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BY Steven D. Greydanus
The greatest family film of all time? Respondents polled for a Radio Times magazine survey ranked Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as the best, with The Wizard of Oz in the runner-up spot. (Hat tip: Guardian.co.uk.)
Is the story of Elliott and his wise-yet-childlike alien friend really more magical than Dorothy’s adventures in Oz? It’s debatable. A film writer I know has said he’s a fan of lists but not of ranking, and I tend to agree.
There’s a reason why the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, releasing the Vatican film list in 1995, was careful to note in its press release, “Not all [films] that deserve mention are included.” A list points us to films worth noting; it can’t tell us definitively that these films are necessarily more worthy of note than all films that aren’t included, let alone which films worthy of inclusion are most worthy.
That’s why, rather than quibble about the ranking of films, I’d rather take issue with the inclusion of movies I think don’t deserve to be on such a list at all—and talk about movies I would rather see there instead.
For example, from the Radio Times list, Shrek (#6) is an entertaining film, but does it belong on an all-time top 10? Ridonkulous! Likewise, The Jungle Book (#9) is a fine Disney feature for its period (especially for its soundtrack), but if you’re only going to include one Disney animated feature, is it even in the top 5? Really? Over Bambi, Fantasia or Beauty and the Beast? Heck, I’d take The Emperor’s New Groove or Lilo & Stitch over Jungle Book.
Then there’s Back to the Future (#8), a terrific action-comedy, but not necessarily the best fit for the category of family film, unless everyone in your family is in double digits. Actually, some might say the same about E.T., with its famous obscenity and other problematic content, but I think E.T. fairly counts as a family film.
The least deserving candidates on the Radio Times list, in my book, are the lame, unmagical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (#4) and the mediocre Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (#7). (I’m also not a fan of Mary Poppins (#3), but never mind, I know a hopeless case when I see it.)
That leaves Toy Story (#5) and The Sound of Music (#10) as the only films on the list, along with E.T. and The Wizard of Oz, that I think really belong on a list like this. (Even then, given one Pixar film, I’d probably pick Toy Story 2 or The Incredibles over Toy Story, but that’s quibbling.)
What about the other six slots? In addition to the Disney and Pixar picks mentioned above, plausible candidates I’d want to consider would include Babe, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Song of Bernadette, Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, The Story of the Weeping Camel, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and The Iron Giant. (Don’t ask me to pick just ten!)
How about you? Let’s do our own unofficial poll here! What family films would you include that I didn’t mention? Anything I dismissed that you think deserves another look? (Not counting Mary Poppins! Uncle! Uncle I say!) Oh, and what about my proposed candidates?
Let’s hear what you think.