2009 was a great year for movies, including family-friendly children’s movies! Whether you fell in love with chubby, industrious Russell in Disney • Pixar’s “Up” (one of the best movies from the lot) or renewed your crush on Alvin and the Chipmunks, or rooted for the Monsters in “Monsters vs. Aliens,” you’re bound to have a favorite children’s movie from this past year… even if you didn’t take the kids! In case you missed any, here’s my list of the ten best children’s movies from 2009.
Director: Betty Thomas
Cast: Zachary Levi, Justin Long, Jason Lee, David Cross, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, and Wendy Malick
I admit it: I thought this movie was going to be horrible. When my daughter asked me to take her to see it, I rolled my eyes and reluctantly agreed. The previews made it look wretched, and the soundtrack was even worse. But, and I hesitate to type this publicly, it really wasn’t bad. After a back-stage accident leaves Dave hospitalized, the Chipmunks enroll in school, and are asked to compete in a Battle of the Bands. Three of their biggest little fans, the Chipettes, are set to compete against them, but in the end, they discover they work better together.
2. Astro Boy
Director: David Bowers
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Kristen Bell, Samuel L. Jackson, Charlize Theron, Bill Nighy, and Freddie Highmore
Loosely based on the first real Japanese anime series, Astro Boy tells the story of a robot-boy who was built by a grieving father who lost his only son. It’s sort of a Pinocchio story in reverse. Astro doesn’t know he’s not a real boy until a near-accident reveals some of his cool, robot “features.” While it wasn’t a huge success at the box office, I enjoyed it, as did the three pre-teen boys I took with me to see it. I was a little annoyed with the political messages and the preachy tone, but the boys and I loved the robotic mayhem and chases.
Director: Henry Selick
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Keith David
Coraline is a girl whose parents adore her but have very little time for her after a cross-country move from Michigan to Oregon. She discovers a door to a hidden world, very similar to her own, but where her “other” parents dote on her and lavish her with attention. Of course, this other world is not as it seems, and Coraline soon learns she’ll have to battle an evil, soul-stealing witch to save her real parents. This movie is scary and dark in a very Tim Burton sort of way, but the animation is visually thrilling and the plot is engaging. Much better for older kids than younger ones. I loved it!
Directors: Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield
Cast: James Earl Jones, Patrick Stewart, and Ulrich Tukur
This live-action nature film is a spin-off of the wildly successful, critically-acclaimed BBC series “Planet Earth.” It depicts the habitats and daily lives of three very different animal families, the polar bear, African elephant, and humpback whale. The film also shows snippets of other flora and fauna that children will love, such as ducklings, gazelles, cranes, trees, and spores. The narration is fantastic, and focuses on the impending disaster related to climate change. There is a little gore in some places, and sadness when certain animals the series follows die, but the scenery is breath-taking and the story-line quite an eye-opener. If you liked the BBC series, you and your family will love this movie!
Director: Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier
Cast: Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, and Ray Romano
In this third installment of the clever animated “Ice Age” series, Sid is kidnapped by a mother T-Rex after trying to raise the babies that hatched from eggs he thinks he “saved” and she thinks he “stole.” His friends attempt a rescue and discover a tropical paradise under the ice, inhabited by swarms of dinosaurs. Manny and his sweetheart, Ellie, have a little mammoth of their own, and Diego gets his toothy hunting mojo back. I loved the first “Ice Age,” kind of liked the second, and REALLY liked this one… as did my kids! Not sure you’ll like it? Rent it first, then decide if you want to buy it.
Director: Rob Letterman and Conrad Vernon
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Stephen Colbert, Amy Poehler, and Renee Zellweger
Susan is the girl with everything — a handsome, successful fiancé, loving parents and a wonderful life. She’s about to be married, but her plans are ruined when she’s struck by a meteor and becomes a monster… a 50-foot tall woman the government detains and re-names Ginormica. Along with her fellow monster captives, Susan battles a ridiculous alien who wants to invade the earth and fill it with icky squid-like clones. This movie entertained children with a little gross humor (a giant caterpillar who shoots ropes of boogies out of his nose) and entertained adults, too (with Stephen Colbert’s tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the President). Loved it!
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Michael Gambon, and Bill Murray
Based on one of Roald Dahl’s lesser-known, wonderfully imaginative books, this film is set on a series of small farms run by filthy, stupid, and hideously cruel farmers. They’re tired of losing their chickens to the clever, dashing Mr. Fox, so they hatch a scheme to get rid of him, and his family, once and for all. A little scary for the wee children, but raucous fun for the older kids.
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, and Jenifer Lewis
What princess hasn’t kissed a few frogs? What movie-going parent hasn’t had high hopes for an animated film, only to be disappointed? Fear not! This movie is wonderful, the first Disney animated feature since 2004’s “Home on the Range,” and the first to feature an African-American princess character. It’s riotously funny (I only cried once, when Tiana’s father died), with an engaging story-line and well-developed characters. I love Tiana the same way I loved Mulan — both are devoted to their family, hard-working, and tough. Exactly the sort of role models girls need to see!
Director: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, and John Ratzenberger
“Up” tells the story of Ellie and Carl, the adventures they hoped to share, and the home they built together. After Ellie dies, and Carl realizes they never did get to have any “real” adventures, he decides to take their house, now in the middle of a loud, crowded city, on a series of adventures in her honor. Russell, a chubby, well-meaning and sweet-natured Wilderness Explorer (Boy Scout), stows away by accident, and together, he and Carl discover a hidden world of giant birds and talking dogs. I loved this movie, and true to the Disney • Pixar tradition, I cried my eyes out at least once.
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo, James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, and Forest Whitaker
Based on the brief but expansive children’s book by Maurice Sendak, this is one of only a handful of live-action children’s movies that were released in 2009. The Wild Things are portrayed with exactly the right combination of scariness and warmth, and Max is everything you would expect the King of all Wild Things to be — slightly belligerent, tender-hearted, obstinate, and in the end, sweet. A little frightening and violent for the under-seven set, and almost guaranteed to wring a few tears from the maudlin, sentimental parents in the audience.
Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Cast: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Andy Samberg, Bruce Campbell, Mr. T, Neil Patrick Harris, and Al Roker
Based on the beloved children's book of the same name, this film is set in a small town on an island so small it's hidden on most maps under the "A" in "Atlantic Ocean." The island's sardine factory has closed, and now the only thing to eat is old sardines. A local inventor, Flint, seizes the opportunity to save the day by inventing a machine that will make it rain food... and then the machine goes haywire! The story is fun, and effects are cool, and kids will love the food fight on a grand scale!
I would be hard pressed to say which of these films was my favorite, but I would have to say “Up” would be it. I feel it’s fair to warn you, too, about the two worst children’s movies I saw in 2009, “G-force” and “Planet 51.” Avoid those two, grab some popcorn, and see one of the others from my list of the BEST children’s movies instead! Which of these movies did you or your little ones like best? Or was there another kid’s movie from 2009 you liked better that I missed? Please let me know
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