Life Screening: The Movies of My Childhood

Apologies for the delay in the arrival of the post. Truth is, I was having trouble finding an inspiration for a post. I thought about writing my thoughts on Indian Wells and Sony Open tournaments, but didn’t really feel compelled. I also thought about discussing Wrestlemania 30, but given that I haven’t ordered the WWE Network and didn’t order it on Pay-Per-View it would be hard to give a comprehensive detailing. So my mind wandered over a variety of topics. Then, amidst my wonderings, a song from a film in my childhood reverberated through my thoughts. Sure, sometimes songs cross our minds and fade. This song, however, has been in my mind for the last several days. Thus this idea was born: I’m going to write about the 12 most influential/memorable films to me personally from my childhood (I was going to do 10, but couldn’t figure out which two to eliminate). One thing you’ll learn about me (if you haven’t already) is that I absolutely love film. Going through this list, keep in mind that I’m not saying that I am calling these the greatest movies of my childhood, merely the ones I remember the most. Enjoy.

12: Free Willy (and the song from Free Willy 2) (1993)

This movie is a classic, even with it’s not-so-stellar 5.8/10 IMDB user rating and equally not-so-stellar 57% Rotten Tomatoes rating. However, when you’re a kid, all you care about is seeing a beautiful orca do some neat tricks. I know I’m not the only one who watched this movie countless times (there’s a reason it spawned three sequels). Your heart aches for poor Willy, stuck in that fish tank and being at the mercy of the vicious amusement park. This movie was hardly subtle in its moral: captivity is bad and stick it to the man who makes a business out of animal captivation. I wonder how many people boycotted zoos and Sea World following watching this movie. Interestingly, the movie promotes the notion that thievery is just fine as long as it’s for a good cause. Does your captive orca need some fish? Just steal it from the fish market on the wharf! Running away and starving? Steal a wedding cake! Is the owner of the amusement park (played in this case by the always-villainous Michael Ironside) planning on killing the whale (which he just so happens to own) to collect on the insurance money? Just steal the whale overnight and release him into the wild! Seriously, the cops were at the scene when Willy jumped over the jetty. Jesse and his adoptive parents should would have gotten arrested on the scene, but I digress.

My sister and I would quote this movie constantly (Sa la na a yuum iasis! – I can’t find any source that knows if that actually means anything), and of course the famous arm-above-the-head (the one that got Willy to leap out of the water) that became common practice. The second one was mostly forgettable, aside from Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There,” which was the song that rotated constantly with the Moody Blues’s “Your Wildest Dreams” on my cassette player.

11: Newsies (1992)

I am a fan of musicals. Yes, I am one of those people who truly wishes that people would randomly break out in choreographed song and dance walking down the street. The first musical I can remember seeing was Newsies. Directed by Kenny Ortega (the same guy that would go on to find massive success with the High School Musical series, and who also happened to be the choreographer for films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dirty Dancing), the film featured a young Christian Bale as the coolest newspaper-slinging orphan you’ve ever seen. He was the guy every (decent) guy wanted to be: witty, charming, and suave without being a completely pompous jack-ass. He was the coolest guy on the street who happened to be the one who taught David and Les how to sling papers when they needed extra money for their family. Oh, and he’s probably the only guy who can make the dance starting at the 2:12 mark in this clip look even remotely cool:

The film features Robert Duvall as the villainous Joseph Pulitzer, who greedily increases the selling price of the papers to the newsies, forcing them to sell more papers to make equal money. It also features great supporting performances from Ann-Margaret and Bill Pullman. The major nod has to go to Christian Bale, though, who made his on-screen charisma so apparent. This, combined with his wonderful performance in Empire of the Sun, foreshadowed the fantastic Oscar-winning career that Bale has had.

10: Hook (1991)

The first Steven Spielberg film on this list, Hook is a classic in my opinion. Nominated for five Oscars (Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, and Best Original Song), Spielberg has since stated that he is disappointed with the final result due to difficulty of dealing with the cast of rebellious children. Yet this story of a grown-up Peter Pan’s kids being kidnapped by Captain Hook took us to a vivid Neverland that so seamlessly made the fantasy of the story seem so real. While the film could have potentially starred Kevin Kline as Peter Pan and David Bowie as Captain Hook, the castings of Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman respectively were spot-on, especially Hoffman. While Julia Roberts is not at her best as Tinkerbell (she earned the nickname Tinkerhell on the set due to her being so difficult to work with), the film features great supporting roles from Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins. It also contains several cameos: Phil Collins, Carrie Fischer, George Lucas, and Glenn Close (I dare you to find Glenn Close in this film without someone telling you where she is) to name a few.

This is also one of the more quotable movies from my childhood, and my sister, my friends, and I recited these lines countless times. Lines like, “Ah! I’ve been shot!” and “Looky, Looky, I got Hooky.” Of course, one of the most recited (and mocked) lines was the great “Oh, there you are Peter!” seen here:

This film (along with Jurassic Park) was among the films that ignited my love and appreciation for John Williams. I mean, the emotional impact of the scene above is entirely told through the score.

9: The Mighty Ducks (1992)

Another classic of my generation. It’s basically a modified version of The Bad News Bears, but Gordon Bombay and those Ducks taught my generation the underdog story. The film brings together the self-serving, greedy lawyer with the underprivileged kids, and – in classic Disney style – the kids find a community while the lawyer learns the meaning of humility and being a team player. Sure, there are stereotypes abound in this movie and the trilogy as a whole, but really, who cares? As long as the underprivileged, scrappy team beats the rich, mean yet talented team. Every viewer had their favorite player. It could have been team captain, Charlie Conway. It could have been Goldberg, the comedic relief goalie. It could have been Connie, the strong female player. In my case, it was everyone’s favorite bad-boy turned hockey player with the vicious slap-shot, Fulton Reed:

The film contains several memorable quotes as well, the most prolific of which being the quack call of the team. I remember ones like, “But coach, one inch the other way and you would have missed completely” and “You’re not even a has-been. You’re a never-was.” It was the movie that made every viewer want to play hockey (even if it was just roller hockey) so that you could perform your own Flying V, Triple Deke, and Statue of Liberty play. The second (and even the third) film contained several memorable moments as well, but they don’t quite last the way the original film does.

 8: Jack and the Beanstalk (1974)

Yes, this movie was made before I was born, but my family had a recording (looking back on it, I really can’t see why). It’s the first movie on this list that is on here for a negative reason. This film has to be the creepiest animated film ever made. Seriously, I’m amazed I watched this movie as a child and turned out relatively normal. Everything about this film is creepy: the animation, the music, the sound effects, the voice casting. I swear this movie was made for the sole purpose of traumatizing children everywhere. You don’t believe me? Watch this clip and try not to be creeped out.

You can find the entire movie on Youtube if you feel brave. There’s some trippy musical numbers, humanoid dogs and mice (seen briefly in the above clip), and some very bizarre animation. I made myself watch the whole thing again a couple years ago and was surprised I ever managed to watch the whole thing to begin with. I need to ask my parents what they were thinking letting me watch this at a young age.

7: Star Wars (The Original Trilogy) (1977, 1980, 1983)

Probably one of the least (if not THE least) surprising entry on this list. It’s arguably the greatest trilogy ever made, even with the massive fan-angering element known as the Ewoks and the general disappointment that accompanied episodes I, II, and III. I’ve watched this series a number of times, especially Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Empire Strikes Back is considered by many to be among the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. From the onset with the scrolling text (which was not done with special effects, by the way; the script was written on a table and they actually moved a camera over the text to create the scrolling effect), the series took us to “a galaxy far, far away” with starship battles, light sabers, and the Force. I’m fairly certain that every child who saw this movie walked up to the automatic doors at any grocery store or mall and waived their hand in front of it thinking they were using the Force. Empire Strikes Back also features one of the most iconic scenes in film history, as well as what has been maintained as one of the greatest twists of all time (I would give a spoiler alert, but it seems everyone knows this twist, even those who haven’t seen the films):

Even when I grew older, my fascination with Star Wars never faded. When Episode III was released in theaters, I (along with about six others) watched all six films in a 24 hour period. In the midst of the marathon, my friend and I took the light sabers that I owned (the plastic, extendable ones) and choreographed our own 10-minute long fight sequence. Not going to lie, I have moments where I want to get some more light sabers and do this again.

6: The Lion King (1994)

Another not-so-surprising entry on this list, as many consider it to be one of the greatest animated films ever made. They’re not wrong. This film is timeless and everything about this movie is near perfect. From the brilliant voice casting (the iconically great voices of James Earl Jones and Jeremy Irons, the at-the-time popular Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane, Cheech Marin, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Ernie Sabella…) to the memorable score and music from Alan Menken and Elton John, The Lion King (roughly based on Hamlet, in case you didn’t know) continues to capture our imaginations and teach us the great “circle of life.” Having spawned an incredibly successful stage show (a feat Disney hopes to repeat with the upcoming stage adaptation of Frozen), the film features beautiful animation and involving characters. It also features the first ever Disney character to fart on screen (crude, I know):

The Lion King is currently ranked #59 on the IMDb Top 250 films of all time and has a 90% rating on rotten tomatoes. The sequels were decent for sequels, but forgettable in comparison to the first. It’s one of the first films I remember actually watching a behind-the-scenes featurette on. I can recall this film in my head scene to scene without skipping a frame. I also enjoyed the video game for Super Nintendo and the Lion King world was one of my favorites in Kingdom Hearts II. Always remember: hakuna matata.

 5: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

The second film on this list for a negative reason. I was terrified of this film when I was younger, and I’ve learned I was not the only one. Several of my friends growing up, even into college and beyond, were so terrified of this film that they refused (some still refuse) to watch this film. Keep in mind that this film is considered one of the greatest “family films” of all-time and won four Oscars (Best Sound, Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Effects, Best Original Score) and was nominated for an additional five, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. If kids weren’t terrified of E.T. in its natural form (Steven Spielberg has stated that E.T. was a plant-like creature and thus neither male nor female), they certainly were terrified of this alien once it fell into water and its skin turned white. For me, my fear was a little bit more personal. The night I first saw this movie, I had a dream that E.T. had huge claws and fangs, chasing me through my house. I ran outside and like all stupid horror-movie protagonists, I tripped flat on my face over the one stick that was in the yard. Then I rolled over, and the last thing I saw before waking up was E.T. with its fangs bared and claws outstretched getting ready to eat me alive. Yeah. Even now when I watch this film I remember this image. For example, take a look at the alien’s face at the 0:50 mark and tell me that there isn’t something malicious behind those Carl Sandburg/Albert Einstein/pug dog eyes.

Now, think about the fact that this was originally conceived as a horror movie in which Elliott and his family were terrorized in their house by aliens. In fact, Spielberg even conceived a sequel called “Nocturnal Fears” in which Elliott and his friends would be kidnapped by another alien species that E.T.’s species (we discovered E.T.’s name was actually Zreck) was at war with, and Zreck would have to save them. Yeah, definitely not intended to be scary at all.

4: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)

This was one of the definitive shows of the 90s for many. It was hokey, cheesy, campy, and one of the lowest quality shows ever, but damn if it wasn’t endearing because of all those things. It’s near impossible to watch this show and/or movie again and argue that it’s well-done. Of course, I guess that’s what we can expect from something based off a Japanese show (in fact, almost all of the fight footage was taken DIRECTLY FROM the Japanese show, which explains why the Zord fights that supposedly take place in downtown Angel Grove are suddenly taking place by industrial factories in the middle of nowhere). The movie was a perfect extension of the show. It continued the overall feel of the show and transferred it into a movie that really just felt like a 90-minute episode. Power Rangers was probably my first real foray into merchandising that accompanies movies. I had the White Ranger outfit and action figures. I had the White Ranger’s saber. I had all of the Zords in little transformer-like action figures that you could combine to make the Megazord. To top it all off, my friend and I would take these costumes out on his trampoline and reenact all of the fight scenes ourselves. Every kid I knew wanted to be a Power Ranger, even in all of its ridiculousness. I mean, you have to find the so-ridiculously-stupid-it’s-awesome type of appeal that the clip below contains:

Everything about that clip is terrible: the ridiculous sound effects, the relentlessly pun-filled, mid-fight one-liners, the saying “Hi-ya!” to accompany every single thing the characters do (kinda like Wai Lin yelling “Hi-ya!” when she shoots a computer with a machine gun from point-blank range in the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies). Even so, if someone were to come up to me and say, “Hey, we’d like to cast you as a Power Ranger in this ridiculously cheesy series,” I would pretty much say yes in a heartbeat.

One important note regarding the show: while the nostalgic endearment of this show remains with me (it potentially could have been one of the top three on this list), it’s hard to think of this show the same way after hearing the testimony from David Yost (the Blue Ranger) about being bullied on the set for being gay, and that being the reason he eventually walked off the show. While his testimony has been disputed by people involved with the show, this being even remotely true is unacceptable.

3) The Neverending Story I and II (1984 and 1990)

Possibly one of the most well-known “kid” movies of the era, The Neverending Story is a classic, even though it’s easily one of the darkest “kid” movies ever filmed. Written and directed by Wolfgang Petersen (Troy, Outbreak, Das Boot, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire), the film contains arguably the most depressing scene to ever appear in a movie oriented to kids and families. However, this film is a lot more intelligent that it’s fantasy nature suggests. Sure, it’s a great fantasy story, but its not-so-subtle way of breaking the fourth wall introduces kids to the concept without realizing they’re being introduced to it. Take a look at the scene below, and think about the fact that the “others” and “they” the child-like Empress keeps referring to is us, the viewers.

That’s a complex idea for a kid’s movie: the characters in the story that the character Bastian is reading are not only aware that they are characters in that story, but they are also aware that ALL OF THEM (including Bastian) are part of the story that we are watching unfold on screen, thus making us (the viewer) another character in the story. Take a second to wrap your mind around that. I took an entire semester-long course in college studying this concept. It wasn’t until I watched this film again recently that I really understood what was going on here. Like I said, unusually complex idea to be in a movie such as this.

The second film is included mainly because while it is vastly inferior to the first, it primarily existed in my life for two reasons: a bunch of lines that work great for mockery, and the video game based on it that I had on my computer (which gave me significantly more entertainment than the movie did). “I wish…for you to have a heart!”

2) A Goofy Movie (1995)

The only thing that keeps this from being number one on this list is the sheer amount of time I spent watching the number one entry. This one was a VERY close second. No matter what anyone says about this movie, I will always regard it as one of the greatest movies from my childhood. I was borderline obsessed with this movie. My friend, his sister, my sister, and I watched it so many times that at one point, we actually started memorizing the entire thing so we could do a live-action performance of it for our parents. When I mentioned at the very beginning of this article that I had a song stuck in my head that inspired this article, it was this song:

Yes, the above clip has pretty much every single stereotype ever recorded in a school setting, but it’s Disney. What do you expect? I know the words to every song in this movie. I had the cd on repeat, and even my parents enjoyed it so much that it was requested listening during family road trips. It’s been way too long since I’ve watched this movie. That’s something I will have to remedy very soon. I also hope someday that I can share this movie with my children and hope they will appreciate it the same way I do. It’s not even among the greatest animated films ever made, but it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

1) Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

The first anime film to get a wide release in the United States, I am not the only one who would watch this movie countless times as a kid and make my parents rent it every time we went to Blockbuster video. Even though it’s not Hayao Miyazaki, it was perhaps my fascination and love of this movie that established the eventual appreciation I would have for Miyazaki’s work. Also keep in mind that the English version of this film was written by Chris Columbus, the director behind such classic family movies as Mrs. Doubtfire, the first two Harry Potter films, and the first two Home Alone films. It’s another film that’s very dark for a children’s movie (I mean, the antagonist is the Nightmare King).

The protagonist of the film is a little boy named Nemo, whose dreams often feel more real than not. In the film, his dreams seem to become real when he journeys to Slumberland. There, he befriends many people, but perhaps the most notable is the character Flip, voiced by the late, great Mickey Rooney. Once he becomes involved with Flip, Nemo gets into all sorts of shenanigans which set up the conflict that comprises the rest of the film. The animation in this film (to me) is timelessly gorgeous. For your viewing pleasure, just take a look at Nemo’s beautiful introduction to Slumberland:

I just discovered – while looking for the above clip – that the whole film is available for viewing on Youtube. You can bet I will be watching this again very soon.


There are a few other films that I would like to give notable mentions to, some of which I already mentioned: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Home Alone (1990), Empire of the Sun (1987), Aladdin (1992), Hocus Pocus (1993), Poltergeist (1982), The Sandlot (1993), Goonies (1985), Jurassic Park (1993), and Rudy (1993). I’m sure there are others that I am forgetting.

As always, thanks for reading! Comments appreciated and welcome!


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