Family films to watch this Christmas

| December 24, 2018

Here are ten feel-good family films from the 21st century to help you get in touch with what really matters. In different ways, they all soothe and nourish the soul.

Whale Rider (Niki Caro 2002)

Whale Rider is a modern retelling of the Paikea legend, a story of female empowerment that traces 11-year-old Pai’s unorthodox rite of passage to become the new leader of her community, providing renewed hope for her people and reconciliation for her broken family.

Witi Ihimaera wrote the 1987 novel for his daughter, after she complained there were no female heroes. Niki Caro’s film adaptation subsequently topped the New Zealand box office for 13 weeks.

Whale Rider’s reverence for the spirituality of New Zealand’s first nation people and the wisdom, determination and innovation that characterise Pai’s leadership style make this is a richly rewarding family film.

Little Miss Sunshine (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Fairs 2006)

For those bracing themselves for fraught family festivities, Little Miss Sunshineprovides a quirky indie comedy with a family more dysfunctional (hopefully) than your own, but also funnier.

Seven-year-old Abigail (Olive Hoover, aided by a very strong supporting cast) longs to be a beauty contestant, and her late acceptance into the Little Miss Sunshine pageant sends her family on a madcap road trip. Despite this premise, the film makes references to sex, drugs, and suicide, and is therefore more suited to teens and older children.

This film is a hilarious and biting critique of the beauty pageant circuit that must be seen, ultimately becoming a life-affirming tale about embracing human frailty.

Paper Planes (Robert Connolly 2014)

Living in rural Australia, 12-year-old Dylan Weber is recovering from his mother’s sudden death, while his father is still deeply mired in grief. From the point that Dylan is introduced to the international world of competitive paper planes his world and his view of it changes. He is literally forced to look up.

Dylan’s journey to create a winning design at each level of competition operates as a metaphor for the journey out of grief and towards a celebration of the joy found in innovation, imagination, family and friends. This is a feel-good family film, filled with many comedic moments combined with the message to never give up.

Eddie the Eagle (Dexter Fletcher 2015)

Eddie the Eagle is an inspirational family film based on the true story of Michael Edwards, who at 22 realised his goal of competing for Britain the 1988 Calgary Olympics. He was Britain’s only qualifier and only entrant for the aerial skiing category.

Eddie was appalling at aerial skiing, but a champion at being an underdog. He laughed off the ridicule, kept training and, despite serious injuries, was eventually championed by the world’s media and assisted by his international competitors.

Eddie is reminder of the joy of cheering for passion, community and faith, and the riches we miss by only focussing on achieving first place.

Kedi (Ceyda Torun 2016)

The lives of cats on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey, have been a defining feature of the city for thousands of years. Director Ceyda Torun manages to follow seven such cats, despite their often sneaky ways, keeping the camera predominantly at cat-level so that the audience experiences the city from their vantage-point.

What emerges is not only the variety of personalities among the cats themselves, but also the impact they have upon the human residents of Istanbul, who both care for and are enriched by the stray feline population. At its heart, Kedi is a story of empathy and connection across the human-animal divide.

A Silent Voice (Koe No Katachi) (Naoko Yamada 2016)

Koe no Katachi is a Japanese animated feature aimed at a global youth audience in its sophisticated representation of bullying and its destructive consequences, including suicide and depression.

Ten-year-old hearing-impaired Shouko Nishimiya is relentlessly bullied by a group of her classmates, particularly one of the main offenders, the troubled young boy, Shouya Ishida. A few years later Shouko becomes Shouya’s faithful mentor and companion in a difficult, but soul-enriching, shared path to forgiveness and finding a place to belong.

Koe no Katachi optimistically asserts that, although the need to belong is often used as an agent of destruction, finding it is ultimately our greatest salvation.

Sing Street (John Carney 2016)

In 1980s Dublin, teenager Conor (played by newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) struggles with fraught family relations at home and fitting in at his new school. Inspiration comes in the form of the seemingly-sophisticated teen model, Raphina (Lucy Boynton). Although Conor initially forms a band with a bunch of school misfits to impress her, the music itself becomes a source of creativity and camaraderie.

Director John Carney draws on his own youthful experiences in a 1980s school rock band for this coming-of-age musical comedy. He doesn’t shy away from Conor’s teen difficulties, yet conveys the exhilaration that can come from both music and taking the risk of standing out.

Paddington 2 (Paul King 2017)

Author Michael Bond wrote the first Paddington Bear adventure in 1958, but he reinvented his story over the decades to suit changing times. Paul King’s 2017 film Paddington 2 is the latest in that long line, but also a rare film sequel that surpasses the original.

This time, the little Peruvian immigrant finds himself caught up in a robbery mystery, charming those around him into seeing the world through the life-affirming eyes of a small bear. Infused with witty English humour, a beautiful visual style, and a superb cast, this is one to watch with or without children.

Wonder (Stephen Chbosky 2017)

Based on R. J. Palacio’s best-selling novel of the same name, Wonder tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a disfigured face who has been home schooled all his life. Attending school for the first time in fifth grade, Auggie is confronted by ignorance and bullying.

This unrepentantly sentimental and uplifting tale benefits from a strong young cast and their interweaving stories of resilience and acceptance, as well as Owen Wilson’s comic touch as Auggie’s father. Recommended for anyone who ever felt different, had a difficult time at school, or knew someone who did. Which is to say, everyone in the family.

Black Panther (Ryan Coogler 2018)

In Black Panther, Wakanda is a fictional utopian African country – an ideal state of female empowerment, community, and harmony between cultures and the environment.

Wakanda and T’Challa, its King, who is also known as the Black Panther, are under threat from N’Jadaka, T’Challa’s exiled cousin. A US-raised and military-trained weapon of mass destruction, N’Jadaka is both a product of the social failures of Wakanda and of contemporary US culture.

Black Panther confronts its audience with the need, conviction and the means to make meaningful and lasting cultural changes. It is rich soul food for adults and children alike, and for the debates it continues to generate.

Watch the trailer

This article was written by Dr Djoymi Baker and Dr Diana Sandars of the University of Melbourne and published by Pursuit.