Review: CLASSIC FILMS FOR KIDS – “A Charming Intro to Kid-Friendly Older Cinema”

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Getting your kids to have an appreciation for classic movies has got to be really tough these days.

I mean, given the absurd glut of entertainment options available in general to the undiscerning consumer, there’s no shortage of loud, spectacle-driven “kids movies” out there for little ones to veg out to. Netflix is constantly churning out or buying up animated movies of dubious quality, and Illumination Entertainment has somehow become a powerhouse animation studio through the use of pop culture references and mascots who look like living Twinkies. And that’s before you even GET to television, YouTube, TikTok, Alf pogs, and whatever the hell ELSE is out there to help shorten attention spans even farther. So how does one manage to cut through the noise of the modern content mill and get kids to appreciate something a little less frantic?

… Well, you could do a lot worse than checking out the new film series Classic Films for Kids on The Film Detective Channel.

Jack & The Beanstalk

The series is hosted by classic film enthusiast Jennifer Churchill (author of educational children’s book Movies Are Magic) and her seven-year-old son Weston (though in the episode provided for review, young Weston proved to be a little camera-shy). With opening and closing segments filmed in the Sebastiani Theater in Sonoma, California, Classic Films for Kids is a showcase of classic, family-friendly films from Hollywood’s Golden Age—starring such luminaries as Shirley Temple, Abbott and Costello, Buster Keaton, and others. Episodes begin with Churchill providing historical context, trivia, and general impressions of hers and Weston’s as to notable bits to watch out for. The film is then presented in its entirety, followed by a wrap-up segment wherein Churchill offers some more trivia for the kiddos (“You may have heard of a famous writer named Shakespeare…”) and suggests further viewing options.

The format is designed to place the movies front and center, of course, but Churchill makes for a warm and inviting host, even as some of the trivia she presents seems like it wouldn’t be terribly relevant to a younger audience (the episode I watched included casual references to both The Beverly Hillbillies and I Love Lucy, which I can’t imagine many kids will have seen these days). Production-wise, the bookends are shot with a light touch and conversational tone in front of the Sebastini’s big screen; it’s educational, but friendly about it. The overall aesthetic is reminiscent of a PBS series, and I very much mean that as a compliment.

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STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., Ernest Torrence, Buster Keaton, 1928

Now, obviously the biggest incentive to watch this series is that it provides a curated, annotated collection of kid-friendly classic films to watch with your children. So how does the actual selection of films stack up?

To start with, the pilot episode of the series (provided for review) opted to go with the 1952 Abbott and Costello feature, Jack and the Beanstalk. Personally, I found this one to be pretty anodyne and disappointing—aside from the occasional chuckle, the film is more sweetly inoffensive than it is actually funny (Abbott and Costello have done far, far better). But it is a cute rendition of a classic fairy tale that may appeal more to youngsters (very, VERY youngsters) than a jaded old cinephile like myself.

But the upcoming film slate for the series is far more promising: 1939’s The Little Princess, starring Shirley Temple; 1928’s Steamboat Bill Jr., starring Buster Keaton (a stone-cold comedy classic that boasts incredible stuntwork that holds up to this day); and 1939’s Gulliver’s Travels, a gorgeous animated feature produced by Fleischer Studios (best known for producing the iconic Superman animated shorts of the ’40s)!

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While there may still be some ironing-out to do for the material in the series (perhaps gearing the contextualization a bit more towards contemporary kids’ sensibilities), this is still a charming and inviting introduction to older cinema for young kids. I’d think any parents who want to give their children a broader sense of the history of film will appreciate what this series has to offer; with any luck, this show could inspire some future filmmaker with a love of the art form that takes them to great places someday.

… Or it could just make for a fun movie night for the whole family. And that’s more than enough!

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New episodes of Classic Films for Kids premiere every Saturday morning at 11 a.m. EST on The Film Detective Channel, followed by streaming video-on-demand releases on TFD’s classic film and television app, beginning with Jack and the Beanstalk on April 2.