Streaming Film School: 3 Inconceivably Great Kids’ Movies
By Robert Silva
Yes, The Princess Bride is one of them.
Childhood might seem like a simple time, free of responsibilities, but it’s also a journey through a wonderland of uncertainty. Holes, The Princess Bride, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids put the complex feelings of being a very, very small person on full display. Through their tales of misfits, lost love and lost kids, they use the magic of storytelling to transcend childhood fears. Upon closer look, you’ll see these timeless stories even have something fresh to offer adults.
Premise: An innocent kid named Stanley (Shia LaBeouf) gets sent to a camp for delinquents and is forced to dig holes in the desert. The reason could be a lot stranger than he thinks.
Approach: Parents may object to what is essentially a kid’s prison movie, complete with orange jumpsuits and an omnipresent threat of danger (not by a shanking, but by venomous lizards). But, let’s face it, being young can feel a lot like jail. No freedom, punishments for breaking arbitrary rules, and merciless scrutiny. “You take a bad boy and make him dig holes all day in the hot sun and it turns him into a good boy,” says a guard played by a pomaded Jon Voight. “That’s our philosophy at Camp Green Lake.” That philosophy has applied in more places than it should. Yet the final message, as Stanley unearths something unexpected from the desert, has a lot to say about what really builds character. Folded into Holes is the rather adult story of a schoolteacher (Patricia Arquette) radicalized into a gunslinger by racial injustice. Less harrowingly, there’s the tale of Stanley’s oddball dad (Barry’s Henry Winkler), one of Holes’ few lovable adults, who manages to maintain his childlike sense of possibility.) Following orders is what the world wants, but some rules you have to break to keep your sanity and soul intact.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Premise: A wacky inventor (Rick Moranis) downsizes his household by unwittingly shrinking his children — uh, and the neighbor kids too — and tosses them out with the garbage. The little ones must brave the backyard to return home.
Approach: Being young is an exercise in scale. Like many a kids’ movie, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids magnifies adolescent feelings of insignificance, so they can be conquered. In other words, being small doesn’t necessarily suck! Initial terror at facing an unknown world for the shrunken kids morphs into an enormous adventure, as they make their odyssey back home through mountains of grass, and ginormous LEGOs, proving they’re more than just their stature. Indeed, there ends up being something wondrous about the savage backyard world, full of overlooked beauty, and a cephalopodic friend named Antie, who (spoiler alert!) teaches kids about mortality. For the adults in the room, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids has an additional commentary on the hazards of parenting. The scene where Rick Moranis’s dad nearly eats one of his kids in his Cheerios now induces a different kind of trauma. Kids are fragile; keep them close. And check the backyard for scorpions.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Premise: A sick kid (Fred Savage) submits to a bedside story from his grandpa (Peter Falk) about a kidnapped princess (Robin Wright), a dreaded pirate (Cary Elwes), a gentle giant (André the Giant), a civil swordsman (Mandy Patinkin), and an inconceivably dumb genius (Wallace Shawn). The boy is skeptical about its merits — until he’s riveted.
Approach: “Torture. Revenge. True love.” That’s grandpa’s elevator pitch for this highly quotable movie. But really, it’s about how storytelling can get you through anything — a bad childhood, a rainy day, or even as director Rob Reiner learned later, an avalanche. Watch The Princess Bride and you’ll lose yourself in its tongue-in-cheek fantasy which, despite the campy tone and self-referential humor, manages to slip in some pretty deep themes: Losing hope. Dealing with grief. And whether love does in fact triumph over all. Some of the jokes, and the prosthetic-enabled cameos from Carol Kane and Billy Crystal, will likely fly past kids. But both halves of the audience come together for movie’s final line, which neatly summarizes what being a kid, maybe even an adult, is all about: That our simplest gestures are sometimes our greatest acts of love.