Every year around this time, the entertainment industry tells us all about its “best” movies. Secular critics roll out their top 10 lists. Actors and producers and screenwriters toss out awards by the bushel. And, of course, the Oscars are already vacuuming its red carpet and polishing all its little statues in preparation for its Feb. 9 gala.
But what Hollywood thinks are the year’s “best” movies aren’t always what we think are the best. And even if the movies nominated have their aesthetic merits … well, no one should necessarily be packing up little Bobby and Susie to see Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, should they? (Answer: No they should not.)
Which is why every year around this time, Plugged In also offers some opinions on what it considers to be the year’s best movies—the best feel-good, inspirational, sometimes Christian and often family-friendly fare that we’ve seen in the annum just gone by. We select our nominees based on both message and aesthetics; in other words, by what the movies have to say and how well they say it.
But we at Plugged In don’t want to monopolize the conversation. We want to hear from you, too! Vote for your favorite nominee (right here on the blog, or on Facebook and/or Instagram), and we’ll unveil your selections, along with our own, during our Feb. 6 podcast at thepluggedinshow.com! (We’ll follow that up with a blog as well.) Or tell us what movie we whiffed on! Don’t worry: We can handle it.
For the next four days, Plugged In will unveil our nominees for the Plugged In Movie Awards, and we begin today with inherently the most family-friendly category of them all: Best Movies for Kids. (Movie synopses written by Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose, Kristin Smith and me, Paul Asay.)
Abominable (PG): A young Chinese teen named Yi is wrestling with the emotional pain of her father’s recent death—the person she loved most—when a big, furry, slightly wounded Yeti shows up on her apartment building’s roof. Turns out this young Abominable escaped from a nearby lab owned by an eccentric billionaire who wants the mysterious creature for his own selfish reasons. Yi determines that she must push her own cares aside and help this cowering beastie and, if possible, get him back to his far-away mountainside home. This China-based adventure is sometimes goofy and slapstick, sometimes majestically animated, and sometimes an outrace-the-bad-guys snow chase. Mystical magic and mild peril creep into the mix by film’s end. But most importantly, Abominable totes a subtle message of healing that parents, in particular, will appreciate.
Aladdin (PG): This is the live-action remake of the classic Disney tale. A young Arabian street urchin named Aladdin falls in love with the kingdom’s beautiful princess just before stumbling upon a genie in a magic lamp that could well make all his dreams come true. But his plans face one major obstacle: Jafar, the wicked vizier to the Sultan. He’s the power-hungry sorcerer who sent Aladdin crawling into a cave seeking out the magic lamp in the first place. If Jafar gets his hands on the lamp, well, there’s no telling what horrible things might take place. Frankly, this remake isn’t quite as dynamic as the animated and much-loved original. And the flesh and blood remix lightly intensifies the movie’s foul villainy, evil sorcery and loud, perilous dangers. But it’s still a lively, entertaining and at times quite spectacular production that delivers solid moral messages about choosing truth, love and wisdom over promises of wealth and power.
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PG): The title is a bit of a misnomer. By the time the third movie in the How to Train Your Dragon series begins, Toothless has been pretty thoroughly trained. Indeed, the whole island of Berk is filled with reasonably well-mannered dragons, and Hiccup (the island’s leader and Toothless’ intrepid rider) is always bringing back a few more. But a new threat is on the horizon: A notorious dragon killer is on the hunt for the elusive Toothless to cap his career, which Forces Hiccup and the residents of Berk to look for a new, safer home. The Hidden World is a simpler story than its two predecessors, but it’s fun and sweet and a little sad all the same. In between all the action (and sometimes frightening bits of violence), this story is about growing up. And as every parent knows, the inevitability of growing up pretty much defines the phrase bittersweet.
Klaus (PG): This Netflix original tells the tale of Santa Klaus through the eyes of a privileged postal worker named Jesper who moves to the grumpy town of Smeerensburg on assignment. His mandate? To create a functioning postal service in a land where people don’t send letters … because they hate one another. What should be a simple task turns into vain attempts to encourage the people of Smeernsburg to get along. But Jesper is persistent. And when he meets the Woodsman, a lonely toymaker who has forgotten his need for human connection, the two forge a bond that’s stirred by the need for hope. Klaus is a fresh take on the story of Santa Klaus and while there are some scary and animated violent moments here, the heart of the film finds its holiday magic through one tiny act of love.
Toy Story 4 (PG): This is the fourth adventure in the series of stories about faithful toys who inanimately populate a toy box when kids are near, but have lives of their own and fun adventures when the humans look away. This time Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Jessie the cowgirl and all the rest, set off on a road trip with their new rambunctious little girl owner Bonnie. But they have to keep their eyes on a new handmade toy that Bonnie loves. The problem is, her beloved Forky—who Bonnie crafted from scraps of trash—thinks his place should be in the garbage where he came from. And Woody, for Bonnie’s sake, must set the little plastic thingie right and help him understand a toy’s great and loving purpose. Toy Story 4 is funny, dramatic, kid-friendly and tear-up-in-the-end sweet, with only a few tiny dustballs in the pieced-together mix.