Saturday, February 15, 2014

Top Ten Underrated "Children's" Movies

Don't get me wrong, I loved Disney. I have seen literally every animated Disney movie, and many of the live-action ones. However, my family had a penchant for introducing me to highly obscure children's movies, mostly produced in the 1980's (because that seemed like a great time for animators to just blaze their own trails and do their thing, which obviously didn't work out so well, because I think I'm one of the only people who actually remember them). A lot of you will probably recognize one or two of these as cult classics or really weird movies you once saw on a single digit channel at three in the morning. 

Yes, those.

I think after you know that these movies shaped who I am today, A lot about my personality will start to make more sense. Or raise more questions. (These are in no particular order, by the way. I couldn't possibly rate them! However, I included #7 just to talk about it and its relation to children's movies/my childhood, and this movie can actually be triggering for some)

1. Time Bandits(1981)

I've seen this movie about twenty times, and I still don't fully understand. A young boy, Kevin (I loved Kevin, man), accidentally gets tangled up in a time-travelling adventure with treasure-hunting dwarves who have "borrowed" a map of the Universe's various time holes from The Supreme Being (no, not God). They meet amazing people from history, such as Agamemnon (PLAYED BY SEAN CONNERY FOR SOME REASON), Napoleon, and Robin Hood, and end up on the Titanic for a bit as well. In addition, they go into phantasmagorical worlds with tyrannical kings, and a terrifying giant which rattled me a bit tbh. Throughout the movie, The Evil Genius is trying to get his hands on the map as well and use it for sinister (well, more sinister) means. This movie doesn't get nearly enough recognition as some of its peers, like the Labyrinth (which, I'm sorry to argue, isn't that good of a movie to me), and I would highly recommend watching it, even though I actually highly recommend watching all the ones I'm going to list. It takes you away, much like the next two I'm going to mention,  and it's a bit like the familiar Peter Pan, only the pirates are the main characters. 

2. Dark Crystal (1982)

You cannot argue: Dark Crystal is Jim Henson's darkest story line EVER. I never really liked the muppets, because I wasn't exposed to it, but this was my uncle's favorite movie of all time, and it's the only Jim Henson I really know. This is another one that I can't really explain. It's set in another planet, in ancient times. A thousand years ago, the mysterious Dark Crystal was damaged by one of the Urskeks, an ancient race, and it began an age of chaos. The Skeksis, an evil race of grotesque lizard-birds now rule the fantastic world with an iron claw and shroud the world in darkness. Meanwhile, the orphan Jen, a humanoid Gelfling, is raised away from the world in the forests by a group of old peace-loving wizards called the Mystics, who raised him to know that there used to be a world before the Skeksis. Once the leader dies and tells Jen about the Dark Crystal, he embarks on a journey to find the missing shard of the Dark Crystal, which gives the Skeksis their powers, to restore light in the universe. He meets amazing people along the way, such as the Keeper of Secrets Aughra, and Kira, another Gelfling. I know, it sounds like a trip, but I would absulutely love it if you would try out this movie; it's fantasical, dark, and rife with loss and redemption. Definitely not exactly a children's movie, but that's never stopped my parents before.

3. The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Many of you already know this movie, and recognize it as a 'cult classic' film, much like Labyrinth. Bastian, a young boy who is tired of being bullied, goes into a bookstore and finds an ancient storybook. The shopkeeper tells him that the book can be dangerous, but Bastian steals the book anyway (as you do) and begins to read it in his attic where he is drawn into the magical, war-torn land of Fantasia, which desperately needs a hero to save it from destruction. One of the most famous friends he meets along the way is Falcor, the gentle Dog Dragon who is basically the most chill character in the entire movie. I mean, look at that face:

(PS If you don't let yourself get terrified by the Uncanny Valley-esque special effects, you will only be slightly uncomfortable as a result). 

4. The Secret of N.I.M.H (1982)

This movie messed me up. SO much. It was a great movie watching it as a child, but as an older person, I can see why my parents loved it, and why it is just so disturbing. The plot is that Mrs. Frisby is a mouse that lives in a garden, and raises her children by herself after her husband's death. Her son Timothy falls deathly ill right before the family has to move for crop season, and it's a race against the clock to find a cure before either her son dies or the whole family does at the hands of the farmer. The Great Owl advises her to visit a group of mysterious rats who live beneath a rose bush on the farm, and upon visiting, she meets Nicodemus, the wise leader of the rats, and Justin, a friendly rat who immediately becomes attached to her. Here is the twisted part: she soon discovers that the rats, along with her late husband, were part of a series of volatile experiments at a facility called N.I.M.H (the National Institute of Mental Health). The rats possess off-the-charts intelligence, allowing them to read and understand complex mechanics. A battle of dominance between the rats ensues as to whether they should leave the rosebush with Mrs. Frisby and live away from the humans or stay. Literally, THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A CHILDREN'S MOVIE. And yet, it features governmental experiments which render these rats super-intelligent and jaded with humanity, establish their own heirarchy, and then later feature a faction war between the rebels who want to take over and probably destroy the humans of N.I.M.H. Whether you think this is an okay kids' movie or not, it's a must-see for people who like psychology or the effects of experimentation and sociology.

 5. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

Now this, is actually something you could actually feel decent about giving to your children without them being traumatized. Wow, what a change from the other movies!! In this movie, the fairy people of the rain forest Ferngully have never seen a human before, but when the fairy princess Chrysta sees one, Zak, she accidentally shrinks him down to her size. The the trouble is, Zak was one of the loggers who came to cut down Ferngully. And as he's having his own adventure, the rest of his logging team decides to cut down the oldest tree in the forest, which just HAPPENED to be large, twisted, and slightly oozing black oil. When they cut it down, it frees Hexxus, an evil creature who once tried to destroy Ferngully and was imprisoned in the tree for his chaotic ways. This movie is so beautiful in the setting and the animation, and beyond that, it has a really nice, relatable message to kids about the importance of the environment and the rain forests. One of the things movie makers struggle with when they want to send a big message to kids is that it usually completely goes over their heads (ie, Wall-E or Happy Feet) and mainly hits the older audiences. Ferngully does such an amazing job, because it gets you to really see the crisis with the rain forests without getting really dark and momentarily scaring kids (Happy Feet) or creating an apocalyptic future that only adults will get the gravity of (Wall-E).

6. Black Cauldron (1985)

Yes, it is a Disney movie. Sadly, though, that doesn't mean it's a well-known staple in everyone's childhood. On the contrary, this is by far the least popular animated Disney movies, and barely anyone remembers it. I can sort of understand why it wasn't as successful, because it was pretty scary. It wasn't overly scary, but you see the other movies I've seen, so it isn't a stretch to say I was mostly desensitized at a young age. Even so, The Horned King is still pretty terrifying to me, and his castle isn't too far behind. I mean, look at that.

Okay, so you can't really tell and you have no reason to trust me on this, but my heart is siezing up, and I am getting short of breath, just from looking up Horned King on Google Images. I can't handle him. I can't deal with him, and I don't want to. Anyway, the plot is this: In the medieval land of Prydain, a young man named Taran is tasked with caring for Hen Wen, a magical oracular pig (I know), who knows the location of the powerful Black cauldron, which has the power to reanimate the dead. This task Taran has isn't an easy one, because the Horned King will stop at nothing to find the Black Cauldron and reanimate his decaying army. His dragons kidnap Hen Wen and takes her to the castle. Taran follows, and meets up with a captured Princes Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur (basically the best human character in this movie), and my role model in life, Gurgi. No one knows what Gurgi is, but it doesn't matter. Gurgi is everything. He is my religion, my life, my love. Oh, and Creature, the abused goblin servant of the Horned King, is probably the cutest thing ever, in a disgusting and pitiful way. Really, a classic.

7. Watership Down (1978)


Okay, have you got that in your head? Good. Now, onto the metacognitive. This movie was so mentally scarring for me, that I watched it once at my grandma's house a decade ago, and still remember it. But, I actually consider it one of the best war movies ever made. Even though it's about rabbits. I'm going to go directly for the official summary here: "Based upon Richard Adam's novel of the same title, this animated feature delves into the surprisingly violent world of a warren of rabbits as they seek to establish a new colony free of tyranny and human intervention. Frightening and bloody in some scenes. Not recommended for young children." Isn't that lovely. It's considered one of the most violent PG-rated movies ever created, and if it had been made now, it would be at least PG-13 (more likely R). It shows the grim 'reality' (in all truth, rabbits aren't like this with each other. However, it is more of a reality than some movies portray) that the rabbits face. Rabbits certainly don't battle to the death with each other, but many heartbreaking deaths in this movie are very real, such as being killed by dogs and traps, falcons and humans. To go more in depth, the storyline revolves around Fiver, a young rabbit who is a seer, and his loving brother Hazel. Fiver senses his warren will be destroyed soon, but when they fail to convince their leader to evacuate, they and a small band of others embark on a dangerous journey rife with danger from predators, humans, and even their own kind. What is left of their group eventually finds a peaceful home in Watership Down, but problems arise with a neighboring warren called Efrafa, which is a police state lead by the dangerous and insane General Woundwart. Other themes include religion and death personified as the Black Rabbit of Inle. Yeah, there is so much death that it needs the character Death. I don't want to talk about this movie anymore, because I count it as one of the scariest movies I have ever seen.

8. The Witches (1990)

Thank god, lets get back to something a little nicer. This movie still deals in things with villians and things that go bump in the night, and like most of these movies, it could be a little frightening for a young child (though someone 10 and up, speaking generally, would be totally fine with this movie). Its about a young boy who is taken to England with his grandmother. At the hotel they stay at, a group of witches have gathered to their queen to plot to rid the world of all children. When the witches find out the boy has been aware of their plans, they turn him and his friend at the hotel into mice, and they must defeat the witches from their furry states. It's just the right level of scary for a little kid who likes to be a little frightened, but giggle at the same time; I loved it, even though the witches' pension for poison and murder sort of made me uncomfortable. 

9. The Rescuers (1977)

I absolutely love this movie. Again, another Disney movie no one really remembers, but everyone should. It starts out at the UN building, and then we travel down below to a UN meeting with mice from all around the world, in their little meeting room!!!!!! IT IS SO ADORABLE, and they call themselves the Rescue Aid Society. When they address a message in a bottle, which is a call for help from a kidnapped girl named Penny, the brave Hungarian representative Bianca (one of my favorite characters ever) and her chosen partner, the shy janitor Bernard, set out to the Devil's Bayou where poor Penny is being forced by her kidnapper Madame Medusa to go down into a dangerous pirate cave to find the Devil's Eye, a huge diamond that will make her rich. I love this movie. *sigh*

10. An American Tail (1986)


I didn't know that this wasn't a popular movie until about three months ago, to be completely honest. I lived in a bubble. A BUBBLE. 
Anyway, this adorable movie (which features some subtle things about the hardships of immigration during the 19th-20th century) focuses on the Mousekowitz family, a russian mouse family who are going to a new life in America. However, getting off the ship, they get separated from their son Fievel, who is the main character. They thought that the land was without cats, and that was why people called it the Promise Land, but in reality, CATS ARE FREAKING EVERYWHERE. The movie is Fievel's adventures trying to find his family, meeting new friends (one of whom is the most adorable chubby cat ever), and facing discrimination from the American mice. Extended metaphor? Oh yes. I love it. 


Alright, there it is. The movies that have made me the imaginative, childish, eco-friendly, slightly morbid, and sometimes altogether terrifying girl I have come to be.