Kids on Amazon Prime
Yes, the wonderful Paddington 2’s available to rent, and Moana is a must-see, but aren’t the Easter holidays expensive enough without shelling out just because you and the kids are stuck inside on a rainy day? Besides, if you’re already paying your Amazon Prime subscription, there are plenty of first-rate flicks to choose from. I’m the father of three boys (aged 3, 8 and 10) and uncle to three nieces (twins princesses aged 9 and their 12-yearold tomboy sis) so often have to play the near-impossible game of picking a movie that will please everyone. Not all of the 15 I’ve picked fit the bill, but some of them come darn close – and that’s a parenting movie-win in my book.
- Swallows and Amazons (2016)
A first-rate adaptation of Arthur Ransome’s most British of children’s books that is both respectful of the source material but given enough oomph to appeal to 21st Century kids. Apart from altering Titty’s name to the less rude Tatty (something which, to my horror/pride, my giggling children instinctively changed back anyway), the film retains the essential elements of the book. The Lake District is beautifully photographed, and the 1930s period masterfully evoked – it even features, controversially, some adults smoking cigarettes. The original tale of two gangs of kids vying for control of a small Lakeland island is given the added intrigue, and common enemy, of a dastardly foreign spy. Not only does this complement the story’s themes, but it pays homage to Arthur Ransome’s other life as a journalist recruited into MI6. For the young ones, though, this is a chance for them to run barefoot and carefree through a wilderness with no bossy adults – or Minecraft – to distract them. Watch it here!
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Bringing together childlike innocence and unsettling scares, the books of Roald Dahl seem ready-made to receive the Tim Burton treatment. While he produced the sublime James and the Giant Peach (1996), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remains Burton’s only foray into directing Dahl. The perfectly pitched performance from a young Freddie Highmore as the humble Charlie is the perfect foil for Depp’s Willy Wonka. Resplendent in Gabriella Pescucci’s Oscar-nominated costumes, all luxurious purples and an almost steam-punk take on Victoriana, Depp’s Wonka is more giddy and hyperactive than any of the children – as though Peter Pan owned a multinational conglomerate and ate candy all day. With Burton providing one stunning set-piece after another, this is a a weird and wonderful winner for all ages. Also, you can wind your kids up by calling them ‘oompa lumpas’ for the rest of the holidays. Watch it here!
- Pan (2015)
Talking of Peter Pan, this 2015 fantasy film tells the ‘origin story’ of the boy who eventually becomes Peter Pan. Joe Wright, the director of the critically acclaimed Pride and Prejudice (2005), Atonement (2007) and 2009’s The Soloist, was widely considered to have had a misfire with Pan. Yes, it’s a bit of a liberty presenting Peter as a child in World War Two-era London (JM Barrie first created Pan, already in Neverland, in 1904) and makes for a film that isn’t quite sure what it wants to do. But the production values are superb and the cast infectiously energetic. Australian child actor Levi Miller is superb as Pan, here befriending his future nemesis Hook to take on evil pirate Black Beard (Hugh Jackman, gleefully over the top). A little muddled in its storytelling, perhaps, but overall this is an excitingly joyful romp. Watch it here!
- Racing Stripes (2005)
Life action animal stories usually go down well with most kids, especially if horses are involved. Here we have horses aplenty but it’s the zebra who’s the film’s hero. Taken in by teen horse-rider Channing (Hayden Panettiere, best known as cheerleader Claire in TV’s Heroes), Stripes the zebra, voiced by Frankie “Agent Cody Banks” Muniz, becomes determined to race professionally like his other, less stripy cousins. A solid mix of excitement, humour and some genuinely heart-warming moments. Watch it here!
- Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
Another horse tale, but of a more epic variety. Set in America’s Wild West, this animated feature from DreamWorks follows the fortunes of mustang colt, Spirit, born free but captured by the US Army and forced to take part in the war to pacify the Native Americans. But, much like Joey in War Horse, Spirit experiences the conflict from both sides, as he’s befriended and rescued by Lakota brave Little Creek. A cracking adventure, marred only by some sickeningly syrupy ballads courtesy of Bryan Adams. Watch it here!
- Charlotte’s Web (2006)
More animal action, this time of the porcine variety as E.B. White’s novel gets a big screen outing. The result is as charming and tear-jerking as the book, that employs the same mix of CGI and live action popularised by previous porky hit Babe (1995). Rambunctious piglet Wilbur finds an unusual mentor in the form of wise barn-spider Charlotte who, bizarrely, is played by Julia Roberts, with the rest of the farm animals also brought to life via A-listers, including Robert Redford, Oprah Winfrey, Kathy Bates, John Cleese and Steve Buscemi. Dakota Fanning, 11 when the film was made, is all wide-eyed wonder as Fern, the only human able to understand the animals. There’s a lot of fun and laughs along the way but it’s the film’s heart-breaking finale that will ensure this stays in your children’s minds long after the credits have rolled. Watch it here!
- Free Willy (1993)
That Free Willy is TWENTY-FIVE years old is guaranteed to make any parent feel their age, but at least this classic tale of the titular orca will keep the kids entertained while you work through your midlife anxiety with friends on Facebook. Like all the best children’s flicks, it runs the gamut of emotions and, come the heart-wrenching ending, there won’t be a dry eye on the sofa. Especially because – did I mention? – Free Willy is TWENTY-FIVE years old! Watch it here!
- The Mask (1994), Son of The Mask (2005)
While we’re on a Nineties tip, treat your kids to the wonder that is The Mask. And, less excitingly, the disappointing sequel. But the 1994 original is outstandingly funny, and seeing Jim Carrey at his absolute insane best will make your kids realise life pre-Minecraft wasn’t all bad. Also, as Cameron Diaz makes her screen debut, the kids will enjoy wondering why dad’s suddenly got a faraway look in his eyes… sssSmokin-! Watch it here!
- Ballerina (2016)
Not for everyone but Ballerina will fit in well if other children are occupied elsewhere – building Minecraft worlds or zapping aliens, say. A French/Canadian animation, it’s a charming tale set in the 1880s of orphan girl Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) who, born in Paris, follows her ballet-related dreams to New York. The soundtrack and its original songs are fantastic, and it also provides an introduction to Tchaikovsky’s sublime Nutcracker Suite. Watch it here!
- Wallace and Gromit’s Cracking Adventures
Not strictly a full-length feature, but this collection of the first four Wallace and Gromit adventures runs at 113 minutes. If your young ones are eagerly awaiting the online release of Aardman’s top-notch Early Man then this is a perfect reminder of the films that made director Nick Park’s name. We have a trip to the Moon in A Grand Day Out (1989), a perfidious penguin in The Wrong Trousers (1993), while 1995’s A Close Shave features Shaun the Sheep’s first appearance. Topping it all off is the masterfully silly A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008). Magical and timeless. Watch it here!
- The Lego Movie (2014)
“Everything is awesome!” is the fitting theme song for the best toy advert ever made, a fiendishly fast-moving, funny and inventive trip of a flick. There can’t be many kids who haven’t seen this yet, but re-watching will bring rewards. Chock full of hilarious moments and catch phrases – “Honey, where are my pants?”, “Spaceship! Spaceship!” – and brilliant characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop, President Business and, of course, the best screen version of Batman ever, it’s simply one of the finest family flicks of this decade. Awesome! Watch it here!
- School of Rock (2003)
For something a little more grown-up – if not exactly mature – Richard Linklater’s School of Rock is a raucous and rude laugh-riot. With more jokes aimed at adults than kids, it tells the story of slacker loser Dewey (Jack Black, currently big with kids again thanks to the outrageously funny Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) who cons his way into becoming a music teacher. Armed only with his knowledge of rock and metal, Dewey moulds his class of squares and misfits into bona fide rockstars. A kids’ comedy turned up to 11. Watch it here!
- Wayne’s World (1992)
If School of Rock went down well with your kids then, as an interesting social experiment, blow their minds with Wayne’s World. It’s dated, sure, but the ludicrous humour and PG-rated lewdness has stood the test of time; you’re guaranteed to be recreating the Bohemian Rhapsody scene full blast next time you and your brood are in the car. Warning: your kids may say “not” at the end of every sentence for the next few years. Altogether now: “Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent!” Watch it here!
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
For children ready to move onto darker fare – possibly prompted by the new Star Wars movies – Peter Jackson’s sublime adaptation of Tolkien’s classic is jaw-droppingly good. A perfect mix of state-of-the-art CGI and muddy, bloody realism and medieval violence, the PG rating may seem a little low for more sensitive children. My brutes loved it, though – cheering at the decapitation of evil orcs, but also utterly enthralled at the nail-biting – and often scary – tension. And, while The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi might have got them used to the idea that heroes can die, nothing can prepare a pre-teen for Boromir’s last stand. Watch it here!
- A Monster Calls (2016)
Darker still, A Monster Calls is the only 12-certificate film on this list. A strange, unsettling fantasy, recalling Ted Hugh’s Iron Giant or Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, it features a lonely boy, Connor, who copes with his mother’s terminal illness by imagining he’s visited by a huge ent-like tree creature, voiced with the gravelly tones of Liam Neeson, who tells him three “true stories”. With a screenplay by Patrick Ness, based on his award-winning novel, it’s a brilliant bad dream of a film with which kids and adults alike will be enthralled. Watch it here!
Honourable mentions, also on Prime: The Spiderwick Chronicles, Gnomeo & Juliet, Asterix: The Mansion of the Gods, and April and the Extraordinary World.
Words: Ian Winterton