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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Animated debate

She’s a chip off the old block that Munchkin of mine. She wouldn’t have seen nearly as many 2006 movies as I did, but when it came to the handing out of the Academy Awards, there was one category in which we had both seen all the nominees. And we had seen them together. As you can easily guess, that category was Best Animated Feature. And we both agreed that the winner, Happy Feet, was the weakest of the three nominees and that the winner should definitely have been Monster House.

As I suggested in my Oscar® predictions recap, I have a feeling that the award for Happy Feet was somehow tied up with the Al Gore/let’s-save-the-planet juggernaut. George Miller’s movie definitely had an environmental theme and, let’s face it, any movie about adorable creatures living near the North or South poles is just going to make people think about global warming. It’s also possible that its considerable technical accomplishments were a factor. Cars was also technically impressive, although maybe not to the extent that Happy Feet was. But there was no way in hell (or on an extremely warmed-up earth) that, in this environmentally sensitive environment, Cars was going to win—because it was about, well, cars. But when it came to just a good story with great execution and great performances (even without—and maybe because it was without—Robin Williams) Monster House was the best plain movie movie, technical achievements and Important Messages aside.

When it comes to comments on Happy Feet, I have to say my favorite repeated rants were those by BBC Five Live film critic Mark Kermode who, required to comment on the movie weekly, as long as it was in the UK top ten, went on a tirade about how annoyed he was by the movie’s ultimate message: let’s save this species, not because it is good for the planet or ourselves, but because they are cute and entertain us. He is right, but that gets to the film’s real message. Yes, there is a message that we shouldn’t trash Antarctica and, by implication, the rest of the planet, but more to the point, the film is saying that, if the world is going to be saved, it will be because of the oddballs, the ones who are different, who don’t quite fit in, and who have a talent that perhaps offends stodgy old religious people. In other words, Happy Feet is one more case of artists congratulating themselves about the fact that, if only they are supported in what they do, they will save this undeserving world. Maybe this sounds good (especially if you are an actor or a director), but when it comes to saving the world, give me movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I recall, there wasn’t a single tap dancer in the whole combined ten-hour running time. And, if it’s a question of movies about saving the world through non-violence, then give me something like Gandhi or Amazing Grace and Chuck.

Anyway, those three Oscar nominees weren’t the only 2006 movies we saw together. All told, we saw 19. And while our tastes may vary a bit, we are not that far off in what we like a lot and what we are so-so about. This is amazing, considering that she is a six-year-girl and I’m not (at least not outwardly). I’m not into all the pink ponies and cutesy moppets that she likes on TV, but we can both enjoy The Suite Life of Zack and Cody on the Disney Channel, which is surprisingly sophisticated in its sense of comedy. And it has been a kick, thanks to a multitude of satellite channels, to watch her retrace my own childhood television viewing by way of everything from The Flintstones and Top Cat to the Warner Bros. classics with Bugs and Daffy et al. One of her favorites for some time (and she’s obviously not alone) has been the various incarnations of Scooby Doo, the charms of which have mostly escaped me during its decades-long run.

But despite her penchant for Barbie and Bratz, the Munchkin also has a healthy appetitive for good old-fashioned adventure. This might come from her fascination with the Canadian cartoon series Redwall, about a warrior mouse, or it might have to do with the fact that, for the past year or so, we have been reading The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy together. Anyway, it’s probably no coincidence that movies like Eragon and Monster House ranked fairly high on both of our respective rankings of movies of the past two years.

That’s right. I had her rank, in order, her favorite movies that she has seen, which were released in 2005 and 2006. Since I am ranking movies all the time for this web site, I thought it would be interesting to compare my preferences with hers. (Her list is one movie longer than mine, since she and her mother went off to see the Wallace & Gromit movie, while I was off seeing things unsuitable for family viewing at a film festival somewhere.) For no particular reason, other than because it is of interest to me, here are our two lists of favorite “family” movies of the past two years:

Munchkin’s Ranking

My Ranking

1. Monster House
2. Madagascar
3. Eragon
4. Nanny McPhee
5. Flushed Away
6. Cars
7. RV
8. Robots
9. Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (Garfield 2)
10. Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit
11. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
12. Chicken Little
13. Ice Age: The Meltdown
14. Over the Hedge
15. The Shaggy Dog
16. Pooh’s Heffalump Movie
17. The Magic Roundabout
18. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
19. Happy Feet
20. Valiant

1. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
2. Nanny McPhee
3. Flushed Away
4. Monster House
5. Eragon
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
7. Robots
8. Valiant
9. Over the Hedge
10. Ice Age: The Meltdown
11. Cars
12. Chicken Little
13. Madagascar
14. Happy Feet
15. Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties (Garfield 2)
16. The Shaggy Dog
17. RV
18. Pooh’s Heffalump Movie
19. The Magic Roundabout

Every so often, there is discussion in the entertainment pages of newspapers about whether it makes sense for a grown-up movie critics to be making recommendations on films aimed at children. Often enough, movies that are savaged by professional critics turn out to be favorites of hordes of moppets. It sounds good in principle, but I’m not sure I agree. Just as children are never really too young to learn to appreciate a good sword & sorcery epic, they are never really too young to learn about movie critics and that it is perfectly okay to disregard them.

-S.L., 8 March 2007

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