Mary Poppins flew onto our screens 50 years ago this year and remains one of the most loved family films of all time. The films we fell in love with as children stay locked in our hearts because we believed in their magic world. Children ever since have wished they could be Jane and Michael, jumping into pavement pictures and floating to the ceiling.
Directed by one of the most successful children’s film directors of all time, Robert Stevenson, his credits include The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks and One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing. He didn’t tell the young actors, Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber, about the magic carpet bag – so their astonished looks when Julie Andrews pulls out a hat stand are genuine!
Last year’s film, Saving Mr Banks, revealed how difficult it was for Walt Disney to bring P L Travers’ books to the screen because the author hated it being ‘Disneyfied’. But she was in favour of Julie Andrews as the lead. Julie went on to star in another family classic, The Sound of Music, and, however much she wanted to get away from her wholesome image, they remain her most remembered films.
When we think of much-loved children’s film stars, Liz Taylor doesn’t automatically spring to mind yet she starred in two classics – the original Lassie Come Home, and National Velvet, where a girl and a horse win the Grand National. Hard to believe they were made in 1943 and 1944 and turned the 12-year-old Elizabeth into a child star. Incidentally, the original Lassie was actually played by a dog called Pal – and all the Lassies in the many sequels and remakes have been descended from Pal.
So many films we fell in love with as children involve heroic animals winning against all odds. In 1963, Disney’s The Incredible Journey saw a labrador, a Siamese cat and a bull terrier stick together on a journey through the Canadian wilderness to be reunited with their owners. We didn’t notice that Bodger the male bull terrier was obviously female! The 1993 remake had voice-overs and a sub-plot, but can’t match the original for the emotion of the happy ending.
But not all animal films have happy endings. Ring of Bright Water, the 1969 true story of the touching relationship between a man and his pet otter, Mij, ends with the otter’s untimely death. That was also the year that Kes – the bitter-sweet story of a working-class boy and his love for a kestrel, was made. Both show that the British weren’t afraid to make a tougher film than Disney would have allowed. He made children weep when Bambi’s mother died, but mostly he agreed with Thumper, “If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
But Walt was a much-loved part of our childhood and depending on when we were born, we all have our animated film favourite. If it is 1953’s Peter Pan, you agree with Michael Jackson – which is why he named his ranch Neverland. If it’s 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, the iconic spaghetti-eating scene nearly didn’t make it to the screen as Walt wasn’t keen on it. And in 1961’s 101 Dalmatians, look out for cameos from Lady and Tramp – both dogs are in the twilight barking scene!
Nobody over 55 can have escaped a Hayley Mills film. The very British star of Wild at Heart spent her childhood as America’s most popular child actress in The Parent Trap (remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan) and That Darn Cat. She was actually the last person to receive a Juvenile Oscar for her title role in Pollyanna. Many years later she admitted that she wished she had got a decent education instead. Her acting commitments meant she left school with no formal qualifications at all.
From The Wizard of Oz, through Oliver via Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, we’ve been transported on many miraculous musical adventures over the years. Yet the film that holds a special place in so many hearts is the small-scale but exquisite The Railway Children, directed by Lionel Jeffries in 1970. It doesn’t matter that now we know that Sally Thomsett, who played 11-year-old Phyllis was actually 20 – and three years older than Jenny Agutter.
Like all the best children’s films, the film upholds the power of love to conquer all, bringing us safe to those we care most about; a message that never dates.
Classics of the future
The films we’re glad we grandparents had an excuse to watch...
Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Our favourite buddy movie – and it’s all British
March of the Penguins
You can’t beat the real thing...
So moving – and with a hero over 70
As good as Monsters Inc
The Lego Movie
Still singing the theme tune!
And then there are the Toy Stories, Shreks and Madagascars...
- Do you have a favourite film from childhood? Post your comment in the box below...
Pic © Everett Collection, REX