Happy International Youth Day! To celebrate, our contributors recommend some of their favourite oeuvres targeted at a younger audience. We also invite you to post you comments, but don’t be creepy about it, okay?
Stand by Me (1986)
I think W. C. Fields was really speaking to directors when he said, “Never work with animals or children.” They’re the ones who have to play school principal on set: sometimes disciplining the little brats, other times making them cry to get the right take. Rob Reiner did both when he adapted Stephen King’s semi-autobiographical novella The Body, about an old writer (Richard Dreyfuss) musing back to a pivotal moment of his youth on Labor Day weekend 1959. The four boys in the cast are still remembered today, either for their stint on a famous sci-fi franchise (Will Wheaton), for their unfulfilled promise à la James Dean (River Phoenix), for their later-life antics (Corey Feldman), or for switching dimensions and parodying Scientology videos (Jerry O’Connell). What is also remembered is their breakthrough dramatic performances in Stand by Me.
There are two kinds of kids’ movies: those that are aimed at kids and those that aren’t. Stand by Me falls in the second lot and delivers on all fronts: great pacing and direction, heartbreaking moments, unflinchingly honest dialogue… Here is a movie that takes you back to a time you through you’d never experience again, portraying twelve-year-olds as they are rarely portrayed: old enough to wonder what life will bring and question the lies adults tell them, but young enough to argue with earnest conviction about who is strongest, Superman or Mighty Mouse.
In the Night Kitchen (1970)
Until recently, I’ve had the rare pleasure of living a catapult shot away from a public library: walls I happily scaled in May, when Maurice Sendak passed away, and I laid siege to his works. Justly famous for Where the Wild Things Are, the author-illustrator has a legacy that extends far beyond that one example. Unlike many of their kind, his stories don’t talk down to kids but tell a strange story straight from just the angle a child might understand. Sendak’s ability to capture the emotional expansiveness as well as the occasional frustrations and callousness of youth is simply brilliant.
In the late sixties and early seventies, the world produced a lot of oddities, not the least of which is the award-winning In the Night Kitchen. The style, if not quite the tone, borrows heavily from Winsor McKay’s Little Nemo and showcases Sendak’s abilities as a draftsman. The book is an excellent example of true serialized art, with a storyboard approach that lends a cinematic quality to the story: a boy falls into darkness, wakes, makes an airplane out of dough, and escapes from three giant chefs (I’m leaving things out). Along the way, he learns what dreams are if not quite what they’re made of, and we’re reminded of the mystery of youth, something we’d all like to get back.
Noein: To Your Other Self (2005-2006)
Long-time readers know I have a certain predilection for the Disney Channel catalog. I was tempted to praise here the first two seasons of The Wizards of Waverly Place, the Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato crossover Princess Protection Program (2009), or the Bridgit Mendler vehicle Lemonade Mouth, and don’t ask me how I know all these names. Instead, I’d like to recommend some Japanese anime because nothing says “youthful spirit” like false gods, convoluted plots, killer cyborgs from an alternate timeline, and ghostly tentacle monsters. I’m referring to Noein: To Your Other Self, a 2005-2006 television series that tells of five boys and girls on the cusp of puberty spending their last summer together before junior high.
Well, that may be underselling it a bit. Gallivanting across a near perfect animated replica of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan, the children encounter a jaded freedom-fighter from the future who’s come back to avert an invasion by a neighbouring dimension called Shangri-La. He turns out to be one of the kids, of course, as their subsequent decisions may decide the fate of the world. Noein: To Your Other Self captures perfectly the advantage the young have over us: to them, the future is not the culmination of chosen paths but an infinite multiverse in which every possibility can strive for existence. I don’t mean to suggest adult life lacks in wonderment, but don’t you wish you’d met your soul mate at Haruka and Yu’s age, back when hover boots and quantum disruptors were legitimate visions of tomorrow?
The Dog Who Stopped the War (1984)
Much to your surprise, I’m sure, there was a time when I didn’t play video games five hours a day. Luckily, to fill those empty hours, I had TV and movies. For this contributor’s pick, I recommend one of my favorite films from those more innocent days: the first of the Tales for All series of family flicks produced in Québec. I’m referring, of course, to 1984’s La Guerre des Tuques, which literally translates to “The War of the Knit Caps” but was unfortunately released in English under the title The Dog Who Stopped the War. Spoiler alert!
The plot of (I can’t believe I’m writing this) The Dog Who Stopped the War is simple but effective at drawing you in. During Christmas break, a group of kids in a small village decide to wage war against each other with snowballs, wooden swords, and a two-story-high fortress that was just about the coolest thing I’d ever seen at the time, probably prompting the dozens of snow forts I built in my backyard throughout my youth. The film features awesome characters, like the dumb kid who keeps asking what everything means, the twins who talk at the same time, the nature-loving hippie who just wants to stop the war, and his annoying cousin from Victoriaville. If you’re a parent and believe that seeing a few children playing war will not scar your family for life, check out this great movie despite its awful, awful English title.