The last couple of years haven't produced a lot of good family films.
Walden Media released a couple of okay films, Bridge to Terabithia and The Water Horse. National Treasure: Book of Secrets was diverting, and lots of people liked Enchanted, although Mrs. Decent Films' minority report on that one has gotten a lot of positive feedback).
2006 wasn't much better. The year's best films, Akeelah and the Bee and Lassie, hardly made a ripple. Cars was the closest thing to a disappointment from Pixar since, like, A Bug's Life. A few others were worth catching once: Monster House, Over the Hedge, Flushed Away and even Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (mostly for Scrat's brilliant slapstick). After that, though, forget it.
2008, though, looks like it could be shaping up to be a better year for family films than either of the last two years, at least for quality.
It started with The Spiderwick Chronicles, a strong family thriller with goblins attacking a troubled family, which dealt with a number of daunting themes — divorce, parental abandonment, death — in surprisingly effective ways. (I'll be reviewing it soon for the DVD release.)
Then Blue Sky Studios produced their best film to date, the delightful and gratifyingly pro-life Horton Hears a Who.
This weekend, DreamWorks Animation releases the charming, entertaining Kung Fu Panda. I seem to be in the critical mainstream in enjoying the film, though I may be among a comparative minority who, not having been bowled over by the Shrek films (1 2 3), thinks this may be DreamWorks Animation's best CGI cartoon to date (beating out Over the Hedge, Shark Tale and Madagascar as well as the Shrek flicks).
(Note: This is not to say Kung Fu Panda is DreamWorks Animation's best animated film — only that it is possibly (IMO) their best computer-animated film. The Prince of Egypt remains their masterpiece, and Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is the best animated swashbuckler of all time.)
The year's most anticipated release, of course, is Pixar's WALL*E, coming out later this month. I've seen advance footage from this one, and, well, let's just say my anticipation is through the roof. If it meets my expectations, this film could power 2008 to the best family-film year since, like, 2004 and 2005 combined.
Prince Caspian, not a great film, is still a good ride. And Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is Indy's most family-friendly outing since, like, 1981 (this being the first Indy film since the original without some sort of bedroom scene).
What else? A little off the beaten path, Son of Rambow is a flawed but endearing film that might be okay for families with older kids (the story is about two young British schoolboys in the 1980s who set out to create a homemade sequel to First Blood).
And the year's not over.
Looking further ahead, I'm getting no vibes on 20th Century's Space Chimps, but I'm more intrigued by Fly Me to the Moon, a Belgian English-language cartoon about houseflies stowing aboard the Apollo 11. (Neil Armstrong voices himself?! He couldn't be bothered to participate in In the Shadow of the Moon, but he turns out for this?)
Then there's City of Ember, a Walden Media adaptation from the director of Monster House — and the first Walden film to set off my spider-sense in a good way since, like, Holes. (I liked Because of Winn-Dixie, but I didn't get the same vibe from it… and I've been ambivalent about the Narnia films.) One of Walden's problems in recent years has always been not having the right creative team. Could this break the pattern?
What else? Could The Clone Wars possibly be worth catching? The PG-rated Brandon Fraser Journey to the Center of the Earth could be fun (I missed an early screening due to a conflict). Disney tries another home-grown CGI cartoon, yawn (Bolt). For Harry fans, December will bring The Half-Blood Prince.
Of course, not all the news has been good. Speed Racer anyone? We saw another tepid VeggieTales movie (The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything). And, yikes, DreamWorks is releasing a Madagascar sequel.
On the other hand, there are no fantasy films this year selling atheism to children, and that's a good thing.
One way to stack up the year against other recent years is to compare this year's films with recent counterparts.
GET MY KUNG FU PANDA REVIEW. EDIT: Link fixed!