If you’ve got kids living at home, you’ll know the struggle to find a movie that the whole family can watch and enjoy that isn’t overloaded with Disney cuteness. We all know about the big blockbuster movies but here are a handful of lesser known PG movies that have been on high rotation in our household.
What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
The idea for this blog post comes from the number of times I have mentioned this film to other parents and found that they’ve never heard of it. Written and directed by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, who also created the mostly improvised British TV series Outnumbered, this heart-warming and witty comedy stars David Tennant and Rosamund Pike as Doug and Abi who are trying to keep up the facade of a successful family although their marriage is failing. Their children, Lottie, Mickey and Jess, are mostly oblivious and they all pile into the family car to make the long trek north to Scotland for Doug’s father Gordie’s (Billy Connolly) birthday.
The children are the standout in this film with their dialogue so natural you feel like you’re listening to your own kids (but funnier) – if you’ve seen Outnumbered you’ll know what I mean. The family life feels real and there is much to recognise in the struggles of Doug and Abi to be good parents, the rivalry between Doug and his brother and the eccentric wilfulness of ageing parents. There is sadness in this film but it is broached in such a way that it becomes the poignant heart of the film. Great and memorable lines abound, mainly from the kids, and you can learn how to play ‘chip jenga’.
Available on DVD or iTunes
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
Pretty majestical, aye? I reviewed this one last October and you can read the full review here. This film is the kind that worms its way into your heart as you follow the hapless Ricky Baker, foster kid and bad egg, as he starts his ‘last chance before juvy’ life with Hector (Sam Neill) and Bella (Rima Te Wiata). Directed by Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows), it has the same off-beat irreverent humour made all the funnier by Kiwi accents. Any kid will relate to Ricky who is just trying to survive in a world where adults make all the choices. Although there are several peripheral characters there mainly for laughs, there is enough heart and depth of emotion to make this film more than a kid’s adventure story.
If you enjoy this film, I recommend Boy (available on SBS On Demand) and What We Do in the Shadows (available on Stan) though, as both are M rated, I suggest watching them with older kids only.
Available on DVD or iTunes
Spirited Away (2001)
Spirited Away was the film that sparked my love of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki anime. His films are stunningly beautiful with strong female protagonists. In Spirited Away, it is Chihiro, who stumbles upon an eerily deserted village with her parents. A table laden with food is too tempting for them and, as they gorge themselves, her parents transform into pigs. As night falls, she finds that the village is inhabited by spirits and, with the help of a boy, Haku, she seeks work at the bathhouse until she can save her parents and escape.
The alternate world of the bathhouse is beautifully rendered with spirits and demons of all shapes and sizes. The challenge for Chihiro is to find out who to trust and in many ways it is her humanness that gets her through. There is humour and a bit of scariness and also deep environmental and humanist themes. My favourite scene is when Chihiro travels out into the countryside, moving through an exquisite watercolour landscape that creates a beautiful sense of place.
If you enjoy this, watch Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle next and My Neighbour Totoro, especially if you have younger kids.
Available on DVD
The Decoy Bride
So this one is a romantic comedy but it has David Tennant, Scottish accents and a cracking screenplay by the wonderful Sally Phillips (Shazza in Bridget Jones). Katie (Kelly Macdonald) has returned home to Hegg, a remote island in the Hebrides, after one heartbreak too many. Uber-celebrity Lara Tyler (Alice Eve) secretly arrives on the island with fiancé James Arber (Tennant) and entourage in tow to escape the paparazzi and stage the perfect wedding. Nothing goes to plan.
The characters are lovely and genuinely funny, the story line is quirkily engaging and it’s suitable for all ages. And the Scottish accents make quoting the best lines even more enjoyable although, sadly, David Tennant is playing an Englishman.
Available on Netflix, DVD and iTunes
Let me know in the comments below if you have any favourite family movies that others might not know about.