As the emphasis placed on limiting screen-time for kids increases, it becomes more important to ensure that the time your children do spend in front of the television has some redeeming quality. One of the best ways to ease those pangs of guilt you feel when you pop in a DVD for a bit of downtime is to choose films that teach kids valuable life lessons while providing entertainment. These seven movies are guaranteed to please both kids and parents alike.
- The Sandlot – This 1993 gem is still a home run, teaching kids the importance of teamwork and the pitfalls of dishonesty. When newcomer Scotty Smalls steals his stepfather’s prized baseball, autographed by none other than Babe Ruth, his friends refuse to abandon him. Instead, they cook up a series of schemes, each one more outlandish than the next, to retrieve the ball and save Smalls’ hide. While the themes of loyalty and determination play prominent roles through the bulk of the film, the real lesson comes at the end; when the kids finally discover that The Beast is actually a friendly pooch, they realize that they shouldn’t have been so quick to judge him. The Sandlot is best suited for kids that are a bit older, as they’ll understand that they entire fiasco could have been avoided had Smalls simply chosen not to steal the ball in the first place. There are also a few instances of mild profanity, which might make the film less suitable for very young audiences.
- Happy Feet – This tale of a lovable misfit penguin named Mumble and his adventures teaches young viewers about the importance of accepting those that are different, and to stand strong in the face of rejection. Determined to prove his mettle after being exiled from Emperor Land, Mumble sets off to learn the true cause of the famine that threatens his community. Underneath all of the tap-dancing and singing of Happy Feet is a powerful message about overfishing, global warming and pollution.
- FernGully: The Last Rainforest – The 1992 animated film FernGully: The Last Rainforest was a bit ahead of its time, bringing a strong message of environmental consciousness and conservation to youthful audiences more than a decade before the aimed-at-adults documentary An Inconvenient Truth made conservation cool. Aided by the adventurous tree fairy Crysta, who has never seen humans before they begin destroying her home, human Zak learns to appreciate the beauty and magic of the rainforest and works valiantly to save it from Hexxus and his inadvertent human henchmen.
- Mulan – Despite being beautifully animated and critically acclaimed, Disney films aren’t typically known for their strong, independent heroines. Awash in a sea of romantically-minded Princesses, Mulan stands alone as the true “girl power” Disney female lead. Bucking tradition, thumbing her nose at traditional gender roles and societal rules, Mulan bravely risks her social standing and even her life to take the place of her beloved, ailing father in battle. Though there are brave and headstrong female characters in other Disney films, the vast majority are ruled by romantic desires and aspirations of marriage. Mulan’s determination to succeed for the sake of her family and her country, rather than the love of a handsome prince, makes the film a great choice for families with young daughters.
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – Forget the off-putting and unsettling Tim Burton reboot; the classic 1971 film starring Gene Wilder as the titular character is a wealth of morality lessons, though the creepy boat scene may be a bit much for very young viewers. By making the punishments of each ill-behaved child suit their “crimes,” the personality flaws of the pint-sized villains are emphasized. Greed, gluttony, snobbery and dishonesty are among the traits vilified, with the good-hearted Charlie Bucket triumphing in the end due to his honesty.
- Babe – By becoming the best (and first!) sheep-pig of all time, Babe teaches kids that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. With the help of his barnyard friends and the sheepdog Fly that he calls “Mom,” Babe learns the fine art of herding and the importance of good friends.
- Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – The bookish Belle, in refusing to succumb to the advances of the oafish-but-eligible Gaston, opens this Academy Award© winning film on a strong, independent note. Though the eventual outcome of the movie is the expected fairy-tale marriage, Belle, the Beast and young viewers all learn valuable lessons about making character judgments based on appearance, the importance of sacrificing for the people you love and the dangers of a mob mentality. The breathtaking artwork and catchy songs also make this a guilty-pleasure favorite of many parents, making it ideal for family movie night.
Parents seeking kids’ films with an emphasis on religious instruction should also check out their local faith-based bookstore, as they’re almost always a wealth of kid-centric films with a spiritual slant. The straight-to-video VeggieTales series is a perennial favorite for Bible-based entertainment, with charming, anthropomorphic produce acting out each role.