Spending time watching a movie with children isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. Too often, the plot lines, humor and music in a kids’ film are barely tolerable to the adult set — especially those who take film seriously as an art. Thankfully, one doesn’t have to sacrifice taste to entertain a child. A remarkable number of good foreign films can be found online or at a local movie store. The following are five such examples of classic, foreign movies whose tales, characters and cinematic sensibilities will appeal to young and old alike.
“The Cave of the Yellow Dog”
A young Mongolian girl, the oldest child in a family of nomads, finds a puppy in the wilderness where they make their home. Against her parents’ wishes, she keeps it. Only when the dog saves the life of the youngest son do her parents see the worth and value of the dog’s soul. “The Cave of the Yellow Dog” is a beautiful story about a family of nomads trying to maintain a traditional way of life as a changing world threatens it. Even if young children cannot read the subtitles, its story of love, devotion and family struggle come through.
This Miyazaki film is about a 10 year-old girl named Chihiro who faces great dangers to rescue her parents when, after eating enchanted food, they turn into pigs. Chihiro must overcome her fear and selfishness to enter the spirit world and convince Yubaba, a frightening witch, to get her parents back. Yubaba’s helper, Haku, befriends Chihiro and helps her.
This is a wonderful and magical story that may not be suitable for children under 10. In addition to being somewhat scary, the themes of responsibility, growing up and the subtle subtext of mortality are best for older children.
“The Red Balloon”
A story told almost entirely through the visual medium of the film itself, the viewer follows a young boy who finds a red balloon tangled around a lamppost. He frees it, and when he tries to give it away, it returns to him. It follows him to school, where its antics end up getting him in trouble. When a group of older boys capture the red balloon and hold it hostage in an abandoned space where they shoot rocks at it with slingshots, the young boy tries to rescue it. Ultimately, the balloon is stomped on.
Leaving freedom for viewer interpretation, this French film looks at human nature, difference, friendship and the effects of consequences without offering any easy answers. Parents and caregivers will enjoy discussing this film with children of all ages.
“The Hidden Fortress”
This 1958 Kurosawa film depicts a warrior protecting a princess from warring feudal lords with the help of two greedy and bickering peasants, whose desire for riches puts them behind enemy lines. A delightful blend of humor, friendship and nail-biting adventure will keep children enthralled. This comic action classic was what inspired George Lucas to write “Star Wars.”
“My Neighbor Totoro”
This anime classic by Miyazaki is set in Japan in 1958. Two sisters, Satsuki (Dakota Fanning, in the English-language version) and Mei (Elle Fanning), and their father move to the countryside when their mother is hospitalized with a chronic illness. Upon moving into their new home, the girls find the house has magical creatures living inside of it. Mei follows two of the magical creatures into the forest near their home where she meets “The Keeper of the Forest,” who is a large magical creature. She names him Totoro and introduces him to her sister. When Mei decides to walk to the hospital alone to visit her mother, Totoro helps Satsuki and her father.
This film continues Miyazaki’s tradition of child protagonists doing unusual and sometimes daring things. It is a movie about difficult times as well as the importance of friendship — even the most unusual ones.
Let your next movie night be something the whole family can enjoy. Expand your children’s horizons, culturally, linguistically and aesthetically with these fantastic foreign films.
About the Author: Genevieve Holt is a contributing blogger, mother and film snob who dreamed of being in the movies.