It’s June of 2020. But this year, instead of people longing to hit the great sunny outdoors, folks are yearning to get back indoors. We can’t wait to get back into the churches, restaurants, movie theaters and malls that have all been locked up tight for so long. But while you and yours are awaiting that great reopening, you still might like to know what family-friendly fare is streaming to your oh-so-overworked TV this month. So, let’s take a look.
The Queen (PG, 2006): This well-acted film casts Helen Mirren as the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth. It may be a bit dry for the whole family. But as our reviewer Christopher Lyons noted, “The Queen is a quiet, profound and even gently amusing film that accomplishes the unlikely. It builds empathy for an emotionally distant monarch and a (currently) buffeted politician by following them through a difficult week.” If that sounds like your cup of tea, then pip, pip, cheerio. Don’t forget the scones and jam.
Want something with a more American feel? How about something from the heart of New York?
West Side Story (G, 1961) A “contemporary” musical reimagining of Romeo and Juliet that depicts a struggle between two New York gangs and a romance that arises out of their midst. This Academy Award-winning cinematic version of the Broadway musical written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is well worth your time. The music is classically gorgeous, the acting is top shelf and the messages about moving beyond cultural and racial clashes are emotional and timeless. The only caution is over some stage-like violence that could disturb small viewers.
And for those younger viewers, we might suggest:
Dr. Suess’ The Lorax (PG, 2012): Based on the children’s book by, of course, Dr. Suess, this pic tells the tale of young Ted who lives in a place virtually devoid of any living plants or trees. He sets off on a quest to find a Truffula tree and talk to the gruff guardian of what used to be a lush forest. This colorful and lightweight pic is all about delivering an environmental nudge to its little kiddo viewers. But it’s a nice nudge. Or as our Paul Asay put it: “It’s a film that perhaps snags its PG rating only because of the wanton violence we see perpetrated against lumber. It’s mildly funny. It’s cute. It’s got some toe-tapping tunes.”
The Iron Giant (PG, 1999): This Brad Bird-directed delight tells of a young boy named Hogarth who discovers a gigantic and slightly damaged robot that might just be a world-destroying weapon. But the two form an unlikely friendship and work to keep the robot hidden from government officials who want its metal head. Back before the superhero craze hit the cinemas, this overlooked gem explored the whole idea of turning from deadly war and living to be heroic. There’s some laser blasts and bomb detonations in the mix, but the good guys stand tall in the end.
Doubt (PG-13, 2008): It’s 1964 and the winds of change are sweeping through Sister Aloysius’ St. Nicholas school. When a charismatic priest steps in to take charge and initiate some unexpected reform, Sister Aloysius begins a personal crusade against the priest’s purported wrongdoing—despite her lack of evidence. Based on a Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, this film is crisp and compelling, or as I said in my review: “This is a story about a Catholic priest’s sinful failings. It is the tale of horrifying accusations hurled at a caring mentor. It is an examination of nuns’ evolving feelings about faith, hope and guilt. It illustrates the fallen nature of man and his desperate need for redemption. And it sneers at the faults of organized religion. It is and does all of these things at once.” This is definitely aimed more at a grown-up movie night. But it’s a thought-stirring cinematic event.
For those adults who liked the idea of the previous film, you might want to check out a film full of a number of intrigues of a different sort. But this one definitely comes with some sharp-edged cautionary warnings.
Knives Out (PG-13, 2019): The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey are mysterious. And the renowned Detective Benoit Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth. Again, this movie won’t suit younger mystery fans, what with its blood and blue language. Our Paul Asay said this: “Knives Out comes with a killer cast and a clever script. For fans of the murder-mystery genre—and I am, admittedly, one—this film offers its share of gratifying twists and even a rare moral of sorts. But when it comes time to cuff this flick, the charge will undoubtedly be murder most foul … words.”
OK, now let’s get back to some movies that the whole fam can enjoy.
How to Train Your Dragon (PG, 2010): A Norse teen named Hiccup lives in a village that’s all about fighting dragons. But when he befriends an injured dragon he names Toothless, he has the chance to plot a new course for his people’s future. There are some tense moments here between Hiccup and his dad, but our Paul Asay summed up his assessment of the pic like this: “How to Train Your Dragon may actually be DreamWorks Animation’s best movie yet—a fun, thrilling Viking voyage that, in the end, is a simple yet salient story about a dragon and his boy.”
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (PG, 2020): Tells the story of an investigative reporter named Lloyd who’s assigned to profile TV’s Mr. Rodgers. And he goes in with the determination to reveal all the dirt he can find. But Mr. Roger’s empathy, kindness and decency soon chips away at Lloyd’s jaded outlook on life. “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood gives us a hero—one very different from those we typically see on screen and one, in many ways, better,” Paul Asay noted in his review. “Captain America or Wonder Woman are cool and all, and yes, they save the day. But here, Mister Rogers is more than just a hero: He asks you to be one, too.”
Mr. Bean’s Holiday (G, 2007): Mr. Bean wins a trip to Cannes where he unwittingly separates a young boy from his father and must help the two come back together. On the way he discovers France, bicycling and true love. Actor Rowan Atkinson plays a goofy, pratfalling guy who feels very much like a silent film star, and it’s pretty much all good fun here. Our Plugged In review put it like this: “Kids are consciously catered to without substituting honest-to-goodness humor with slippery slime. And Mr. Bean’s Holiday remains just that—an escape from 21st century Hollywood fare to a land filled with sound Three Stooges slaps, ridiculous derring-do and very silly faces of the kind only Mr. Bean can make.”