Over on my pop culture blog, UnitedMonkee, I’ve been running down lists of my favorite movie-watching experiences of the year. While going over everything I watched last year, I realized that I had a great deal of fun watching movies with my kids, and not just the repeated viewings of Moana and Barbie Video Game Hero!
We actually began 2017 by doing something we don’t usually do much as a family: we went to the movies. As parents of a 6- and 3-year-old, my wife and I don’t get out a ton and only decided to use some of our free nights at the old picture show, but every now and then we wrangle the kiddos and give it a shot, though the results usually have our son getting pretty antsy and wanting to leave about 20 minutes in.
Luckily we were at a theater with comfy seats and a little more room for him to run around in when we watched The Lego Batman Movie. A lot of people have said it’s the favorite Batman thing and I get that, but wouldn’t personally go that far. I loved the performances, the brick-tacular animation and an incredibly unexpected story about love between friends and enemies. I was also a huge fan of all of the quick jokes and references. There were plenty of comic-based ones, but also nods to Gleaming The Cube, which only I laughed at! I haven’t seen this one a second time yet, but hope to remedy that soon.
In another theater-going experience, we all went to a place in New Hampshire with the in-laws called Chunky’s that offered a fun outing. In addition to going for the film, which happened to be Despicable Me 3, we also sat down to a pretty solid meal and a nice pitcher of local beer that we could eat while sitting in our office style chairs at a kind of long conference table. If you’re in the New England area, give one a visit.
As far as the movie itself goes, I’m a big fan of this franchise. I’ve written about the second film and the Minions spinoff, but just love the fanciful use of gadgets and adventure that tie all the films together. In this one you get a few added bonuses like Gru and Lucy’s evolved working and personal relationship, Gru meeting his long-lost brother, the girls’ own adventures and the 80s-tastic villainy of Balthazar Bratt. The kids got this one for Christmas and I seriously wouldn’t mind if we watched all four of these films again!
I didn’t see Trolls with my kids, though. My folks took them to the movies that time. In fact, I didn’t watch it until just a month or so ago when our son decided to give it another go on Netflix. I’d read the Golden Book version to both kids a few dozen times, so the story wasn’t a total surprise, but I was impressed by this film overall.
This one’s about a group of Trolls who have to face their mortal enemies the Bergens to get some of their kidnapped friends back because Bergens think that eating Trolls will make them happy. I still haven’t fully processed all of my thoughts on the film, but I was a big fan of the themes of friendship and struggling against incredible odds. I think there’s also a really important message in the film that ties into the SPOILER Bergen’s eventual realization that their happiness has nothing to do with eating Trolls. See, I think we get way too hung up on the ideas and things we BELIEVE in to the point where we don’t allow any outside perspectives to come into play, so a film that children of all walks of life that see beliefs changing before their eyes feels important in ways that I’m not confident I can fully express.
One of the reasons it took me so long to finally sit down and watch Trolls came from a lack of interest, especially after I saw Smurfs: The Lost Village with our daughter at a birthday party. I wasn’t sure if I had enough bandwidth for two films about tiny, mostly joy-filled creatures doing their best to survive in a forest like environment while a physically larger entity attempted to capture them for various reasons. I’m happy to say that both films offer plenty of goodness in different ways for your (or at least our) viewing pleasure.
Going to the theater is pretty great, but I’ve got to say that having your own is better. We don’t have a giant movie room in our house or anything, but over the past few years we’ve developed what I like to call the Dietscheplex which allows us to watch movies in our backyard (it’s a projector hooked up to a DVD player and a speaker). We didn’t get to use it as much this year as I would have liked, but I did set it up to watch Honey, I Shrunk The Kids with the children one night when my wife was out of time for a weekend.
That whole evening was so much fun and the kids like the film enough that they then wanted to watch Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, which we also did (and I also wrote about here). I haven’t written about the straight to video third film Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves though. This one picks up with Rick Moranis accidentally shrinking himself, his wife, his brother and sister-in-law. The kids expected them to be gone for the weekend, so they go about their business while their diminutive folks run around trying to back to the machine using everything from Hot Wheels tracks to bubble machines.
I went in thinking this movie would be garbage, but it really isn’t. No, the effects aren’t nearly as good. Instead of seeing real kids running around huge sets so they look tiny, you get backwards projection or green screen or whatever the technique might have been. But, I liked some of the adventurous set pieces. Better yet, I liked the journey the kids went on while (mostly) alone. There are great parts about standing up for your friends and (to our surprise) consent when it comes to teen kissing! If you’re curious, you can stream this one on Netflix right now.
And finally, I got my kids to watch a Jackie Chan movie! It’s hard enough for them to agree on watching the same movie, let alone one I suggest, but I must have been working some kind of unexpected magic when I explained The Spy Next Door to them because they were in! More importantly, they liked it!
It’s funny, I just wrote about a great film called The Foreigner that Chan’s in that fits in the “old guy action” genre, which was a new path for him. This film puts him in a long line of action stars who wind up taking care of kids for various reasons (like Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop or Burt Reynolds in Cop and 1/2). In this case, Chan’s character is a spy whose next door neighbor is also his girlfriend. She’s got three kids who don’t really like him. Even though he wants to quit his job, he gets sucked back into it while he’s babysitting them for a weekend. Of course, they eventually realize how freaking cool he is because he can run up a house, kick dudes in the face and repeatedly save their lives.
I know movies like this aren’t always great, but I’d give this one a thumb’s up. I love watching a martial arts master like Chan work and if I can do that while also keeping my kids entertained, then all the better!
Well, that’s that. I’m sure we watched way more movies than that this year, but I’ve been able to hold on to part of my sanity by picking and choosing when to actually tune into what the children watch and when not to. Plus, they both seem way more into shows and YouTube toy reviews than movies these days, so who knows how 2018 will go? I bet it’ll be interesting, no matter what, though and hopefully filled with more Dietscheplex showings!