When my kids were young, I would take all eight of them to the top of Mt. Wilson in Los Angeles while my (now ex) wife made the Thanksgiving dinner. It was about a 30-minute drive from our house in Pasadena to the top of mile-high Mt. Wilson, where you can see spectacular views of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel National Forest. The kids would run around, hike, and after about an hour or so, we all got back into my Toyota Land Cruiser (which only seats eight and yet there were nine of us but that’s another story).
My ex appreciated this time alone because she could concentrate on finalizing the dinner without us hanging around in the kitchen getting in her way. Anyone who has made a big Thanksgiving dinner knows how valuable that time can be when you’re working on such a complicated multi-dish meal.
One year, we stopped at a friend’s house. I walked into the kitchen, where all of my friend’s relatives were sitting around the table, watching her cook. She had a murderous look on her face. There were about ten relatives there and she told me they “like to watch me cook.” I worried about the safety of these relatives because my friend was at the end of her rope and there were a number of large knives available to her in the kitchen.
“Hey, everybody,” I said. “ You should drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson. It’s got great views and it’s about a half hour away.”
Okay, they said, and grudgingly trudged out of the kitchen and packed themselves into several rental cars and drove off. My friend looked at me and smiled. “Thank you,” she said. “Now get out.”
So let that be a lesson to you: Go to Mt. Wilson.
If Mt. Wilson is too far away for you, you may have to figure out what to do with the assembled masses waiting for the cook to finish making Thanksgiving dinner. What you need are some great movies that can occupy a broad demographic—movies that kids and adults and cranky uncles will enjoy—which will allow the cook(s) to finish the garlic mashed potatoes in peace. Here are my suggestions:
A classic John Hughes comedy and heart-warming tale about trying to get home for Thanksgiving… and the people who have no place to go on that day.
Why Kids Will Like It: John Candy is hilarious and any story about trying to get home is always appealing to kids.
Why Adults Will Like It: The movie perfectly captures the comedy and aggravation of a business trip where everything goes wrong. Every one of us has had a trip like this where nothing seems to go right.
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: Watching Steve Martin's snooty, overachieving, high-strung character get his comeuppance is the secret joy of every crotchety uncle.
A marvelously amusing British caper comedy in which a hapless gang of jewel robbers turn on each other after a successful heist. With John Cleese, Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline. Kline is particularly great as the half-witted blowhard thief, Otto.
Why Kids Will Like It: Michael Palin’s endlessly failed slapstick efforts to knock off the only witness will be quite amusing to them. Be aware there is some adult humor and language, but a nearly naked John Cleese will always make a kid laugh, though they may not know exactly why he is naked and you can explain that several years from now.
Why Adults Will Like It: It’s an excellent caper movie and Jamie Leigh Curtis pursuing gangly John Cleese is the secret fantasy of every adult male on the couch.
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: The rant against the British by Kevin Kline’s character will thrill him to no end and he may ask you to rewind it so he can watch it again.
This timeless story of a boy and his dog has aged incredibly well. Get everyone in the living room and put this on the DVD player and you won’t hear a peep until the end, when everyone will be crying and ready for a good meal with the whole family.
Why Kids Will Like It: It’s the story of a boy and his dog. Duh.
Why Adults Will Like It: It’s a huge tearjerker and yet isn’t mushy or romantic; it’s actually more about the difficulties of being a parent.
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: It’s the story of a boy and his dog. Duh.
This musical has some of the most singable songs ever written for American musical theater.
Why Kids Will Like It: The Von Trapp kids get to torment their nannies, swing from trees, hike the mountaintops, and put on an incredibly impressive puppet show—what could be better? Plus, they get to sing a lot of very singable songs that the kids will want to learn, too. Especially “My Favorite Things,” “So Long, Farewell.” “Do-Re-Mi,” and “The Lonely Goatherd.”
Why Adults Will Like It: The music in this film is locked in our memories and just wants a chance to come out. And the romance between a widowed Captain von Trapp and an almost-nun… hello!
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: Hahahaha, they outwitted the Nazis! Good for them!
An emotional and amusing tale of romance and family that just about everyone enjoys over and over. And the soundtrack is fabulous.
Why Kids Will Like It: They will like the grandfather and all his dogs, all the funny arguing, Nicholas Cage's wooden hand, and the happy ending.
Why Adults Will Like It: It’s a completely delightful and charming romantic comedy and a lovely fantasy about passion, opera, and Cher's fabulous shoes.
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: Several reasons: In the end, everyone listens to the old man, the old man gets to have as many dogs as he wants in the house, and he and his buddies meet every night in a cemetery to complain about their families. Plus, Dean Martin!
Isn’t this just a kids movie? No. It’s actually a broadly entertaining movie whose appeal crosses age and demographic barriers.
Why Kids Will Like It: It’s about Legos and Lego characters. Duh!
Why Adults Will Like It: First, Will Ferrell is hilarious as the Dad/President Business. Much of the humor is incredibly sophisticated and goes way over the kids’ heads. Like when Emmett realizes that President Business’s corporation controls the media, gas prices, and voting machines. He looks at the camera in bewilderment for a split second before the action moves on. Or when the barista announces that the coffee order comes to $42.
Why Cranky Uncles Will Like It: The fast-moving humor and loads of sarcasm is sure to appeal to his funny bone. Jokes about colons and a female lead who hits people with cactuses and horses… he can’t help but smile.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.