From Wednesday and Matilda to NYE fireworks: the best things for children to watch this weekend

Exhausted by the festive season? You’re not alone. Here’s a bunch of films and streams to keep kids of all ages occupied around Australia

The question has plagued humankind since time immemorial: how to distract children during the holidays? Since the dawn of motion pictures, the answer for many has been to plonk ’em in front of a screen.

Here’s a bunch of movies and shows to occupy youngsters this holidays – particularly for those parents nursing headaches on New Year’s Day. (Recommended viewing ages are guides only.)

New Year’s Eve fireworks (G)

ABC and Channel 7, 31 December from 8.30pm

How much longer will it be before drone shows replace fireworks? We’re not quite there yet – but expect to see more of them used around the world this year. On the ABC, the NYE broadcast commences with the Early Night Show from 8.30pm: a kid-friendly event hosted by Rhys Nicholson, Casey Donovan and Gemma Driscoll, culminating in the 9pm fireworks. Then from 9.15 it’s on to the main event: the Happy New Year Concert, hosted by Charlie Pickering and Zan Rowe and featuring performances by Vika and Linda, Tones and I, Ball Park Music, Dami Im, Morgan Evans and Tasman Keith. Channel 7 also has a New Year’s Eve broadcast, commencing at 9pm.

The Smedds and the Smoos (G)

ABC and iView, 1 January

Every Christmas since 2009, the BBC has taken one of Julia Donaldson’s books and turned it into must-watch children’s TV, with Axel Scheffler’s still drawings translated perfectly into animation. Add all-star voice casts (Helena Bonham Carter narrated The Gruffalo in 2009) plus plenty of new plot twists and visual humour and you’ve got a reliable Christmas cracker to shut up those over-sugared toddlers.

Our personal favourites are Stick Man, Highway Rat (starring David Tennant), and Zog and the Flying Doctors, and they’re all on ABC iView. This year’s production, coming to ABC on Sunday, is The Smeds and the Smoos. The book was a pretty thin allegory pinched from Romeo and Juliet about how wouldn’t it be nice if different coloured aliens could get along. The cast looks promising though (Bill Bailey, Daniel Ezra, Adjoa Andoh) and early reviews are promising. We’ll be watching. Again. And again. And again. – Nick Miller

Matilda the Musical (PG)

Netflix – out now

This adaptation of the beloved Matilda stage production is chock full of energy and crafted with an appealingly artificial-looking aesthetic. The director, Matthew Warchus, brings cinematic flair and dancy, springy camerawork well suited to the story, which of course follows the titular young girl (played by a charming Alisha Weir) who is an avid reader, a precocious student and also more than a little bit naughty. Matilda’s targets include her dumb and spiteful parents (Andrea Riseborough and Stephen Graham) and her school’s wicked headteacher (a deliciously scenery-chewing Emma Thompson). Fun, as they say, for the whole family.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (PG)

In cinemas – out now

At the risk of disgracing my reputation as a professional film critic, I must admit that I’ve failed to keep abreast of the Puss in Boots franchise. All I can do is hope and pray for your forgiveness.

The Last Wish returns the sword-wielding Spanish feline (voiced by Antonio Banderas), who has now died eight times, meaning he has only one more to go. The reviews have been surprisingly effusive, many crusty critics wowed by its aesthetic and existential themes.

Crazy Fun Park (10+)

ABC iview – 1 January

There’s something tantalisingly unusual about abandoned amusement parks, such as the titular location in this playfully faux-creepy YA series. The story revolves around high school student and aspiring graphic novelist Chester (Henry Strand), whose bestie Mapplethorpe (Stacy Clausen) dies after entering the dilapidated, aforementioned Crazy Pun Park — though he lives on there as a ghost. It’s far from horror – the tone reminded me of Paul Jennings stories – but suitable for teens or co-viewing, rather than children.

Blueback (PG)

In cinemas – out 1 January

Movies exploring oceanic beauty and the pernicious influence of humans on the natural world don’t have to be squillion-dollar spectacles. For a lighter touch than Avatar: Way of the Water, families can check out the latest Tim Winton adaptation, in which a wild blue groper inspires the protagonist, Abby, to become a marine biologist and devote her life to the ocean.

Director Robert Connolly gracefully segues between child, teenager and adult versions of her (played by Ariel Donoghue, Ilsa Fogg and Mia Wasikowska respectively), binding potentially disparate strands together with a warming, tender tone. The film’s unhurried pace and coming-of-age themes make it most appealing for older children and teenagers.

Avatar: Way of the Water (PG-13)

In cinemas – out now

From a babysitting perspective, James Cameron’s water-drenched blockbuster about pretty blue aliens fighting imperialism offers a sweet deal – with a running time north of three hours. I’m not for a moment suggesting you should plonk the kids in the cinema and bugger off – but given the popularity of this movie, you probably wouldn’t be the first to.

My opinion of the film is similar to Peter Bradshaw’s: it’s a gloss-lacquered screensaver, pretty, but shallow. Recommended for over 13s, with parental guidance.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (M)

Netflix – out now

The story of Pinocchio has been brought to the screen umpteen times before, including in a terribly bland version from Robert Zemeckis this year that landed with deservedly little fanfare. Guillermo del Toro injects some much needed originality, using richly detailed character and set designs that look gorgeous in sad and surreal ways.

It probably didn’t need to be a musical, and the songs don’t match the ingenuity of the aesthetic. But the film, while a little scrappy, remains thoughtfully odd, returning nightmarish elements of the story that have been smoothed over in previous adaptations. Suitable for older children or teenagers, with parental guidance.

Wednesday (M)

Netflix – out now

This one’s also more for the YA crowd than the little ‘uns. So far I’ve only seen the first episode of Tim Burton’s first foray into television, though I’ll be back for more. Jenna Ortega steps into the role of Wednesday Addams, who of course belongs to the creepy, kooky, ooky Addams family. She’s usually portrayed as a child, but here is a 14-year-old sent to Nevermore Academy, a boarding school for misfits – where she becomes an outcast among outcasts. This continues a dominant theme in Burton’s oeuvre, Wednesday joining fellow outcasts such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Dumbo.


Luke Buckmaster with Nick Miller

The GuardianTramp

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