Too cold to go outside? This is a great time of year for families to spend some quality time together with some stories to warm the spirit. These are some of my favorite movies when I need some cinematic vitamin C, sunshine for the soul.
“The Snowman” (all ages) This is the brief, wordless story of a cherished but necessarily brief friendship between a boy and a man he made of snow. The exquisite illustrations and score perfectly complement the story, evoking the simple joy and childhood magic of playing in snow. Some children may be upset when they see that the next morning, the snowman has melted. But even small children can understand that the boy will always cherish his time with his special friend. This movie can inspire children to build their own snow friends, and should lead families to talk about how what is most familiar to us (like a light switch) can seem interesting or strange or even scary to others. And what is familiar to others (like the Northern Lights) can seem exotic and thrilling to us.
“Enchanted April” (MIddle school-Adult) Four women in post WWI-London, bedraggled by the cold, rainy weather and feeling invisible and unappreciated, share their resources for a vacation at a villa in Italy. Their spirits bloom in the sunshine and they discover in themselves a gentleness and an ability to love and be loved that they never suspected.
“Pollyanna” (7-Adult) Hayley Mills is “the Glad Girl” in this sumptuously produced Disney film based on the classic novel about the girl who transformed a town with her ability to see the best in every situation and, more important, in every person. Top talent in the cast includes Jane Wyman as starchy Aunt Polly and Karl Malden as the preacher whose heart is not really in his fire and brimstone sermons. If you like this try: the remake called “Polly” with “Cosby Show” stars Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad.
“All Creatures Great and Small” (10-Adult) The best-selling series of books based on the real-life adventures of a Yorkshire veterinarian has been lovingly adapted for this completely charming miniseries filled with endearing characters, lovable animals, and touching stories.
“Rudy” (Middle school-Adult) In this true story of determination and courage, a young man from a blue collar family wants to play football for Notre Dame, despite the fact he has neither the athletic nor the academic skills. Rudy’s spirit and insistence on giving everything he can every single time inspires them. Rudy becomes an indispensable part of the team, and in a deeply moving scenes each of his teammates goes to the coach to insist Rudy play in his place. (NOTE: strong language for a PG movie.)
“Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” (7-Adult) Edgar G. Robinson is best known for playing tough guys and hoodlums and Agnes Moorehead is best known for playing Endora on “Bewitched.” But in this lovely film, they are utterly believable as gentle Wisconsin farmers devoted to their only daughter, played by Margaret O’Brien. As the seasons pass, the family and the community face challenges from small (teaching the importance of sharing) to frightening (lost children, a barn fire), based on the real-life memories of the child of Norwegian immigrants. If you like this, try: “I Remember Mama”
“To Be and To Have” (Middle school-Adult) This documentary about a French one-room schoolhouse shows us a gifted and devoted teacher whose classroom includes students from age 4-11. As he patiently works with them on reading, writing, a sense of mastery, and learning to get along with each other he reminds us of the power we all have to touch the lives of others.
“The Spitfire Grill” (Middle school-Adult) A young woman just out of prison picks a small town in Maine called Gilead to start her life over again. Her kindness and honesty at first seem threatening to a community that is comfortable with its discomforts. The Biblical name of the town is well-chosen for this story of simple decency among neighbors and what we can do for others just by giving them a chance.
“Anne of Green Gables” (7-Adult)The classic series of books about the red-haired orphan girl who lives on Prince Edward Island farm was lovingly adapted for a miniseries starring Megan Fallows as Anne and Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth as the sister and brother who wanted an orphan boy to do chores but find themselves unexpectedly loving the big-spirited, imaginative girl.
“Outrageous!” (Adults) A gay man who does not have the confidence to pursue his dream of performing as a female impersonator and his best friend, a woman prone to psychotic hallucinations find that while they may not be able to help themselves, they have unexpected strength of spirit to help each other. Canadian cabaret performer Craig Russell plays a character based on himself. One of the highlights of the film is seeing him as Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Peggy Lee, and more. But what makes the film unforgettable is the sweetness and devotion of this unbreakable friendship. (Very mature material)
“Beauty and the Beast” (7-Adult) One of Disney’s loveliest romances is the story of a beautiful girl who loves to read and the monster whose heart she learns is as tender as her own. Gorgeous animation features some of the earliest merging of hand-drawn and computer-generated images, giving the film’s sensational ballroom dancing number an enthrallingly immersive sense of space. The musical numbers are some of Disney’s most memorable, including the gorgeous title love song and the rollicking “Be Our Guest.”
“Strangers in Good Company” (Middle school-Adult) Eight women traveling through Canada by bus are stranded when the bus breaks down. They find an abandoned farmhouse and talk to each other about their lives, with stories that are sometimes sad but always teach important lessons about resilience and survival. The movie was largely improvised by non-professional actresses which underscores its message about the value of people who are all too often overlooked.