The Best Movie Ever: Kids Sci-fi

The Best Kids Sci-Fi Movie Ever

Adults take sci-fi too seriously, getting caught up in the rules of time travel or the specifics of space travel or the propensity of robots to go crazy and kill us all. That's why sci-fi aimed directly at children, speaking directly to their sense of wonder and less than jaded points of view, can be such a refreshing genre. This weekend's new release Earth to Echo is only the latest example, and it's a fine one indeed.

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But what's The Best Kids Sci-Fi Movie Ever? That's the question we posed to the CraveOnline film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo – and they turned in some very predictable and very unusual answers. Read on to find out which films they picked and why, and scroll down to the bottom of the page to vote for your very favorites. And don't forget to come back every Wednesday for another new topic on Best Movie Ever.

Brian Formo:

ET Steven Spielberg

There are no rules at Best Movie Ever (that I'm aware of), so I'd like to tackle my associate, Witney Seibold's Trolling #40. E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial not only rules, but it's by far the best sci-fi kids movie ever. 

It is not too sad! (Kids have to learn potential grief; they're surrounded by people older than them and those people will get sick or make bad decisions or they routinely operate machineries that have fatal potentialities.) The alien isn't a monster! He's a cuddly stack of tires with a neck extension and big almond cat eyes. And having not seen the rest of his species, I think he looks great! (Admission: I was a big-rolled baby, my dad called me "Chunkman") The psychic bond between E.T. and Elliott is the best scene in the movie and the magic can't be explained (and recklessness aside, that is by far the best first kiss in cinema: drunk by association in class and causing an amphibious surgical rebellion). 

Okay, I can't counter his quibble with the double title, nor the contact-another-planet-to-get-home device made from the garage heap of a Speak & Spell, turntable and umbrella. But watching E.T. as an adult really does make me want to go back home, to when I was a kid, "sick" in bed (I guess E.T. is a bad influence) and watch this Steven Spielberg-John Williams rubber-tire-stack alien magic opus. With some Reese's Cups, though. I'd troll on Reese's Pieces, for sure.

Witney Seibold:

ET The Extra-Terrestrial

Choosing the best kids' film in any genre is a sticky proposition, because you have your own childhood as an intellectual hurdle. Do you choose the films that are personally dear to you, even if they may not be “the best” from an objective standpoint? I have heard some young people say that 1996's Space Jam or perhaps Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie are some of their favorite films, merely because of nostalgia. As someone too old for those films, I think they're both pretty insufferable. But, by that same token, I cannot be convinced that films like Flight of the Navigator or D.A.R.Y.L. are bad films because, well, I was the right age when I saw them. To be objective, then, I will actively deselect any films I saw as a child and have not revisited since. The rose-colored glasses are just too rosy.

A film I did not see until I was 30, however, is perhaps the best kids' sci-fi film of all time, as it essentially defined the genre as we know it. It was full of interesting child characters, a shamelessly tear-jerking drama, an empathetic monster, and a gently wacky, hide-it-from-your-parents relatability that so few films about kids seem to get right. That film is, of course, Steven Spielberg's 1982 classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. I cannot claim to have grown up with this film, but I kind of did. The influence of E.T. was so widespread that it essentially colored all of the age-appropriate films I saw all throughout my own childhood. Even more than Star WarsE.T. shaped the way genre films were made, dictating the kinds of characters we were to see, the kinds of stories, and the general age demographic that Hollywood was to zero in on over the course of the 1980s.

The movie is moving, has some excellent music (John Williams won an Oscar for this, no surprise), and is sure to make even the staunchest child bawl in empathy. There is an emotional magic to the film that just cannot be denied. I apologize for skewing so obvious with my choice, but I feel that E.T. is a pivot point for this entire class of films, not to mention the taste of a generation of youngsters.  

William Bibbiani:

The Explorers

I never really cared for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. There, I said it. I like it just fine, but it wasn't an important film to me growing up and I've felt like I've seen other films that speak to youthful concerns more directly, and in more imaginative ways. That's just an opinion of course. Get ready, because I'm the one who was sorely tempted to vote for D.A.R.Y.L. and Real Steel.

Joe Dante's directorial career is one of an eccentric genius, whose preoccupations with dorky humor, eccentric outsiders and fresh ideas sometimes took precedence over his common sense. I still say his masterpiece is Explorers, although Dante himself probably disagrees (post-production on this film was rushed, and he says he was never satisfied with the theatrical version). The Explorers stars very young versions of Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and Bobby Fite as pubescent dreamers not unlike those you'd find in a Steven Spielberg joint, except the funny thing is… they're all having the same dream, and the images they see are actually the blueprints machines that create forcefields capable of sending their ramshackle spaceship, built from stolen junkyard scrap, into deep space.

If you've seen The Explorers, you know that once they reach the stars these kids are in for the most unexpected journey in the history of kids sci-fi, with terrifying imagery, bizarre gags and a severe dramatic reversal that affirms the film's thesis: that the imagination of the young is a more powerful and meaningful thing than the stultifying ignorance of adults. Dante captures something truly beautiful, odd and unique in Explorers, and any of the film's so-called "flaws" will be lost on the young. They'll be too busy recognizing the emotions of the cast of characters, and sharing their senses of wonder and revelation.

Fred Topel:

Honey I Blew Up the Kid

Ha! I had to let this one go for Best Giant Monster Movie and I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait to give it its due. Luckily, a children’s sci-fi movie came out within months of the Godzilla remake, so it’s time to discuss children’s sci-fi. In this case, really young children. 

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a big hit for Disney. The sequel could have just been another shrunken adventure, perhaps in a bigger backyard. In fact, the straight-to-video sequel had the parents shrink themselves. But, a stroke of perhaps unintentionally satirical genius gave us a sequel with an inverted problem. Honey I Blew Up the Kid a great vehicle for kids of multiple ages, and a satire of sci-fi classics itself.

Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) creates the reverse problem this time, causing his baby to grow and grow and grow. And grow. A giant baby wreaking havoc is adorable, and a humorous juxtaposition of the deadly giant monsters of sci-fi lore. The fact that the biggest disaster comes from trying to make the giant baby take a nap is perceptive to anyone with a family. It also gives the older son a chance to be heroic as he tries to help keep the giant baby out of trouble. Teenage Keri Russell is along for the ride on the adventure, back when she was a Disney girl. Is Ender’s Game more sophisticated? More empowering to young intellect? Yes to both, but it doesn’t have a giant baby terrorizing the city, so what can you do? 

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