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Magical movie moments

Dad of four, Harry Wallop, discovers the secret formula to finding a film which his whole family can enjoy... in harmony.

"Does it have Tom Hanks in it?" the 8 year old asks suspiciously.
"Why?" I answer.
"Because every film you suggest has Tom Hanks in it," he says.
"That's because every film with Tom Hanks in it is a better film." I say with finality.

And thus starts the now weekly conversation about what film we, as a family, are going to watch that evening.

It started as a lockdown habit - back in the days when things were genuinely scary and I was keen to distract the children from the doom-laden news, the daily death tallies, the hushed reports from ICU units, the sense that the world was about to end.

What could possibly divert us? Disney Plus coincidentally launched the same week as lockdown started, so the answer was easy: Toy Story 4

Woody and Buzz, Mr Potato Head and Jessie, they are what you need when you want to escape from what's really going on in the world.

My now 17 year old has measured out his life in Pixar movies, in the days before it was part of the Disney stable - born after Toy Story 2 but before Finding Nemo, he has grown as the pixels have got smaller.

A wet Saturday afternoon with nothing to do? Nothing has given me more joy than to win parenting points by bundling the kids off to the cinema. Two hours of being forced to put away the small screen and focus on the big one. 

I've fallen asleep in Wall-E (beautiful, but dull), I've had my heart broken by Up and my ears assaulted by Frozen (sorry, I know everyone loves it; I just can't stand that song).

Cinema is our happy place. But none of us can agree on what film we should all watch. With the exception of Toy Story 4. That can reduce even the grumpy teenagers into a pulp of sentimental tears. Woody and Buzz, My Potato Head and Jessie - they are what you need when you want to escape from what's really going on in the world.

But after this early lockdown hit, it became a challenge to find films - on any of the different streaming platforms - that the youngest in our family, the teens as well as the 40-something parents, all wanted to watch. My wife and I didn't want to watch solely animated films, the youngest didn't want - his words - "kissy wissy" films.

Then we hit upon the Tom Hanks formula. Which, in essence, is: Tom Hanks hasn't made a dud film. Okay, that may not be foolproof. I can't remember if Turner and Hooch is a hoot or a stinker. We haven't got around to that one. But Hanks is mostly a guarantee of quality family entertainment.

We discovered that when watching Apollo 13. the epic true tale of how Tom Hanks saved his spacecraft from running out of oxygen on the way to the moon and piloted it back to earth using nothing more than a pair of socks and a compass. I think I've remembered that right. The 8 year old was completely engrossed. It's space travel. It's edge-of-your-seats exciting. Better, it's a true story.

So pumped were we by this success we started to plough through a very particular Tom Hanks furrow. Catch Me If You Can was another huge hit (if a trifle long for the fidgeters at the back), also based on a real tale, which gave it a bit of an edge; Forrest Gump too - the whimsy and silliness managing to turn this quite involved tale into something the 8 year old found hysterically funny.

Bridge of Spies turned out to be too complex and political for the younger ones, but the Devil Wears Prada (sadly, no Hanks but you do get Stanley Tucci), which I thought would be far too sophisticated, was one of the biggest lockdown hits. All the children loved it because it is really a fairy tale. A Pygmalion or My Fair Lady for the 21st Century. 

Don't forget the rom coms. Young children seem to get as much of a kick out of seeing two grown-ups get together as a caped crusader pummelling a baddie. Sleepless in Seattle might not be as good as When Harry Met Sally, but it was lapped up by the younger ones - in part because of Tom Hanks, but also because it isn't about the "kissy wissy" but the compelling mission: get Jonah a new mother. Mrs Doubtfire is possibly the best of this genre - and was adored by our 17 year old when he was as young as 4. It is the perfect mixture of toilet jokes, cross-dressing, razor-sharp one-liners and the pursuit of happiness.

...perfect mixture of toilet jokes, cross-dressing, razor-sharp one-liners and the pursuit of happiness.

I defy anyone not to well-up at the final speech: Robin Williams, as the dowdy but wise Mrs Doubtfire, reassures a child, whose parents are getting divorced: "But if there's love, dear, those are the ties that bind, and you'll have a family in your heart, forever."

There have not been many upsides to Coronavirus, but introducing my children to the great films of the 1990s and early 2000s has been one of them. If in doubt which one to pick: choose Tom Hanks.

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