Guillermo del Toro’s latest film is a rather grown-up sci-fi fairy tale of sorts, and while it looks gorgeous, its messages are worthy, and fine for older teens, we realize it’s not the most family-friendly stuff. Plus, it’s only showing in a couple of theaters in New York this week. Instead, critic Christy Lemire offers up three similar alternatives you can enjoy with your kids.
Rating: R, for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language.
The latest from visionary director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) is a symphony of sight and sound – a lush love letter to movies and to the power of love itself. As romantic and transporting as it is, though, it’s also a dark, sci-fi fairy tale, as del Toro’s films tend to be. This one earns its R rating with quite a bit of nudity, suggested sexuality, language, and some strong violence, including shootings. But The Shape of Water could be a solid choice for teenagers and up: It’s a dazzling and inspiring story of unexpected romance and of outsiders banding together for a noble cause. Sally Hawkins stars as Elisa, a mute janitor working at a government laboratory during the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. When she and her co-worker (Octavia Spencer) discover that a mutant amphibian man (Doug Jones) is being hidden away there for experimentation, they dare to free him with the help of Elisa’s best friend (Richard Jenkins). Del Toro’s film features a thoughtful mix of thrills and melancholy, and its themes of courage and acceptance are definitely worthwhile.
If your kids are too young to see The Shape of Water but you’d like to share another creature feature with them, here are a few suggestions:
An obvious choice, perhaps, because the creature in The Shape of Water so clearly resembles this classic Universal monster – although del Toro had the benefit of high-tech special effects and a much more elaborate suit to help bring his amphibious man to life. But while this sci-fi oldie but goodie may look cheesy to young viewers today, it still provides thrills as well as something to think about. Scientists on an expedition to the Amazon discover the mysterious and ferocious Gill Man, which hunts them down in pursuit of one of their colleagues, the beautiful Kay (Julie Adams). In both films, the creatures are feared, captured and misunderstood. But as is the case with The Shape of Water, Creature From the Black Lagoon is clearly an allegory about what happens when we make the mistake of attacking those who might seem different or unusual. Your kids might think the black-and-white, low-budget look of Jack Arnold’s movie is hilarious or bizarre, but that’s part of the fun.
Rating: PG, for language and mild thematic elements.
If you’ve never shown your kids E.T., now is the time. Just give in to snuggling on the couch and sobbing with your children as you wallow in the nostalgia of your own youth. Although, you may find, as I did when I watched E.T. with my 8-year-old son for the first time a couple years ago, that it’s just as powerful viewing it as an adult. I thought a lot about E.T. – one of my favorite movies ever – as I was watching The Shape of Water, and I even referenced the Steven Spielberg classic when I was explaining the plot of del Toro’s film to my son. In both, a highly intelligent, sensitive, and kind human forms a powerful bond with an otherworldly creature; in both, the government wants to take that creature away to study it. But the strength of their connection allows them to overcome whatever obstacles come their way. In a nutshell: An alien is left behind on Earth when his spaceship takes off without him. He forms a sweet friendship with a lonely boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas), which becomes so strong that they begin communicating psychically. Of course, scary scientists close in to investigate – at least, they seem scary from Elliott’s perspective. There’s some stuff in here that will seem too frightening or emotionally intense for very little kids, as Elliott and E.T. find themselves in increasing physical danger. And the ending will just wreck you, no matter how old you are. But this is a must-see, of course – both from a film-history perspective and for its themes of decency and friendship.
Rating: PG-13, for adult situations/language, violence.
This one’s probably better for older kids – tweens and up – but it’s an ‘80s classic with a funny and touching Jeff Bridges performance. Bridges stars as an alien who crash lands on Earth and takes the human form of a deceased man named Scott. He then kidnaps Scott’s widow, Jenny (Karen Allen), and forces her to drive him to a crater in the desert to reconnect with his kind, or he’ll perish. (The alien journey element of the story is reminiscent of last year’s excellent Midnight Special, which would also be a solid choice for older kids.) But the two eventually form an unlikely bond as he learns to assimilate on Earth, and Jenny feels protective of (and ultimately falls for) this sweet, misunderstood visitor – especially as the authorities close in on them. John Carpenter’s film is both thrilling science fiction and a cleverly charming romance. It features a bit of sex, and Jenny becomes pregnant. There’s also some violence, smoking, and language scattered throughout. But the film’s themes of kindness, tolerance and generosity toward people who seem different are more than worthwhile.