With one of the big family weekends of the year at hand, many people headed for their home video store may find themselves asking a familiar question: “Whatever happened to the family movie”?
Not many of this year’s cassette hits are suitable for the whole family, but here are a few that are:
MCA’s “E.T.” This is one of the all-time great, heart-warming family movies, with the friendship between the young boy (Henry Thomas) and the cute little alien as its centerpiece. It’s also an incredible tear-jerker. Who can keep a dry eye during that ending--even though you may have seen it a few times?
CBS-Fox’s “Baby Boom.” In this overly cutesy comedy, a high-powered executive (Diane Keaton) inherits a child and blunders her way through motherhood and out of a job. At the end she’s a serene softie. Actually, she was more fun as a corporate shark.
Touchstone’s “Three Men and a Baby.” Three bachelors (Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenberg and Ted Danson) are changed by this baby as much as the female executive in “Baby Boom.” Because of the light sex and violence, it’s probably not appropriate for the younger kiddies.
RCA/Columbia’s “Willow.” This is a fairly wholesome, wild-and-wooly adventure about a little person out to retrieve a kidnaped baby ( another baby movie) with the help of a kindly rogue (Val Kilmer). It’s basically a rehash of producer George Lucas’ “Star Wars” series, with bits of other movies and fairy tales thrown in. Some of the action, such as the scenes with the two-headed dragon, may be too graphic for the little ones.
CBS-Fox’s “Overboard.” An aimable comedy about a spoiled heiress (Goldy Hawn) who learns how the other half lives when she’s forced to care for a carpenter (Kurt Russell) and his motherless brood. The fun is watching this rich iceberg thaw out.
The best bet for this family weekend is old movies. Most of the pre-1960s comedies and musicals were so tame that parents don’t have to worry about sex, violence or offensive language. Also, the studios were more into making family films. Here are some suggestions:
Disney’s “The Parent Trap” (1961). A lot of young boys fell in love with Hayley Mills as a result of her charming performance in this light comedy about twin sisters who are trying to reunite their parents (Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith). Some adults, though, may find this one a bit too cute.
Disney’s “Old Yeller” (1957). A folksy boy-and-his dog adventure set on a Texas farm in the 1850s, featuring Tommy Kirk and a large, loveable, yellow mutt. Impossible to get through this one without shedding a tear or two.
CBS-Fox’s “Friendly Persuasion” (1956). This one stars Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire as the leaders of a Quaker clan caught up in the turmoil of the Civil War. Though overlong and a bit rambling, it’s still one of the most enjoyable family films. The title song belongs on the all-time Top 10 list of movie themes.
MGM/UA’s “Father of the Bride” (1950). About the comical hassles faced by a stern father (Spencer Tracy) who’s marrying off his beautiful young daughter (Liz Taylor). Considered one of Tracy’s best light comic performances.
Paramount’s “Houseboat” (1958). You know all along that the father (Cary Grant) will wind up with the gorgeous housekeeper (Sophia Loren) who looks after his motherless children. But it’s still a charmingly hokey diversion that’s arguably Loren’s finest light-comedy effort.
Playhouse Video’s “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). A lightweight story about a moppet’s radio career, but it works because Shirley Temple really turns on the charm in this one. Her hoofing with Bojangles Robinson is the highlight.
Fox Hills’ “Bachelor Mother” (1939). In this overlooked and very amusing movie, a single salesgirl plays mother to an abandoned baby. Roughly the same story as “Baby Boom,” but funnier. David Niven co-stars.
MCA’s “Christmas in July” (1940). This Preston Sturges’ comedy stars Dick Powell as a nice, gullible clerk who starts spending wildly after he’s duped into thinking he’s won a fortune in a contest. In this humorous, warmhearted movie, the nice guy doesn’t finish last.
CBS-Fox’s “The Sound of Music” (1965). This long, sugary musical, about the singing Von Trapp family in wartime Austria, is one of the most popular movies of all time. As syrupy tear-jerkers go, it’s not bad. Julie Andrews is at her perkiest as the governess.
“Mary Poppins” (1964). In my book, this is the great family entertainment, topping even “E.T.” Julie Andrews gives a peerless performance as the magical nanny who changes the lives of a London family in the early 1900s. One of the best movie scores ever, it won an Oscar for Richard and Robert Sherman.
Republic’s “The Red Pony” (1949). Possibly the most entertaining of all the boy-and-his-horse dramas. You can see why the boy prefers the horse, who is more likeable than most of the adults in this movie. Based on the John Steinbeck story, it co-stars Robert Mitchum and Myrna Loy and boasts an Aaron Copland score.
CBS-Fox’s “The Black Stallion” (1979). The awesome cinematography distinguishes this one from other boy-and-his-horse adventures. In fact, the cinematography distinguishes this one from most other movies of any kind. About a wild stallion that’s turned into a race horse, it has some scary moments that might frighten young children. Co-starring Kelly Reno as the boy and Teri Garr as his mother.
MGM/UA’s “Anchors Aweigh” (1945). Though bogged down by some slow stretches, this musical about two sailors (Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly) on leave has some terrific moments--including Kathryn Grayson singing “All of a Sudden My Heart Sings” and Kelly’s glorious dancing with Jerry, the cartoon mouse.