Sharing film favorites with grandchildren
Our granddaughter Olive is undergoing an excellent indoctrination into some of the finer films and television shows of years past.
No, it’s not the work of her doting grandparents. We’re too far away to have enough time to indulge her in a quality cinematic education. But her uncle, who has half of my genetic makeup and all of my name, has been standing in nicely. He’s introduced his niece to the classics, movies and shows that celebrate the best of Western culture.
Like “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” which is available to stream through Netflix. I spent many a Saturday on the couch with granddaughter Olive’s mom, Elizabeth, and her Uncle Tharon when they were toddling around back in the late 1980s. Actor Paul Reuben’s Pee-Wee was, and is, brilliant, kid-friendly anarchy, a twisted, live-action cartoon version of the old 1950s-early 1960s kiddie show formula that we baby boomers grew up on.
The supporting cast is amazing, including a very young Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis, the late Phil Hartman as salty Captain Carl, and S. Epatha Merkerson as Reba the mail lady. Great fun. My kids loved it, as did I. Each got a pull-string, talking Pee-Wee doll for Christmas, and Tharon was also blessed with a pair of Pee-Wee Herman jammies. We break out the photo of him in his Pee-Wee PJs whenever we want to embarrass him.
And by all accounts, little Olive was enthralled – cooing and bouncing along to the hyper-kinetic goings on. Maybe we’ll have to try to find a pair of Pee-wee pajamas for her, too.
Five must-see classics
Hopefully we’ll find enough time on some of our visits with Olive so I can serve as her surrogate cinematic educator. I’ve got the curriculum all picked out. Here are five films and television series that every grandparent should share with their special little ones. I’ve tried to avoid the obvious choices (as in The Wizard of Oz and most releases from Disney) for smaller, forgotten fare that have retained their charm and will seem fresh to older adults and the children in their lives.
• Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964, available through Netflix or Google Play). I loved this film as a kid and can’t wait to watch this with Olive in a few more years. This tale of an American astronaut marooned on Mars could have been condescending and silly, but it’s faithful to Defoe’s classic novel and has aged surprisingly well. Well, except for the special effects and all the vacuum tube-era high tech equipment our man on Mars wields, which are a hoot now. Still, you’ve got to love a movie with a monkey as its best supporting actor.
• Watership Down (1978, Amazon, Hulu Plus). Wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite novels may scare the bejeebers out of toddlers, but it’s well worth sharing with elementary age and older kids. The animation is lush but dark, appropriate for a dark, often violent story of rabbits forced from their warren who go in search of a new home free of men and other predators. Vocal talent here includes John Hurt, Zero Mostel, Hannah Gordon, Denholm Elliott and Sir Ralph Richardson. Art Garfunkel contributes a less-than memorable song, but don’t let that take away from your viewing pleasure.
• Flipper (1963, Google Play, Amazon). This is the film that introduced a generation to the notion that it’s a fantastic idea to swim with dolphins. A boy, Sandy (Luke Halpin), saves titular dolphin, bonds with it in a swim, and many adventures and life lessons ensue. Flipper has held up well, thanks to its solid storytelling, compelling underwater scenes of said dolphin, and its realistic look at the life of a fishing family in the gritty Florida Keys of the early 1960s.
• The Yearling (1946, Google Play, Amazon). You’d never know how miserable life can be in the Florida prairie in summer when you watch this lush, beautiful film. There’s no sense of the swarms of bugs and overwhelming humidity in inland Florida swamps and woods, but this adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer-winning book does ably capture the primitive, raw wonders of a childhood in the wilderness. It’s not as violent and dark as Watership Down, but be assured, the tears will flow. That’s not a bad thing, though. Gregory Peck’s awkwardness in delivering his lines in a backwoods dialect is off-putting, but doesn’t distract from this film’s emotional power.
• Born Free (1966, Amazon). It’s more of a documentary than a feature film, but this story of Elsa the lion and her transition from growing up as part of a human family to a return to the wild is fun and compelling for all ages. It’s also well worth revisiting its theme song, one of the best of the 1960s. Look for pianists Ferrante and Teicher’s over-the-top rendition on YouTube.