Movies to teach us about our place in the world
It’s winter, so there’s no better time to snuggle up on the couch and enjoy a family movie afternoon, especially if you’ve spent all morning as a shivering spectator at your children’s sporting pursuits. Popcorn, a blazing fire, a blanket on your lap and a child resting against your knees – it can be a precious few hours to pause the hurly-burly of daily life and immerse yourself in a story.
Yes, it’s screen time and we all know we should be watching less but really, there are so many wonderful family films around today that do so much more than provide just a few hours of light entertainment. For children, these films can transport them to other lands and cultures, and connect them to their peers in other parts of the world. For all of us, grown-ups included, a good film can also serve as a powerful reminder that in spite of our differences, the human beings living on planet Earth are more connected than divided.
Story: This is the story of Smith, a 10-year-old boy from India growing up in Small Town, America in 1979. While the boy’s family straddles the fine line between embracing the American Dream and preserving their Indian heritage, there are barbecues, Halloween and hunting. And as Smith falls for Amy, the girl-next-door, he finds in Amy’s father, Butch, the cowboy he wishes his own father could be. But alas, when Smith’s father Bhaaskar sees Smith is quickly losing any hope of remaining a respectable Indian boy, he banishes him back to India. Nineteen years later Smith will return to America, back to a place he once called home.
Why you should watch: There are few films that tell the immigration story from a child’s perspective. Smith is funny and engaging and shows us that, despite being born in a country of such different customs and traditions, he’s just like any other child: struggling to fit in and navigate the ups and downs of childhood.
Reviewer tip: This film contains scenes of possibly THE best Halloween costume of all time.
Story: A boy who is believed to bring bad luck to everyone around him leads his family and two new friends through Laos to find a new home. After a calamity-filled journey through a land scarred by the legacy of war, to prove he’s not bad luck he builds a giant rocket to enter the most exciting and dangerous competition of the year: the Rocket Festival.
Why should you watch: Featuring some of the most breathtaking cinematography, this story of a bunch of misfits taking a road trip through Laos is a beautiful tale about the importance of following your childhood dreams, and their magical ability to put the world to rights when they come true, despite the odds.
Reviewer tip: Directed and produced by Australia’s very own Red Lamp Films, this movie won more than 45 awards, including Best Feature at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
Story: In the city of Istanbul, there are more than just human inhabitants. This film follows a selection of individual cats as they live their own lives with their own distinctive personalities. However, with this vibrant population, is the reality of an ancient metropolis changing with the times that may have less of a place for them.
Why you should watch: Yes, it’s a documentary about cats, but this is really a story about the humans who love and care for these strays. It reminds us that no matter which part of the globe we live in, we all have the capacity to feel love and compassion for our feline friends.
Reviewer tip: For anyone thinking of visiting Istanbul, this is also the story of a city, one so rich in history and culture and culinary delights that you’ll be booking your ticket as soon as the credits roll around.
Story: Wonder tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to discover their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.
Why you should watch: This movie shows us that there are no bad guys, telling the story not only from the viewpoint of Auggie, but his peers, both friends and foes. This is a story about kindness, and why we need more of it in the world.
Reviewer tip: If you love the film, make sure you visit your local library and borrow the books!
Story: A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Kolkata, thousands of kilometres from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia. Twenty-five years later, he sets out to find his lost family.
Why you should watch: This is probably better suited to children aged 10 years and older, as this incredible true story will have your heart in the wringer from about five minutes in. The story highlights just how difficult life is for children growing up in India’s impoverished communities, but it is also a powerful reaffirmation of the importance of family, both the family we inherit and the family we choose.
Reviewer tip: If Dev Patel looks familiar, it’s because he also appeared in Slumdog Millionaire at just 18 years of age.
Story: A charming young Peruvian bear travels to London in search of a home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he meets the kindly Brown family, who offer him a temporary haven.
Why you should watch: The original story of Paddington was inspired by the plight of refugees from World War II and the story remains relevant today. As a stowaway, Paddington travelled illegally by boat to England and his experiences can teach children about the importance of welcoming people (or, in Paddington’s case, friendly mammals) from all walks of life.
Reviewer tip: If you and your children like Paddington, it is worth checking out Paddington 2, which is just as good as the original.
Story: Set against the backdrop of Mexico’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday, Coco follows a young boy who gets stuck in colourful and stunning Land of the Dead. On his journey back to the land of the living, Miguel gets help from a charming trickster and tries to uncover his family’s true history.
Why you should watch: Día de Muertos is a unique cultural celebration that has a strong emphasis on remembrance and celebration of past generations. Through Miguel’s story children can learn the importance of family, tradition, remembrance and finding their place in the world.
Reviewer tip: A movie about a child being stuck in the Land of the Dead sounds more like a horror than something you would want to show your kids – but that isn’t the case. In Coco, the Land of the Dead is a vibrant, colourful world that is nowhere near as gloomy as you would think.
Story: A spirited young girl who is in line to become chief of her Polynesian island rejects her father’s orders and embarks on a high seas journey to save her people. Along the way she meets Maui, an arrogant, shape-shifting demigod who is intent on redeeming himself and reclaiming his standing as a hero for mankind.
Why you should watch: Moana is a Disney princess, but she’s no damsel in distress waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her. She’s a strong-willed, determined and independent role model for young girls. Moana’s exploration of Polynesian culture will also give children a stronger understanding of our neighbouring countries.
Reviewer tip: Moana has a memorable soundtrack with original music from Lin-Manuel Miranda, who produced the hugely successful Broadway show Hamilton and is starring in a sequel to Mary Poppins, which will be released this December.
Story: When a diver catches clown fish Nemo on the Great Barrier Reef, his overly cautious father must make the long journey to Sydney to save his son. In Sydney, Nemo must escape from a fish tank in a dentist’s office so he can be reunited with his father.
Why you should watch: Not only is it a great story, but Finding Nemo will help your children get to know some of the amazing species that live just off Australia’s coastline and encourage them to get interested in protecting Australia’s marine life.
Reviewer tip: If your children like Finding Nemo, they will probably like Finding Dory, the 2016 sequel that follows the journey of everyone’s favourite forgetful fish.
Story: After witnessing the tragic death of his father, young cub Simba is banished from his kingdom as his evil uncle claims the title of king. Growing up in exile, Simba leaves the kingdom behind before returning to claim his title as king and save his people.
Why you should watch: The Lion King is full with great characters, fun music and lessons about responsibility, courage and purpose. Plus, it’s based on Shakespeare, and it’s never too early to introduce your children to the classics.
Reviewer tip: A live action version of The Lion King is scheduled to be released in 2019, so it’s a good time for your children to get to know the original.