10 of the greatest classic family films for half term

Film critic Barry Norman picks his favourite family films of all time - perfect for October half term

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  • Mary Poppins (1964 U 133min Colour)

    Give or take Dick Van Dyke's execrable Cockney accent (and I'd rather you took it), this is lovely stuff. Julie Andrews, who won the Oscar on her film debut, is the ideal Mary Poppins, that mysterious nanny to the Banks children who drops in by parachute (or rather brolly) and transports the kids to a fantastical world that she alone can conjure up. Excellent songs, too, by the Sherman brothers. 

    Did you know? The premiere was attended by Walt Disney - his first red carpet appearance since Snow White in 1937. 

    Say it again! "Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way." Mary Poppins 

    Oscars Julie Andrews actress

  • Great Expectations (1946 PG 113min BW)

    This is a masterpiece, the finest of all Dickens adaptations, not least because the director, David Lean, somehow managed to evoke on screen the images we'd already been carrying in our heads. It's a brilliant work of compression: all the vital scenes are there; so, too, the vital characters - Pip (John Mills), Estella (young Jean Simmons and Valerie Hobson), Joe Gargery, Magwitch, the mad Miss Havisham and so on. At 38, Mills was perhaps too old to play Pip, but in this glorious rich stew of a film you hardly notice.

    Did you know? This first speaking role for Alec Guinness as Herbert Pocket led to five further collaborations with Lean.

    Say it again! "Pip! A young gentleman of great expectations." Joe Gargery

  • Toy Story (1995 PG 88min Colour)

    The first feature to be produced entirely on computers and splendidly realised. It's not just the toys - notably Woody, the cowboy puppet (Tom Hanks) and Buzz, the deluded astronaut (Tim Allen) - who come to life in the playroom, the whole place does. The detail in Pixar's innovative animation is immaculate. Oh, and the story's great, too. What's more, the sequels are just about as good.

    Did you know? Billy Crystal turned down the role of Woody, and later said it was the biggest mistake of his career. Pixar tried to make him feel better by offering him the part of Mike in Monsters, Inc.

    Say it again! "To infinity and beyond!" Buzz Lightyear

  • ET the Extraterrestrial (1982 U 109min Colour)

    Steven Spielberg describes this as a pure and simple love story - the love that grows between a small boy (Henry Thomas) and ET, an ugly little alien stranded in suburban America. It's the perfect family film, full of magical effects (kids cycling across the face of the moon, for instance), tension, laughter and, yes, tears. It's also a chastening lesson to bigots everywhere that you should never judge anyone by appearance alone.

    Did you know? The face of ET was modelled after poet Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and a pug dog. ET's eyes were too far apart for the child actors to focus on, so for each scene they had to pick one eye to look at.

    Say it again! "ET phone home" ET

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  • Bambi (1942 U 66min Colour)

    The most tragic event in cinema is surely the death of Bambi's mother, a shock realisation for a child that life has its horrors, too. Is it too much? No. One of the film's great strengths is that it doesn't talk down to children. Around the enchanting story of young Bambi and its happy ending, we are shown the perils of life in the wild - hunters, a forest fire, nature red in tooth and claw - so the youthful audience leaves the cinema contented but maybe a little wiser about the world, and that's no bad thing.

    Did you know? In 1941, Walt Disney was so strapped for cash that he decided to reissue his first full-length animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), to fill his coffers. The studio continued to re-release its biggest hits over the next 50 years.

    Say it again! "If you can't say something nice… don't say nothing at all." Thumper

  • Shrek (2001 U 86min Colour)

    A wicked animated feature from DreamWorks that, for the benefit of adults, pokes sly fun at well-loved Disney creations and, for children, has all manner of comical characters, notably a donkey, voiced by Eddie Murphy. Mike Myers voices Shrek, the lonely (not nasty) ogre who lives in a swamp and is charged by scheming Lord Farquaad (John Lithgow) with bringing him his bride-to-be, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz). Oh, and there's a formidable dragon standing in Shrek's way. Great fun and superb animation.

    Did you know? Myers was inspired to use a Scottish accent by childhood memories of his mother reading to him.

    Say it again! "I live in a swamp! I put up signs! I'm a terrifying ogre! What do I have to do to get a little privacy?" Shrek

  • The Railway Children (1970 U 104min Colour)

    I defy anyone not to shed a tear when Jenny Agutter runs along the station platform crying, "Daddy! My Daddy!" - the perfect ending to Lionel Jeffries's charming adaptation of E Nesbit's novel. Well, you all know the story - well-to-do family reduced to genteel poverty when father is wrongfully imprisoned, then learning to cope in their cottage near the railway line. A delightful movie with lovely performances by Agutter and Bernard Cribbins in particular.

    Did you know? Lionel Jeffries paid £600 for the rights before producer Bryan Forbes came up with the finances. It is said that you can hear someone shout "Thank you, Mr Forbes!" during the cheery end credits.

    Say it again! "Apple pie for breakfast. We can't be poor after all!" Phyllis Waterbury

  • The Jungle Book (1967 U 75min)

    Colour Never mind that Kipling might have been spinning in his grave at this travesty of his Mowgli stories, this is lovely family entertainment - the last Disney movie to be overseen by Walt himself. Great songs, especially Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear with Bare Necessities and Louis Prima's King of the Swingers, a whole bunch of fine visual gags and, as the villain of the piece, George Sanders as the silkily sinister Shere Khan, the tiger who wants to eat Mowgli.

    Did you know? The vultures' Liverpool accents are a tribute to the Beatles, whose manager Brian Epstein had agreed the band's involvement with Disney. But John Lennon didn't like the new Beatles cartoon so rejected the idea.

    Say it again! "I'm gone, man. Solid gone." Baloo

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  • The Wizard of Oz (1939 U 97min Colour/sepia)

    This is the film that touches every child's basic fear - of being whisked away from home to a strange place full of strange people. The vital question here is: can Dorothy (Judy Garland) get back from Oz to Kansas? Around it is woven an enchanting fairy tale, thrillingly populated by wicked witches, a mysterious and powerful wizard and, for Dorothy, her engaging companions, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. And, of course, there's Garland's theme song Over the Rainbow. You could ask for no more.

    Did you know? There are thought to be seven pairs of ruby slippers, of which the whereabouts of five are known. Each has an estimated value of $1.5 million, making them the Holy Grail of movie memorabilia.

    Say it again! "There's no place like home." Dorothy

  • Harry Potter (2001-2011 Colour)

    Choose the one you like best for yourselves. I'm including the whole franchise because it's the best series of family films yet. Each episode is remarkably true to the book on which it is based, thanks no doubt to the influence of JK Rowling, and contains all the magic, thrills, danger and growing-up pains you could want. The only one that didn't work for me was Deathly Hallows: Part 1, in which the protagonists seemed out of their depth when divorced from Hogwarts.

    Did you know? Only 14 actors have been in all eight movies, but Stephen Fry, who narrates all of the audio books, never appeared on screen in any of them.

    Say it again! "You're a wizard, Harry!" Hagrid


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