I’ve never seen Born Free. The nature documentary was a pop culture phenomenon during my childhood but the images of adults in safari khakis and lions rollicking in the African grass triggered my kiddie sixth sense. Without seeing the film, I could tell it was trying to educate me. In a boring way.
After the surprise box office success of March of the Penguins, the idea of the nature documentary as more than a 20-minute IMAX experience in a science museum caught on. But the presumption that kids love animals so therefore kids will love real stories about real animals in their real environment isn’t necessarily true: I often hear kids grumble about the docs being "boring," "educational" and even "scary." To be fair, films featuring a lovable polar bear left to starve to death, penguins tediously sitting on eggs through blizzards, or fish swimming to Pierce Brosnan’s Masterpiece Theater accent doesn’t necessarily equate to great cinema for the average 8-year-old.
The good news is that filmmakers are learning what is entertaining to kids versus adults. Every year, the movies are getting better. In fact, the three best nature films for kids are three of the most recent:
Disneynature’s Chimpanzee. The film about baby chimpanzee Oscar trying to find his place in his tribe should be the new standard to which all nature docs must aspire. Tim Allen’s warm and funny narration, the astonishing cinematography and its one adorable and relatable hero (as opposed to the usual multiple storylines) makes Chimpanzee a riveting film. But more importantly, the filmmakers uncover a moving story which is funny, emotional, dramatic, action-packed and so incredible it might not be believable if it weren’t true.
Born to Be Wild. Humans taking care of baby animal orphans is fantasy fulfillment for every animal lover. Nonstop “awwwwws,” none of the babies die and it’s only 40 minutes long – kid doc perfection!
African Cats. A captivating adventure showing that even top-of-the-food chain lions and cheetahs still have to fight for survival. Really, though, African Cats demonstrates that a mother's love is just as strong on a Kenyan savanna as it is in our own home.
Chimpanzee opens next weekend. Here are three films to see with your family this week:
The Three Stooges. What would Moe, Larry and Curly be doing if they were alive today? Starring in a reality show, of course! The eye-poking, slapstick trio return in modern times with a PG rating, albeit from the minds of the usually crude Farrelly Brothers.
Mirror, Mirror. Snow White grows a spine and wields a sword to take on a Queen who is equal parts selfish, vain and hilarious.
The Hunger Games. What’s more brutal? Watching kids killing kids or the incessant pestering from your kid to go see the teen gladiator movie AGAIN? Just be sure to see it with them.
To see what kids think about the films mentioned here, go to www.KidsPickFlicks.com , where all kids are movie critics.