New Feature: Free-Range Kids Movie of the Week!

Hi Free-Rangers!
Daniel Bigler, a pre-school teacher/Children’s Studies major in Spokane, Washington — and the blogger behind
Danielsaurus.com — has taken it upon himself to find us some inspiring  movies. “The premise,” he says, “is simple. Each week we go out in search of a fresh movie either for or about kids that keeps in line with the philosophy of letting our kids have ‘Free-Range’ childhoods.  Movies with strong child characters breaking the rules, venturing out on their own, and living life to its fullest.”

 Feel free to add your own recommendations, caveats, and anything else, below, as we proudly raise the curtain on:

 FREE-RANGE KID MOVIE RECOMMENDATION #1:

 By Daniel Bigler

First up: that quintessential summer flick, “The Sandlot.” It’s taken up its spot on the mantle as one of the greatest baseball movies of all time, but going back to rewatch it, I was surprised at how much it wasn’t about baseball, but about childhood friendships and legends.

Set in the 1950s, 10 year old Scotty Smalls has just moved into town, and he soon discovers a hidden secret of his suburban neighborhood. It’s the sandlot, an abandoned dirt plot where a small band of neighborhood kids play pickup baseball. The lot is their domain – no adults in sight. Smalls soon learns the hang of this foreign (to him) game and together, he and the Sandlot Kids have the greatest summer of their lives.

I guess you could say I grew up with this film. It came out when I was about eight, and I distinctly remember the little dollar theater where I watched it the first time.  “The Sandlot” is packed full with baseball and swearing, giant beasts, fireworks, fanciful stories of burglars, and moving stories of neighborhood legends. To my little eight-year-old brain, it was like the Holy Grail of Kid Empowerment. It was the kind of childhood I wanted. Even as an eight-year-old, I knew that.

There’s still a few weeks left in the summer, fortunately, for kids today to get that kind of childhood – to discover their own “sandlot.” Why not inspire them by picking up and watching this flick over the weekend?

“The Sandlot” came out in 1993 and was written by Robert Gunter & David Mickey Evans – and also directed by  Evans. It features the always awesome James Earl Jones, plus a bunch of cool kids who probably had a whole ton of fun making the movie.

65 Responses

  1. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Looking forward to “The Sandlot” on our next movie night!

  2. THE GOONIES

  3. The Sandlot is absolutely a marvelous film to inspire kids (and adults) to see everyday as an adventure. Its a little boy-centric (though I liked it!) – if you’ve got girls I highly recommend “Now and Then”. It pretty much WAS my childhood – I thank my parents for it!

  4. I loved that movie. What a great idea, free-range movie of the week. I love it, thanks.

  5. The Sandlot is one of Gabe’s favorites. ^^ He loves baseball and the sight of all those boys running around with no parents in sight is probably leaving a good impression.

    For those who like anime/foriegn films, the movie Kiki’s Delivery Service is a really good one. The main character, Kiki, is a young witch who leaves her parent’s home to strike off and find herself a village or town of her own to help. In this world, witches perform positive spells and healing for people, not curses or other nasty magic. Kiki is only about 10 or 12 but she does it on her own.🙂

  6. @Jen, I agree, Kiki is a great one. Almost all of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies are about kids doing things on their own (or with help from supernatural forces, but not from their parents).

  7. To suggest something for the younger crowd (read: more cartoon, less swearing), I would like to give a shout out to Monster House. The story is about some kids who live across the street from a curmudgeonly old man and break all the rules (and into his house) to find out why. Meanwhile, the parents are gone (though I forget how they deal with the babysitter). I won’t spoil the ending but lets just say that it certainly holds to your rules about breaking rules, strong child characters and venturing out on their own.

  8. I second “Goonies”!! It remains one of the greatest movies of all times for those of us who grew up with it, and is still regularly quoted in our household!🙂

  9. Some movies to look at:
    + October Sky
    + The Neverending Story (great book too)
    + Stand By Me (good story too)
    + E.T. (!)

    Some that might _not_ encourage most parents:
    + Empire of the Sun
    + Rushmore
    + Ghost World

  10. Finding Nemo! It has such a great lesson on the importance of letting go of your kids and letting them be independent. By the way, I was watching Simpsons reruns the other day, and I saw one with a great Free Range message. Marge starts babysitting Ned Flanders’ kids. Marge believes in giving the kids freedom and letting them have fun, but Ned is a typical nervous helicopter parent. Marge takes the boys to indoor rock climbing, and Ned panics; he yells to his son that he’s going to fall, and of course he does. This episode also shows the difference between Free Range and neglectful – when Homer watches Bart and Lisa, he just sleeps on the couch while they destroy the house.

  11. Stand By Me – a little violent but ultimately awesome.

  12. GOONIES!!! My kids just watched and fell in love with that movie. And of course any Little Rascal episode is a good example of little kids venturing out on their own wild times.

  13. The Goonies and Stand By Me, as mentioned by others, are excellent examples of kids being smart, independent, adventurous, and most importantly: capable.

  14. Pippi Longstockings.

  15. My son and I adore the book and movie version of “Because of Winn-Dixie,” a beautiful story and very independent young protagonist.

  16. October Sky is one of the best Free-Range-Friendly movies I’ve ever seen. It’s the real-life story of the son of a coal miner in West Virginia who defies his father’s wishes and with the help of some friends, they build a model rocket (oooh, EXPLOSIVES) all on their own, and win a national science fair competition. This movie doesn’t pit father against son so much as it shows the son growing up and standing up for what he believes in. The father isn’t shown as evil or domineering; he just wants what’s best for his son, which he thinks is a good job in the mines, and the son isn’t rebellious so much as he is focused and determined to build his rocket and win the prize.

    What I like most about it, though, is that it’s the only book about high-school kids I’ve seen in the last decade or so that shows a student actually, you know, studying.🙂

  17. All books and the films based on the books of Astrid Lindgren
    Pippi Longstocking
    Emil from Lönneberg
    Bullerby
    Mio my Mio
    The Brother s Lionhart

  18. Finding Nemo is at the top of my list.

    Marlyn “I promised I wouldn’t let anything happen to him”
    Dory “That’s a funny thing to promise. Can’t never let nothing happen to him because then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo”

  19. Stand by Me… LOL!

    Finding a dead body isn’t going to help promote “Free Range” philosophy!

  20. Yes, Kiki’s Delivery Service is awesome, and it’s good for even very small children. The only scary parts involve storms, flocks of crows, and a boy in danger, whom Kiki saves (yeah!) There are no villains, though there are some inconsiderate people (good discussion fodder.) Our daughter recently saw it at age four, as her first movie ever. Though she couldn’t really follow the plot, she loved it, especially the talking cat and the spectacular flying scenes.

  21. Some of the Disney movies are free-range, but right off the top of my head I can’t think of any…Help?

  22. The Indian in the Cupboard

    Why? Because the two main characters are children who go all around a large city without their parents as if it’s no big deal at all.

  23. Whoever mentioned Miyazaki’s films, right on! His films with kids as protagonists are great showing kids going on adventures on their own and most of the time, the parents are not of the hovering variety. Kiki’s Delivery Service has been mentioned, and Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro are fantastic as well.

    I just saw the newest one, Ponyo on a Cliff, this week – definitely good for kids (although the critic in me thinks it’s not as strong as his other films). The main characters are a little boy and girl – er, fish who wants to be a little girl – and their parents are an interesting opposition. At one point, the boy’s mother leaves him at home to go help some stranded seniors during a storm (after making sure the house has power and making enough food to see him through the night), telling him that she trusts him. The boy proves himself to be resourceful and responsible.

    The girl-fish’s father, on the other hand, panics when his daughter tells him she wants to be a human like her friend because he wants her to “stay innocent” and tries to contain her because he doesn’t trust her to control her own magic and it’s consequences. Granted, she can’t really, but at no point does the father attempt to even teach her how to use her magic, he just tries to keep her in a bubble – literally. Highly recommend this film to parents, especially with younger kids.

    Other favorites were the Black Stallion (kid marooned on an island with a horse and no adults who learns to fend for himself long enough to be rescued – the section of the film on the island with just the boy & the horse are some of the most beautiful scenes in a movie, ever); Flight of the Navigator was a favorite, although I haven’t seen it in years; Goonies (love seeing that mentioned in the comments!); Neverending Story (first one only, the sequels were awful); and actually, the BBC produced adaptations of the first 4 Narnia books that were rather good – the special effects will look rather dated, but the integrity of the stories still stand and I know they’re available on DVD. I should look over my DVD collection again when I get home to see if I missed anything.

  24. Goonies, Goonies, and Goonies! Yes! Loved it!

    Also, I recently saw the movie The Secret Life of Bees and it was pretty great too.

  25. As a pre-teen/teen, I adored the movie Explorers with River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke. It deals with kids (three boys) building their own space ship after receiving signals from outer space.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0089114/

  26. Actually, come to think of it, first Land Before Time and An American Tale were also good. Probably not so much for little kids because they do get a bit scary (and there’s the “Bambi” factor for LBT with Littlefoot’s mother), but still good films.

    Also, the original Charlie & the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. Good example of both trusting kids to make the right decisions (Wonka does say that he wanted to leave his factory to a child because the child would be more willing to learn than an adult) and how letting your kids run wild over you isn’t the same thing as free-range (Veruca Salt anyone?). I mean, Charlie’s parents allow him to work (oh horrors!) because they’re poor and he wants to help provide for his family, including his invalid grandparents.

    And Coraline was outstanding. So yes, lots of great films out there for kids with strong messages about self-reliance and learning through doing.

  27. Astrid Lindgren’s stories are wonderful, and the best of them all is without a doubt ‘Ronja the Robber’s Daughter’, but I don’t know if there’s a US release…

  28. I LOVE both The Red Balloon and White Mane by Albert Lamorisse. (they are bundled together in the Criterion Collection DVD.) The films are beautifully directed have goregous scenery (1950s France) and the stories are compelling and sweet. In both of these stories, children are quite free to do their own thing. ( including scary things like capturing while horses!) I found White Mane to be somewhat difficult because of the ending which is either inspiring or scary depending on your view.

    Another good foreign film for kids is Yasujiro Ozu’s Good Morning. It’s about kids who really want a tV, but it does feature them getting out and about in the world (and fart jokes, plenty of fart jokes!) (this one if best for kids who can read subtitles easily.)

  29. “The Sandlot” was one of my favorite kid movies and is a great recommendation. I don’t recall a whole lot of swearing in it though (at least four letter words), mostly just boys trash talking as would be realistically expected within their age group. It’d be nice if there were more such real-life gathering opportunities for kids who can be themselves, play by themselves, and settle their own affairs without parents being busybodies, or degenerating into a gang of thugs.

  30. What a GREAT idea! If you are still upgrading the website, a list of free-range kids flicks is a must.
    The Secret Garden
    A Little Princess
    Black Beauty (these three are by the same author Caroline Thompson)
    National Velvet
    The Iron Giant (pre-Pixar director Brad Bird of Finding Nemo fame)

    And a great left-of-field one – I love it, my wife loves it, my daughter loves it – My Neighbour Totoro.

  31. I second, third and fourth the Goonies motion! Sandlot was pretty darn good too.

    My personal favorites as a child, though, were Pippy Longstocking and Annie.

  32. Oh Oh Oh- and anything by Roald Dahl. For that matter, read them the book first. In fact, that goes for just about any movie. I know, Diego and Clifford and Curious George are my babysitters too, but we’re hoping to keep it to a minimum.

    I think a lot of the suggestions (including mine) are more ‘kid empowerment’ than ‘free range kids’. I’m not entirely sure what the distinction is, but I have a kind of a gut feeling that there is one.

  33. @ Chris Howe –

    Oh, I love the Iron Giant! Turns me into a weepy pile every time.🙂 Totally forgot about that. Excellent choice.

  34. […] New Feature: Free-Range Kids Movie of the Week! « FreeRangeKids […]

  35. Marion, there is a US release, but we spell it Ronia instead of Ronja.

  36. Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead

    SO cheesy but so much fun! I forget the details but it has kids taking responsibility for each other in the absense of adults.

  37. Lots of love for “The Goonies,” it looks like! I agree; it’s on my list of favourite movies from when I was a kid, along with “E.T.”, Hiyao Miyazaki’s films, and many of the others mentioned. Vespabelle, I also absolutely *love* “The Red Balloon” – and I do have many similar films from Truffaut on my list… I’m thinking particularly of the wonderful “Small Change” and, perhaps, “The 400 Blows.” All these films seem to have this very common theme of kids roaming the 1950s-70s era French countryside freely, and it’s utterly enchanting.

    Rich, that’s an interesting clarification, between “kid empowerment” and “free range kids.” There’s often a lot of overlap, I imagine, but it’ll be interesting to explore the differences further.

    I think “free range,” by a certain definition, has a sense of geography and social possibility involved – kids exploring, partaking in, and roaming a wide birth of areas and activities, and by implicit assumption, doing so on their own. “Empowerment,” though, seems more to do with children’s self-confidence and the power they have as social players, within a broader culture and community.

    Children being treated respectfully, as competent individuals and important members of society – I think this is more to the heart of empowerment. There’s also a large amount of self-choice and determination about their own lives involved in the concept of empowerment as well – kids are empowered when they’re free to plan and lead their lives on their own, with little adult interference. Probably an important distinction, though, is that this kind of “power” isn’t always given to kids by adults and the broader culture freely, but often something they must take forcefully on their own.

    A movie like “Stand by Me” really perfectly demonstrates these concepts; it’s a perfect example of the concept of “free range kids” – in a very real, geographic sense at that – but we also see that Gordie, Chris, Teddy, and Vern aren’t particularly empowered children either, at least in the context of the broader society and community they live in. Any power they have (which is not much, as the older gang of teenagers prove to them), the kids basically arrested from adults through their own means – and by consequence, they often face the social labelling of being “deviants” and “bad kids”.

    So there are differences, I think. When we see “Free Range Kids” they often are, certainly, empowered to some degree – but it isn’t necessarily a power that’s come freely or was given to them, and it’s often a power that’s at odds with the broader society.

  38. This is one of the best movies ever!! My sisters and I watched it all the time growing up. The quintessential endless summer. I think it reminded us of ourselves, playing around the neighborhood, doing stuff on our own, no grown-ups around. I hope my kids can experience that. To me, its what childhood was all about.

  39. Son of Rambow was excellent as well.

  40. I mentioned it in a comment on another post, but I have to recommend “My Dog Skip.” It’s based on a true story, and it’s a great one to show overachiever-type parents because of the ending (which I won’t spoil here.)

    My other recommendation: Recess: School’s Out. (not the TV series, the movie.) It whacks you over the head with the message that “Kids need to play!” with a good dose of kids-save-the-world-without-help-from-parents.

  41. Secondhand Lions

    ‘nuf said.

  42. Bridge to Terabithia. Yes, it ends with a kid dying. But up until that part it was pretty awesome!

  43. Bugsy Malone – maybe? Kids as adult gansters shooting everyone with cream-puff guns? Pedal-powered cars (no helmets, tut tut), massive cream pie fight at the end?

    Is this empowerment? Free-range? Or just bloody great fun?

  44. I er, second, Secondhand Lions. We’ve watched it over and over. Like so many others, I also think Goonies is the greatest.

    How about for the older kids? I’ve got a bunch of teens and I’d like to see more teen centered movies that I won’t get all embarrassed over watching with my kids. So far, my safest bets seem to be the ones from my own teen years. RIP John Hughes

  45. @KarenW I used Finding Nemo to scare the bejeezus out of my preschooler so he would stop wandering (running) away from me all the time everywhere we went. I said, “If you keep running away after I tell you to stay by me, somebody might take you away like Nemo.” Boy did that scare him straight. That was the end of that! I know this is supposed to be a site all about NOT scaring our kids, and I am totally on board — Woo Hoo! Go Free Range! — but I don’t feel guilty about using a well timed fear tactic on a willful 3-yr-old during a teachable moment when that is the only way I can get him to take me seriously. Thanks Nemo🙂

  46. @Jeremy Smith

    I love your picks. I just saw October Sky recently and it’s absolutely one of the most free-rangy movies I’ve ever seen. The Neverending Story is a classic.🙂 I loved it as a kid (and secretly still do!)

    But I have to disagree about Empire of the Sun; what a great movie! Jim / Jamie proved himself to be extremely self-reliant, a perfect example of which is the way he confronted the Japanese officer to intercede on behalf of the doctor who was being beaten. He learned some tough, depressing lessons about humanity at the foot of John Malkovich, but on the whole I found him to be sturdier, smarter, and more able to cope with the harsh situation than just about any adult in the movie.

    “Boy… Difficult boy…”

  47. Good boy is a great movie. If your child likes musicals Gigi is one of my kids favorite movies. However, I have to agree with everyone else that Goonies rocks!

  48. Here’s another book to go with the one I mentioned downpost.

    Oddballs, which is William Sleator’s autobiography. (You’ve heard about William Sleator, of course – renowned YA author?)

    You can read an early version of it here: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~sleator/oddballs/oddballs-web/oddballs.html

  49. Harriet the Spy

  50. I’ll second the suggestion for Son of Rambow.

  51. I’ve been on the lookout for these kinds of movies so here’s some that I did not see mentioned already:

    In English, no Subtitles:
    Matilda (1996, G)
    Into The West (1993, G)
    Secret of Roan Inish (1995, PG)
    August Rush (2007, PG)
    A Far Off Place (1993, PG)
    Duma (2004, PG)
    Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002, PG)
    Man Without A Face (1993, PG-13)
    Walkabout (1973, NR I’d say PG-13)

    Subtitled:
    The Same Moon/ La Misma Luna (US/Mexico, 2007, PG-13)
    Not One Less/ Yi ge dou bu neng shao (China, 2000, G)
    24 Eyes/ Nijushi no hitomi (Japan, 1954, NR I’d say PG)
    Children of Heaven/ Bacheha-Ye aseman (Iran, 1997, PG)

    My three favorite are the two Irish movies Into The West and The Secret of Roan Inish and the Chinese movie Not One Less. The Irish movies are really wonderful depictions of children taking responsibility where adults have given up. In Not One Less a rural elementary school teacher in a poor village has to take a leave and the only substitute that can be found is a thirteen year old girl. As the teacher is leaving the girl is asking about her pay and the mayor of the town is avoiding the question, but the last word of the negotiation is that she will be paid as long as there is not one less student when the teacher returns. Naturally that sets her up for some challenges, and leads to some really great learning opportunities.


    Enjoy,

    Don Berg

    Site: http://www.teach-kids-attitude-1st.com
    Free E-book: The Attitude Problem in Education

  52. Now & Then

    Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain

    The Babysitter’s Club Movie

    A Little Princess (1995 version)

    Adventures in Babysitting

  53. My kids love “Nim’s Island” and I love it too! Girl all alone on an island, fighting off pirates and falling into a volcano…. Definitely free range!

  54. A great family-friendly free range film is “Air Bud”. (The original “Bud” movie, with the dog who played basketball.)

  55. 1. The Fox and the Child (no parents seen in this one!)
    2. My Neighbor Totoro
    3. Nim’s Island
    **4. PBS documentary (excellent!!!): Where do the Children Play?**
    5. check out the website: commonsensemedia.org

  56. Michelle, I’m *so* glad you mentioned “Where Do the Children Play?” It’s a great documentary, and the bit about children’s play in the suburbs is especially poignant.

    And Don, great suggestions. I love “Duma,” “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” “Man Without a Face,” and “Secret of Roan Inish.” A few of the others you mentioned I hadn’t seen before, but look forward to them! Have you seen “Where the River Runs Black”? It seems to fit very well with your list — though it’s bloody difficult to find!

    Oh, and I’ll add one just perfect for families to the list — Stuart Beattie’s “Joey.”

  57. These were my favorites as a kid…in some of them the parents helped the kids but it was the kid’s perspective that i saw in my youthful eyes :0

    – Cloak and Dagger
    – Daryl
    – Goonies
    – Explorers
    – Neverending Story
    – Worst Witch

    and there was a John Wayne movie my dad always made me watch when it was on where he takes the ‘bad’ kids and makes them heard cattle across the west.

  58. Lost in the Barrens – My favorite of the “kids surviving alone in the wilderness” genre.

  59. I can’t believe no one’s mentioned Peter Pan yet. That always struck me as a free range kind of movie, what with a group of kids going off with another kid and his fairy to an island with mermaids, fairies, Indians, pirates, and more. And they all return home safe at the end of the movie.

    Japan seems to be pretty big on free range, even if the actual term isn’t used. Some of my favorites are the aforementioned Miyazaki films, as well as Makoto Shinkai’s works: Voices of a Distant Star, The Place Promised in Our Early Days, and Five Centimeters per Second. They’re all inherently romance movies, and the characters do grow up, but they’re definitely all free range while they’re kids. Example: the principle characters in Five Centimeters take trains alone to meet each other when they’re very young. Although, I did see a girl who couldn’t have been more than seven taking a subway alone in Tokyo (I’m assuming to school), so maybe that’s not strange for Japan.

  60. Has anyone mentioned “Now and Then?” it was like the Sandlot for girls! also, i realize that its not people, but Milo and Otis was one of my favorite movies as a kid! The animals are adventuring all over the place and it was so exciting!

    Peter Pan is a great addition in my book! and I remember having to sleep with a nightlight on for a month after watching Stand By Me…sure the kids are free range, but the part with the pie eating contest where everyone is getting sick grossed me out as a 5 year old!

  61. The Goonies
    Syand by Me
    Ronja the Robber’s Daughter was also a favourite of mine when I was young. Our TV channel had a Scandinavian children’s movie each Sunday morning and most were great.
    Empire of the Sun is a great movie too, but maybe more for some older children.
    In the Netherlands we have the books and since a few years also TV-series about Madelief. She’s a young girl just playing in her neighbourhood with her friends etc. It reminds me of how I spend my days as a child and it makes me sad that I see a lot less children playing outside nowadays.
    Although that also has to do with both parents working. The children are in after school care instead of playing outside in their neighbourhood.

  62. Matilda and Totorro, definately. Also, for the more obscure, try “The Taste of Tea” (Japan), and “A Summer at Grandpa’s” (Taiwan). The children in the latter are especially free and independent. There is enoug danger in it to give parents watchign a few gray hairs, but they (and their children) will be better for it. All are highly recommended.

  63. Ok, so I’ve often wondered if any posters here lived in my area. I think I got my answer. My library and the 4 others closest to me have all their copies of The Goonies out. Coincidence? I think not! So then I go to Blockbuster and all of their copies are rented out. Lenore, how about you start some Frequent Poster Point System so I can get your posts ahead of time and be able to rent the movies before everyone else, lol.

  64. My six year old absolutely adores “Home Alone”. She is just giddy at how the cute little boy acts so helpless at first then ends up outwitting the mean, nasty bad guys!

  65. I’m surprised no one has mentioned “The Journey of Natty Gann”.

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