3 Valentine’s Day Movies for Kids

There aren’t very many romantic movies aimed at kids; older teens perhaps, but not children. It’s hardly feasible for filmmakers when their target market is worried about cooties and thinks holding hands is “gross!”

Still, kids do enjoy Valentine’s Day (Hello chocolate!) and some of them are just starting to think about puppy love. While there are a scant films that are specifically about these first glimmers of attraction (Lucas, My Girl, Flipped), here are a few more of my top picks, which range from flicks for the little kiddies, to the maturing tweens:

Lady and the Tramp

1955, G

Obvious, I know. But come on... How could I not include this adorable Disney classic? Based on Ward Greene’s short story Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog, this romantic adventure centers on one enchanted evening in the lives of a sheltered, pedigreed Cocker Spaniel, and a fancy-free mongrel from the wrong side of town. Just about every red-blooded American kid has seen this movie, but it’s worth revisiting as an adult: As a grown-up you’ll better appreciate the legendary singer Peggy Lee, who voices four of the characters, and you’ll welcome the remarkable attention to detail.

The story opens with an introduction to a pretty puppy named Lady (Barbara Luddy) and cleverly shows everything from her limited, knee-high point of view. She’s doted on by her human caretakers, Jim-Dear (Lee Millar) and Darling (Peggy Lee), until one day, when they come home with a baby. The neighbor dogs warn Lady that the new baby will consume Jim-Dear and Darling’s lives, so she might as well resign herself to playing second fiddle. Another dog, a roving rover called Tramp (Larry Roberts) chimes in, telling Lady that’s exactly how he lost his happy home and became a stray.

Lady’s fears are not allayed when her master and mistress go on a trip, leaving her at home in the care of Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton). Aunt Sarah not only hates dogs, she loves cats and moves two of her little felines into the house. The Siamese cats, Si and Am (both voiced by Peggy Lee), torment Lady and get her into such bad trouble she’s forced to wear a muzzle.

With Jim-Dear and Darling still away, Lady finds herself outside, lost, and on the run from the dog-catcher. But fortunately, Tramp takes her under his wing, and the two have a whirlwind, G-rated Disney-style romance. (However, it is somewhat scandalous for 1955 when in the end, Lady finds herself “with puppies.” Of course, Tramp does the gallant thing.)

One of the most enduring moments from Lady and the Tramp is the song-and-dance number with the slinky, evil feline duo doing The Siamese Cat Song (“We are Si-am-ese if you please — we are Si-am-ese if you don’t please! ”). And certainly the most endearing and heartwarming scene is the one that shows Lady and Tramp sharing a plate of spaghetti and sucking up the long noodles until they find they have the same strand and meet muzzle to muzzle in a kiss. Lady and the Tramp was the first Disney film to be filmed in the wider Cinemascope aspect ratio, and it is certainly one of their most visually appealing films.

Corpse Bride

2005, PG

This one might be good for Halloween also, but it’s actually a love story at heart. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is a stop-motion animated musical much in the same tradition of his cult favorite The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Victor Van Dort (voice, Johnny Depp) is bumbling through the woods late one night, having just gone through a very harrowing experience — the rehearsal for his arranged wedding to Victoria Everglot (voice, Emily Watson), a young woman he’d never even met before that day. Fiddling with the gold band intended for his bride and muttering a few practice vows, he slips the ring onto the gnarled branch of a bramble bush—or so he thinks...

The branch is actually a bone. The left ring finger-bone of Emily (voice, Helena Bonham-Carter), a corpse bride who died in her wedding dress some years before and has been waiting in the Land of the Dead for someone to propose. While Victor wasn’t particularly keen on marrying Victoria, he’s even less taken by the idea of being forever wed to a partially skeletal corpse, and residing in a dark underworld populated by animate dead bodies in various states of decay.

The tongue-in-cheek, gothy German Expressionist look and feel of the film are real eye-poppers. In fact, that’s a running gag throughout the proceedings: Emily’s eyeball falls out and bounces around more frequently than Captain Ron’s, thanks to her resident maggot (voice, Enn Reitel), obviously modeled on Peter Lorre, who always wants to pop out and pipe up. There are a lot of cockle-warming homages here: Most notably a song-and-dance number by Bonejangles (voice, Danny Elfman) that’s a dead ringer for Ub Iwerks Skeleton Frolic cartoon from the 1930’s.

Despite the colorful characters and never-ending parties going on in the Land of the Dead, Victor is anxious to return to the colorless, joyless 19th century-styled Land of the Living. Emily, all dressed in tattered white, is determined to keep her new-found love with her. “Why go up there when people are dying to get down here?” wonders one character. Indeed, it won’t seem logical to lovers of horror and the quirkily morbid, but Victor is an upright, uptight, straight-laced young fellow who feels an obligation to his fiancée Victoria.

Meanwhile, the film switches back to the Land of the Living, where Victoria’s tightwad parents (voices, Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) are ready to marry her off to the next available suitor (voice, Richard E. Grant), so as not to waste the wedding cake. Victoria is determined to find Victor, not believing that he left on his own accord. Victor’s mother and father (voices, Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) post “Have You Seen Me?” notices all around town, and wring their hands with a mix of worry and consternation.

The story is romantic, brisk and entertaining, and there’s just enough gallows humor and skullduggery for perverse adults, while still maintaining an engaging experience that’s safe for very young kids.

13 Going on 30

2004, PG-13

It’s 1987 and Jenna Rink (Christa B. Allen) is a brainy, gawky tween who’s caught in that awkward stage between wanting to play with dolls and wanting to date. It’s her 13th birthday and she’s invited her geeky best friend, Matt (Jack Salvatore Jr.), and a group of the most popular kids from school (who’ve only agreed to go to the party if Jenna does their homework). The soiree turns sour when Matt embarrasses Jenna, and the cool kids play a trick on her and ditch the party. All Jenna wants to do is get an early release from teenage-prison... And she gets it!

Fast forward to present-day, and Jenna (now played by Jennifer Garner) is 30 years old. Jenna is a self-assured, cool, and successful employee of a national women’s magazine and her closest co-worker and best friend is Lucy (Judy Greer), one of those popular girls she had looked up to all those years ago.

The problem is, the last thing Jenna remembers is her 13th birthday party. Like a fish out of water, she flounders with modern contrivances like cell-phones, and puzzles over certain phrases (in response to a question about the hardcore rapper Eminem, she says “Plain! No... Peanut!”). In her confusion, she turns to the only friend she remembers... Matt (now played by Mark Ruffalo). Matt is still stinging from the breakup of their friendship in 1987, but despite a fiancée waiting in the wings, he soon falls prey to Jenna's disarming charms.

13 Going On 30 is a cute chick flick with some clever dialogue and charming set ups. This one has it all – impromptu group dance sequences; musical montages of fun days; the big wedding day interruption. The chemistry between the lead characters is good enough to overcome the predictability of the plot, and the acting performances are all done in good fun. 13 Going On 30 is certainly lightweight fare, but it’s a sweet movie to watch on Valentine’s Day.

What are some of your favorite kid- and tween-friendly Valentine’s Day flicks? Share them with us!

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