It’s an odd thing about a lot of what we consider kids’ movies—so few of them, really, are just for kids. Partly, it’s just a business call; appealing to parents is a smart move in a market overcrowded with candy-colored come-ons. But brush aside the obviously commercial enterprises and you’ll notice that most of the great “kids’ movies” are really just great movies.
One of the places that becomes most apparent is in the world of animation. It’s a place where emotional depth and rich storytelling can sometimes slip in overlooked by early viewers, who may be more dazzled by the artistry of the medium. But the best cartoons—and really, it shouldn’t be a dirty word for film lovers—reward repeated viewing well into adulthood, with the best of the best getting watched again with one’s own children, seen differently now through the lens of parenthood.
Such is the case with the great Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese writer/director, animator, and manga artist. Long a legendary figure in Japan, where his films were both critical and box-office successes, he was relatively unknown in the West until the late 1990s U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, an anime work that carried, as much of Miyazaki’s work does, a message about keeping the balance between humankind and the natural world upon which we rely. It was also, importantly, a visual stunner. The next year Miyazaki’s film Spirited Away would become the first anime film to win an Academy Award; in the current decade, his American audience has grown to include film lovers of all ages.
This week, Amherst Cinema kicks off a festival dedicated to the director’s work, bringing in the original Japanese films, subtitled in English, in restored 35mm prints. It begins with a Sunday afternoon screening of Castle in the Sky, which tells the story of Sheeta, a young girl who falls from the sky and into the life of the boy Pazu. Together they set off to find the mysterious floating city of Laputa and unlock the secret held within Sheeta’s crystal amulet, all the while pursued by pirates and government forces. American filmgoers might notice a resemblance to Miyazaki’s later work Howl’s Moving Castle in the floating Laputa, but this earlier work is a wonderful film in its own right, and well worth seeking out on the big screen.
Amherst also brings in a bit of early ’90s nostalgia on Friday for its Late Nites series of 10 p.m. showings. The Sandlot, directed by David Mickey Evans, is a bit of a baseball fairy tale. Young Scotty Smalls is the new kid in town who hooks up with a local gang of baseball crazy kids to play a regular sandlot game.
When a ball is hit over the back fence, Scotty learns about the legend of The Beast—a junkyard dog who is said to eat the children who dare enter its yard. When his stepdad’s prized ball (signed by Babe Ruth) goes missing, he has no choice but to scale the fence. Denis Leary is on board as stepdad Bill, while James Earl Jones appears as the mysterious neighbor who cares for The Beast.
Also this week: Northampton’s Academy of Music screens the music film Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 25. Director Dick Carruthers’ film captures the band (with drummer Jason Bonham sitting in for his late father) during a 2007 performance at London’s O2 Arena, where they headlined a tribute concert to honor Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records and a longtime friend of the band. Originally seen by a crowd of 18,000—20 million people applied for tickets in a worldwide lottery—the film finally brings the show to the masses.•
Jack Brown can be reached at cinemadope@gmail. com.