old movies

I’ve recently challenged myself to reexamine what movies I’ve let slip into regular rotation in our house. I like to think we’re unconventional in our approach–favoring Miyazaki films or old musicals–as well as strict. We don’t watch movies or television in the house on any consistent basis; a month can go by without watching a movie as a family or with the kids by themselves. Though I curate the girls ipads for travel eagerly—I really enjoy the world of education apps—I have also purchased a few Disney movies over time. The way Apple has designed it, the app has always displayed all of these, even the ones I don’t want them to watch anymore and have deleted, like the vintage Looney Tunes that I immediately realized was too violent. (Honestly, friends don’t lead friends to fall off cliffs.) They see these purchases on the app and ask me to be sure they are downloaded for the trip. I say “oh, ok sure…” and it goes from there. Somehow Alma ended up watching Frozen a few times during travel and it bothered me to think about how often she’d heard certain lines repeated and how impactful that could be.

I checked this gem of a book out of the library: Ty Burr, dad of two daughters and the Boston Globe film critic wrote The Best Old Movies for Families: a Guide to Watching TogetherHis tone is really perfect–he loves movies, and he loves sharing them with his daughters and watching them respond. He reviews all sorts of old movies, summarizes the plot, makes the pitch to watch, even tells you which dvd edition to try to get. He’s careful to flag films that you may have forgotten have a few creepy scenes (I did this with the original The Absent Minded Professor, oops).

A beginning list I scribbled for us to check out: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Sherlock Jr (1924), The Music Box (1932), and La Belle et La Bete (Criterion edition from 1998), as well as many old comedies like The Gold Rush and City Lights. The girls recently finished memorizing the ten commandments chapter of Genesis and I’ve got the 1956 version on the list as well.

I’m ready to rehash the few films we do have on hand digitally completely. I think I used the excuse of not wanting to spend more money as a reason to leave it alone. The shrug effect. And it may mean spending a bit to rebuild the digital library and straight up deleting the few that were ill advised to begin with, fun songs or not.

Ty Burr doesn’t recommend the film Gandhi, but we applied the same approach when we recently decided to screen it for the girls. They had memorized a brief history sentence about imperialism and Gandhi, and I was itching for them to have a sense of all that was caught up in those two words. Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi was it. We spread the viewing over a couple of days, typically 30 minutes after dinner. There was so much to discuss. Joe and I almost choked on our food when one of the girls said, “His words were his weapon.” Though the film has been criticized for portraying Gandhi as saintly, I would argue the moments when that didn’t happen–in particular with his wife–were just as powerful to them. Not to mention the beautiful shots of Indian landscape and cities and music. I’ll have to wait for the remarks that come out in the weeks to come to see if we made a mistake.

Photos from neighborhood early October walks. 


  • Katharine

    It’s amazing how many “kid” movies have such weird and violent and creepy moments in them. I remember having so many nightmares about Disney movies growing up, as well as being very confused by assorted sexist comments. I haven’t yet the stage of any sort of movie watching with my son, but it’s something that’s on my mind recently as I begin to examine my childhood favorites (and favorite books!) for sharing with him. Love hearing about your carefully considered approach.

    And the comments from your girls in Ghandi — a wonderful reminder that children’s minds are so deep and thoughtful! Far more than we often think to give them credit for, until they give us such poignant reminders. I remember talking with a babysitting charge a few years ago about why she liked Ariel in The Little Mermaid so much. “Ariel doesn’t give in to prejudice,” she told me so seriously. It took me several minutes to pull my jaw off the floor, because of course she was completely right.

    • Rachael

      Thank you for that Katharine–though keep in mind I’m writing about this because of mistakes made! You look the other way on one or two and suddenly the whole system seems kaput. But yes I totally agree, reexamined children’s films reveal sinister characters of all sorts–purest good and purest evil. It’s a fascinating field.

  • Emily

    That was a tantalizing tidbit about your enjoyment in selecting educational apps! Any suggestions for a 2-3 year old? We’re about to take a long plane trip (15 hours!) and while she doesn’t have much iPad experience, she does love anything related to puzzles and has great small motor skills; I wonder if giving her a bit of time with a screen on this trip would help us all keep our sanity.

    • Rachael

      It’s worth a try! 2-3 is tough with apps. They get frustrated, and understandably so! With a Youtube Premium subscription (12 per month, first month free) you can download any movie for offline viewing. I like going through the Kid Should See This and picking fun cartoon bits and nature clips. We have a whole season of Daniel Tiger purchased, but I imagine many PBS clips are on youtube for free. Alma also likes the apps: Lucy & Pogo, Pango Playground, Children’s Classics (images of animals playing classical songs), and WheelsOnBus which at the upgraded level has coloring sheets and lots of songs. It will definitely buy you 30 minutes at hour intervals!

      • Emily

        After using these recommendations for a year now with great success on our travels, I’m circling back because your taste for selecting winners is now officially tried and true. Any favorite educational apps for four year olds? Specifically those that deal with reading – Della is very eager to learn – but any other suggestions are welcome, too.

  • Jennie

    This was a lovely post!! I am someone who has loved old movies since I was little. What I’ve discovered as I’ve gone back to watch old classics that I adored when I was young is that quite often there is a level of racism that is abhorrent and would not be accepted today. To me, this is more concerning even than violence in films – I think because it is passed off as being so innocent and acceptable…also, harder to talk about because it can be too subtle for a child to realize what they are absorbing.

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