These days, Disney has a choke-hold on children's movies. All little girls get sucked into the Plastic Pink Princess Phase. And the little boys are all Buzz, Woody or Lightening McQueen.
I personally think the Princesses are evil. For the most part they are all beautiful teens who can't seem to cope with life unless the handsome prince comes to save them. Everything revolves around finding the right boy who will make your life happy - and to do so, you need to be beautiful. Not a message I want my daughter growing up believing.
The boy characters aren't that much better.
Disney movies are the gateway to a yuppie, Stepford existence. Everyone is mostly white, rich, and tends to get what they want. And the bad guys are the ones who dare not to conform to society.
I have always been a fan of horror/monster movies. My mother tells me that when I was two, I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time and though the Wicked Witch of the West scared me, I would not let her turn it off. And so it began...
As a child my aunt used to take me to see Godzilla films, and watched many of the Harryhausen and other creature features with me. I also used to watch Hitchcock and the Twilight Zone with my grandmother. By the time I was in 4th grade, I was sneaking and watching slasher movies, like A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Naturally, growing up in a home filled with bats, skulls, spider webs and Living Dead Dolls - and a sizeable collection of horror movies - my children wish to watch scary things as well. Obviously, most horror films are not appropriate for the younger children, so here is a list of those I feel are appropriate for younger audiences and won't upset my children too badly.
Better still, these spooky movies have a much better message than the Disney movies. The characters come from the fringes, they are smart, resourceful and believe in themselves. And often, it is the girl saving the day.
*Note: I am a bit lenient when it comes to ratings. I have no problem letting my little ones watch some PG-13 films.
When my children were approximately one, I began showing them Nightmare Before Christmas. Needless to say, it became an instant favorite. They have both grown up with a love for Jack Skellington. In fact, my son's first year of trick or treating, he dressed as Jack, and my daughter as Sally.
In this film, Jack nearly allows his arrogance to destroy life as we know it. It is Sally, one of the average village citizens, who saves the day. She summons up the courage to face Oogy Boogy and rescue Santa. Sally's resourcefulness and bravery save Jack from himself.
Keeping with the Tim Burton stop-motion animation theme, they soon discovered - and loved - The Corpse Bride. While not as amazing as Nightmare, this movie is a lot of fun and has many loveable dead characters, as well as some wonderful Danny Elfman music.
In this film, it is the seemingly rich aristocracy who causes the problems. Victoria's family is greedy and schemes to have her marry Victor for his family's money. Lord Barkis is also motivated by greed. Victor is rather spineless and does what he's told by mostly everyone; and when he decides not to listen, he's sneaky. It's Emily, the Corpse Bride, who overcomes all the awfulness that's happened to her - being killed, having Victor run out on her - to show true compassion and to save everyone with selfless sacrifice.
A bit scarier is Neil Gaiman's Coraline, another stop-motion animation film, done in a dark style like the two previous movies. Coraline is not for children who scare easily or are prone to nightmares from things they've watched. Children of some friends have had issues with this movie until they were closer to 8.
Coraline is a unique girl who moves to a new home and is left to her own resources while her parents are consumed by their work. She is lured into a trap by the Other Mother, but rather than succumb to her will, Coraline fights back. Her bravery in the face of mortal peril and her ability to outwit the Other Mother not only saves her life, but also sets free the spirits of the Other Mother's previous victims.
Another Neil Gaiman story made movie (by the Jim Henson Company) that we love is Mirrormask. Helena Campbell is sucked into a creepy world of light and shadows, where everyone wears masks, and fantastical creatures roam. She is mistaken for the Shadow Queen's daughter who has stolen the magical charm of the Queen of Light to take Helena's place in the real world. Helena must find the charm, escape the Queen of Shadows and restore life to the Queen of Light. Like the three previous heroines, Helena uses her brains and bravery to save the day. She doesn't need her male companion, Valentine, to save her; in fact, she saves him.
The Jim Henson Company also made two other magically creepy children's movies: Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal.
In Labyrinth, Sarah starts off as a self-important, angsty teen who throws a tantrum and wishes her baby brother into the hands of the Goblin King. She must go "through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered" and fight her way to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child. This adventure helps her find herself and grow up when she realizes that she controls her own destiny.
The females are not the protagonist(s) in The Dark Crystal, but without them, Jen would never compete his mission of healing the Dark Crystal and bringing peace to the land. Kira is a loving, kind and generous spirit; and Aughra is wise and brave. The combination of these two females and their strengths are what guide Jen through the perils thrown at him by the Skeksis and enable him to fulfill the prophecy.
These movies are very imaginative, artistic and somewhat scary. They all have strong female characters and a better message for children than those simpering twit Disney Princesses.