With Bilbo and his friends about to venture into thousands of cinemas across the globe, I thought I’d remind us all of five of the most popular fantasy family films. In my eyes they are the epitome of what I classify as a fantasy film. They have either fantastical creatures, take place in mystical lands or they have wild, exciting scenarios in which our characters have a great adventure.
Even though this isn’t a “top five or ten” list, I would be hugely surprised if this wasn’t included in most people’s, were they asked to do one. Directed by Jim Henson and with an executive producer in the shape of George Lucas, Henson used his own “Jim Henson Workshop” to create an amazing world where puppets, actors and CGI are brilliantly combined to construct the Labyrinth. David Bowie is the Goblin King and Jennifer Connelly is Sarah, a girl on a desperate mission to save her baby step-brother, Toby, from the King in a world made from her favorite book. A great soundtrack, with five songs sung by Bowie himself, compliments the film perfectly and is one of the reasons this film is watched many times over. Weird and wonderful creatures both help and hinder Sarah on her mission, including the grumpy Hoggle and the loyal Ludo, as she winds her way to the center of the labyrinth. The slightly creepy element of the film is the masked ball at the end with some of the masks being a little unnerving. Despite being deemed a box office failure on it’s release in 1986, Labyrinth has established itself as a cult film in recent years. Dance, magic, dance anyone?
2. The Neverending Story
The Neverending story tells the tale of a young boy, Bastien, who finds himself drawn into a mysterious old book which he has borrowed. Co-written and directed by Wolfgang Peterson, in his first English film, the world of Fantasia is under threat from a void known as the Nothing. Consuming all, it seems that nothing can stop it until the childlike Empress of Fantasia summons a saviour, Atreyu, to find out and stop it. With the help of Falkor, a luckdragon, and Bastien himself, Atreyu battles all sorts of creatures on his mission. It is a great family film and like Labyrinth, doesn’t drag at any point. Whilst the soundtrack is not as impressive as Labyrinth’s, it still boasts a good title track sung by Limahl which reached No.4 in the UK charts.
What it lacks in the fact that it is situated in a place we recognise, Jumanji more than makes up for in all aspects of the qualities needed for a successful fantasy film. Joe Johnston’s 1995 film is all about a supernatural board game’s events and outcomes coming to life. Herds of rampaging rhinos, mischievous monkeys and sinister spiders are just a few of the things the game releases. In playing the game, two children release a man (Robin Williams), who whilst playing the game himself, had been trapped 26 years prior. Having huge knowledge of the game having been within its confines for so long, all three of them try to avoid the pitfalls presented to them. It was a superbly enjoyable release when it came out and is still great fun to watch now. Recent rumors suggest that a remake is likely on the cards. Just how or why this will happen, is a mystery to me. Sure, the effects could probably be improved upon, but they help tell the story fine just as they are. Oh, and nobody could play Robin Williams’ role better than him.
4. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The first of the Narnia films pays huge respect to the book on which it is based. It is not too dark, it has some light-hearted humor and is both a good film in itself and a precursor to the film that follows it. The Pevensie children are a group of four who, like many other children caught in the blitz bombing of London during World War Two, are sent away to live in a safer area of the country. At an old house in the countryside, during a game of hide-and-seek, they discover an old wardrobe that magically transports them to the world of Narnia. There, they meet many talking animals, some who help them and some who want to capture them for the evil White Witch, who rules the land with her icy magical powers. A great lion, Aslan, aides and guides them in their tasks to try and free the land from the Witch’s power. If you look into the story, it isn’t hard to see the heavy religious influence of C.S Lewis’ writing, but although it isn’t hard to see, it doesn’t obscure the fantastic tale he created, not that it should. The sequels that followed were okay, but nothing more, and I myself have only watched two or three times. However, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one you could watch twice as many times easily. A great family movie and worth seeing if you haven’t already.
5. The Lord of The Rings
Perhaps predictable and quite apt given the imminent release of The Hobbit, but I have no choice but to include THESE. I say “these” because I mean all three of the Lord of the Rings movies. Every one of these films is an epic. Very few movies that make up a trilogy can say that. Given the enormous world that Tolkien created, Jackson did an incredible job in making this amazing set of films. Delivering all the major components necessary to tell the story and portraying characters like Gollum so similarly to the books’ description, they deserved all of the awards they got. It could have gone horribly wrong, taking on this monumental task, like it did with Bakshi’s animated piece (though this was a huge error on the studio’s part and not so much Bakshi’s fault). It is the story of Frodo Baggins quest to transport the “One Ring to rule them all” to where it was forged, to be destroyed and in doing so take away the power of Sauron, whose evil was spreading. Despite them being part of a bigger story, any of these films can be watched on their own and thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to seeing The Hobbit in a few days and whereas I don’t think it’ll be as dark and “heavy-going” as LOTR, I’m sure Jackson will deliver a film fit for many re-watches, surely the sign of a great film in any genre.
One thing I would like to include, and suggest if you haven’t seen it, was a British TV show based on John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. I wont go into too much detail, but if you want to watch a slightly strange, wintry, magical tale it’s worth watching, if you can find the DVD!
*Written by JP Wooding
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