The moon in the night sky

Maybe you already know how great The Wizard of Oz is. Maybe you’ve already seen a film by the amazing Japanese director Miyazaki Hayao. Ponyo, or Spirited Away, or My Neighbour Totoro (if you haven’t, please do, they’ll shiver your timbers).

Here’s a list of many more films like these that we think are brilliant. There’s comedy, adventure, magic, love, music, dancing, lots of happy endings and a few sad ones. We’re sure you’ll find something here that tingles your taste buds. Just dive in!

Now here’s a weird list: Magical films from around the world that you can’t rent or buy in the UK. So why would we even mention them? Because we like to dream. And because if enough people want to see these films, then our dream might come true.

So take a look at the list... If you like the sound of anything here, let us know and we’ll send your messages to the people who decide what gets shown in cinemas, on DVD and on TV. Maybe they will listen.

An owl says 'hint hint'

3 Wishes For Cinderella

Czechoslovakia, 1973 • Dir. Václav Vorlícek

This film is shown on TV all over Europe but it isn’t well known in Scotland…which is a shame because it’s lovely version of the famous story of the girl with bossy sisters. This time she has three wishes that come from three magic nuts. And she’s quite tough. The film looks beautiful, like a fairytale should. It was made in Czechoslovakia – where so many great movies for young people were filmed.

The 5000 Fingers of Dr T

USA, 1953 • Dir. Roy Rowland

How creepy is this?! A boy called Bart, who has no dad, dreams of Dr T, a mad teacher who wants 500 kids – with 5000 fingers – to play the piano! The piano school is amazing, like a prison. Bart battles with the evil teacher. There are scary bits and brilliant songs, all inspired by Dr Seuss…

Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Germany, 1943 • Dir. Josef von Báky

A Baron wants to find the secret of eternal life, so goes to the moon in a balloon, and loads of other places. Clothes jump from a wardrobe. Paintings on a wall wink. A piano makes the sound of a violin. Dotty, dreamy tales about wild adventures…


Czechoslovakia, 1988, Cert PG • Dir. Jan Svankmajer

Imagine if your whole house was a nightmare-wonderland, full of beasts with bulging eyes, a baby that’s really a pig, and nearly everything is a bit evil. This is a brilliant, scary film from Czechoslovakia, half animated. We only recommend it if you are quite grown up and don’t get nightmares easily!

Angel’s Egg

Japan, 2006 • Dir. Shin Togash

A strange girl wanders through a mysterious land, carrying an egg, which she hopes will hatch. She meets a soldier and we think he might be dangerous…There’s not much story in this film, and it moves quite slowly, but if you like to look at gorgeous pictures and like moody, dreamy films, you might just love this very special Japanese film.

Bag of Rice

Iran/Japan, 1996, Cert U • Dir. Mohammad-Ali Talebi

A little girl helps a partially sighted old lady travel across Tehran to get a bag of rice. On the way they have adventures and discover the human warmth of even a bustling city.
This moving masterpiece is most satisfying for grown ups, but patient young people will love the little girl and her plucky spirit.

The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear

Denmark, 2002 • Dir. Jannik Hastrup

A little Eskimo baby boy is abducted by a bear who has lost her cub. Eventually his real dad finds and rescues him but he can’t adapt to human life…The animation in this film is gorgeous, all pencil drawings and swishy watercolours. The story is magical and the theme – be who you want to be – might even make you shed a tear!

Brothers Lionheart

Sweden, 1977 • Dir. Olle Hellbom

A 10-year-old boy, Crispy, is very sick. His brother Jonathan tells him that if he dies, he’ll meet him in the magical land of Nangijala. Dramatic events mean that both of them die. They discover that Nangijala is a land of dragons, adventure and conflict. This brilliant, bold film is a legend in Sweden. It even changed the law there. Most kids know it. It should be seen everywhere, so we are recommending it here!

The Cold Heart

DDR, 1950 • Dir. Paul Verhoeven

A poor man lives in the Black Forest. The good spirit of the forest, the little glass man, makes him rich. When he loses his money, the bad spirit of the forest promises to make him rich again if he swaps his heart for a cold stone…but if he does, he won’t be able to marry the girl he loves… A beautiful fairy tale, told in lovely colours.

Cross My Heart

France, 1990, Cert PG • Dir. Jacques Fansten

Martin’s mum dies, but he doesn’t want to move away from home and be brought up by other adults, so he keeps her death a secret from his teachers. His school friends get to know what has happened, and help him with the deceit. They decide to bury his mum, but where, for a start, will they find a coffin without adults knowing? We like Cross my Heart because it is funny and daring.

The Emperor and the Nightingale

Czechoslovakia, 1949, Cert U • Dir. Jiri Trnka & Milos Makovec

A rich boy lives a lonely life in a grand house. Outside, he sees a poorer girl who seems freer then he is. It’s his birthday. He gets presents. As he plays with them he dreams of china, of an emperor who, like himself, has everything but his freedom. The emperor becomes enchanted with a little bird….One of the word’s great animators, Jiri Trnka has taken a famous fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson and turned it into a beautiful puppet film. You feel you can almost touch the costumes and sets…

Frogs and Toads

Netherlands, 2009 • Dir. Simone Van Dusseldorp

6-year-old Max has decided that he wants to get frog spawn for his brother so he and his friend Jesse set off to find some. They do a dance like a caterpillar, enter a world of insects and animals, fall in mud and get clean by running through sprinklers. A lovely film about getting lost in nature.

Girl with a Hat Box

USSR, 1927 • Dir. Boris Barnet

We love silent films, and are recommending some great American comedies starring Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. But here’s something really different: a gentle Russian comedy by a great director called Boris Barnet, about a girl who makes hats and who lives with a bizarre married couple in order to get a bigger apartment. But then she takes pity on a poor student and invites him to stay, too. Funny villains get involved, of course…the characters are all adults, but if you are in the mood for something challenging, that will make you smile, try this.

Give the Devil his Due

Czechoslovakia, 1984 • Dir. Hynek Bocan

In this story set a long time ago, a poor man, Peter, is in hell, where he meets a rubbish devil. There’s a princess and there are lots of funny scenes, and hell looks amazing! This rarely seen, award-winning film is a real gem!


UK, 1977, Cert U • Dir. Harley Cokeliss

We all know and love ET, but this British film, made four years before it, is like a home movie version of it! The extraterrestrial isn’t a stumpy little person with a glowing finger but…a shiny pod-like thing trying to get back to its mothership. And the army wants to steal its magical powers. As in many of the best films we recommend, the kids have a secret that the adults want to know. If you have ever wanted to know what it was like to live in the 1970s, this will will show you…jam roly poly and bran flakes!
Great fun.

The Golden Ball

France/Guinea, 1994, Cert PG • Dir. Cheik Doukouré

Twelve-year-old African boy Bandian wants a leather football, but finds out that he’d have to work for 750 days to buy one! But someone comes to his rescue, and kids in his village paint the ball gold…and his adventure begins…


India, 2005, Cert PG • Dir. V.G. Samant & Milind Ukey

You can’t have enough monkey movies! This one tells the classic story that every Indian kid knows: the story of Hanuman, the Monkey god, who is the son of the god of wind, and who thought the sun was a big fruit! We see Hanuman grow up. With almost 40 characters, the story can be a bit hard to follow if you aren’t Indian, but it’s full of beans and life…

Hedgehog in the Fog

USSR, 1975 • Dir. Yuriy Norshteyn

It’s only 11 minutes long, and probably has a zillionth of the budget of Toy Story, but this gorgeous wee animation about a hedgehog’s adventures in the fog is by a great director called Yuri Norstein. The hedgehog can’t even see his own paw in front of his face. A leaf and then a tree loom out at him... We LOVE it. If you do, too, try to see some more films by Yuri Norstein!


UK, 1987, Cert PG • Dir. Bill Forsyth

Lucille and Ruth are sisters. After their mum kills herself, they end up living with their other-worldly aunt. Lucille finds the aunt’s life too strange, and moves out, but Ruth is drawn in and becomes fascinated by her aunt’s unusual way of living. We love the relationship between children and adults in this lovely film made by Scottish director Bill Forsyth.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

USA, 1939, Cert PG • Dir. William Dieterle

This is another version of the great beauty and the beast tale. It’s set in Paris in the 1500s. Esmerelda is a beautiful woman who must hide in a great cathedral. The crippled bell ringer, Quasimodo, scares her but, in the end, saves her. Lots of things happen with the king and the court, but it’s the friendship between Quasimodo and Esmerelda that is the heart of this film…

King of Masks

China/Hong Kong, 1996 • Dir. Tian-Ming Wu

Wow. A brilliant old Chinese mask maker has no grandchild to pass on his magical skills to, so he chooses a little boy. But the boy turns out not to be what he seems…King of Masks has a big surprise in it and loads of colour, fireworks and adventures! (The original subtitled version had some bad words in its subtitles, so the 8½ foundation uses our own version, with permission from the filmmaker.)


Iceland/Denmark/Norway, 2000 • Dir. Gísli Snær Erlingsson

Winter in Iceland, a long time ago. A devil has been glimpsed on the island. A boy, Boas, decides to try to find him. But the devil turns out to be a little Eskimo boy. When the boy is threatened, Boas decides to rescue him. Adventure, high jinks and friendship, all in gorgeous landscapes!

The Lion Child

France/Ivory Coast, 1993 • Dir. Patrick Grandperret

If you liked the Lion King you’ll LOVE this! Little Oule was born at the same time as a lion called Sirga. The boy bonds with the cub and begins to see life as animals, birds and insects do. Slave traders kidnap Oule and his friend Lena and they are held in the palace of a prince. Will Oule’s special powers come to their rescue? This gorgeous African film has magical moments including swarms of bees that heal wounds. Brilliant!

The Little Girl who Sold the Sun

Senegal, 1999 • Dir. Djibril Diop-Mambéty

Sili, a no-nonsense girl with a slight handicap (her leg dangles a bit), lives in Senegal and sells a newspaper called The Sun. The movie is just 40 minutes long, but it takes us inside Sili’s head and heart and we see her oomph and joy. There’s something magical about this film, which was made by one of the world's greatest directors: Djibril Diop Mambety. A delight.

Lucky and Zorba

Italy, 1998 • Dir. Enzo D'Alò

A seagull dies so some cats have to hatch her egg. When the chick is born, all sorts of things happen: Lucky the cat flies, there’s a mouse ladder, and Big Rat, who tries to enslave cats! This is the most expensive animation ever to be made in Italy.

Long Live the Queen

Netherlands, 1995 • Dir. Esmé Lammers

This multi-award-winning film is about a girl who learns to play chess. The game sucks her in. The pieces come alive. And the girl’s relationship with her dad becomes crucial…This lovely film was made by a Dutch director, Esme Lammers, whose grandfather was a chess world champion!


India, 2002, Cert PG • Dir. Vishal Bhardwaj

Twin sisters live with their toy-maker father. One is good, the other is naughty. Near them is a spooky house. A witch called Makdee lives in it. The good sister goes into the house and is turned into a chicken…so the bad sister must investigate. And nothing is what it seems. This film has a wild plot and weird characters and is a lot of fun.

Max and Co

Switzerland/Belgium/France/UK, 2007 • Dir. Frédéric & Samuel Guillaume

Max is on a quest to find his father. He gets a job in a flyswat factory which is run by a lazy frog called Rodolfo. Max becomes part of the frog’s orchestra, but there’s trouble at t’mill…The workers are not happy bunnies. Then Martin creates mutant flies, which start killing people. What will Max do?!
This Swiss film uses an animation technique called claymation (like Wallace and Gromit).

The Monkey King

China, 1965 • Dir. Wan Laiming

Get ready to swish through the clouds! A monkey with a painted face goes to heaven; meets the Jade Emperor; rebels, and creates a war and causes uproar! This film is a legend in China – a whizzing, fizzing animation, that we think kids everywhere should see!

My Friend Joe

UK/Germany/Ireland, 1996 • Dir. Chris Bould

An Irish guy called Chris is afraid of everything – cycling fast, climbing trees, you name it. Then an American boy called Joe joins Chris’s gang and they become friends. Strange friends. There’s a mystery about Joe. He’s fascinating and you never really know where he is…Comedy director Chris Bould won lots of awards for this charming film.

The Navigator

USA, 1924, Cert U • Dir. Donald Crisp & Buster Keaton

Grab it on Amazon

The brilliant silent comedian Buster Keaton plays a very rich young man who wants to take the woman he loves on a boat to Honolulu. She refuses, but somehow they end up on another boat together, alone. At first neither realizes that the other’s there, and both seem incapable of living without all the servants and luxury they are used to! The breakfast-making scene is hilarious, and there’s a great underwater fight with a swordfish. This classic movie, co-directed by Scottish actor Donald Crisp, shows how great films don’t need words to be magically inventive. Images are everything.

The Old Man and the Sea

Russia/Canada/Japan, 1999 • Dir. Aleksandr Petrov

This amazing animation won an Oscar, is just 20 minutes long and was finger painted on glass by the Russian director Alexandrer Petrov! It tells the story of the old fisherman, Santago, and the young boy to whom he tells tales. Clouds and mountains turn into elephants. The old man’s struggle with a huge fish he catches is epic.

Paddle to the Sea

Canada, 1966 • Dir. Bill Mason

A Canadian boy carves an indigenous man in a canoe. He puts the toy canoe in a river and we watch it float and bob along on an epic journey to the sea, past gigantic waterfalls and vast ocean liners. This is a very beautiful short film.

Panda and the Magic Serpent

Japan, 1958 • Dir. Kazuhiko Okabe & Taiji Yabushita

What a rare gem this Japanese animation is! A very long time ago, a young Chinese man and lovely snake spirit fall in love. Evil characters try to stop their love but they are helped by a panda and Mimi the Cat. A wizard called Fai Hai fights the snake spirit in an exciting battle. This gorgeous and beguiling film has been a classic in Japan for decades.

Powers of Ten

USA, 1977 • Dir. Charles & Ray Eames

This short film has to be seen to be believed. It starts way up in the stars and falls down to earth. It’s like a rollercoaster ride merged with a maths class: sciency and exciting.

Peter Ibbetson

USA, 1935 • Dir. Henry Hathaway

A boy and a girl fall in love. They grow up and are separated by life and times, but find an amazing way of being together. This movie is like a ghost story, or a dream. In films for kids, love is often nice or wholesome, but here it’s like a tractor beam. Wow.

Rubber Tarzan

Sweden, 1981 • Dir. Søren Kragh-Jacobsen

Ivan is 8. He isn’t a star in the classroom or on the sports field. He’s just an ordinary wee boy. And he’s bullied, by other kids and even, in a way, by his dad. But then he gets to know a crane operator. They become pals. He hears that one of the big containers that the crane shifts around the port is magic. This Danish film is a classic.

The Steamroller and the Violin

USSR, 1960 • Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Grab it on Amazon

A boy plays a violin, he befriends a girl. A man who drives a steamroller wants to hear the music. A woman who drives a steamroller likes the man. All these people feel something for each other. There are lots of lovely techniques in this dreamy film.

Summer at Grandpa’s

Taiwan, 1984 • Dir. Hou Hsia Hsien

Ting Ting is 4, her brother Tung Tung is 11. They live in a big city, but their mum is in hospital, so they go and stay with their grandfather, who’s a doctor and who lives in a small town. It’s a hot, slow summer. The kids hear and see moments from adult lives – sometimes tragic or violent – but then the mood swings and there are happy moments. This serious, gentle film was made by a great Taiwanese filmmaker called Hou Hsiao-hsien. If you like action sequences and fast storytelling, you might be bored, but if you go with it, you might just love it! Test yourself!

The Stolen Airship

Italy/Czechoslovakia, 1967 • Dir. Karel Zeman

Some boys steal an airship and land on a mysterious desert island. All sorts of things happen, and there are amazing scenes like the one in which a shark is stranded at the bottom of the sea, weighed down because it ate a big torpedo! The movie combines animation and live action to show breathtaking shots of the vistas that the kids see, life underwater, etc. This film was made by a director from Czechoslovakia, Karel Zeman, who also made a brilliant version of Baron Munchausen, of 1001 Nights and a great movie called A Journey to Primeval Times. His movies are some of the most enchanting ever made. You can see bits of them on youtube but why aren’t they on DVD so everyone can enjoy them?!

The films of Astrid Henning-Jensen

Denmark • Dir. Astrid Henning-Jansen

If we could play a fanfare, we would. We LOVE the films of Astrid Henning-Jensen. The one we show most is Palle Alone in the World, a dreamy, funny film about a wee boy who wakes up to discover that all the adults are gone, and he’s alone. So he drives a fire engine and goes to the moon, of course! Her film Paw (also called Boy of Two Worlds) is about a boy whose dad is Danish and whose mum is from the Virgin Islands, and who is forced out of a village because of the colour of his skin. It was the first film directed by a woman to be Oscar nominated. We want her films available on DVD! The campaign starts here!

The Films of Hiroshi Shimizu

Japan • Dir. Hiroshi Shimizu

"Want something COMPLETELY different from the speedy films you see at the movies? Then try Children of the Wind. It’s in black and white and made in Japan. It’s about two brothers. We see their school report cards: one says “excellent”, but the other’s doesn’t because he’s been playing too much. They argue about Robinson Crusoe. They gather their pals by doing the Tarzan call. They go swimming but one boy doesn’t bring his loin cloth and is embarrassed by his willy. “You only have your freedom when you are young” says his dad. The dad is arrested, so the boys have to go and live with an uncle. They go out at night to “pick up a fallen star”. Then one of the boys runs off to the circus!
And so the story continues. This filmmaker made lots of films about kids, but this is his most famous one. The movies are gentle, and take their time, but they're full of fun and life. We hope you might watch one or two of them!"

Undercover Kitty

Netherlands, 2001 • Dir. Vincent Bal

A cat eats some weird chemicals and turns into a woman – of course! She does a deal with a local journalist: she can stay at his place if she provides info on local events. The life of a local hero becomes of particular interest. The small town is magical, and there are lots of laughs!

Village of Dreams

Japan, 1996 • Dir. Yoichi Higachi

Twin 9-year-old brothers grow up in the countryside in Japan in the 1940s. Their mum is a teacher. There are mysterious witches in a tree. We hear a fish’s thoughts. They make friends with a local wild boy, which gets them into bother. Their life is a kind of paradise, but scary and funny things happen too.
Like Summer at Grandpa’s, this isn’t a fast-paced film, but the boys are so believable, and some of the scenes are magical, so we recommend it a lot.
ADULTS please note: This film was cleared to be seen by 7-year-olds in Sweden and everyone in South Korea. It hasn’t been certificated in the UK, but there is some adult talk and nudity…

The White Balloon

Iran, 1995, Cert U • Dir. Jafar Panahi

No movie better captures the way that adults chatter above kids heads. Iran, on the day before New Year. Little Razieh is desperate to buy one of the lovely big goldfish that she’s seen in a shop. Her mother says that they can’t afford one but eventually gives Razieh the money. The little girl is thrilled but – oh no – drops the money down a grill in the street! She’s distraught! But then things happen…Razieh’s big eyes watch the world. She sees things that scare her but she’s bossy too, and knows what she wants. As the clock ticks down to the New Year celebrations, we get drawn into her world. Few films are better at communicating what it’s like to be a child in a big city. The film needs some patience, but is brilliant.

Wonder Man

USA, 1945, Cert U • Dir. H Bruce Humberstone

A nightclub singer witnesses a crime, is going to testify as an eye witness, but is killed before he can. His spirit then calls up his identical twin to help him solve his own murder. At least we THINK that’s what happens. This film is so wacky and funny that’s you’re never quite sure. An actor called Danny Kaye plays both brothers. He’s manic, like a speeded-up clown. He writes with both hands at the same time. The movie is in gorgeous colour and won an Oscar for its special effects!