Once upon a time, Disney had a corner on the kids' action-adventure market. Sunday at six was reserved for Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and for a couple of hours once a week movies like Race from Witch Mountain, Kidnapped and Treasure Island mixed plucky kids, mild action, exotic locations and lots of adventure.
The genre hasn’t gone away -- new movies like this weekend’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader still give kids a thrill ride -- but I get a nostalgic kick out of older, simpler action-adventure flicks.
Though it wasn’t a Disney film, The Goonies breathes the same air as Walt’s kids' classics. The adventure begins when a group of kids calling themselves The Goonies find “One-Eyed” Willy’s treasure map. Sprinkle in some crazy inventions, a baddie played by Throw Mama from the Train star Anne Ramsey, a title track by Cyndi Lauper and Spielberg-esque storytelling, and you have one of the best loved kids' romps from the 1980s.
Speaking of Spielberg, without his ET, we wouldn’t have had Flight of the Navigator. After ET’s successful mix of kids and aliens, a whole slew of movies tried to cash in on that formula. The story of a 12-year-old boy who disappears, only to return eight years later without having aged a day at all, Intelligence -- a glib navigational computer -- and a cameo by Sarah Jessica Parker as a NASA orderly with punk rock pink hair.
SJP’s pink hair stood out like a sore thumb in that movie, but two early ’80s kids' fantasy-adventure films feature wild creatures and magical lands.
In The NeverEnding Story, a young hero must save his country, Fantasia, from something worse than an evil king. He must stop a creeping wave of nothingness. It may be the most existential kids' movie ever, but woven into the fabric of the story are cool characters like the Rockbiter and Gmork the evil wolf.
Perhaps the best, although most underrated kids' fantasy film, is 1982’s The Dark Crystal. Directed by Muppet master Jim Henson, the film sees a Gelfling setting off to find the missing piece of a magical crystal, in order to restore to his world. A minor hit when it was released, this masterful kid’s movie is finally getting a much deserved sequel, The Power of the Dark Crystal, scheduled for release in 2011.