hating blue meanies have taken over forcing the FAB four to come to the rescue in the titular yellow submarine.
True this might sound like one big acid trip, which is no doubt one of the main influences for those involved in the making of the sole animated Beatles feature, especially so when judging by its psychedelic styling and Terry Gilliam esq cut and paste animation style. Still for Beatles fans they can rejoice at sheer amount of Beatles tracks on offer, as the film makes regular stop offs at the various sea’s (Sea of Time, Sea of Science etc) on the way to Pepperland, with each one essentially an excuse to showcase tracks in what could almost be described as music videos, much like Michael Jackson would attempt with the bonkers ego-fest which was “Moonwalker”, yet here they genuinely feel like part of the story, if you can get past random moments such as the Beatles suddenly aging before bursting into “When I’m Sixty-Four”.
Packed with random Beatles references such as Pepperland being protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the use of giant green apples as weapons by the meanies (a reference to the “Apple Records” music label), aswell as utilising a great selection of Beatles songs it is a fun trip for even the most casual Beatles fans, aswell as being a key film on the path to animation being recognised as a serious art form, while working on such a level that it appeals to both adults and kids alike, while generally being a handy piece of Beatles propaganda to get the kids interested in their music, which considering that all my favourite Beatles songs are from around this era of their career, makes it hard to deny that it doesn’t work.
So there have my six films I would recommend you show your kids if you havn’t already, but even now I can still think of more films which could have made the list, so don’t be surprised if this is followed by another list at some point. Still what movies are you ensuring are passed on to the kids?