If you're reading this article because you think I'm about to accuse kiddie flicks of hiding ribald material within their frames, I'm sorry to disappoint you. The angle I'm going for here is that of "animated features that are actually better for grown-ups than they are for kids," and I bring this point up for two reasons: 1. I love animation. 2. This week marks the arrival of my #1 favorite flick of 2009: Fantastic Mr. Fox. (Let your kids enjoy it, and then watch it with adults once the tots are tucked into bed. Trust me.) Plus, I firmly believe that young children will love any ol' animated flick. It's tough to be cinematically discerning when you're only 4.
So of course we'll start off with the Fox. Serious cinephiles are well aware that this flick comes from a man who makes films for grown-ups ... but to the average moviegoing mommy and daddy, who wouldn't know Wes Anderson from Wes Studi, this was just a cute-looking comedy done in that nifty old stop-motion animation style. (The flick didn't exactly destroy the box office, suffice to say.) But while children will undoubtedly dig the cute little creatures (I love how they dig!), it's the parents who will most enjoy the film's sly / sweet / sarcastic humor. Fantastic Mr. Fox does have a few "morals of the story" for the younger minds, but only an adult can appreciate a line like "I love you ... but I shouldn't have married you."
The Princess Bride
What Kids See: Swordfights, some giant rats, and a lot of smooching.
What Grown-Ups See: Gorgeous scenery, sweet romance, lots of colorful locations and set-pieces, Billy Crystal as a Yiddish troll, Mandy Patinkin and his classic grudge, the surprisingly quick wit of Andre the Giant, and a celebration of the endless magic of simple storytelling.
Pee Wee's Big Adventure
What Kids See: Someone who sorta looks like a grown-up but acts like a total goofball. Also a cool bike
What Grown-Ups See: A subversive comedian who's combining old-school weirdness with a subversive streak of pop-culture wackiness. He looks like Howdy Doody, he sounds like the obnoxious kid next door, and he's absolutely unflappable in the face of his own weirdness, let alone the bizarre obstacles he must contend with. Plus it's an endlessly quotable road movie with lots of odd warmth and unexpected wit. Tim Burton's first feature, and very possibly his best. Still.
The Iron Giant
What Kids See: E.T. with a giant robot instead of a squirmy alien.
What Grown-Ups See: a pitch-perfect recreation of those "Leave it to Beaver" days, only presented with a welcome sense of humor and some rather subtle observations about man's proclivity for destruction. The voice cast is simply great (particularly Harry Connick Jr.!), the animation style is old-fashioned yet slick, and the film is sweet without ever getting too saccharine. Master animator Brad Bird (and his team) are also known for little flicks like The Incredibles and Ratatouille. So there's that.
What Kids See: A whole lot of dazzling goodies for the eyeballs as a young girl quests through a dark world.
What Grown-Ups See: A great visual spin on Neil Gaiman's patented brand of subversive fantasy. It's Alice in Wonderland meets ... I dunno, something really nifty. I saw this flick at Sundance a few years back and I was sure it was destined for "cult flick" status. It's only been a few years, so I'll let it percolate for a little while. But I've yet to find someone who dislikes this movie.
What Kids See: A boy hopping through time with a bunch of little people.
What Grown-Ups See: A wonderful adventure film that taps into the imagination of youth while still maintaining a deliciously cynical edge. Several of the (Monty) Pythons show up to have a good time, the special effects and set designs are just staggering, and the ending still packs a wonderfully weird wallop. (See also: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Immediately.)
The Care Bears Movie Part 2: A New Generation
What Kids See: Toys they want.
What Parents See: Nothing. This crap is just for kids. Not yours, hopefully.
[I'm going to keep updating this article with suggestions from our comments section and our Twitter pals. Just because I think it's a nifty topic, and there might be a lot of animation-lovin' grown-ups out there who are looking for a new treat. So comment / tweet away!]
Babe: Pig in the City