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Family Movies in 2010: More Than You May Recall


Another year is over and as a film reviewer specializing in looking at movies from a family perspective, I'm always curious to take a look back at what movies really provided families with great entertainment experiences in 2010.

So here is my list of the best family films from 2010. Not all of these titles are appropriate for all audiences, especially young children, so I encourage you to read the reviews linked to each title before taking your brood out to the theater or deciding on a family movie night rental. And while the order has some relevance, with some of my personal favorites at the top, any of these titles could be good choices for your family depending on the ages of your children and your interests.

Toy Story 3
We had a long debate in our offices at Parent Previews as to what grade we should give this film. It was definitely my most anticipated title of the year, and one of my favorites. The writing is superb, the concept unique, and Pixar comes through with their usual polish. I think what may have surprised some people is the overall age the film is targeting is more mature than the previous editions. Yet it is still very good, and appropriate, for older children and teens. Our overall grade: A with a very small "minus" as a caution to parents of young children.

Ramona and Beezus
It is very rare to find a live action family movie with great characters, great humor and astounding performances. Ramona and Beezus fills all these requirements, and more. The movie tells the story of a young girl named Ramona and her older teen sister with the nickname Beezus (the moniker stems from baby Ramona's attempts to say Beatrice) who are tossed into having to cope with their father losing his job. The movie never goes beyond what any family might encounter, yet it is highly compelling and may even surprise teens in your home. Suitable for all ages, it gets a full A-grade.

Nanny McPhee Returns
We liked the first Nanny McPhee, but the second one is even better. This time the Nanny (Emma Thompson) finds a family who has a father away at war. The movie does an excellent job showing how working together cannot only solve problems, but also bond friendships. It may be a tad frightening for the youngest of viewers, but otherwise adults and young people can enjoy this movie. Parent Previews grade: A-.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
I have appreciated the determination of Walden Media to create movies with very high family values. Their flagship franchise is the Narnia series, and this past year saw the release of the third movie from the beloved collection of C. S. Lewis novels. Filled with adventure and many moments of insight and positive messages, families that have enjoyed the first two Narnia films will definitely want to see this one. It's rates an A- from Parent Previews.

How To Train Your Dragon
Being a nerdy guy of Norwegian heritage, I was perhaps a little biased in favor of this fun-loving animation about a son of a Viking named Hiccup who didn't want to join the other manly men of his village and go dragon hunting. With some of the best 3D effects of the year, this movie is still stunning on your TV in 2D and is a hit for all ages -- young and old. An A- grade from Parent Previews for this tale of a dragon.

The famous "come from behind" racehorse makes for a compelling story in this Disney film. Putting her late father's farm on the line, Penny Chenery Tweedy (played by Diane Lang) goes against the odds on a horse that she believes in. It doesn't matter if you know the ending (and there's a good chance your kids won't). By the time you get to that last race, you'll be hard pressed to stay in your seat. It's a pure Grade-A horse story.

A Shine of Rainbows
My only hesitation in recommending this touching film about a childless couple in Ireland who adopt a young boy is that you may not be able to find it at a theater or on home video for some time yet. A Canadian made film that was shot in Ireland, this movie will require a few tissues for the eyes, yet it is superbly acted and offers a great reward in the end. It's currently making its way through various film festivals, and was a winner of the Heartland Film Festival's Truly Moving Picture award. Overall, it gets an A grade.

There were also many other notable films families will want to look for on home video, or catch in theaters before they leave the big screen. Here are some other good picks from 2010...

It used to be that an animated film automatically meant "Suitable for all ages." But that's not the case any longer. Fortunately, 2010 offered some great animated films for families, in addition to the ones I have already mentioned.

All of our staff truly enjoyed Disney's Tangled, which was free from sex and language issues, but does include a stabbing that was a bit of a surprise in a Disney animation. Shrek Forever After is the 4th installment in the series and, in my opinion, the most suitable for family audiences as it lacks much of the edgy humor that was in earlier Shrek movies. Despicable Me hit my funny bone, although some parents may not appreciate the main character's initial attitude toward children. Megamind stars the voice talents of Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt -- a combo that is hardly conducive to family entertainment -- yet this film surprised us with its comedy that was free from raunchy humor. The same goes for Yogi Bear, released late in 2010, and deserving of note for its family appeal. Finally Disney's Alice in Wonderland is a visual feast (although it's technically a live action and animation combo), and even though I personally dislike the original Disney animation, I found Alice 2.0 to be a much easier story to watch and follow.

It's always difficult finding a family appropriate action film, but 2010 offered a handful of possibilities. The new Karate Kid was a pleasant surprise, with excellent performances from Jackie Chan and Will Smith's son Jaden. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is likely too intense for young children, but teens shouldn't think it's a little kid movie. This animation about owls engaged in an ongoing battle also ranks as one of the most visually amazing 3D films I've seen. Finally Tron: Legacy from Disney will engage many teens with its amazing effects and interesting use of 3D technology, while still not going overboard with violence and there is little sexual content.

If finding an acceptable action adventure for families is difficult, finding a decent comedy is next to impossible. Aside from the animations I have already noted, there were a couple of live action choices this year. Tooth Fairy stars Dwayne Johnson and Julie Andrews in a cute little story about a manly man (guess who) who doesn't believe the winged dental detectives exist. Finally Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a film I really appreciated -- and not just because it reflected so much of my childhood experience.

Teens looking for love without the lust are also often left with little choice. We appreciated Dear John for its messages about the sacrifice our men and women are making for our country, the power of the written letter and its fine performances. There is some brief war violence and implied sexuality, but the positive messages make this film a worthwhile choice. Letters to Juliet is a lovely love story that also involves the penning of a testament of love to another. Finally Just Wright stars Queen Latifah (an actress whom I feel is often underrated) in a Cinderella type story with a famous basketball player posing as the handsome prince.

Yes, your kids may balk at the thought of having to sit through a documentary, but there were some good possibilities for them to explore in 2010 and learn that media is more than entertainment. Three titles that may hold their interest and are relevant to where they are in life: Waiting for Superman has been nominated for awards and is an in-depth look at the current state of America's schools. Oceans is the annual release from Disney's Earth series. Finally Babies is an engaging peek at the first few months of life for four babies in very divergent parts of the world. Note this last title does include some non-sexual adult female and infant nudity.

Happy viewing and here's hoping for more great films for families in 2011!


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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