3 Unexpected Kid’s Movies from Steven Spielberg

When it comes to children and cinema classics, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982) is at the top of most lists. It really is the consummate kid’s movie.

And yet, director Spielberg is better-known for his spectacle and horror films – Jaws, Jurassic Park, and War of the Worlds to name a few. And most of his movies are aimed at adults (don’t show your six-year-old Schindler’s List!).

Still, Spielberg does have a few kid-friendly flicks that have universal appeal and great life lessons for us all. Check them out:

Empire of the Sun

1987, PG

Empire of the Sun is rated PG, and while it’s probably too intense for the youngest kids, the older set can really get into it. It’s about a privileged and spoiled British 12-year-old boy named Jim (Christian Bale) who is more fascinated than threatened by the planes flying over his wealthy family’s Shanghai home.

But suddenly, World War II breaks out and Jim becomes separated from his parents. The lone boy finds himself captured by the Japanese, and thrown into a POW camp. There he meets Basie (John Malkovich), an American wheeler-dealer with a sly Dickensian cleverness, and a penchant for mutiny. While this rebellious example gives Jim hope, it also makes him grow up – fast. Empire of the Sun is based on J. G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name.

And the moral of the movie is . . .

Empire of the Sun is a good film to demonstrate how the human spirit can overcome even the worst adversity.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

2001, PG-13

A.I. is based upon a short story which was published in the late 1960’s, and to which Stanley Kubrick originally owned the rights. (Super-Toys Last All Summer Long by Brian Aldiss – but really, it’s The Velveteen Rabbit all over again.) Kubrick and Steven Spielberg worked on developing a screenplay and storyboards, and after the elder passed away, the younger picked up the torch.

Haley Joel Osment stars as David, the first “mecha” (robot) child, designed to experience love. David is meant to replace a young couple’s comatose son, but things go terribly awry and he finds himself on his own. Eventually David is mentored by a love-doll mecha named Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) and a talking super-toy bear named Teddy.

His adventures take him to the neon-tinged Rouge City, to a sort of Circus Maximus known as a Flesh Fair, and finally to a very lonely post-apocalyptic New York City. But it’s not the destination that’s important to us... It’s the journey. And it’s an amazing journey with fantastic actors (Osment and Law, William Hurt, the voices of Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Glenn Close, and more), eye-popping robotics from Stan Winston Studios, gorgeous cinematography from Janusz Kaminski, and a stirring score from John Williams.

It’s not your typical Spielberg film, and it’s not your typical Kubrick film. It’s just plain not your typical film. A.I. is a stark, mournful blend of their two styles, resulting in sort of a Pinocchio meets Blade Runner meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

But such comparisons sell it short. Snubbed by movie-goers (it was a box office bomb) and The Academy (it was nominated for only two small technical awards), A.I. has only recently gained respect with age. It’s about time! There are some adult themes, but the movie is Rated PG-13 and is probably OK for ages 11 and up.

And the moral of the movie is...

A.I. is a great movie to instill the belief that the power of love endures all.

The Adventures of Tintin

2011, PG

This animated film is an amalgam of three well-known episodes in the Tintin comic book canon: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is an unquenchably curious young reporter whose best friend is his faithful mutt, Snowy. Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and the three embark on an action-packed search for the Captain’s ancestral treasure trove. From the high seas to the sands of distant deserts, every new twist and turn in this mystery adventure throw Tintin and his friends to new heights of peril and joy.

Tintin is rated PG, and that’s just right since the movie is a little scary – but the animation (which was supervised by producer Peter Jackson) adds a layer of unreality.

And the moral of the movie is...

Tintin teaches kids that risk equals reward.

What are some of your favorite Spielberg films for family movie night?

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