Films: They Don't Make 'em Like These Anymore

by Caitlin Servilio

Whenever I take my nine-year-old brother, Rob, to the movies in our hometown, I come home from the theatre feeling slightly disappointed. From the recent onslaught of films about livestock (Barnyard, Chicken Little) to the stampede of movies about exotic creatures (Madagascar, The Wild) to the usual heap of remakes, sequels, and general Harry-Potter-ness, I haven’t seen very many children’s movies in recent years that I really enjoyed.

I don’t belong to that group of people who has to talk constantly about their own childhoods, I swear! The nineties were a fun time, but that doesn’t mean I harass little children with stories about how I had to walk uphill both ways to school carrying a huge bag full of Pogs.


I honestly do believe that the movies of my childhood, which were made in the late eighties and early nineties, have an innocent spirit of fun and humor and are far more original than those being made now. Frankly, if you were giving out a prize for originality, who would you give it to—a talking chicken, or a talking toaster? I know what I would pick. To prove my point, here are in no particular order my top four picks for the best movies of my childhood.


1. The Brave Little Toaster, 1987.
This animated adventure follows the quest of several household appliances trying to find their old master (owner), who has grown up and left the house. A toaster, a vacuum cleaner, a desk lamp, and an adorable electric blanket are among this loveable band of contraptions braving the elements and each other. Their journey culminates in an intense junkyard scene when the master and the appliances must save each other from a malevolent trash-munching machine. An incredibly enjoyable movie, all around. (To see one of the musical numbers, go here.)

2. An American Tail, 1986. The story of Fievel and his family, mice immigrants from Russia, never fails to pull the old heartstrings. Fievel gets separated from his sister and parents on the journey to America, and arrives in the U.S. only to discover that the streets are not made of cheese, as promised. Can Fievel reunite with his family and help defeat the evil Cat Gangs of New York. The movie has great messages about tolerance and a soundtrack that includes James Horner’s “Somewhere Out There.”

3. Ferngully—The Last Rainforest, 1992. This environmentally conscious film follows the plight of Crysta and her compadres, fairies who live in the rain forest. The scary pollution monster, Hexxus, is trapped in a tree, so everything seems great until deforestation arrives in Ferngully. When tree chopping releases Hexxus, he runs amok, and Crysta must use her magical powers to stick him back in the tree. Great animation and songs, especially “Toxic Love.”

4. The Land Before Time, 1988. Littlefoot is a happy young brachiosaurus. Then his world is ripped to shreds as Tyrannosaurus rex brutally slays his mother. (I always cry at this part.) He and his friends must find the mythical land where his grandparents are waiting for him, and along the way they have to defeat the T. Rex. Featuring another of James Horner’s compositions, “If We Go On Together,” this movie has some strong messages about teamwork and the power of love.

That’s all I have room for, but if you’re interested in more movies from my childhood, check out Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, Fievel Goes West, and especially The Great Mouse Detective!

(Promotional photo of The Brave Little Toaster courtesy of Hyperion Pictures.)

(A trailer for
Ferngully—The Last Rainforest can be seen below.)

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Allison Doolittle said...

It definitely seems like there are way fewer quality animated movies coming out lately, but, there is some hope:) Outside of America, there have been several very cool and innovative animated films. I'd recommend The Triplets of Bellville from France or anything by Hayao Miyasaki of Japan.

Caitlin Servilio said...

Yes, Howl's Moving Castle is a truly amazing work of art, though I think I may actally have enjoyed it more than my little brother. And I also wanted to mention another great movie I didn't have room for on the list, but wanted to give props to--"We're Back! A Dinosaur Story."

Anonymous said...

Ah, you struck a nerve.

I'm glad to see that someone else out there appreciates "Ferngully"; the critics were very stingy with its praise (although, I guess it was blasphemous at the time for any studio to challenge the almighty Disney). Speaking of "Toxic Love", there's a nifty little special feature in the 2-Disc DVD boxset that shows the song portrayed in three different angles - animated format, storyboard format, and in the studio with Tim Curry (god, I love his voice).

I was reminded of this film when I first watched "Robots" on DVD. This is to be expected, I guess, since Robin Williams lends his voice to both Batty and to Fender. Tying in what you wrote, animated movies do seem less engaging and more like soulless corporate products. Even with Robin Williams and its beautiful CGI, "Robots" sucked, and it sucked for many obvious reasons:

1) The villain was an over-the-top, wussy mamma's boy. Come on now, where's Jafar when you need him?

2) The voices were all wrong (with the exception of Piper and Bender) . They really have to stop using big-name stars as voice talents, or at the very least, choose actors that actually add depth to the characters. For example, George C. Scott as McLeach in "The Rescuers Down Under", another favorite movie of my youth.

4) Sloppy romantic pairings. In "Robots" they basically slapped it together, with virtually no development at all (another movie guilty of this is "Osmosis Jones", where the character that plays the title character's love interest not only inexplicably is all over him at the very end, but delivers the most god-awful, cheesy line of the film. Ugh.)

3) I've seen this ending before - you know, where the entire cast breaks out into inexplicable song and dance? But instead of writing original songs for the finale, for the sake of selling soundtrack albums they decide to be lazy and slap a pop song in its stead (with "Shrek" it was "I'm a Believer", with "Shrek 2", it was "Living La Vida Loca", with "Shark Tale", it was "Carwash", and with "Robots", it was "Get up Offa That Thing" - see a pattern?)

So, yeah, when it comes to modern CGI efforts (or lack thereof), I'm a very bitter individual pining for the good old days when animated films were still hand-drawn, and the computer graphics were far and few in-between.

That said, I'd give anything to get my hands on a DVD of "Cats Don't Dance". THAT'S one of the best animated films of the 90's.

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