Earlier today, I met up with an old childhood friend. She is in New York for the weekend and came to the park where I work. We had a lovely, brief chat, and caught up on the people we went to preschool and kindergarten with. You see, this friend and I were married when we were five; if I remember correctly, she’s the first person I said “I love you” to, outside of my own family.
She told me that she has been reading my blog, and I was so happy. To know that this little passion project is making its way to people from all facets of my life is wonderful.
It also got me thinking: what movies did I obsess over and re-watch when I was in preschool? Kindergarten? There are certainly a few that stand out, beyond your every day Disney animated classics—I was partial to The Lion King and Aladdin, in case you were wondering.
Let’s jump inside 5-year-old me’s mind and explore the, ahem, highly intellectual cinephilic kindergarten critic!
Alaska (dir. Fraser Heston), 1996
Remember this one? Where a young Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser travel into the Alaskan wilderness to find their crash-landed pilot father? And then they befriend a polar bear after it licks little Vincent’s head clean from a nasty wound where he collided with a rock? I don’t recall much else, but I do remember having a huge crush on Vincent’s character Sean—I know, I know, Pete Campbell is disgusting—and wanting very much to have a polar bear for a friend. This one definitely played on repeat. And apparently Charlton Heston was in it, as a poacher no less! Hmm…
The Land Before Time (dir. Don Bluth), 1988
This entire series was hugely popular for me. Even watching this poor quality trailer, the sensory memories come flooding back. The characters’ voices, the noise of the T-Rex (aka Sharp-Tooth) when it clamps its jaws shut, the very distinct eyes that set the animation apart from traditional Disney fare (not in a good or bad way, just noticeably different). I already found dinosaurs utterly fascinating as a child, and these films brought them to life in relatable stories of youthful angst. The plot mechanics completely evade me now, but I know that these played over and over for many years in our home—did anyone else enjoy them with me, or did my parents die a little each time I stuck it in the VCR?
A Little Princess (dir. Alfonso Cuarón), 1995
A tear-jerker if there ever were one, A Little Princess is the first film I remember making me cry. The story, about an entitled but kind girl who is “orphaned” when her dad supposedly dies in military service, is so not suitable for children in myriad ways. And yet, Cuarón, more famous now for extended one-shots and his Oscar-winning Gravity, had a deft, gentle hand with the more difficult subject matter: Sara, played beautifully by Liesel Matthews, escapes into her India-set, wildly-colored fantasy world, all the while becoming the most popular girl among a group of alternately sad and silly pre-teens. With a dastardly but fully realized villain in Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron), we can root for Sara to be reunited with her father and for the other girls to know what it is to imagine a better, more vibrant life.
I think this is the first film I took seriously. Perhaps not when I was in kindergarten, but it certainly plays the best today—a serious-minded, fanciful fable. Now, go watch it and ball your eyes out.
The Goonies (dir. Richard Donner), 1985
It may be cliché, but it is honestly just one of the best. A nostalgic, coming-of-age masterpiece with booby traps, cute lil’ Sean Astin, and some surprisingly butch teenage girls. Top it off with Sloth, the character who I simultaneously most feared and adored as a child, and The Goonies is unsurpassed in its wonderfulness. Also, it’s just a really beautiful, somewhat somber film, with gorgeous cinematography (filmed on the Oregon coast) and production design. Who wants to come over and watch soon?
What are your favorite childhood films? Do you remember the first movie you really connected with? Let me know in the comments below!