Summer holidays bring on the nostalgia. Endless days of light and warmth, gangs of friends, sunburnt mornings at the beach, afternoon rides through shady streets, nights spent lying in fresh grass, counting the stars. These were the months of freedom and youth and invincibility, long before we understood how precious and rare and fleeting these privileges would be.
Along with the many books I devoured while swinging in hammocks, bookmarked with sand and dripped on by ice cream and mango, movies held a particular magic for me in those days. Narrative was still untainted by the poser’s need to be subversive. Adventures were pure and real and simple. Before the ubiquity of computer animation, never-ending franchises and much-hyped adaptations, movies were singular, fleeting and sublime. These are the stories that shaped my wonder, and still hold magic for me, even now.
Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
All the best childhood movies were kids vs. the establishment. The establishment, in this case, being the world of normal-sized things. Trekking through a forest of grass, facing down torrential sprinklers and killer wasps, sheltering in pieces of Lego and breakfasting on enormous cream-filled cookies somehow tapped into every child’s dream of subversive freedom. Long before fan fiction I wrote myself into this movie a thousand times.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Disney at its zenith. The opening bars of “Tale as Old as Time” will always hold a particular power over those of us who experienced the original release of this movie. Danger, magic, beauty, love, catchy tunes, it was the full package, complete with anthropomorphic tableware. And Jerry Orbach as Lumiere spawned a new generation of French mimicry.
The story of Peter Pan, magical and mysterious in its own right, with the twist of Robin Williams as an adult Pan who has forgotten his true identity. Williams featured large in nineties children’s movies, his slightly dark presence made more melancholy now since his untimely death. A fabulous, fantastical, heartbreaking story of adventure, innocence, and the inevitability of time.
City Clickers (1991)
Billy Crystal in his goofy prime and Jack Palance in a craggy cowboy role that was made for him (and for which he won an Academy Award). Three middle-aged friends rediscover their joy in pursuit of mythical buried treasure in the wild west. Along with a killer score, some moments of pure fun, and the simple profundity of the “one thing”, this was a feel-good flick for the ages.
The Mighty Ducks (1992)
“We Are the Champions” was never the same again. Ice hockey, a bunch of misfits, a childhood underdog story coloured with the struggle of adult cynicism and disappointment. Sports movies were also at an all-time high in the nineties, and gosh darn it, we loved them. This movie launched the ‘flying V’ as a rally call in school playing fields the world over.
Sister Act (1992)
A rare predominantly female movie about women kicking ass together to the tune of ridiculously catchy songs. Colourful characters, a hard-as-nails mentor, the real-world danger of crime and loose reputations, all redeemed by the triumphant vocals of the sisterhood. I lost count of how many times I saw this movie at sleepovers.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
One of my favourite movies of all time and a perfect microcosm of Baz Lurhmann’s quirky brilliance long before he became a household name. The movie hits so many beats, undermining the usual surface glamour of the Cinderella story with surrealist flashbacks and off-kilter characters while managing to deliver an inspirational buzz to stand the test of time. The dance on the rooftop at dawn, illuminated by the spangled Coke billboard, is iconic, raw, and one of the most romantic scenes ever filmed.
The Sandlot Kids (1993)
Another crew of diverse misfits working to improve their skills, this time at baseball, in order to beat the slick, privileged nobs who rub their noses in it every chance they get. With much banter they overcome their lack of resources by taking on the ‘monster’ in the yard next door and proceed to the final showdown with classic underdog charm.
Jurassic Park (1993)
One of the first movies I have clear memories of seeing in the cinema, because I spent most of it hiding under my jumper. Adventure laced with horror, adults screwing up big time and kids turning badass to save each other, it was terrifying, epic and even inspiring, with a John Williams score and an emotional impact that few other movies had mastered up until that point.
The Three Musketeers (1993)
Rebels with fencing swords and capes, the romance of old France, castles and lords and villains. I had a crush on Chris O’Donnell, and Charlie Sheen is all charm in this movie, long before his transformation into Class A Douche. “All for one, and one for all!” ennobled many a friendship quest from here on out.
The Lion King (1994)
Another early movie I can recall seeing at the cinema. The epic tone achieved by the African panorama, the confronting reality of life and death, and the unparalleled score literally rocked my world and gave me tingles for days to come. Comedy, romance, guilt, betrayal, victory, the circle of life. Like many movies on this list it has long been imitated, but never surpassed.
But wait, there’s more…
The Little Rascals (1994) – Step aside Alfalfa, Porky was everybody’s favourite character (closely followed by Uh-Huh).
Camp Nowhere (1994) – Kids running riot, crafting an elaborate ploy to create a summer camp where there are no ruling authorities. The part where they stage an open day for the naive parents is a feat of legendary greatness.
Richie Rich (1994) – Who doesn’t want to be friends with the richest boy on the planet? And then to battle the evil adults who are trying to destroy his family legacy?
Jumanji (1995) – Robin Williams and a fantasy jungle invading the real world without the consent of rational adults. And the fourth movie on this list to be remade or rebooted recently, which says something for the quality of our nineties fodder.
Now and Then (1995) – One of the only girl gang movies I can think of, made sightly grim by the grown-up angle of the children as adults, but still chock full of nostalgia and girly issues like boobs and makeup.
Space Jam (1996) – Why was this movie so good? I don’t know. But I miss the Looney Tunes.
Matilda (1996) – Roald Dahl knew the way to a child’s slightly twisted heart better than anyone: adults are deranged or in need of help, kids are persecuted and misunderstood. Add in a little weirdness and magic and we’re hooked.
So if you’ve finished binge-watching Stranger Things and are craving more kick-ass adventure this summer, break out the frozen Coke, Whizz Fizz and salt and vinegar chips and embrace the good old days.