Great Classic Films: For Kids
This is the second in my series of Great Classic Films for various occasions and audiences, including my picks for the Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas, and Date Night.
My goal for this collection was to craft a list of films that kids will enjoy and that will hopefully get them excited about watching more old movies. If your child already likes classic movies, then I hope I’ve got some new suggestions for you. If your child has never seen an old movie, then I hope that one of these films can be a positive introduction to the wonder of Hollywood’s Golden Age!
The great thing about classic movies for kids is that there’s no foul language and nothing graphic or explicit. These movies are clever, amusing, and fun, but very appropriate for all ages, thanks to the Production Code. They weren’t originally rated (our modern system dates from 1968), but they’re usually assigned G or PG ratings when they air today.
Bonus: Many of these movies are available to watch instantly on Netflix. (For non-kid specific instant classics, check out my Netflix lists here.)
One more thing: I’m excluding wonderful movies like The Wizard of Oz (1939), Mary Poppins (1964), and those other great Disney films made in the 1960s, as well as animated classics like Snow White (1937) and Cinderella (1950) because I wanted to find slightly less obvious picks.
1. Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
This film typically tops the list of greatest movie-musicals ever made, and it should. It’s set in Hollywood during the transition to sound in the late 1920s and concerns a movie star (Gene Kelly) and an ingenue (Debbie Reynolds) trying to turn a flop into a smash. It’s got a wonderful plot, fantastic cast, amazing musical numbers, and an all-around brilliance that remains fresh and funny. Plus, it’s beautiful, bright, and glossy, and the singing and dancing can’t be beat. I defy you to watch Gene Kelly splashing in the rain and not smile, and Donald O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” is guaranteed to get giggles. There are lots of in-jokes about Hollywood, so it’s fun for adult viewers, too, but all of that can go over your head and you will still enjoy this film. Here’s the trailer. To buy this film, click here.
If you like Singin’ in the Rain, try The Band Wagon (click here to buy), or Summer Stock (click here). If you’d like to introduce your kids to a medley of “greatest hits” from films like Singin’ in the Rain, the That’s Entertainment Trilogy (1974) is a fantastic way to do it.
2. Monkey Business (1952)
If you’ve only seen suave, in-control Cary Grant, a great pleasure awaits you in this film! Directed by Howard Hawks, Grant plays an absent-minded scientist working on a youth serum. He’s happily if stodgily married to Ginger Rogers, and there’s a gorgeous young secretary thrown into the mix played by Marilyn Monroe. But never fear! This movie isn’t a man-has-affair-with-secretary story, or even a wife-thinks-he-might-be-cheating-with-secretary story.
Instead, it turns into a silly romp when Grant accidentally makes a huge breakthrough with the serum and then accidentally tests it on himself instead of the monkeys in the lab. Soon Grant is acting decades younger, but that’s just the beginning! Rogers gets in on the act, and they eventually (accidentally, of course) dose themselves back to the playground! It’s terrifically funny; I love watching Grant and Rogers being so goofy, and supporting actors Monroe and Charles Coburn just add to the fun. Here’s the trailer. Bonus: it’s available instantly on Netflix! To buy this great movie, click here!
If you like Monkey Business, try Bringing Up Baby.
3. Neptune’s Daughter (1949)
Here’s a fun musical comedy starring Esther Williams as Eve, a champion swimmer turned bathing suit designer-entrepreneur romanced by a South American Lothario (Williams was a champion swimmer, swimsuit designer, and businesswoman who married Argentinean actor Fernando Lamas, but that’s where the autobiographical elements end). Eve has a kooky sister named Betty (Betty Garrett) who is hunting for love and thinks she’s found it in red-headed Jack Spratt (Red Skelton), whom she rather insanely believes is Jose O’Rourke, the star of the visiting South American polo team. Eve is worried when she hears of her sister’s crush on O’Rourke, so she confronts the real Jose (Ricardo Montalban) and warns him to keep away from Betty. Jose has never even met Betty, but he sure likes Eve!
The mistaken identities make for some amusing situations, and it’s a musical so there are fun songs and dances. Plus, it’s Esther Williams, so there are swimming sequences, and it’s Red Skelton, so there are wonderful moments of clowning and physical humor, too. Kids will enjoy all the silliness, plus it’s rare to find a female athlete-turned-CEO in a 1940s film! Here’s the trailer, and here is my full-length review of the film. Click here to buy this fun film!
If you like Neptune’s Daughter, try Dangerous When Wet. Click here to buy!
4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)
This was one of my very favorites when I was a kid (the whole Sabine Women/shotgun wedding stuff soared over my head.) Jane Powell is Milly, a beautiful orphan in the Oregon Territory circa 1850 who falls in love with Adam Pontipee (Howard Keel), marries him, and goes to his cabin in the wilderness, all in one eventful day! What Adam neglected to tell Milly, though, is that he is one of seven brothers, and now she is expected to cook, clean, and otherwise care for seven slobby backwoodsmen. Milly is not thrilled, but she manages to bring some civilization to the Pontipee brothers. The other brothers decide that Milly is pretty great, and maybe they should find their own wives…And then things get crazy.
This whole movie is enchanting. The music and dancing are out of this world–Jane and Howard can sing! And the brothers include dancer extraordinaire Tommy Rall, ballet dancer Jacques D’Amboise, and tumbler Russ Tamblyn. (It’s worth watching just for the exuberant barn raising scene.) It’s not all brothers, either, soon six other women are living on the Pontipee homestead, and you’ve never seen gingham look so gorgeous. Fun fact: one is future CatWoman Julie Newmar. Seven Brides is funny, joyful, and wonderful. Here’s the trailer. To buy this great movie, click here!
If you like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, try Calamity Jane. Click here to buy!
5. Roman Holiday (1953)
This is technically a princess movie, but it’s not at all like the others. In this film, Audrey Hepburn is a princess from an unnamed country on a goodwill European tour. She’s poised and dignified as she tours, parades, and gives speeches. But she’s also very young, and she wants to relax and have fun, which her royal duties don’t seem to allow. After yet another ball, all the pressure, responsibilities, and exhaustion finally get to her, and she is given a sedative to help her sleep. But before it takes hold, she sneaks out of the embassy and onto the streets of Rome, where a very handsome and very decent American reporter (Gregory Peck) finds her. She doesn’t know that he is a reporter, nor that he intends to use her day-off-from-being-a-princess as his big scoop. Whatever shall happen?
This movie is a wonderful twist on the classic Cinderella-princess narrative. It’s charming, poignant, and overall incredibly delightful. Fun fact: it was Audrey Hepburn’s first Hollywood film, and she won the Oscar! Here’s the trailer, and here is my full-length review of the film. To buy, click here.
If you like Roman Holiday, try Sabrina. Both are available instantly on Netflix! To buy Sabrina, click here.
I’m happy to read your blog, Cameron!
Cameron, what a terrific idea for a post and your selections are quite intriguing. I typically introduce kids to classic films with THE COURT JESTER. They often recite the “get it–got it–good” bit for days and have fun trying to replicate the chalice from the palace routine. (That’s screen cap from SEVEN BRIDES looks familiar.)
Thanks, Rick! The Court Jester is another great one! Danny Kaye is always a good choice. I love the barn raising dance in Seven Brides so much! Thanks for stopping by!
Excellent list. My friend’s kids really like LASSIE COME HOME. Lots of muffled sniffles with that one.
That is a great one! Thanks for reading!