Category Archives: Fantastic Adventures

Fantastic Adventures Halloween Edition: Hocus Pocus

During the month of October I will be bringing you the best Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment for the spooktacular holiday, Halloween! Check back all month for spooky stories safe for the entire family!

The first fantastic adventure for Halloween: Hocus Pocus. This film was only mildly successful when it came out in 1993 and to this day it is a very divisive film. However, it is one of my favorite Halloween movies and a great family friendly movie, so I will be presenting it. The story focuses on three witches who were burned at the stake for their evil deed of stealing the souls of children in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693. Right before they died, they cast a spell on a black flame candle that once a virgin lit the candle on the full moon before Halloween, they would rise once again. Fast forward 300 years to 1993 and a young high school boy named Max Dennison lights the candle to impress a girl. The three witches rise again to steal the souls of little children.
Max, his (hopeful) girlfriend Allison, and Max’s little sister, Dani must stop the evil Sanderson Sisters before the sun rises on November 1st in order to prevent the sisters from coming back permanently. Of course, the hard part for Max and company is that it is Halloween night and none of the adults or authority figures believe them! I will not spoil the ending, of course, but you can expect much hilarity, adventure and creepy Halloween spooks.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Max is every bit the aspiring young hero for middle school aged boys, with just the right amount of disobedience and knowing when to do the right thing. He is also an especially good role model for any big brothers who have little sisters to take care of. Max learns throughout the movie and teaches your kids at the same time. You can beirresponsible and have fun, but there will be consequences. You can hate your little sister for being a burden, but you’re going to do everything you can to protect her when things turn ugly. And lastly, you can try to impress the cute girl at school all you

Max and Dani portray a great sibling relationship.

want, but you’re not going to win her over that way.
The little girls in your family will wish they were in Dani’s shoes from the very beginning. Dani is lovingly portrayed by Thora Birch, who really steals many of the scenes in this film. She is strong-willed and won’t stop tormenting her big brother until she gets her way. Your little girl will be going on the adventure with Dani, reveling in a night of witches, zombies and magic that all seems fresh and real. She even gets a talking cat as her companion through the film. Another plus, just when Dani is getting too scared – and maybe your little girl, too – her big brother swoops in and comforts her. It is a perfect lesson in sibling relationships. Just enough rivalry, but in the end it is compassion that wins the day.
Of course you can’t mention this film without talking about the witches themselves – the Sanderson Sisters. They provide most of the comedy throughout the film, mostly having to do with being from 1693 and being awoken in 1993. The elementary school is deemed a “prison for children” (your kids will agree with that), a man dressed in a devil costume is mistaken for the real thing, and the entire concept of Halloween being a night of young children dressing up as creatures is quite upsetting to them. Bette , Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker play the creepy yet kooky witches to perfection with just the right amount of terror and humor. If these three witches do not get your kids excited about all things Halloween, then there is not much that will.
There are Halloween decorations abound, zombies, talking cats, creepy cemeteries and picturesque Salem settings, which really bring that cold Fall feeling to the film.
The entire movie itself is one long, grand adventure that never lets up and teaches very important lessons along the way, all the while building your kids’ love of Halloween.

The Sanderson Sisters

Rent it on Amazon Instant Video, Watch it on ABC Family this month, or Buy it on DVD or Blu-Ray at your local store.

Fantastic Adventure #10: The Neverending Story

If there is one thing you can count on in Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment, it is the adventure part! Today I have a grand adventure for the entire family. The Neverending Story is a film that crosses several genres in such an effective way that it feels like several different movies in one. You have a young boy reading a book in the attic of his home, and as he is reading the story, the audience is reading right along with him as the book comes to life on the screen. There are magical creatures, giant turtles, rock monsters, horses, a beautiful empress and a plot full of action, daring and wit.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Contrary to the title, the story does eventually end, and it is a fantastic journey that seems to go by much too quickly. The first time your kids see the giant flying dog, Falcor, they will be hooked into the adventure and the story. A giant flying dog that a kid can ride on is an amazing way to get your kids’ imaginations flowing, and that really is the key. As I have said before, imagination is one of the few tools in our brains that we do not fully develop as we grow older. So, the more chances you can give your kids while they are young, the better! And the more you foster the growth of imagination, the better.
The other magical creatures in the story bring in a lot of fun. There’s a large rock monster, which kids always seem to get a kick out of. You also have a giant turtle, moving statues, living trees, and other equally odd yet charming things.
Another important aspect of The Neverending Story is the fact that it promotes reading. The main character of the story is really the boy reading the book. The rest is just the boy’s imagination of what the book world looks like. Your kids can actually see what reading a book can be like. They can watch the boy read the book and then see him create this fantastical world all on his own just through the mere act of reading. And, of course, by the end of the book, the boy is so into the story that he is shouting out the window in order to save the life on the empress.

The Neverending Story gets your kids’ imagiantions running wild, draws them into the story and hopefully gets them excited about reading and all of its wonderful possibilities.

Fantastic Adventure #9: Goosebumps

The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine premiered twenty years ago. After an initial run of 62 books in the 1990s, the series has seen many revivals and is still in print, the latest series being named Goosebumps Hall of Horrors. No matter which series you choose, the thrills and chills are timeless. Perhaps the best part of the series is that each book is completely different. One may have a zombie theme, another may be centered around Egyptian mummies, or you may have a story about ghosts and monsters. This is very helpful in that your kid can decide which stories he likes to read. He may not enjoy ghost stories, but monsters and mummies are cool. Or perhaps Joey likes talking ventriloquist dummies, but Sarah likes ancient Egypt. No problem! There is definitely a story to please everyone.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: To start off, the first thing your child will notice is the cover. When I was a kid, I chose which Goosebumps books to read just by the cover. The artwork is fantastically creepy in a kid-friendly way, and will draw your child into the story by immediately giving him or her a visual reference for the book. This is important as it is a good way to get your kids to start appreciating drawings, and to use those drawings as a springboard to visualize the rest of the book.
All of these books are based off one simple premise: fear of the unknown. Most stories are in the POV of the kids, and the evil entity is usually shrouded in mystery until the last few pages. This sense of mystery and excitement is crucial to developing the imagination of your children. When there is an unknown, a child’s mind will immediately start deducing what or who the unknown could be (which also builds logic), and the mind starts creating those solutions. All of this brain activity helps to foster your child’s creativity and develop it in a safe environment.
The stories in these books are a little basic for adults, but still interesting enough that you will enjoy reading them to your kids (if they let you). The thrill of finding out what they twist is going to be at the end will keep your kid flipping the pages until the book is over. With over 100 old and current Goosebumps books out there to choose from, your kids will always have something else to read. Once you discover what type of stories your kid likes, it is a good idea to buy several in advance that are similar in tone, because sometimes it only takes a few hours to finish one of these books, especially if your kid is using his or her creative brain power.
These books will be more fun and scary for your kids then any other book in its genre. Your kids will not get enough, and it will encourage them to read.
R.L. Stine has created a world where scaring children is fun and acceptable. Any of his Goosebumps are perfectly safe. In a world where what is acceptable for kids is quickly eroding, it is nice to have such a large collection of spooky stories to fall back on.

Check out www.scholastic.com/goosebumps for recent releases and fun games for your kids!
www.rlstine.com for a complete list of all of his spooky works for kids.

Fantastic Adventure #8: Spy Kids

Today’s entry in Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment is the 2001 film Spy Kids. What kid (or grown up) doesn’t enjoy a good spy story? Even better, what kid doesn’t love seeing him or herself up on the screen as a spy? That is the premise behind Spy Kids. Take the exciting elements that make adults enjoy James Bond (gadgets, unique villains, action sequences) and put kids in the roles. It sounds like a simple premise, but this film brings in complex themes like what it means to be a family, brother and sister bonds and how enjoying being a kid is important.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Family is the overarching theme in this film, and it does not hold back. We start with the Carmen and Juni Cortez not liking their parents because they are boring and nothing exciting ever seems to happens. Their parents get pulled out of spy retirement by OSS headquarters, they eventually get captured and the kids learn the truth about their parents. Carmen and Juni learn that their parents are really spies and are thrust into action.

Families kick butt!

Carmen and Juni bring perfect brother sister interaction, whether it is mimicking fights, name calling or roughhousing, these two characters know exactly what it means to be brother and sister, and this is something that your kids will really take away from this movie. They will, perhaps, see their siblings in a different, more appreciative, light. And if you play your cards correctly, they may be looking in your bedroom for the secret trigger that will unlock your spy base.
There is a lot of action and adventure to get your kids excited and running around the house, and hopefully motivate them to go on their own spy adventures when the movie is over.
Of course, the final and lasting message of this film is that of family. The kids realize that their parents are cool and exciting people. They are not just mom and dad who make us do our chores and go to school. This is a great learning opportunity for your kids to get them to see you as more than just an authority figure. There is also a large importance put on the cohesiveness of the family unit. In the end, this film – and all of its sequels – will bring your family closer together and have your kids wanting to be spies not when they grow up, but right now!

Fantastic Adventure #7: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I am doing a bit of a hybrid for my next pick. I am combining the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with the newer film. Reading the book is mandatory for all young children, and the Tim Burton film version really brings it to life in much better detail than the 1970s Gene Wilder musical. Both mediums put together will create an immersive experience for your children.

A perfectly colorful and inspiring landscape

Why it is a fantastic adventure: The book goes into great detail in classic Roald Dahl style. there are made up words for made up creatures. There are made up words for everyday activities like washing dishes or even passing gas! The use of unfamiliar words to describe very familiar things is a great way to capture your kids’ attentions and never let go. Once they see a funny new word they will be looking for the rest of them throughout the book. Of course, this is also a great way to spark your kids’ imaginations. Try to get them to come up with new names for everyday items around your house.
Children revel in the dark and spooky side of things, which is one reason why Halloween is so popular (more on that in a future post). Tim Burton’s vision in this film is not quite as dark as some of his others. It brings a much lighter color scheme inside the chocolate factory than out in the streets of the world. The scene in which the doors open to the chocolate waterfall room is reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz when the film goes from black and white to color.
There are many unique songs throughout the film, based on Roald Dahl’s poems in the book. These will surely entertain and get your kids dancing around the living room like an oompa-loompa. (There is even a Dance-Along special feature on the DVD).
Most importantly, the book and the film are two great sources of creativity and should be used as such.

Fantastic Adventure #6: The Ghost-Eye Tree

The Ghost-Eye Tree is a children’s easy reading book that is big on visuals and not so much on text. Every page reveals a large, well-painted picture and a few lines of text. The story of the book revolves around a scary tree that lies on a moonlit path. Two children are asked by their mother to fetch a jug of milk from the dairy. Unfortunately for them, it is dark, cold and they have to walk past the scary tree to get there. Will they make it? Or will the eerie sounds and moving branches of the scary tree get them?

Why it is a fantastic adventure: The cover alone is enough to get your kids in the mood for a scary story. The first time I saw th e image of that tree something clicked inside my head. I’m not sure what that was, but since then I have been fascinated with Halloween, scary movies and the visuals of Tim Burton’s movies. I can not guarantee the same for your kids, but it is a very powerful image that will definitely last in some way.
The artwork inside of the book is done in watercolors, leaving a very Norman Rockwell-like feeling, although a tad less realistic. All of the characters have warm, rosy cheeks and realistic features. The artwork is a great way to get your kids used to looking at paintings as art. They also are a good starting point for a conversation about visual storytelling. It is not always about the written word.
The story itself is a bit foreboding, as seen in this sample:
Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama
always choose me

When the night is so dark
And the mind runs
free?

The last stanza alone is enough to get your kids’ minds wandering. If you happen to have a large tree in front of you home, don’t be surprised if you’ll be putting up thick curtains over your kids’ bedroom windows.
The sense of dread and the fear of the unknown play strongly in this book. Your kids may be a little frightened, but hopefully in a good way that fosters creativity and a wandering mind.
Finally, the visuals are what matter. The outstretched limbs of the tree waving in the wind that look like they may reach out and grab you at any moment heighten the suspense of the story and will leave your kids wanting more of that haunted feeling.

Fantastic Adventure #5: Batman: The Brave and the Bold

So, you took my advice and showed your kids Batman & Robin, and now they have a hankering for more? With Batman being so popular lately, it really does a disservice to kids when toy companies make The Dark Knight Rises action figures

and other toys, as that film is extremely graphic and nowhere near safe for child viewing.  But, of course, your kids will see the toys and then want to see Batman. If you took the first step and showed them Batman & Robin, great! If not, you can read about it on my blog and come back to this post, if you so desire. To continue with family friendly entertainment, my pick for today is Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a TV series on Cartoon Network.
Think of this cartoon series as an animated version of Adam West’s 1960’s Batman. It has all the corny humor, gags and overacting fight scenes that we all remember from the Adam West show. Each episode Batman teams up with a different hero from DC Comics and together they take out the different villains and stop their dastardly schemes.

Heroes

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Having Batman team up with a different hero each week is a good way to introduce your kids to comic books and all of the different heroes that are out there. Beyond that, it is a good way to show your kids the power of teamwork.
The entire series has a very fantastical feel to it. The heroes are big, strong, wise cracking purveyors of justice and the villains are over the top failures of massive schemes. The schemes are so ridiculous and out there that it really encourages kids to think outside the box and cerate lavish ideas of their own. Imagination is downplayed in our society. there is a time to play and a time to be “serious’. We teach our children that being imaginative is not serious. They have to study hard, do homework, learn Math and Science so they can get a job that makes good money. Don’t worry – you are not a bad parent. You are only passing on what your parents taught you. However, that may be another topic for another post.
Back to the show. With the over the top schemes (stealing a giant piano or trying to ruin Christmas), you won’t have to explain elaborate schemes to your kids.
The villains are always doing something simple and are defeated in mostly simple ways. They are brought to justice and all is well with the world. These are great base values for your

Villains

children to learn, and you can use them as talking points about right versus wrong.
Teamwork, right versus wrong, imagination and justice are the main themes of the show and a great way to not only introduce your kids to comic book characters, but a great family friendly Batman cartoon.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold is on reruns on Cartoon Network. Also available to own or rent on DVD. Rated TV Y7.

Fantastic Adventure #4: Richie Rich

First off, sorry for the delay in posts. A certain little girl keeps me busy these days.

My pick for today is the 1994 film, Richie Rich. Made at a time when the 1980s cartoon had struck big with kids, this 1994 film is more than just a mere cash grab trying to profit from the cartoon.
Richie Rich is the son of billionaires Mr. & Mrs. Rich, and as such has everything a kid could dream of. That is, until the day he goes to a small town where his father bought a factory and sees some children playing a baseball in a dirt field. It is then that he realizes he is missing the most important thing of all: having friends. Throw in a plot about his parents going missing and the second in command at Rich Incorporated trying to take over the company, and you have the makings for an adventure filled learning experience for your kids.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: There are a lot of fun activities in this movie. Richie’s new friends come over to visit where Richie shows off his collection of “toys”: a rollercoaster, go karts, and a kid launcher. If that does not excite your children and make them want to go outside and have an adventure, then there may not be much that will! In a wonderful bit of marketing, Richie has his own McDonalds in his parent’s mansion which will not only get your kids itching for a trip to McD’s, but I even found myself wanting a Quarter Pounder. Before I get comments about how unhealthful fast food is, let me just say: Moderation.
Of course, food and expensive toys are not the only experiences in this film. There is a great performance by Michael McShane as Professor Keenbean, the wacky inventor of crazy things that happen to be useful at the climax of the movie. His inventions and hammy acting will provide many a laughter for the entire family.
The climax of the movie has a lot of exciting action to keep your kids’ attention, and the end of the film has a nice heartwarming message about family, friends and what matters most in the world. Hint: It’s not money. Use it as a fun action movie and as a way to open conversation with your kids about friends, family, and the real value of a materialistic lifestyle.

Rated PG.

Fantastic Adventure #3: Scooby-Doo (2002)

10 years is a good length of time to re-evaluate a film and include it in my list of current and lasting family adventures for two reasons. One, your kids either saw this movie when it came out and are now teenagers and too “cool” to watch this movie, or, two, your kids were not born yet and maybe you were unaware of, or forgot that this movie came out. This is the most contemporary piece of my series so far, and I am going to try to present more obscure and, perhaps, a bit older items, as the current popular kid shows and movies are reviewed and presented all over the web. I would like to use this series as a tool for introducing your family to experiences you may have passed over or never heard of. With that said, I present Scooby-Doo (2002).

Chances are, you’ve probably heard of Scooby-Doo and his pals. Most people fondly remember the cartoon of the 1960s and ’70s. I am presenting the 2002 movie version not because it is the best Scooby-Doo story, but because it is the most accessible for your kids. As a child of the 1980s, I was able to enjoy the reruns on Saturday mornings, but kids of today require something a little more flashy and stylized to keep their interest.

This live action version of Scooby-Doo introduces the characters of Mystery Inc as they are at the tail end of their careers. They are frustrated with each other and split up. They all get invited separately to the latest summer hot spot, Spooky Island, where they reluctantly share hellos and ponder as to why they were all secretly brought back together. It isn’t long before the gang realizes that something fishy is going on the island, and they all decide to investigate. Without giving too much away, the gang must put aside their differences and band together to solve the mystery, finding along the way that they really do work well together and that they all miss each other and wish to reform Mystery Inc.

Why it is a fantastic adventure: Scooby-Doo himself is always a fun character, and the kids will get a lot of laughs from a talking dog. The CGI version of Scooby still holds up very well and your kids won’t have to ask why Scooby looks like a man in a suit or a puppet.
The sets range from bright and colorful to dark and scary, as the gang ends up in a haunted house at one point in the film. The haunted house scenes in particular are a lot of fun and will remind your kids of a spooky ride at a carnival, which only heightens the sense of adventure. Even pretending to be in a carnival ride sparks creativity and imaginative thinking, and that is a very important factor in child development.
Also, you will be entertained by the various adult references in the film that will completely fly over your kids’ heads. There is something for the parents in this one, as well.

Talking dogs, spooky haunted house rides and bright, colorful imagery will help fuel your kids’ imaginations and hopefully get them outside to play “make believe” after the film is over.

Rated PG

Fantastic Adventure #2: The Song & Dance Man

The second choice from my series Fantastic Adventures in Family Entertainment, is a Caldecott Award Winner, and you may be familiar with it. It is The Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman.
Sitting down and reading a physical book with our kids seems to be on the way out, as more and more parents are using Kindle Fires or iPads for children’s books. Those are nice alternatives if you don’t want books taking up shelf space in your home, but then your kids can’t draw in the book, hold the book with dirty hands, etc. With Song and Dance Man, I feel it is important to hold the physical book in your hands. It really helps the kids get lost in the world of the book when they can hold it themselves and put it right in their faces.

Glorious artwork allows your child to get lost in the world of the story.

 

Why it is a fantastic adventure: There is not much text in this story but what there is tells of a grand adventure. A trunk is discovered in an attic (where all great adventures begin) that contains grandpa’s old vaudeville top hat, cane. The kids learn that their grandpa used to be quite the dancer in his day, instead of the old man he is now. When I was a kid we never went up in the attic, so, of course, my mind went straight to all the possibilities up there. This book only furthers that imaginative lifestyle and gets your kid thinking and creating his or her own world of what could be up in the attic.
The illustrations are also a huge part of this adventure. They take up most of the page and really suck the reader into the world that they represent. I fondly remember staring at these illustrations for hours on end and creating new encounters in my mind every time. “Okay, there’s a radio in the corner. What if I turned it on? What type of music would come on?” This is a great way for your children to start viewing drawings and pictures as art forms. There are such detailed images in this story that your children could spend hours creating new ideas in their heads. Encourage them to draw or write out these new ideas to share with you.

This book does a masterful job with creating an adventure and allowing your children to become truly enveloped in the world it creates.