When our managing editor assigned me to list the Best Family Films of the Decade, I thought, "Woohoo! There's Ratatouille, Coraline, and --" then he added, "No animated films. We've got another list for those." I wilted. Do you know how hard it is to talk about films that are suitable for children but also fun for adults, and not include animation? I kept accidentally sneaking them on the list and then reminding myself that, no, Persepolis is in fact animated, and so is everything by Hayao Miyazaki. Gaaaaah.
But once I started looking at my video shelf, and the reviews I've written, ten great "family friendly" films from the 2000s weren't that difficult to find. I did have to determine what qualifies as "family friendly." Just because a movie is about a family doesn't mean it qualifies -- there went The Royal Tenenbaums and World's Greatest Dad. (Kidding. Sort of.) MPAA ratings didn't help much; I'm more willing to include a PG-13 movie where a mom and daughter talk seriously about sex than a PG-rated Disney film with decapitation and stabbing scenes, for example.
So you have to use your better judgment when deciding which films are appropriate for which kids. Some of the movies on this list are fine to watch with a family of any age; some are more suitable for older children. All of them are fun for anyone to watch; I didn't include movies that kids love but adults find annoying. These are all movies I personally like.
10. The Longshots (2008)
I've seen a lot of family-oriented sports movies in the past few years, and this one is probably my favorite. It's about a girl who wants to play football, which is still not really an accepted female sport by many people. I wasn't expecting to get much out of a kids' film starring Ice Cube and directed by Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, but as I said in my review, the character-driven film "rarely seems stale or routine, even though it's based on so many oft-used movie conventions."
9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Yes, I can hear you all yelling from way over there about how the 1971 adaptation is the best and this is a desecration and no one but Gene Wilder should ever play Willy Wonka and Tim Burton should be burned at the stake. Calm yourselves. I ran into this movie on TV last week and realized it's had a bad rap. Johnny Depp isn't the Willy Wonka of Roald Dahl's book, but for that matter, neither is Wilder. The Oompa-Loompas have some wonderfully goofy musical numbers, the kids are great, the ending is a little long but still fine. It's not my favorite Dahl adaptation -- Matilda has yet to be unseated -- but don't dismiss its bizarre charms.
8. School of Rock (2003)
The director of Slacker and Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater) teamed up with the writer of Orange County and The Good Girl (Mike White) and the Tenacious D guy who acted in High Fidelity and Shallow Hal ... to make a movie for kids. It's one of three PG-13 films on this list, but that's because Jack Black's character is, er, rather irresponsible at the start of the movie. His character steals his roomie's gig as a substitute music teacher and forms a classroom full of apathetic kids into a rock band. It's kind of like a hard-rock version of The Bad News Bears, a movie that Linklater would end up remaking several years later, rather less successfully than this lively film.
7. Holes (2003)
Holes is a rare case where the movie adaptation captured all the best parts of the book; in this case, the young-adult novel by Louis Sachar. It's also my favorite Shia LaBeouf movie; I feel his career has gone downhill since he played gawky Stanley Yelnats, who ends up in a kids' detention camp after being falsely accused of stealing a pair of sneakers. The camp is run by Jon Voight, Tim Blake Nelson and the especially evil warden Sigourney Weaver, who has some secret motives in the punishment she sets for the kids of digging hole after hole in her property. Grownups may also enjoy watching Henry Winkler as Stanley's dad and Eartha Kitt as Madame Zeroni.
6. Whip It (2009)
This is another PG-13 rated movie on the list, and the one that most skirts the family-friendly line. Still, I can't resist recommending this movie about a teenager (Ellen Page) who is tired of her mom pushing her onto the small-town beauty-pageant circuit, and decides to join a rollerderby team instead. I think it's a great movie for teens and even pre-teens who watch the movie with a parent. Kristen Wiig deserves more recognition for her role as a rollergirl who isn't quite what she seems, and Marcia Gay Harden transforms the mom's role into something unexpectedly nuanced.
5. Freaky Friday (2003)
Remember when Lindsay Lohan was so young and full of promise? We all saw this comedy and imagined she was destined for great things. She hasn't had a hit in awhile -- perhaps Machete will turn her career around -- but at least we can watch this nice little Disney remake again. I like it better than the 1976 adaptation of Mary Rodgers's novel, which dates badly and feels too sitcom-y. Jamie Lee Curtis is terrific as the mom who ends up switching bodies with her daughter for the day ... in this case, the day before the mom is remarrying. Director Mark Waters worked with Lohan again the next year on Mean Girls, which probably doesn't qualify as family-friendly.
4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
We can argue all day about which Harry Potter adaptation is the best. They're all fun to watch and are more or less considered family-friendly, but the third movie is still my favorite (#6 being a close second, though). Alfonso Cuaron (A Little Princess, Children of Men) directed this installment of the J.K Rowling series, in which Harry finds out that an insane man who betrayed his parents has escaped from prison and may be out to kill Harry. This is the first movie in which the kids get some personality and Hermione stops being a bossy stereotype -- Gary Oldman, David Thewlis and Timothy Spall are also welcome additions. I enjoyed this movie not just as a visualization of the novel, as with the first two films, but on its own.
3. Elf (2003)
My husband and I were on vacation last week and kept stumbling across this movie on our hotel-room TV ... and we couldn't stop watching, even though we've seen it before. Will Ferrell is in his element here as an adopted elf who travels from the North Pole to Manhattan to meet his real father (James Caan) and stumbles upon Zooey Deschanel along the way. I just realized this is the fourth movie from 2003 on this list; who knew that was such a banner year for live-action family films? Director Jon Favreau went on to make Zathura, a not-bad kids movie, but is now better known for the Iron Man films. By the way, the Elf soundtrack is great to have around the house at this time of year if you like Christmas music.
2. Spy Kids (2001)
The first of Robert Rodriguez's family films is still far and away the best. When a husband-and-wife pair of secret agents is in trouble, their kids decide to come to their rescue. The cast is amazing: Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas (sigh) as the couple, Cheech Marin as the kids' Uncle Felix, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Robert Patrick, Teri Hatcher, Danny Trejo ... and just a little George Clooney. The sequels to this action-comedy film just don't compare.
One of my favorite films of 2008 was Son of Rambow, and I would recommend it to anyone of any age. This is a truly delightful film about two British boys in the 1980s who sneakily end up seeing one of the Rambo movies and decide to film their own version. There's a flying dog and a French exchange student and ... oh, go rent it already. The film was written and directed by Garth Jennings. Warning: Your children may want to make movies after seeing this film. You might, too. By the way, I have to agree with William Goss that the PG-13 rating for this movie is a real mystery -- I've seen much more violent and grown-up PG-rated films.