Armchair Travel Series: Take the Kids to Paris on Movie Night
Ah, Paris. You know it as the world’s cultural heart, where artists like Matisse and Picasso created their masterworks; where iconic emblems of beauty like the Eiffel Tower and the Cathedral of Notre Dame were built, and where every famed fashion, food, and fantasy learned to flourish.
The world’s most romantic destination may be too far for your family vacation this year, but it doesn’t mean you can’t live the dream onscreen. Pack a living room picnic with plenty of cheese and pastries, and turn your eyes to the screen for a cinematic experience of the City of Lights.
One part Hunchback of Notre Dame, another, Phantom of the Opera, a little bit of Frankenstein, and just a dash of Paris’s famous La Belle Epoch, this beautiful French animated film from 2011 tells the story of two friends who release a monster into the city streets, only to discover, thanks to their lady friend with a heart of gold, that this beast is a gentle giant who must be saved from a city that wants it destroyed.
Along the way, the film shows a truly French version of this popular early-20th century era of Parisian-gothic style and social mores. You’ll get everything from the Montmartre funicular to cabaret singers and clapping monkeys; you’ll get zeppelins and a steampunk delivery truck too! If ever there was an animated film to sell your kids on the romance of Paris, it would be this one.
Cats and Paris somehow go together naturally, as is evidenced by the plethora of cat-themed Parisian pictures (see A Cat in Paris and Gay Pur-ee to complete your trilogy). However, we’re taking the most classic of these films, The Aristocats, as the gold standard.
Still in La Belle Epoch, the main characters in this animated Disney tale are snow-white Duchess and her three kittens, who are set to receive an inheritance from the lady of the house, a retired opera singer, Madame. When Madame’s butler finds this out, he sets out to destroy the cats, taking them –and us – through a whirlwind tour of Paris and the countryside, as the “aristocats” join forces with the scrawny alley cats to outwit the butler and regain a place at their comfy Parisian home.
A great introduction to French food from the perspective of a very thoughtful kitchen rat, Ratatouille is perhaps one of the most affecting animated films ever made. Remy, a rat with an extraordinarily well-developed palate, finds himself poised to realize his dream of becoming a great chef when he winds up in the kitchen of a very posh restaurant. He attempts to stay under wraps by partnering with a clumsy human sous chef who helps turn Remy’s dreams into real food.
Besides the tragic lesson of how we judge others and the heartwarming friendship Remy develops with his human hands, the movie is also a great way to introduce your kids to some classics of French cooking. The title dish, ratatouille, is a fantastic, traditional vegetable stew. Encourage your kids to try their own new recipes and get creative in the kitchen if the thrill of vegetables with a French name doesn’t do the trick.
Bumbling French inspector Jacques Clouseau (Peter Sellers at his finest) is the faux-noir detective at the center of The Pink Panther, the first in a comedic mystery series with the character. In this famous Paris-set flick, a variety of thieves are after a precious jewel known as the Pink Panther, and it’s up to Clouseau to find it before the thieves do!
Toggling between Italy and France, the film’s charming French lead gives the movie a great sense of place and character that will have your kids immediately charmed by the frogs.
For a truly French tale of childlike whimsy, there’s nothing like following a boy being followed by a cheery red balloon through the streets of Paris. The nearly wordless plot of this 35-minute short film from 1956 is nothing more than that, yet it entertains just as a child would be entertained: simply by the magic of its being.
Along the way, your kids will appreciate seeing the real-life streets and children of Paris’ Belleville area, which has since changed so dramatically it would hardly be recognizable if you saw it in person. For an update on the same whimsy and charm, you can direct your older teens to Amelie, a more sophisticated Parisian tale with some of the same cheeky playfulness (and a little bit of sex, truth be told).
You might not have pegged Martin Scorsese as a guy who would make a heartwarming film about a Parisian orphan who idolizes George Méliès, but that just makes you like most of the world. When Hugo, set in a 1930s Parisian train station, was released, it shocked and thrilled nostalgic cinephiles and Francophiles alike. The 2011 3D film is live-action, but with the tone and humor of an animated film, aided in no small part by magical 3D effects.
Share with your kids the magic of Paris and the beauty of early cinema by enjoying this fairy-dusted tale together.
What are some of your favorite films set in Paris? Share your armchair travels with us!
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