Parents: Tired of ‘Frozen?’ Stream these less obvious kids movies
NEW YORK — Weeks of quarantine with kids have a way of burning through a movie collection.
Even with the libraries of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and others, there are plenty of households that have already had their fill of “Frozen” and overdosed on “Onward.” In the best of times, the canon for kids movies can feel limiting. Disney overwhelms.
But there’s a wider world of movies out there for young ones. We’ll assume they’ve already accrued a solid foundation of some of the essentials: “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Iron Giant,” Pixar, the Muppets, et cetera. So here’s a few slightly further afield options — all available to stream, rent or are free — that your kids might not have seen.
“Fly Away Home”: The outlines of this 1996 film, with Anna Paquin and Jeff Daniels, suggest a familiar and schmaltzy kind of family movie, but it’s handled with such grace that it rises above the ordinary. Also, the geese are really great. A 13-year-old (Paquin) moves in with her estranged father (Daniels) in rural Canada after the death of her mother. She adopts an abandoned nest of goose eggs, raises them and teaches them to fly South for the winter. Available to stream on the Criterion Channel. The director, Carol Ballard, and the cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, also crafted a movie of pastoral beauty and sweet child-animal camaraderie in 1979’s “Black Stallion,” which is streaming on Amazon Prime.
“Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro”: For streaming Studio Ghibli films, we’ll have to wait until they collectively hit HBO Max when it launches in May. (They are available outside the U.S. on Netflix.) They are so good — among the most wondrous in cinema — you might just go ahead and buy copies of “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Spirited Away” and “Princess Mononoke.” But for now, you can stream the feature-film directing debut of Hayao Miyazaki, the animation master and co-founder of Ghibli. “The Castle of Cagliostro,” on Netflix, isn’t as well-known as Miyazaki’s best. But the director’s verve and imagination is already on display in this, a caper that continues the exploits of the debonair thief Arsène Lupin. Here Lupin discovers the loot from a casino heist is counterfeit.
Buster Keaton: No child raised on Buster Keaton can turn out bad. It’s just a fact. Most even young children recognize and laugh their heads off at, his genius. Keaton’s features are widely available, but many of his equally brilliant shorts can be streamed for free. Among them, “One Week,” in which he tries to assemble a house; “The Goat,” wherein Keaton is mistaken for a murderer; and “Cops,” in which he angers the entire Los Angeles police force.
“Stop Making Sense”: Concert films are an underutilized source of entertainment for kids. Jonathan Demme’s glorious Talking Heads documentary, available for digital rental and to stream for free via Vudu, is a good place to start. And since David Byrne slowly assembles his band — beginning with just himself, an acoustic guitar and a tape deck, on “Psycho Killer” — “Stop Making Sense” offers a good step-by-step education on how to build a post-modern funk extravaganza. Plus tips on wearing big suits and dancing with floor lamps. (See also: “A Hard Day’s Night,” on Criterion Channel and “The Last Waltz” on Amazon Prime.)
“The Three Caballeros”: There are forgotten Disney treasures, too, including this trippy 1944 gem streaming on Disney Plus. On his birthday, Donald Duck receives a package from his friends in Central and South America. Inside are film reels that bring a handful of individual tales and travelogues that Donald leaps into, too. It’s a loving if overly exotic celebration of South America with some fabulous and surreal moments that blend animation and live-action. The movie was produced as part of the wartime “Good Neighbor” policy to bring the Americas together and ward off any appeals from Axis powers. All of which is to say: “The Three Caballeros” isn’t your average Disney movie.
“Apollo 11”: This hit 2019 documentary, on Hulu, simply follows the moon mission from launch to rescue, without talking heads and with large amounts of previously unseen IMAX footage. It’s a propulsive time-capsule, one that the intervening 50 years has made only more stupendous. “Apollo 11,” like the archival “For All Mankind,” captures the all-ages thrill and glory of the moon landing.
“Pirates! Band of Misfits”: Aardman Animations has been reliably churning out delights, from “Wallace and Gromit” to “Shaun the Sheep,” for decades. “Pirates! Band of Misfits” (2012) came and went somewhat quietly and didn’t spawn a franchise. But the Aardman charm is there on the high seas, too. Streaming on Hulu.
“Boy”: Taika Watiti does kids better than any working filmmaker today. Well before his Oscar-nominated “Jo Jo Rabbit,” Waititi was making comic and big-hearted films about childhood, including his Oscar-nominated short, “Two Cars, One Night,” and this semi-autobiographical sophomore feature, inspired by that short. James Rolleston stars as an 11-year-old Maori boy and Michael Jackson fan whose dimwitted ex-convict father (a mulleted Waititi) returns home. Available on the free, public library streaming service Kanopy.