SINGAPORE – Like a lot of Singapore parents in these circuit-breaker times, I am home 24/7 with my kids.
After all the WFH (working from home), HBL (home-based learning) and seemingly never-ending households chores are done, one of our favourite ways to blow off steam is to plonk ourselves on the sofa and indulge in movies and television series on various streaming services.
While I doubt my sanity will hold up if I have to watch another season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, there are plenty of other options that adults and kids can watch together.
Streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV, HBO Go and Amazon Prime Video have family friendly-themed selections that narrow down the choices. Netflix also lets you create a dedicated kids profile that ensures they only have access to age-appropriate programs, while the adult profiles helpfully suggest shows that you can watch as a family.
I roped in my resident seven-year-old television and movie critic, my older daughter Aira, to co-review five shows, movies, series and a documentary, that we have watched together in the past week.
It's a list that mixes both recent offerings as well as classics that date back to my own childhood.
The criteria for this list is simple – the shows have to be entertaining first and foremost, but they should also have positive messages and be educational without being heavy-handed.
1 SPIRITED AWAY (2001)[hhmc]
Available on: Netflix
Synopsis: 10-year-old Chihiro stumbles into the spirit world and tries to break the spell holding her parents captive.
Advisory: Some violence
My take: 4.5 stars
Featuring breathtaking visuals and gorgeous animation, this Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli classic written and directed by Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki is a film that enthrals both adults and children alike.
Kids can relate to main character Chihiro, whose development from scared little child to determined protagonist unfolds over the course of the film.
It also offers lessons on the dire effects brought about by greed and pollution.
Parents might want to note that there are scenes of slight violence – characters bleed when they get hurt and some get swallowed alive.
Aira's take: 5 stars
She loves the rich array of characters and the fine details in the art, singling out scenes such as the one where a dragon undergoing a transformation sheds his shiny scales.
One takeaway that she got from the show is that people are not always what they seem to be at first.
"They look like they are bad but they are not because they help others."
2 TOY STORY 4 (2019)[hhmc]
Available on: Google Play/Apple TV
Synopsis: Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys are with their new owner, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who makes her own toy, Forky (Tony Hale), at kindergarten. But Forky gets separated when the family go on a road trip and it is up to Woody and the rest to rescue him.
My take: 4 stars
This recent Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature is an affecting, heart-warming continuation of the much loved Toy Story franchise.
We had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially at the antics of new characters Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves).
The artwork and animation are stunning but it is the characters and the qualities that they espouse – love, loyalty, teamwork, courage – that make this a winning choice for viewing with kids.
The film is also No. 1 on Rotten Tomatoes' Top 100 Kids & Family Movies list.
Aira's take: 5 stars
She thinks a lot of the characters are hilarious – the repeated jokes about Forky thinking he is part of the trash gets tired for me, but for her, it gets funnier every time.
There were scenes that made her sad, like when the toys were rejected by their owners, but the positive outcomes cheered her back up.
"You don't always get what you want, but that's okay," she notes.
3 E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)[hhmc]
Available on: Google Play/Apple TV/Amazon Prime Video
Advisory: Some strong language, death scene
Synopsis: A 10-year-old boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas), befriends an alien who is stranded on Earth and tries to help him reunite with its fellow extra-terrestrials.
My take: 4 stars
I chose this film for purely selfish reasons – I have good memories of watching it when I was Aira's age in the early 1980s.
Clearly I am not alone – it is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and is widely considered as one of director Steven Spielberg's finest.
In the context of today's sci-fi blockbusters, the special effects look a little hokey. But the sense of wonder, the spirit of friendship and the premise of kids emerging triumphant against all odds still gets to me after repeated watching.
Note that there is some light swearing by some of the older kids and a death scene that might be upsetting.
Aira's take: 2.5 stars
I was a little disappointed that she did not think much of the show. "It was boring," she said. "I didn't like it."
In the age of Marvel blockbusters and sophisticated animated flicks, perhaps the good old tale of boy and alien is too drab for a savvy seven-year-old.
4 GHOSTWRITER (2019)[hhmc]
PG/7 episodes ranging from 25 to 27 minutes
Available on: Apple TV+
Synopsis: A new boy in school and his friends must solve mysteries and are the only ones who can see messages from a ghost as well as characters from classic books come alive.
My take: 4 stars
A reboot of a 1990s children's television series, the first season of Ghostwriter features three storylines broken up into seven episodes.
It's a great sRead More – Source