“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. We must be over the rainbow!”
There are a ton of kids movies out there, but there’s just something magical about The Wizard of Oz that’s endured for 80 years—and will for many more. Directed mostly by Victor Fleming (Gone With the Wind) and starring Judy Garland, this film has sold so many copies and had so many television screenings that it very well might be the most watched film of all time—the Library of Congress seems to think so. I’d seen this film at least ten times, but recently had the chance to watch it with my four-year-old nephew. That’s really how this film should be viewed: as a child, or with a child. The visuals, the plot elements, and the characters all set the imagination into motion, and it’s because every part of this film was meticulously planned and executed. Though the film may be a bit campy for adults, it’s an undeniably classic film that’s not only the best of its time—it may be the best of the medium.
“You’re getting older, and you’ll see that life isn’t like your fairy tales. The world is a cruel place. And you’ll learn that—even if it hurts.”
Pan’s Labyrinth is really in a class of its own. Directed by Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pacific Rim) and starring Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gill, and Sergi Lopez, this is a curious mix of fairy tale and brutal war film, and it’s more imaginative than just about any other movie on this list. The movie comes to us from Spain, and it’s set during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). We see most of the film through the eyes of the young girl Ofelia, who isn’t completely aware of what’s going on with the war and instead finds herself thrust into a fairy tale world of fauns, fairies, and monsters, traveling back and forth between the worlds and seeing things unfold in both. There’s a deeper story, of course: Ofelia’s adventures in the fantasy world she discovers serve as an allegory for what’s going on with the war, and there are strong parallels between the two worlds in the film. This film is brilliant, beautiful, magical, and at times quite creepy, and there’s really nothing else like it.
“The Ring remains hidden. And that we should seek to destroy it has not yet entered their darkest dreams. And so the weapon of the Enemy is moving towards Mordor in the hands of a Hobbit. Each day brings it closer to the fires of Mount Doom.”
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second film of the trilogy, picks up immediately where the first one left off. But with the groundwork of the plot and setting laid, it’s able to accomplish a lot more than its predecessor. The first film exuded a sense of wonder and magic as we discovered the world, got a taste of the power of Sauron and the orcs, and saw the heroics of its heroes. In this film, we see the full power of Sauron’s army and see the heroes begin to pull together an army of their own to counter it. The first film was magic and wonder, but this is pure, badass epic action, culminating in what may be the best battle sequence in any movie ever.
Think back to the Disney movies you probably watched as a young child. There was that sense of wonder and enchantment, like you were swept away into a new, magnificent world that just seemed so magical. I don’t really get that feeling from Disney movies anymore, nor do I from most movies. That’s one of the sad parts about growing up. Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle), brings me right back to that place of magic and wonder. Miyazaki is often described as the Japanese Walt Disney, but that’s not a fair comparison. Miyazaki’s work is often more mature, a little darker, and even further into the realm of fantasy. And this film may be his best work. It’s the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan, and the only anime film to be nominated for—and win—an academy award. It rightfully earns its place among the best animated films of all time.
“In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master ring, to control all others. And into this ring he poured all his cruelty, his malice, and his will to dominate all life. One ring to rule them all.”
In the 50s and 60s, epics were fairly common and frequently looked forward to. Movies like Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Seven Samurai are regarded as some of the finest films of their decades. But then began a long dry spell for epics through the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Some films came close, such as Dances with Wolves; but there wasn’t a good straight-up epic movie for a long time. Then Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Hobbit) got the green light for an epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with an epic budget (estimated at $93 million for the first movie alone). When the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was a smash hit, it was clear: epic movies were back.
The Princess Bride, directed by Rob Reiner (The Wolf of Wall Street, This is Spinal Tap), is a romantic comedy-adventure that’s quite unlike any other movie out there. It’s simultaneously a fairytale and a parody of a fairytale, and it excels at each. While other movies, like Shrek, have tried to walk this line, I can’t think of any that balance the two so expertly as this one.