“A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be curious, and to fight tirelessly for something.” ~ Paulo Coelho
In this rapidly evolving and spiritually in-tune day and age, good children’s films can be hard to come across. Never mind the fact that we probably shouldn’t be keeping them indoors watching a screen, sometimes a well placed and well-written film can add to an impressionable mind and even give them that glimpse of – something that’s rare for the marketable world of children’s film – the real magic of life.
I’m not talking about the impenetrable and whimsical sort of magic, like fairies at the bottom of the garden type detachment that leads the next generation to want to spark lights out of their fingertips and get frustrated when they can’t, but that all knowing and goose-pimple-inducing magic that breathes and weaves through all of our lives.
Children of Heaven
Iranian cinema at its best, Children of Heaven has become a sort of signature film for the hardships of childhood, especially amidst a religion that believes that ‘work is love’ and that in the world of business and the human condition, suffering is compulsory. Having said that this film is entirely romantic and poetically touching in every way. Centering around poverty stricken dual protagonists Zahra and Ali as they share Zahra’s shoes, heart warming doesn’t even come close to describing this original and fantastically executed little tale.
The message of Children of Heaven is the light at the end of the tunnel, the reminder that we are all loved and watched over, and cheered for even when we feel entirely alone.
Yes, even Disney films have made it to this list. An unlikely and entirely proud Heroine; Scottish Merida has finally surfaced as a Disney princess, and for once is not after the heart of some air-headed prince, who upon marrying her will steal her talents and reduce her to a life of plastered-on smiles and vacuous existence. No.
Brave is actually about a fearless and warrior-like coming-of-age girl who, rather than sexualized, is shooting arrows to win her own hand in marriage. Not only that, but the story revolves around her (somewhat adolescent) relationship with her mother and the importance of humility and following our hearts (come on, that’s been the fluffed up message of all Disney films but this time it actually means it!)
A portal in space, a dream… or a nightmare, Spirited Away is about a little girl called Sen whose parents get stolen by the spirits, and the only way to get them back is to work in a Bath House that sits between the two worlds. Sounds pretty fantastical doesn’t it, but actually the spiritual message is that working hard and sticking to your own truth will put you onto the hero’s path.
It’s a film about defeating the baddies with good… the gist of almost all family and child films I know, but this one really pulls it off. As with many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, the appeal is very anti-Disney princess in that, although Sen does find her true love and the male protagonist requires her to aid him in fighting his demons and releasing the true force of his magical powers, it also honours the potential of the feminine. The companions she makes along the way become family and her un-swaying morals mean she comes of age and blossoms.
If you like the sound of watching a film about a spoilt and highly strung girl with nature deficit disorder becoming at one with herself and having her first life-changing experience of the true nature of existence, then this film is for you.
Kirikou and Karaba the Sorceress
This French film based on West African tales is a rare treat and echoes stories of the childhood of Hindu God Krishna and the Buddha. A child is born who, as his mother says ‘a child who can birth himself can wash himself.’ He can also question the society he was born into’s irrational fear of the governing forces and challenge them, meaning that, although he’s the smallest naked boy you’ve ever seen, he’s also the fastest and the bravest.
Having asked the questions that no-one has ever dared to ask and faced the shadows of a whole village, he teaches us that it is all an illusion anyway and that those who torture us are also suffering, and to have compassion for them. I won’t spoil the ending but it finally teaches us that, if we can be a match to our shadows, we can also become one with them, enjoying wholeness and true maturity.
The Emperors New Groove
Perhaps few Disney films are truly funny (and without songs – think Hercules) and hold a very spiritual message. The Lion King was high concept, but also a bit heavy (as Hamlet is). The Emperor’s New Groove actually goes quite far away from the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale in that there is no nakedness. But it upholds the message; being that vanity and riches will not get us very far in the realities of life and can act as an anesthetic to it. Pleasure is no fun while we have no one to share it with, and the riches of the heart are much more satisfying and spend-free.
An unlikely choice I know, but I think this is one of those Hollywood movies that actually deserves the crown of high concept, and has a protagonist who is the epitome of innocence.
The role of the pig has caused controversy throughout society for millennia and has been the subject of many a literary success. Animal farm portrayed it as evil and cunning, Charlotte’s Web as the innocent needing to be saved by the philosopher, (few, by the way, seem to portray it as the dirty beast Judaism and Islam seem to find it as), but what most seem to agree on, is that it has the potential to be wise beyond its years… and, that in the farmyard it holds the farms most dangerous spot.
As the Cat describes in the film, ‘pigs don’t have a purpose,’ or that its only purpose is to be eaten by ‘the Boss’. As the epitome of innocence desperately tries to find another purpose to practice and learn, this film’s message teaches us that there are no limits to what we can do if we think outside the box, and that we all have a great destiny in store. It also reminds us that life is a narrow knife edge between survival and art.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Tale of Princess Kaguya for older audiences reminds us that we are not human, rather spiritual beings having a human experience. It’s this golden nugget of the fairytale that keeps returning to our psyche time and time again as the story of the prophet or enlightened one, despite the sometimes convoluted message it can present around.
The idea that, we may not have been born of earthly parents (that we have been here before and our parents are our carers rather than rulers), that we may have come from somewhere remarkable like the inside of some bamboo, (that we are truly magical and have that seed of potentiality inside of us), and that fear of returning home one day (the fear of death and knowledge that this is just for experience).
What Princess Kaguya expressed so deeply – in her discovery to unearth why exactly she came to earth in the first place – is that the sometimes intense degrees of suffering but also joy that are apparent on earth makes it all worth while, and most definitely a necessary way to evolve.
Well, there were many others, but it’s clear to me that the reason why fairytale and children’s literature is such a coveted and hefty burden to carry, is because the creator of these stories are not only creating entertainment, but impacting an individual at a very potent time of their lives. A time when they have a very real chance to make a difference.