Ben Stiller directs and stars in the new film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, opening Christmas Day. If the title sounds familiar, you’ve probably read the itsy-bitsy, two-page version written by James Thurber for The New Yorker.
In that original 1939 version, Walter Mitty drives his wife around town, all the while hosting fantastical adventures as a surgeon, a fighter pilot and more. In his mind. The legendary 1947 film version starring Danny Kaye even sees Mitty’s lofty dreams finally lead him to become a real-life hero.
Now, Stiller is putting a modern spin on the classic story with a $90 million dramedy with big special effects, and a family-friendly PG rating. In this new version, Mitty (Stiller) dreams of big action, romance and adventure, but in reality, works as a negative archiver for Life magazine. When an important negative goes missing, modern Mitty must pursue the photographer (Sean Penn), in true-life, harrowing adventures around the globe.
Although Mitty’s larger-than-life daydreams seem fantastical to adults, wondrous dreams are one of the best parts of daily life in childhood. Fantasy sequences abound in films for children and families--even my five- and eight-year-olds had no trouble coming up with several examples right off the bat. Take a look at this family-friendly “dreams countdown” that we complied, ranging from toe-tapping to slightly off-kilter. Have you seen them all?
10. Taking the lowest spot on the countdown is the fantasy car sequence from “Greased Lightning” from Grease. In this scene, the “T-Birds” (led by John Travolta) daydream in song about the power of their new street-racing hot rod. Whether you like the “tick, tick, tick” sounds as the engine descends or a young Travolta’s swagger, this dream of success still excites both young and old.
9. Remember Luke Skywalker’s cave dream from The Empire Strikes Back? Whether you’ve just seen it recently or you only remember it from the creeped-out recesses of your childhood mind, the symbolic confrontation with dream Vader in the scary root cave (complete with Komodo dragon and snake) makes an impact on wide-eyed kids everywhere.
8. Kung Fu Panda’s opening moments, known as “Po’s dream,” quickly reveals the sheer awesomeness that is to soon follow when Jack Black’s voice work meets the “panda-monium” of Po and the Furious Five’s kung fu fabulousness. The two-minute scene serves up endless quotables, including the gem spoken by Po to his superfans, “There is no charge for awesomeness… or attractiveness.”
7. “Pink Elephants on Parade” from Disney’s Dumbo is very often a galvanizing “love it” or “hate it” psychedelic scene for viewers. In this unusual addition to an animated feature, Dumbo and his companion Timothy Q. Mouse become tipsy after accidentally drinking water mixed with champagne, which in turn, leads to the visions. The scene does have its redeeming value, though, because soon after the dream wears off, Dumbo finds out that he can fly.
6. Dream scenes in movies often precede a revelation, but the imagined “Muppet Babies” from the mind of Miss Piggy did much more. The precocious pig’s cutesy dream from Muppets Take Manhattan was so popular that it wasn’t just a plot point; the dream became its own CBS animated series, Muppet Babies, that aired from 1984-1991. Take a look at the fun fantasy that started it all in the daydream sequence, “I’m Gonna Always Love You.”
5. Rounding out the top five is a golden clip from film’s most honey-obsessed bear, Winnie the Pooh, in 2011’s film of the same name. Here, Pooh’s “Honey Dream” reveals his true-life ambition: to live, jump, bounce and swim in a world of pure, edible honeyliciousness.
4. Although not strictly a family movie, cult Coen brothers’ comedy Raising Arizona is about the atypical attempt to bring a baby to a childless couple (Nic Cage and Holly Hunter). In this comedic dream, Cage’s character taps into parental worries and fears the kidnapped baby will eventually deteriorate into a force of unbridled terror as the “Lone Biker of the Apocalypse.”
3. Pee-wee’s “Bicycle Clown Dream” from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, amps up the eerie elements of the dream sequence, as Pee-wee fears his bicycle companion may be lost forever. With wacky clown greasepaint, big checkered floors, '80s music video neon, and music by Danny Elfman, this Tim Burton-esque, Beetlejuice-on-a-budget scene might be voted more odd than aspirational.
2. If you’ve seen Disney’s Frozen (in theaters now), then you are likely smitten with Olaf (Josh Gad), the warm hug-loving snowman who will sacrifice himself to help a loved one. In his one-snowman ode “Summer,” Olaf (very) soft-shoes his way into your heart, fantasizing about what he hopes to see when cold and hot finally meet.
1. At the top spot is a film for the ages that’s largely all dream. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) turn in the Kansas twister takes her on a colorful, magical adventure to a faraway land where she meets up with some familiar faces, and classic characters. Take a peek at the famous tornado scene that marks Dorothy’s journey into the dream world.
Are there other fantasies in family film that you would add to the list?