Children-Kids Family Films
Part 1 | Part 2 | Examples
Pioneering puppeteer Jim Henson, who first helped to establish the long-running, visionary children's public-TV program Sesame Street in 1969 (for the non-profit Children's Television Workshop), earned widespread familiarity with his colorful, beloved iconic characters or muppets (a combination of the words marionettes and puppets), including Kermit the Frog (Henson's signature character), Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, the Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, Elmo - and others. The success of the show led to the British-produced weekly variety show The Muppet Show (syndicated for a few seasons from 1976-1981) with numerous guest stars (celebrities and other notables) appearing alongside the puppets (one of whom was Miss Piggy), inspiring the first of many Muppet movies. The first big-screen Muppet movie was, appropriately titled The Muppet Movie (1979), with Kermit the Frog (and others of his unique characters), followed by more Muppet films, TV shows, and other technically-brilliant fantasy derivatives and new levels of creative achievement:
The noted children's book British author, Roald Dahl, who has written screenplays for films including the fifth James Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967) and The Night Digger (1971), is best known for the films based upon his ingenious children's books and its eccentric characters:
Animal Actors in Classic Childrens' Films:
Animal 'actors' have been very prevalent in children's and family-oriented films, and there have been literally dozens of famous animals of all kinds:
- Cheeta (or Cheetah, Chetah)
A world-famous chimpanzee, who first appeared in the classic jungle film Tarzan, the Ape Man (1932) as Tarzan's faithful companion. The 4 foot (1.2 meter) tall, 142 pound (53 kilogram) chimpanzee starred in 12 Tarzan movies in total, and had his last role in the musical film Doctor Doolittle (1967).
- Flipper (Mitzie)
A short-lived TV cartoon series in 1994, titled Free Willy, was also inspired by the first film. Keiko, the killer whale used in the films, died in late 2003, at the age of 27 years.
Dogs in Childrens' Films:
Dogs have been the most prominent animal choice in repeated starring roles. Often, the dogs have been paired with young boys - and therefore are a 'boy's best friend.' In many cases, the actual star dog was 'reincarnated' numerous times due to the animal's short life span. Famous dog actors have included:
Before Rin-Tin-Tin, another German shepherd, named Strongheart, was the first major canine star. He appeared in the major hit Silent Call (1921), which reportedly grossed $1 million. Crowds mobbed Strongheart at stops on a triumphal train tour after Silent Call broke attendance records at theaters. The film had a record-breaking run at Los Angeles' Miller's Theater after 792 performances, playing eight times a day to a total audience of about 250,000 people. Strongheart also appeared in Brawn of the North (1922), The Love Master (1924), White Fang (1925), North Star (1925) and The Return of Boston Blackie (1927) (the only existing Strongheart film) before his tragic, untimely death in 1929 due to an on-site film accident.
- Rin Tin Tin
The famous heroic and brainy German shepherd of Warners' Studios, Rinty (or Rin Tin originally), first starred in the Irving Cummings hit The Man From Hell's River (1922) as himself, and then appeared in the Robertson-Cole Pictures production of My Dad (1922). Rin-Tin-Tin's first starring role (as a wolf-dog) and first Warners' film was Where the North Begins (1923), followed by the Universal Pictures production, Shadows of the North (1923). For the remainder of the decade, Rin Tin Tin saved the Warners studio from financial ruin during the silent era. Rin Tin Tin made about two dozen pictures for Warner Brothers before his death on August 10, 1932. Many descendants of Rin Tin Tin would go on to star in their own films. Rin Tin Tin also became an ABC-TV star, featured in The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin that first aired in October 1954 and lasted for almost five years on Friday evenings. The star German shepherd's life story in the 1920s silent film era was spoofed in the 'guilty pleasure' comedy Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), with more than 60 film stars in cameo roles.
The wire-haired terrier named Asta (actually named Skippy) of The Thin Man (1934) series appeared alongside Myrna Loy and William Powell. Asta provided both humor and a lot of character alongside the sleuthing detective couple. In addition to playing Asta, Skippy also performed in two classic screwball comedies - as mischievous 'George' in Bringing Up Baby (1938), and as 'Mr. Smith' - the object of a custody battle between Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937).
The devoted family-dog Lassie, a golden-haired female collie based on the canine character created by Eric Knight in a 1938 short story, has been considered the quintessential dog actor over many generations. Lassie (played first by a male dog named Pal) first emerged in the 1940s, with MGM's Technicolored tearjerker Lassie Come Home (1943), starring a young Roddy McDowall. Many sequels followed in the next eight years: Son of Lassie (1945) (with June Lockhart who would later star in the TV series), Courage of Lassie (1946), Hills of Home (1948), The Sun Comes Up (1949), Challenge to Lassie (1949), and The Painted Hills (1951). Like his/her predecessor Rin Tin Tin, Lassie really became famous with the long-running 1954 TV show Lassie (aka Jeff's Collie, and Timmy and Lassie), originally starring June Lockhart as Ruth Martin (after a two-year run with Cloris Leachman) and Tommy Rettig as Jeff Miller. The popular show lasted for almost twenty years (it was revived in 1989 and 1997). All nine of the dogs used to portray Lassie were male, although Lassie was a female character.
Other famous dog actors in family films have included Old Yeller (a dog named Spike) in Disney's Old Yeller (1957), Benji (acted by a veteran dog named Higgins, a mixed breed of cocker spaniel, fox terrier, poodle, and schnauzer), starring first in Benji (1974), Beethoven (a giant St. Bernard) first seen in Beethoven (1992), and a basketball-shooting Buddy (a Golden Retriever) seen first in Air Bud (1997).