Photo Credit: Disney
It may not be a biggie on any developmental checklist, but "first movie" ranks high in the parental milestone department. Check out this list of ten great "starter movies" from Common Sense Media to find the right first flick for your child.
Winnie the Pooh (Ages 3+) This big-screen take on Winnie the Pooh is as sweet and gentle as the original Disney cartoons, making it accessible for even the youngest movie-goers (and a fine pick for little ones' first movie). Preschoolers and early elementary-aged children may not understand the way the narrator speaks to the characters (who also interact with the letters and words on the screen), but it won't get in the way of their enjoyment. The sequence in which the mysterious "Backson" monster is described could mildly frighten some tots, but otherwise this is a faithful adaptation of A.A. Milne's classic tales.
The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (Ages 3+) Everything is topsy turvy when Elmo ventures into Grouchland, so a certain understanding of what is (and isn't) acceptable behavior is needed to get the humor fully -- hearing the pleasure with which the Grouches tell each other to get lost is funny only if you know it's not really OK. There are a few mildly perilous/tense moments that could upset sensitive or very young viewers, and some kids may be concerned that Elmo doesn't seem to have any parents and could need some reassurance.
Curious George (Ages 4+) There isn't a lot to be concerned about here. There are some product placements, some flirting, moral ambiguity, and an emotionally intense scene in which George is removed -- at the Man in the Yellow Hat's request -- by animal control. One man schemes to replace a museum with a profitable parking lot. Ted himself tries to fool the museum patrons with a fraud, something he is not punished for. An apartment building manager roughly chases the monkey from room to room, then evicts Ted, who has to sleep on a park bench that night.
Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! (Ages 4+) This movie is based on Dr. Seuss' beloved children's book. The book's wide fan base, coupled with the popularity of voice actors Jim Carrey and Steve Carell -- not to mention a great deal of marketing power -- should make most kids, especially those under 12, interested in seeing the film. Its message, like many of Seuss' tales, is one of inclusion and protecting those who can't protect themselves. There's not much in the way of iffy content, either, aside from a little mild potty humor. Even Vlad, the slightly scary bird, is funnier than he is disturbing.
The Jungle Book (Ages 4+) This Disney classic has positive messages for kids about friendship and finding family in unexpected places. There are some scary and/or upsetting scenes, such as the final battle between Baloo (a bear) and Shere Khan (a tiger), but there's also lots of humor and catchy songs.
Thumbelina (Ages 4+) This adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's story will delight families of all ages. There are themes of kidnapping and marriage to the wrong fellow for the wrong reasons, but rest assured, the happily-ever-after is solidly in place.
Tinker Bell (Ages 4+) The Fast Play feature that lets you start the DVD without the remote also pushes you to four previews for Disney movies and an ad for Disney Rewards. It would actually be faster to go to the menu and hit "play." There's also plenty for sale in the Tinker Bell line: dolls, toys, books, a magazine, a video game, and more. This simple story is mild on violence -- only one scene with a hawk snapping its jaws at fairies may be frightening -- and has a few good lessons about accepting and enjoying your own talents.
Toy Story (Ages 4+) There is separation in the movie -- toys are separated from one another and from their owner (but if your kid made it to preschool without an issue, this should be fine). All of the dynamics behind sibling rivalry are here as well, so if your kids are going through that, this is a perfect movie to have them watch together. Kids may be scared by Andy's next-door neighbor Sid, who has a mean laugh and mutilates toys for fun -- but he does get a mild comeuppance. Really young kids may be confused by the toys being "real" here, especially when Buzz really thinks he's a star commander. Note: The 3-D version of the movie includes a couple of brief scenes that might spook the youngest viewers, like dinosaur Rex roaring, but otherwise the digital effects are played for laughs (or, as the green squeeze-toy aliens would say, "Oooh ... aaah").
Kiki's Delivery Service (Ages 5+) Hayao Miyazaki's classic anime adventure is an ideal film for the entire family. Unlike some of his other movies that feature some potentially frightening characters or disturbing scenes, this film is a sweet coming-of-age adventure. Kiki, the 13-year-old protagonist, is a lovely role model. Yes, she's a witch, but she's a good one who doesn't manifest her magical powers in any way but flying. There's some mild flirting and a couple of close calls while Kiki's in the air, but otherwise this is a positive pick that could be a family classic.
Mary Poppins (Ages 6+) The pace is rollicking and sometimes chaotic, there are no dangerous or dark elements in this movie. Melodic music, fancy dancing, and cartoon segments will engage even the youngest viewers.