Movies played a big part in my childhood. Previously, I wrote about My 5 Favorite Childhood TV Shows and how they stack up today. But movies may have affected me even more. The movies I was exposed to by my family and friends shaped my tastes and affected my attitude. Today, these and other films transport me like few others when I watch them.
In this entry, I take a look at why I loved them and what I think of them now. This list may be proof that the things you love as a little kid never truly leave your heart.
5. Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi
Why Did I Like It Then? Even though it had been a decade since the last Star Wars film came out, it still felt like the series was alive and well in my childhood. I first watched these films on VHS, with the movies recorded off television and marked with a U.S. postage stamp that had artwork from the respective film (how much would that be worth today?). It was my dad that introduced me to them and it was he who eventually bought the official tapes. I was hooked by the outer space adventures and the colorful characters. Return of the Jedi in particular was my favorite. Ewoks vs Storm Troopers. A humongous space fight outside the unfinished Death Star. The redemption of Darth Vader. They all appealed to me more than the simple story of A New Hope or the darkness of The Empire Strikes Back. From action figures to playtime to my viewing habits, Star Wars influenced all corners of my life as a kid.
How Is It Now? I scoff at my childhood self. Return of the Jediover The Empire Strikes Back? I was obviously blinded by the cuteness of Ewoks and the big flashy battle scene at the end. Not that Return is bad, it’s still a solid ending to the trilogy. But Empireis my favorite Star Wars film now. Plus, while Return has a lot of great moments and satisfyingly ends the trilogy, especially Darth Vader’s story, it somewhat lacks the storytelling strength of the second film. This probably ranks as my third favorite in the series now. It’s still an irreplaceable film for me, though.
4. The Great Mouse Detective
Why Did I Like It Then? There was some blend of mystery and silly songs present in this anthropomorphic animated version of Sherlock Holmes that I adored as a kid. Basil of Baker Street is an eccentric and very witty protagonist and Ratigan is quite the repulsive villain (with some great songs). Plus, I’m a sucker for talking mice. For some strange reason, I loved anything with them in it during my youth. I constantly watched An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, The Secret of NIMH, The Rescuers Down Under, Pinky and the Brain, and anything with Mickey Mouse. I don’t really have a reason for it. It’s just facts. But I watched The Great Mouse Detective the most. And some of the scenes, like the deathtrap, robotic Queen of England, and the climactic fight, are vivid in my memory.
How Is It Now? It’s still a fun movie, but it is one of Disney’s lesser entries. There’s a reason why movies like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Cinderella have become classics while The Great Mouse Detective has become somewhat obscure. Those films are of the highest quality and encapsulate what Disney animated movies are all about. The Great Mouse Detective? Not so much. But it is still a fun time, with its heroes all being very likeable. Plus, it stays true to the style of Sherlock Holmes, making it fun now that I am a fan of the actual character as an adult. If you haven’t seen this film, it’s worth a look. But it probably won’t supplant your favorite cartoon.
3. DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp
Why Did I Like It Then? Combine a television show that I already loved with the style of a film series I was enamored with (see next entry) and you get an animated movie that I absolutely loved. Scrooge McDuck may be a stubborn penny-pinching millionaire, but he’s still a great hero. Huey, Dewey, and Louie are adventurous and wonderfully relatable for a young boy (like many other characters on this list). Together with Launchpad and Webby, I couldn’t get enough of what DuckTales the Movie had to offer. Their magic-filled adventure was just dark enough to always feel suspenseful to my young self. Would they beat the evil Merlock, free Genie (“Ja-boo-ee!”), and restore Duckberg? It always seemed to be in doubt. And when they win? Pure bliss.
How Is It Now? It still fun and it’s pretty silly. It may not feel as epic as it once did, but the Disney ducks will always be fun characters. And that theme song is the best! In many ways, the film’s similarities to Aladdin hurt it a little bit, even though this movie was made first. In either case, watching Treasure of the Lost Lamp is still a fun trip down memory lane. I have a very strong case of nostalgia with this one. It’s enough to overcome shortcomings, but it’s fun and sweet in the best way possible. Plus, Ducktalesand all their related TV shows were the first real case of world building across multiple forms of media. Take that, Marvel!
2. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
Why Did I Like It Then? I saw this on VHS so many times that the beginning of the film was distorted from overuse. Indy’s teenage adventure must have hooked me more than any other movie opening, with the train chase and all the animal encounters in particular sticking in my memory. I equated Indiana Jones with my father, somewhat because of appearance and somewhat because that’s just what kids do. The obstacle course to get to the Holy Grail and the rapid aging caused by the fake cup were just scary enough as a child to make me look away, but still want to peek through my fingers. Every scene in Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade scratched just the right itch for the child version of me.
How Is It Now? It still hits the spot every time. This as my favorite Indiana Jones film. I love Raiders, but the mix of action, laughs, and emotion in the father-son relationship elevate Last Crusade for me. This is filled with amazing set pieces and the tank fight may be better than the Raiders truck chase. Salah and Marcus Brody are a joy to have back and really add great comedic moments that don’t take away from the gravity of the narrative. I must be able to quote every line in this film today, and there are plenty of great pieces of dialogue (“I suddenly remember my Charlemagne …”). A completely satisfying and thrilling experience, even after countless repeat viewings.
1. Disney’s Robin Hood
Why Did I Like It Then? Recorded off cable onto a VHS and placed back-to-back with Dumbo (kind of boring) and the Mickey Mouse short The Brave Little Tailor (“I killed seven with one blow!), Robin Hoodwas my favorite from a young age. It’s one of the first films I remember ever seeing and it outshined many of the other cartoons I watched at the time. Robin Hood is always a dashing and charming hero, but this version is even more so. The little rabbit children are the perfect way for a young boy to relate. Especially Skippy, the boy who wants to be just like Robin. And who wouldn’t want to be? He never misses a shot, can’t be beat, is in love with the wonderful Maid Marian, and has the best friend ever in Little John.
With songs and adventure in spades, it was the perfect experience for the rambunctious little boy that I was. I’ve been told that as a toddler I would yell, “Again! Again!” when the movie ended. Sometimes my mother acquiesced, other times she didn’t. Either way, it really informed my mood for the rest of the day.
How Is It Now? It’s still one of my favorite Disney movies, partially out of the nostalgia from my childhood, but also because of all the fun and charm that is loaded into this movie. Every character is enjoyable on screen and Prince John is one of Disney’s funniest villains. The romance between Robin and Marian is still sweet and touching, with it really being the focus of the entire film. The sketchy animation and colorful character models have a similar quality to 101 Dalmations and The Jungle Book, which were made in the previous decade. The songs are wonderfully made, ranging from the energetic “Whistlestop” to the melancholic “Not in Nottingham.” Combine the times I saw this as a child and my numerous viewings on DVD in present day and it is easily one of my most watched films.
Honorable Mentions: Babar: The Movie, Back to the Future, The Mummy, Oliver and Company, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, Jurassic Park