Family films to stream for the long winter's days. Part One: HBO Max.

Today's Guest Blog (Part 1 of 2) is by actor-writer-reader-musician-cinephile Gregory Maupin. If you have ever seen Kentucky's Shakespeare in the Park, then you have seen Greg and his equally talented partner, Abigail Bailey Maupin, perform. As a duo, they are known as RANNYGAZOO and are just an astounding package of wit and wonder. I love to see what they are into and upto. (I am also a supporter of their Patreon page: you could be too! Click here to see what magic they've offered.)

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My little guys have become obsessed with Singin' in the Rain and dancing around the room to Make 'Em Laugh, so I asked Rannygazoo to please recommend other films that my 4 & 8 year old would enjoy. They delivered with this list, in blog-form, and here I am sharing it with you. I hope it helps the long winter months!

by Gregory Maupin

You know we love to evangelize old movies. By which we mean pre-us movies. By which we mean, oh, 1968 and before. All the way before. As far back as they go. So thank you for asking us to do so. 

Your delightful knuckleheads are at the perfect age to be trained not to fear a) black & white and b) subtitles. Apparently The Kids Today all leave the captions on anyway, for some reason. Whatever. They aren’t aware yet that some people (lazy, ill-bred people; people without souls or joy in their hearts) are resistant to these harmless things. And that hiding behind these things are some of the great movie joys that exist. So there you go.

We know what apps you have, but Netflix is a BUST if you want to watch anything made before the 21st century, frankly, and Prime is a nightmare to search – there’s stuff on there but here's the real gold for what you’re after:

So we’re offering two posts, for the sake of length. This one covers movies available with HBOMax, and the next will be some hidden gems from Disney+. Here we go – sleeves rolled up. (FYI in Louisville, if you have AT&T fiber, then you have HBOMax.)

The Gold Rush (two versions: the 1925 is silent, the 1942 version has narration instead of intertitles) – this is the one with the dinner roll dance and the eating of the shoe. You know. It’s a hoot and we showed it to our niece at the age of about three and she sat still for possibly the first time since she achieved mobility. MILD WARNING: offscreen and by implication only, a bear is hunted and eaten. It’s not a big deal in the grand scope of the movie (unless you’re one of the snowbound starving men – or, I suppose, the bear)  but we’re aware of the sensitivities of vegetarian children. The rest is a survival story made goofy, yet also undeniably exciting. It’s lots of fun.

Safety Last (1923) – just tell them “all the stunts in this are for real” and stand back. Harold Lloyd was also missing two and a half fingers from his right hand. When the main set piece starts – Harold scaling the building, leading to the famous clock bit – we once heard an intelligent, grown woman scream from the tension. It is a comedy. Our nephews freaked out. There are mild special effects & safety measures offscreen, but what you see is a thing that is occurring and it looks dangerous and it is dangerous and also wonderful. 

(If they like these, send them to the true master via YouTube: Buster Keaton. The shorts – “One Week,” “Neighbors,” “Cops,” “The Scarecrow,” “The Goat” are some of our favorites and are a gateway to a land of comic glory. The full-length features even more so.)

Mon Oncle (1958) is a plotless delight. It’s not as fast-paced as your modern comedy, but if they enjoy the Chaplin or the Lloyd, they may be into this. yes, this is in French, but you’ve got sharp fearless readers (also, silents and foreigns make for great family watching because the inevitable degree of chatter doesn’t ruin the at-home experience). And mostly people don’t talk in this movie anyway – just mutter. If they enjoy it, there’s another one on the app called M. Hulot’s Holiday that’s even better but there’s a kid in Mon Oncle that may make it more appealing.

Speaking of France: Beauty & the Beast (1946) – This movie is visually byoo-tee-ful, and if it inspires them to attempt camera tricks with your phone, there you go. One of Ab’s favorite’s of all time. We named our car Magnifique. It will make sense.

Another favorite of hers (and mine), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), is just so great, especially in that yes, yes, there are schmoopy parts, but Marian, while sort of a standard princess type, still gets to have a sociopolitical awakening. It’s not all about the dreaminess. Also the Technicolor is AMAZING and the action and archery and Basil Rathbone is the best fencer in film history (you can tell because he always loses so convincingly, which anyone can tell you is the hard part) and Prince John is a sniveling weenie (please ignore that he’s a redhead – it’s clearly not his natural color).  SERIOUS WARNING: your loons will try the action moves at home, if the Singin’ in the Rain “Make ‘Em Laugh” escapades teach us anything. So…I don’t know. Foam the corners of things or send them outside? They know Britain & Europe are cold.

(If they enjoy that, they may like the 1950s semi-parody available on Prime, Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester. Rathbone plays a version of the same character, but almost twenty years later. He’s still a delight. It’s good to see whackadoo people like Danny Kaye when you’re young – they can seem a bit cloying later if you don’t get early exposure. Also: the confusing hotness of young Angela Lansbury and Glynis Johns, the mom from Mary Poppins.)

Hidden Fortress (1959) is long (so? Pause it. Or tell them it’s a binge of three episodes of something. Or just lie to them and say you don’t know how long it is. We’ve used all these methods) but if they enjoy Star Wars (especially the original), well, it was stolen wholesale from this, except there are samurai (!). And yes, the “princess” in question is if anything as or more capable of serious buttkickery than Leia. If G. digs it, there’s a Samurai Macbeth adaptation on there called Throne of Blood, which we do not recommend for normal children, but since you have possibly the only Macbeth-obsessed ones…well, it’s your call.)

In an effort to keep this from getting out of hand, here are a couple more quick ones:

A Hard Day’s Night (1964): duh!

There are a heap of original Godzilla movies on HBOMax as well. I don’t know if monster cheesiness is their bag, but they’re a lot of fun.

Bringing Up Baby (1938), in which Katherine Hepburn & Cary Grant roam about the city wreaking wanton destruction on dinosaur skeletons, fenders, golf courses and perfectly good hats all while chasing/being chased by a leopard, or possibly two leopards. Fast-paced and silly. 

Next time: the hidden treasures everyone ignores on Disney+!


Greg & Ab


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