Pop Culture Intervention

9 Movies That Shaped My Childhood

I wouldn't be me without these films.

At A Plus, we're addicted to pop culture, and Pop Culture Intervention brings that obsession to the soapbox. Through this series, we'll recommend what you should be watching, reading or listening to; explore how arts and entertainment affect us; and interpret the important messages contained within various works.

As a '90s kid, I have enough nostalgia from that era to fill many lifetimes. Today, on my 27th birthday (shameless plug), I'm looking back at some of the cinematic masterpieces that helped shape my childhood and turned me into the pop culture-loving millennial you can find pecking away at a keyboard in New York City today.

I remember building blanket forts in my bedroom, filling them with my favorite stuffed animals, and sending invitations to my family members to join me for a movie marathon. I spent countless hours watching these VHS tapes — later DVDs — and many of my memories revolve around these moments. I'm lucky to have a life in which I can channel this adoration of all things film into a job that pays me money.

When thinking back to these movies, there are many that stand out and for various reasons. Here is just a taste of some of them — sans any Disney Princess™ film or obvious ones for me such as Star Wars. These nine films — which now make up a re-watch list for the ages — are truly something special in my eye.

“The Brave Little Toaster” (1987)

The Brave Little Toaster, based on Thomas M. Disch's novel of the same name from 1980, is an anthropomorphic tale of household items — a toaster, a blanket, a lamp, a radio, and a vacuum — who embark on an adventure to reunite with their human owner. The movie is ultimately all about friendship but it wasn't afraid to go a little dark sometimes. Each character has a flaw that is tied to what household function they do and, throughout the film, we see them overcome these flaws by working together.

Plus, seeing Kermit the Frog sing "Kokomo" by The Beach Boys before the movie was the cherry on top.

“The Dark Crystal” (1982)

Best known for the Muppets, my favorite Jim Henson work is actually The Dark Crystal (which was co-directed by Frank Oz). This movie takes place a thousand years ago on the planet Thra and follows Jen, a Gelfling, who sets out to heal a magical crystal. Aided by the Mystics and a fellow Gelfling named Kira, Jen has to face the Skeksis and save everyone. Again, this film is quite dark in plot and tone — something I'm definitely drawn to if you haven't guessed yet — and was considered revolutionary in terms of the puppetry it implemented. 

Honorable mention: Henson and Oz reunited a few years later, in 1986, to give us the equally incredible Labyrinth.

“Harriet the Spy” (1996)

One of the movies that helped spawn my love of stalking journalism was Harriet the Spy, which was based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Louise Fitzhugh. Michelle Trachtenberg stars as Harriet, a girl who is super curious about the world and isn't afraid to go out there an explore it, while Rosie O'Donnell captures your heart as Harriet's beloved nanny, Golly. I adored the idea of scribbling thoughts, ideas, and observations in a notebook thanks to this film — and haven't looked back since.

“Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)

Some people have a brief anime phase in their life and others are obsessed with the artform their whole life. I proudly fall in that second column. One of Hayao Miyazaki's masterpieces, Kiki's Delivery Service — which is based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Eiko Kadono — capitalizes on my love of all things witches, and is an imaginative coming-of-age story that highlights many of life's many ups and downs that come with finding independence. Every single Miyazaki could have made this list, but this one holds a special place in my heart.

“The NeverEnding Story” (1984)

When it comes to movies that can really open up your imagination, there's none better than The NeverEnding Story. Based on the 1979 novel of the same name by Michael Ende, it follows a boy who reads a book about a young warrior whose goal is to stop the world from being engulfed by a dark storm called The Nothing. It's a truly unique fantasy adventure filled with memorable characters, ecstatic moments mixed with terrifying moments, and visually striking landscapes. I will never forget flying on Falkor nor the childhood-scarring horse scene (you know which one I'm talking about).

“The Pagemaster” (1994)

I have always loved books, but I point to two moments from my childhood that cemented that fact: when my grandmother gave me a copy of the first Harry Potter book, and watching The Pagemaster over and over. The movie — which was based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Todd Strasser — follows Richard (played by and voiced by Macaulay Culkin), who finds himself on an adventure in an imaginary world and is accompanied by three anthropomorphic books: Adventure, a pirate-themed book; Fantasy, a fairy tale-themed book; and Horror, a horror-themed book. These books vow to help get Richard back to the real world if he promises to check them out of the library with his library card. Reading is fundamental, y'all.

“Peter Pan” (1960)

Probably the most obscure installment on this list, this Peter Pan isn't the Disney version. Instead, it's a 1960 NBC telecast of the original 1954 Broadway cast that stars Tony Award-winning Mary Martin as the titular character from the work of J.M. Barrie. I've always felt a connection to this story — so much so that I did a one-hour lecture on it in college — and there's just something about this production that warms my heart and remains timeless. Neverland has never been better than this version of the Peter Pan story, and I hereby deem it as the most iconic adaptation. Excuse my as I douse myself in fairy dust, think positive thoughts, and fly straight on till morning toward the second star to the right.

“Pokémon: The First Movie” (1998)

Don't @ me, but Pokémon is the greatest thing to come out of the '90s. I grew up playing all the games and collecting all of the trading cards (which, yes, I used to rearrange for fun and still have safely stored away), and still unashamedly have stuffed animals. So when Pokémon was translated to the big screen for the first time, you know I was front row and ready to go. Pokémon: The First Movie - MewTwo Strikes Back is freaking awesome and I don't care what anyone else thinks (unless you agree with me).

“Space Jam” (1996)

Space Jam is what you get when you mix basketball extraordinaire and greatest player ever Michael Jordan (a UNC alum, so I'm a bit biased) and the characters from Looney Tunes — and it's epic. Essentially, the Looney Tunes characters end up in a basketball game to determine their fate against a group of superpowered aliens, the Nerdlucks, from Moron Mountain and with skills of NBA players, and they enlist Jordan to help them win. Still holding out hope that we get another Space Jam-esque movie during my lifetime.

Cover image: Warner Bros. | Studio Ghibli

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