Cinematically, too often children get the short end of the stick. Those in the entertainment industy and unenthused parents condescend and pander, assume a lot of bright lights, goofy voices and scatalogical jokes will be enough to satisfy a youthful mind. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, however, as time and again the most popular children’s films have proven their fresh prespective can comprehend complex emotions and ideas that grapple with their own coming of age.
It’s wise, however, to begin a child’s cinematic education early, allowing the freshest minds to digest information quickly. Not only will this help with child care and maturation, it may actually give your child an edge that other’s don’t have: taste. Here are just a few classics for your toddler that will not only satisfy their need for sheer entertainment, but will start them on the right path.
1. A Bug’s Life (1998)
Since 1995, Pixar animation has been at the forefront of children’s entertainment, crafting great storytelling with jaw-dropping CGI and a flurry of jokes for both young and old. A Bug’s Life, one of the studio’s more underrated films, follows Flik, a meager ant looking for a group of tough warriors to protect his colony from evil grasshoppers.
The scope and imagination of the character and world rendering is breathtaking, and it’s nothing if not funny. For a young mind, it’s just a sight at which to gaze. This is definitely one of the best movies for toddlers to watch.
2. Aladdin (1992)
The world truly lost a gem when Robin Williams committed suicide after a Parkinson’s diagnosis. And his ad-libbing throughout this Disney classic often had animators at a loss. Aladdin features Williams’ family friendly stream-of-counsciousness comic bits at their best, and an easily distracted mind can pick it up at any point and still be entertained.
3. Fun and Fancy Free (1947)
You can always rely on the classics, and Disney’s ninth animated feature is a great place to start. Part of the appeal of Fun and Fancy Free is the fact that it’s two short films repackaged as a feature, so while the two complement each other well and intertwine, one does not require intense attention to clue in on the action.
The first, Bongo, is the story of a circus bear who longs for freedom and eventually finds it. The second, Mickey and the Beanstalk, is a retelling of the English fairy tale – a great way to introduce your toddler to classic lore.
4. Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters (1988)
Children of the 80s and early 90s wore out their VHS copies of this Warner Bros. Film – essentially just a compilation of Looney Tunes shorts that are more ghost and monster-themed. Today, one can easily pick up regular collections of shorts, but Quackbusters’ interlacing segments (including a vocal performance from Mel Torme) is a welcome addition to an already excellent collection.
Some of the best Daffy segments often found the Duck on various adventures, put at odds with his surroundings. This is a worthwhile collection, and one of the best movies for toddlers to learn some of the more frightening things they’ll experience later in life.
5. Pinnochio (1940)
Screening films for toddlers is often about teaching moralistic lessons that are otherwise difficult to introduce. This Disney fable about a puppet who longs to be a real boy famously warns against the dangers of lying, but more significantly, it preaches the joys and complications of hard work and the satisfaction found within.
As a modern fable, it’s unadulterated cinematic earnestness, denouncing the very concept of a jaded mind. As an animated film, it has a teriffic score and some inventive imagery.
6. Bambi (1942)
There are a lot of conversations you’re going to eventually have to tackle when raising a child, but none is more significant than death. For decades, parents have used the passing of Bambi’s mother – shot down by a hunter – as a way to introduce them to some of life’s harsher realities.
And there’s good reason for it, as the rest of the film is surrounded by more pleasant facts; parental protection and love, friendship and common decency all come into play. What’s most stunning about the film is how endearing it is at any age without a single element of fantasy. Rather, it’s grounded in the very reality in which we live, talking animals aside.
7. Toy Story (1995)
If you’re going to start with Pixar, start with the first. Critics and audiences were sceptical when Toy Story was first announced. The idea that a feature-length, all-CGI animated film could work sounded absurd on paper. But Toy Story’s imagination and script (co-written by Marvel director Joss Whedon), a catchy Randy Newman song and some great voice performances from Tom Hanks to Wallace Shawn proved a huge success.
To this day, the franchise still manages to suprise and inspire generations. The first film features some themes that a toddler may not yet wrap their mind around until years later, but the physical comedy and adventure is enough for them to keep revisiting it. This is not just one of the best movies for toddlers to watch, but children and adults of all ages will enjoy the story as well.