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Family Travel Adventures

By Gregory Keer

While most parents don't have the funds or the time to take the kids around the world -- let alone upstate -- the movies offer travelogues with which to teach children about places they have yet to see.

Below are a few films available for home viewing that will send your kids' imaginations to the far corners of the earth-and even back in time. Use the DVDs to start discussions. You can choose to research the story locations before and/or after you view the movie. Get books from the library, scrutinize a tabletop globe or atlas, and scour the Internet. Open your "Dress-Up" boxes and create a costume that fits the film. Broaden your popcorn horizons and make snacks from the regions visited on the screen. Get ready to hit the road, ride the rails, and fly through the sky on a global tour - all from the comforts of your living room.

An American Tail
Ages: 3 & Up
Universal, $14.98 (DVD)

Set around the turn of the century during which major European and Asian emigration occurred, this big-hearted film involves the odyssey of a little Russian mouse, named Fievel. The little fella gets separated from his family during the boat trip to America and begins to search for his relatives in the strange new city of New York. Directed by the innovative Don Bluth, Tail is filled with warm humor, mild danger, and lots of memorable characters (voiced by such actors as Dom DeLuise as Tiger the cat and John Finnegan as Warren T. Rat). It also features James Horner’s touching soundtrack, highlighted by the classic ballad sung by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, “Somewhere Out There.” The sequel, An American Tail – Fievel Goes West, maintains the original’s humor and adventure as the brave mouse heads to the frontier.

The Amazing Panda AdventureThe Amazing Panda Adventure
Ages: 4 & Up
Warner Home Video, $12.98 (DVD)

The bamboo forests of China provide the setting for this action-packed story of a 10-year-old boy who helps save a Panda bear from evil poachers. Although the story lacks originality, young children will find this both exciting and endearing. The Panda scenes – made possible by animatronics, since Pandas are too endangered to take part in filming -- are adorable and the lesson about respect for animals is strong. All of this will help little viewers sample breathtaking Asian scenery not often furnished by family fare

Around the World in 80 Days
Ages: 5 & Up
Warner Home Video, $26.99 (DVD)

The 2004 reincarnation of the classic film follows a cartoon version and a miniseries rendition of the original film, which is hard to beat for many reasons. As the first to tackle Jules Verne’s novel, this 1950 winner of the Best Picture Oscar bears the pageantry of Hollywood epics of old. The story revolves around nobleman Phileas Fogg (a dashing and collected David Niven), who takes a bet from his club friends that he cannot circumnavigate the globe within 80 days. Fogg and his valet (played by Mexico’s legendary comedian, Cantinflas) set off in a magnificent hot-air balloon. On the way, Fogg and company visit diverse cultures while getting into harrowing situations and comedic predicaments. There is even a bit of suspense regarding the suspicion that Fogg has robbed a bank prior to taking off. Despite all this, the film’s 188 minutes tend to drag around the 90-minute mark, so you might want to split the film into two or even three viewings. DVD extras enhance the experience with a fact-filled commentary track, historical background, and a documentary about the movie’s famous producer, Mike Todd.

Homeward BoundHomeward Bound – The Incredible Journey
Ages: 5 & Up
Buena Vista $14.99 (DVD)

Voiceovers by Don Ameche (playing Shadow the golden retriever), Michael J. Fox (Chance the bulldog), and Sally Field (Sassy the cat) animate this live-action remake of Disney’s original The Incredible Journey. In this story, the animals stray from the home of a woman with whom they are left while their owners are on vacation. They become seriously lost and must traverse through forests and over mountains – encountering lions, bears, and other natural dangers – as they head back to safety. Clever dialogue combines with wonderful scenery and adorable animals to make this journey worth cuddling up to. As a matter of compelling fact for the kids, Sheila Burnford’s original 1963 novel, from which this movie springs, was based on a true story of animals that returned to their family after being lost in the wilderness.

Adventures of Huck FinnAdventures of Huck Finn
Ages: 6 & Up
Buena Vista Home Video, $14.99 (DVD)

While one of America’s greatest novels receives a bit of the cute treatment in this 1993 rendition, younger viewers will benefit with this entertaining introduction to Mark Twain’s classic. Elijah Wood wears the role of Huck with ease as his character rides up and down the Mississippi with Jim, an escaped slave portrayed by Courtney B. Vance. The film is nicely photographed and depicts the nineteenth-century South with vibrancy. With its episodic structure, Huck meets a wide variety of people, from the sweet to the scruffy (including two con-men played by Jason Robards, Jr. and Robbie Coltrane). The commentary on the DVD enriches the experience, which may very well inspire kids to dig into the adventurous and philosophical novel itself.

White FangWhite Fang
Ages: 8 & Up
Walt Disney Home Video, $14.99 (DVD)

An adaptation of the gold-rush novel by Jack London continues the American portion of our travels. The foreboding terrain and climate of America’s frozen frontier is thawed by this heart-pumping film about a young man from the city who teams with a part-wolf/part-dog named White Fang to survive the difficult environment and dangerous characters of turn-of-the-century Alaska. With Ethan Hawke as Jed, the movie focuses on the boy-dog friendship while surrounding it with eye-popping scenery and exciting action sequences. Some of the action is a bit intense for younger viewers, though the filmmakers refrain from showing gratuitous blood during dogfights and animal chases.

Back to the Future Trilogy
Ages: 8 & Up
Universal Studios, $54.98 (DVD)

When it debuted in 1985, Back to the Future lived out every kid’s fantasy of traveling through time with a story that was as humorous as it was nostalgic. Now packaged with its two sequels, the film makes for a thrilling epic of imaginative mayhem. In the original, Michael J. Fox’s character blasts to the ‘50s in the sports-car transporter of a mad scientist (Christopher Lloyd). There, he sees how his parents met and realizes he must somehow prevent his presence from changing the course of history (especially his own). Back to the Future II shoots forward in time, with impressive elements of cleverness and suspense, but the third film is the better sequel as it travels back to the Western frontier to encounter Fox’s many colorful ancestors. The finale involving a train, in place of the DeLorean, provides a fitting ending to the trilogy. DVD extras abound in this widescreen version, including lots of trivia and commentary.

A Little RomanceA Little Romance
Ages: 9 & Up
Warner Home Video, $19.97 (DVD)

We leave the States for Europe and a piece of delightful cinematic pastry. What makes this motion picture withstand the 25 years since its release is the endearing depiction of adolescent love. A 14-year-old Diane Lane plays a wise-beyond-her years American who falls for a Parisian boy (Thelonious Bernard). The girl’s mother forbids the relationship (which stays mild and within the parameters of innocent kissing and flowery expressions of affection). Luckily, an old Frenchman (played exquisitely by Laurence Olivier) helps set them on an adventure to Italy, where they plan to seal their romantic fate with a kiss under a Venetian bridge at sunset. In light of the European setting and elegant cast performances, viewers will be hard-pressed to resist the loving glow of this film. The romantic theme is tame enough (kind of like Romeo & Juliet-light) for the nine-and-up set and well worth it for the adventure of two kids bound for a little bit of destiny.

The Journey of Natty Gann
Ages: 10 & Up
Walt Disney Home Video $14.99 (DVD)

This film continues our sub-theme of characters in search of their family, though this one is perhaps the most dramatic of the bunch. A girl goes in search of her father via America’s railroads. Set in the Depression era, Natty (played winningly by Meredith Salenger) escapes her horrid temporary caretaker and travels from Chicago to Washington state to find her hard-luck father (Ray Wise) who is working as a logger. Along the way, a lone wolf and a young drifter (a young John Cusack showing early promise) help her on her perilous journey. Despite a poor transfer from film to DVD, the story remains gripping and the settings are vivid. This is a film worth viewing not only for the rich plot and characters but for its historical and social context regarding the difficult times in America between the World Wars.


About the Author
Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher, video junkie and father of two boys. Gregg's web site is


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