10 Family Films to Stream This Summer

What better way to start your summer movie watching than with the loopy, zany Muppets? Via Universal Pictures.
What better way to start your summer movie watching than with the loopy, zany, and wildly entertaining Muppets? Via Universal Pictures.
School’s out! Time for lazy summer days of swimming, barbecues, and movies. Lots and lots of movies. Summer wouldn’t be complete without family movie night. What’s better than curling up on the couch with some popcorn and the knowledge you don’t have to go to school tomorrow?

In honor of the anything-can-happen, adventure-filled days of summer vacation, Filmworks screens an enchanting family film on June 13. “Ernest & Celestine” presents a watercolored story of the unlikely friendship of a mouse and a bear who have been brought up to fear and distrust each other. Every member of the family can enjoy this Oscar-nominated, PG-rated animated feature based on a children’s book series.

But that’s just a start. We have three months of warm nights to fill. Popcorn, the couch, and good movies are must-haves this time of year. To make the most of this time, here are 10 family films you might want to rent this summer, available via the public library or various streaming services.

“The Great Muppet Caper” — Come for the Muppets, stay for Charles Grodin. This film is Jim Henson at his best. The story is loopy, zany, and wildly entertaining. The jokes come fast and furious and sometimes catch you on the way out the door. Be sure not to miss the riff about the supper club. And did I mention Charles Grodin? Because I can’t say it enough: Charles Grodin gives a performance so charming it will turn you into a lifelong fan.

“The Dark Crystal” — OK, we need to be clear about one thing: This is a weird film. A very weird film. In this epic fantasy, Jim Henson creates a fully realized and visually arresting world that is going to be destroyed unless a young elf can find a shard of the dark crystal in time. Don’t expect Muppets, though. As children’s films go, this is on the darker end of the spectrum. It’s rich, intense, twisty, and more than a little scary. That didn’t stop me and my siblings from becoming obsessed and watching this movie so many times that we once recited the entire script on a two-hour car ride. You can ask my mom; she remembers it well.

Singin’ In The Rain” — Oh, you don’t like musicals? You find it annoying when people break into song and dance for no logical reason? Humbug, I say! You’ve never seen “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s scientifically impossible not to love this movie. Studies have been done. Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds all deliver star-making performances as a group of actors trying to make their mark in the new-fangled talking pictures. There’s not a bad moment to be had, but clich├ęd as it has become, Gene Kelly’s rain-soaked soft shoe is something everyone should watch at least once.

“The Princess Bride” — You’ve never seen “The Princess Bride”? Stop reading this and go watch “The Princess Bride” now! This is perhaps the most quotable movie in the history of movies. A script so good that even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve probably quoted it anyway. This is a film that never gets old, never stops being funny, and will never leave your vocabulary. If you’ve spent the past 25 years wondering who Inigo Montoya is and what happened to his father then you need to watch “The Princess Bride.”

“Who Framed Roger Rabbit” — This movie proves it is indeed possible to adapt Chinatown into an animated kid’s movie. You don’t remember it that way? I swear it’s true! It’s classic film noir . . . with a cartoon rabbit.

“Peter Pan” — I prefer the 2003 version. Nothing against the Disney version or Spielberg’s Hook — well, a little something against Hook, but that has more to do with my limited tolerance for Robin Williams. Director P.J. Hogan stays closer to the unsettling tone of the novel: Neverland, the lost boys, and Peter Pan are met with decidedly more ambivalence than in Disney’s 1953 adaptation. “Peter Pan” is a great metaphor for the excitement and fear accompanying adolescence, and this film captures that dark beauty of being just about, almost, maybe ready to start the journey. A great movie for the not-quite-ready-to-grow-up tween in your life.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” — This movie is about a race to find a hidden treasure in about the same way that “The Big Lebowski” is about a rug. In truth, both movies are about a group of top-notch performers letting loose and having some fun. And hey, they made a movie, too! It’s juvenile, it’s silly, it borders on pointless, and it’s more fun than you can imagine.

“The Iron Giant” — This one goes out to my nephew, who loves this gentle fable about a boy and his robot. It’s a simple enough story for very young children to follow with enough depth to keep the older kids and the adults engaged. Visually, this movie feels huge. My favorite part is watching how big the world suddenly becomes when you have a giant to help you see it.

“The Secret of NIMH” — After leaving Disney in the late 1970s, Don Bluth opened his own studio to try and produce a more complex collection of children’s films. My personal favorite is his first feature, “The Secret of NIMH.” Based on an award-winning novel (which you should also check out), it tells the story of a group a super-intelligent rats who attempt to assist the widowed mouse of a former member. The narrative manages to touch on the ethics of science, society, and family. I loved this film as a kid. The right mix of adventure and magic, and I still hold my breath every time the villainous cat appears.

“The Bad News Bears” — I love sports movies. Love, love, love sports movies! It’s about the only time I get really excited about feel-good, overcoming the odds, triumph-of-the-human spirit movies. I also love the down-and-dirty ethos of American filmmaking in the 1970s. Believe it or not, “The Bad News Bears” is a pretty good intersection of the two. It’s the story of an out-of-options ex-baseball player coaching the worst Little League team in all of Los Angeles, maybe in all of the world. It’s a David and Goliath story in a way that only the cynical ’70s could bring us. Walter Matthau is maybe the least cuddly guy to ever star in a kid’s comedy, and the kids themselves make the Pretty Little Liars look like Pollyannas. Trust me, you’ll love it. If I start to see Chico’s Bail Bonds jerseys all over Fresno, then I’ll know my work is done.

Fae Giffen studies at San Jose State in the School of Library and Information Science graduate program. She volunteers as a marketing assistant for Filmworks.