Your kids have been marketed to by the studios all year, and this year there's been an exceptionally crappy glut of kiddie films flooding the theaters. It's easy to overlook the classics amid the cacphony of shiny DVD cases pimping the latest crap that just oozed out of the multiplex (I'm talking to you, Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties).
Sure, there are a few gems here and there, but this Christmas/Hanukah/Kwanzaa/winter holiday of your choice, why not reach back a little into the past for some truly great children's films that your kids may not even know enough about to put on their wish list? Here are my picks for DVDs I actually wouldn't mind Santa slipping under our Christmas tree.
Charlotte's Web -- With the spandy-new version hitting a theater near you on December 15 (let it be good, please let it be good), what better time to revisit the Charlotte's Web we all grew up with? We have a copy of this on VHS tape (I know, I know), but my kids love it so much, and watch it so often, that I'm thinking this is the year for Santa to make that big leap into the 21st century and deliver a copy on DVD. Steve Buscemi voices Templeton the rat, my favorite character from the film, in the new version, but however much I end up liking his take on the role, in my heart of hearts, the voice of Templeton will always be Paul Lynde (he was also the only reason, ever, to watch Hollywood Squares).
Babe -- While your kids are on a pig kick, thanks to Charlotte's Web-madness, it's the perfect time to bring back another pig: Babe. Unless you adore this film as much as I do, your younger kids may not even have seen it (it was made way back in 1995, practically the dawn of time to the younger set). The pig is adorable, the story -- a pig who wants to be a sheepdog -- is cute and simple, and it all works just beautifully. That'll do, pig.
The Iron Giant -- Before he brought us the brilliance that is The Incredibles, Brad Bird made a little film called The Iron Giant, based on a short story by Ted Hughes. I'm constantly amazed by how many people haven't seen this film, which I'd rate in the upper half of my personal list of top ten animated films of all time. This film is one of the clearest examples of the principle of great storytelling in action: Intriguing characters, conflict, danger, redemption -- all wrapped up in a touching tale of a boy and his friend, a giant iron man who eats metal. The ending of this film always makes me cry. If your kids have never seen this film, put it on the top of your shopping list. If you don't have kids, buy it for yourself and watch it while scarfing down a supreme pizza and a six-pack of Pumpkin Ale.
A Charlie Brown Christmas -- Used to be, the only way you could see A Charlie Brown Christmas was to watch the TV Guide for the one 30-minute slot out of the year when you could catch it. If you missed it, you were screwed. This holiday season, spare your kids from drowing in disappointment. Buy the DVD, then let them join everyone's favorite whiney bald kid, Charlie Brown, and his gang of pals: Sociopathic Lucy, who always pulls that damn football away at the last minute), genius mama's boy Linus and his stalker Sally, antisocial Beethoven, child-neglect victim Pigpen, and closet future lesbian couple Peppermint Patty and Marcie, as they try to ferret out the true meaning of Christmas from a sea of marketing. Anyone who doesn't love that sad little Christmas tree has a heart two sizes too small.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- Speaking of cold-hearted bastards, there's no time like Christmas morning to revisit the Grinch -- and not that crappy Jim Carrey version, either, for the love of Rudolph. I'm talking about classic Grinch action here -- Dr. Seuss' brilliantly conceived characters brought to life. I just reread this story to my kids for the 89,000th time in the past week, and I'm amazed out how much my perception of the story has been fleshed out by repeated viewings of the film throughout my life.
The Original Television Christmas Classics -- All the favorites you remember from your own childhood: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and The Little Drummer Boy! Holy snowflakes! These films hold a special place in my heart, right around the spot where the memories of my grandma's sugar cookies and my great-grandma's divinty hang out and play. I've seen them so many times (well, not so much The Little Drummer Boy, which I didn't like as well as the others) that I know all their cheesy songs by heart. For maximum fun, order this along with the DVD set that includes The Year WIthout a Santa Claus (my favorite, because it features the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser -- I've been known to break into a rendition of the Heat Miser/Snow Miser song without warning). The set also includes Nestor, the Long-Eared Donkey (whatever) and Rudolph's Shiny New Year (meh), but who cares? You've got the Misers, baby! You are golden.
National Velvet -- Every little girl loves horses, and every little girl will fall in love with this story about spunky heroine Velvet Brown (played by Elizabeth Taylor who, stupid polls notwithstanding, was one of the most beautiful girls you'll ever see at the time National Velvet was filmed), and her beloved horse Pie. Boys will enjoy it as well, but there's something about girls in the 9-13 range and horses. If you have a daughter who loved Flicka, as my 9-year-old did, National Velvet might be the perfect film