Through the eyes of a child, the world can be big and scary or endless and full of hope and wonder. By virtue of the innocence of children, humanity and cruelty can be explained. In honor of this week’s release of “Wendy,” a new interpretation of the classic childhood story, “Peter Pan,” we’ll take a look at some of the best stories explored through the lens of a child’s perspective. This list could go on for days since a child’s perspective can offer a fresh take on a tried-and-true story.
Whether it’s a simple coming-of-age love story (“The Kings of Summer” or “Moonrise Kingdom”) or a straightforward, simple take on the complexities of life and humanity (“Capernaum,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Lord of the Flies” or “To Kill a Mockingbird”), these films touch our hearts and allow us to get lost in a fantasy world or get taken back into our own childhood. Lighthearted, fantastical or gritty and raw, these stories move us. And there are a lot of standout child performances as the cherry on top.
“Lord of the Flies” (1990)
dir. Harry Hook
A modernized version of the 1954 book, 1990’s “Lord of the Flies” tells the story of a group of young boys stranded on an island who degenerate into savagery. We see through the eyes of these young boys that when there is no supervision or rules, it leads to anarchy and chaos (a point that can extrapolated out the much larger world in general). Starring Balthazar Getty, this modern take on the classic story is dark but still hopeful in the end.
“My Girl” (1991)
dir. Howard Zieff
“My Girl” tells the story of a precocious young girl on the threshold of becoming a teenager when her world is turned upside down. Starring two of the biggest child actors of that time, Anna Chlumsky and Macaulay Culkin, this touching film entertains younger viewers while offering up nostalgia for older viewers. Definitely the “cutest” film on the list, it tugs at the heartstrings but is filled with tender, funny little moments.
“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)
dir. Wes Anderson
In true Wes Anderson form, this quirky, irreverent film is the story of two young lovers (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who escape on an adventure to get away from their lives back home. Although the story is narrated by an adult (Bob Balaban), it unfolds from the perspective of the children. This one is beautifully shot, captivating and ambitious with a style all its own. It’s melancholic (an Anderson trademark), but it embarks on a great adventure seen through the eyes of our young duo. And it has an all-star supporting cast too boot (Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman and Lucas Hedges).
“The Tin Drum” (1979)
dir. Volker Schlondorff
This German film, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film when it was released, examines the faults, frivolity and absurdity of adulthood through the lens of a child’s eye. “The Tin Drum” is the story of a young boy who has an accident at age 3 and stops physically aging while the world continues to change around him. At first, the film seems a little out there and graphic, but once you get into it, it is cynical yet introspective. And you have to give props to the 11-year-old actor, David Bennent, who played the main character Oskar.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012)
dir. Benh Zeitlin
Vivid and imaginative are just two of the first words that come to mind when thinking of “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Viewing this film is like artwork coming to life, thought-provoking and beautifully tragic. Quvenzhané Wallis (the youngest person, 9 years old, to be nominated for a “Best Actress” Oscar) stars as Hushpuppy, a young girl dealing with the failing health of her single father in the Bayou. A mix of real-life and fantasy, you definitely get lost in the world that director Zeitlin builds.
“Let the Right One In” (2008)
dir. Tomas Alfredson
This Swedish film is not your average vampire movie. “Let the Right One In” is the story of an overlooked and bullied little boy named Oskar who finds solace and revenge in a peculiar little girl named Eli. This film is all about loneliness and isolation through the eyes of a young child, but it is shocking in its use of violence. Focusing on the bizarre misadventure of the pair, it is smart and scary yet nuanced at the same time. The bond of friendship is chillingly play out by Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Overall, this film is cold and creepy yet endearing and a great watch.
dir. Nadine Labaki
“Capernaum” is the tragic story of a young boy, Zain (Zain Al Rafeea), who has the weight of the world on his shoulders in war torn Lebanon. This film is gritty and raw and deals with the realities of growing up impoverished with the cards stacked against you. Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Rafeea does a compelling job of fighting back giving one something to hope for while having to grow up and be a “man”/adult way before his time. With the raw emotions and realistic portrayals, this one feels more like a documentary told through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy who is suing his parents for neglect and giving birth to him
“To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962)
dir. Robert Mulligan
Based on Harper Lee’s classic book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is an iconic, seminal film told from the perspective of a young girl, Scout, expertly played by Mary Badham. The story focuses on the bond between siblings (her brother Jem is played by Phillip Alford) and father (one of Gregory Peck‘s most memorable roles) and child. It is also about trying to shield your children from the cruelties of the world. The film does a great job of showing that children are are smart and accepting and that complex story of race relations and prejudice is captured in the seemingly simple story seen through the eyes of a child.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” (2008)
dir. Mark Herman
War and the Holocaust are always tricky subject matters, but when explained from an 8-year-old’s point of view, it is stunningly simple and clear. Hate is taught and a learned behavior…we are not born hating each other or dwelling on our differences. We gravitate to what we have in common…childhood innocence. “The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas” deals with the realities of the atrocities and depravity of man (concentration camps). Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon give sincere and heart-wrenching performances in a film that is perfectly weighted, from pace and acting to score and cinematography.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
dir. Guillermo del Toro
One of the most sincere films about childhood curiosity and innocence, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a beautifully shot movie about a bookish girl with a sadistic stepfather who is thrust into an unfortunate situation against a backdrop of post-Civil War 1944 Spain. This film is chock full of standout performances, especially by the young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero). The viewer gets lost and wrapped up in the magical fantasy world. You would never think that fairies and resistance fighters would ever go together, but del Toro seamlessly blends the real and fantasy worlds through the eyes of a smart, young girl on a quest for freedom and immortality. This moving film will leave you with questions and many interpretations of this Oscar-winning film.