classics that eclipse the potter magic
Harry Potter is dominating the multiplexes again in his latest outing, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, which opened here last week. Having made over $5.5bn to date and counting, the Potter films are collectively the most lucrative children's films ever made, but are they the best?
For all their technical expertise and ingenuity, there's something a bit soulless and sanitised about the Potter movies, perhaps necessarily considering there have been so many of them (this is the seventh). And while the best, for instance Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, are impressive action fantasies, at times they feel more like commodities than films.
In fact, they pale a little when compared to some of the truly original children's classics that have enchanted us down the years. Here's our top 10, and not a single Harry Potter in sight.
1 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Several directors and a string of writers suggested a troubled shoot, and there are dark stories of 14-year-old star Judy Garland being fed amphetamines to keep her going through long and arduous days, but The Wizard of Oz was, and is, a joy to watch.
A musical as well as a fantasy, it features outstanding performances from Garland and the likes of Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion, and the film wowed contemporary audiences with its use of three-strip colour.
More than 70 years on, the case can still be made for The Wizard of Oz being the best children's film ever.
2 Snow white and
the seven dwarfs (1938)
No one had tried making a feature-length animation until Walt Disney decided to have a crack at it in the mid-1930s, and critics thought his plans for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs so far-fetched that they dubbed the project 'Disney's folly'.
It took him three years to make, and at one point he had to show a rough cut to the Bank of America so they'd lend him the money to complete it. But the finished film was a commercial and critical triumph, winning Walt an Oscar and earning him the money to build his own studios in Burbank.
3 bambi (1942)
In a glorious creative purple patch in the late 1930s and 1940s Walt Disney produced a string of classic feature animations, but Bambi (below) is perhaps the best loved of them.
Only the sociopathically inclined would fail to weep as the young deer's mother is shot by a hunter, leaving the poor mite to fend for himself. He's helped through a difficult winter by an amiable and chatty rabbit called Thumper, and a skunk named Flower.
Disney sent his animators to the Los Angeles Zoo to make sure their animals looked right, and Bambi is a lovingly crafted classic.
4 mary poppins (1964)
By the 1960s, Disney had branched out into live action films, but Mary Poppins (inset) mixed animation and real actors using revolutionary techniques.
Julie Andrews played the magical nanny who descends from the skies to tame the feral children of a distracted Edwardian suffragette, and Dick Van Dyke was Bert, a London chimney sweep. The songs were great, and the special effects extremely impressive. Van Dyke's 'cockney' accent was not so impressive, but the film still figures regularly on lists of the best children's movies.
5 the jungle book (1967)
Perhaps the last great Disney animated classic, The Jungle Book was based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling and told the story of a small boy called Mowgli who's abandoned as an infant in the jungles of central India. Raised by wolves, he is later befriended by an exuberant bear called Baloo who takes him under his wing.
George Sanders is terrific as the voice of villainous bengal tiger Shere Khan, and there are some great songs too. It remains a huge seller on DVD.
6 Chitty chitty bang bang (1968)
A minor masterpiece in children's cinema, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was an English film based on a story by, of all people, Ian Fleming. Dick Van Dyke played crackpot inventor Caractacus Potts, who flies with his kids to a strange Alpine kingdom where children have been banned.
Australian ballet dancer Robert Helpmann was unforgettable as the sinister 'child catcher', and, incidentally, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of the first films to score big in franchise spin-offs -- I myself had one of those little toy flying cars.
7 Willie Wonka and the chocolate factory (1971)
Many critics of a certain age insist on the brilliance of the 1971 film adaptation of Roald Dahl's Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It's certainly a lot better than Tim Burton's recent remake, and Gene Wilder (left) was perfectly cast as the deranged but kindly chocolate magnate who organises a competition in which the lucky recipients of a 'golden ticket' receives a tour of his magical factory and a lifetime's supply of chocolate.
8 ET (1982)
In recent years Steven Spielberg has tackled very grown-up themes, from the Munich massacre to the Holocaust, but no one intuitively understands a child's imagination better than he does, and his 1982 film ET certainly stands the test of time.
The special effects might look a little dated these days, but the story of the stranded alien befriended by a lonely boy still has the power to move the hardest heart.
9 Toy story (1995)
Pixar's debut feature was the first film to be made entirely using CGI, and its success revolutionised the entire motion picture industry. It's also a wonderful family film, and its tale of a small boy's toys who come to life whenever he leaves the room marked the start of Pixar's extraordinary run of critical and box office success.
Tom Hanks and Tim Allen provided the voices of Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear (below), two playroom rivals who learn to be friends.
10 Finding nemo (2003)
Only the wonks at Pixar could dream up a film in which a lost clownfish is the star. There were shades of Bambi about Finding Nemo's opening, as Nemo's mother is eaten by a passing barracuda.
As a result his father becomes madly over-protective, but Nemo has an adventurous nature and when he strays from his home, he's captured by a scuba diver and ends up in a dentist's aquarium, from which he will mount a great escape. The film made almost $900m at the box office.