Movies + TV

Magic Shows

TV and movie stories with touches of light, mystery, and the unreal.

hookHook (1991)
In this sort-of sequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Robin Williams plays a middle-aged workaholic attorney who doesn’t remember that he was once Peter Pan. After Captain Hook kidnaps his children, the grown-up Peter returns to Neverland to save them. When I was wee, Hook was my lifeblood. I had Hook action figures and bed sheets. I watched the movie on a loop, utterly absorbed in the adventure and fairy dust of it all. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could not become obsessed with this movie. There’s swashbuckling, gigantic pirate hats, flying people, a Technicolor-goo food fight, adorable kids, a villainous Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, a dagger-wielding pixie played by Julia Roberts, and Rufio, Rufio, RU-FI-OOO! All of these fantastic bits are bound together by composer John Williams’s emotional score (basically the sonic equivalent of the twinkle in a child’s eye), Steven Spielberg’s jaw-dropping Neverland, and the mesmerizing level of energy and sincerity that Robin Williams brought to this role. I can’t think of another actor who could have played a grown-up Peter Pan as convincingly as he did. Obviously, it’s extremely bittersweet watching this bangarang movie now, but Williams was a powerful force of light and laughter in my childhood, so I see Hook as a gift—144 minutes of happy thoughts and a reminder of the humor, gentleness, unique talent, and preternatural charisma of a person I deeply admired. —Amber

Bernard's_WatchBernard’s Watch (1995–2005, ITV/CITV)
This British children’s show came out in the mid-’90s. I was sort of too old to be watching kids’ shows at the time, but I was hooked on this one because I could relate to its young hero, Bernard, and his problem of always running late for things like school. Except in his case, a postman with mysterious powers gave him a magical watch that could STOP TIME. Bernard could have used his watch for mischief like stealing or tricking people, but he had a pure, kind soul and harnessed the power of that beautiful and perfect accessory to help friends, old ladies, his parents, or anyone else who needed a life-pause. He even prevented accidents and stuff like that. What a nice boy! I still regularly think about Bernard, but especially his watch. Every once in a while I’ll be staring out my window and catch myself wishing for a postman to bring me that magical object. Seriously, where is it? —María Fernanda

shelley duvall's faerie tale theatreShelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (1982–1987, Showtime)
As a kid, I was obsessed with this fantasy TV series, which my parents had on VHS tapes. It’s hard to say what was most amazing about each episode: the great acting (by Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Reeve, Pee-wee Herman, and a host of other stars), the low production values (the sets and costumes tended to look like they came from high school plays, though the makeup was usually terrific), or the fairy tales themselves. Some are romantic, some are funny, some are scary, and some are a little bit of everything. And that’s what I still like about them! Duvall’s interpretations aren’t the sanitized retellings we all know—they are often dark and weird, which is obviously better. The whole series is now on Hulu, which means you can watch them all back-to-back. Hooray! —Emma S.

CinderellaRodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997, ABC)
Oh, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella! Do I love you because you’re beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you? Actually, I know what it is: I love this made-for-TV musical because the inimitable Whitney Houston plays Cinderella’s fairy godmother, and the songs Houston performs are capable of making a show-tune/’90s-pop glutton like myself salivate. Also, long before Tiana became the first black Disney animated princess, the singer Brandy Norwood was cast as Cinderella in this movie. As a black girl growing up in the ’90s, I didn’t see people who looked like me in fairy tale movies or picture books very often. But then came this movie, with a black princess and a multiethnic cast—the prince was played by the Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalbán, and his parents, the king and queen, were a black woman (Whoopi Goldberg) and a white man (Victor Garber). All of this was enthralling and very special to me, and it underscored the idealistic message that is the heart of the Cinderella story: Anyone can rise above their struggles and have a life full of magic and happy endings. —Amber

Practical MagicPractical Magic (1998)
The Owens sisters, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman), come from a line of powerful witches. But with such talents comes a curse: Every man that an Owens woman falls in love with dies. Obviously, that would make dating pretty hard! Sally is no-nonsense and Gillian’s more of a free spirit, but they have a tremendously close bond. When a boyfriend starts abusing Gillian, Sally senses it and goes to look for her. That’s when the real trouble begins! Bullock and Kidman’s sisterly chemistry is the best, and it’s the reason why I like this movie so much—aside from all the cool witchy stuff. Their aunts (played by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest) are also AMAZING witches and totally steal the show. —Marie

the outsidersThe Outsiders (1983)
Based on a novel written by S. E. Hinton in the 1960s, when she was a teenager, The Outsiders is a coming-of-age story about a group of teenage boys who face a series of problems and adventures related to the pains of growing up, violence, social differences, beauty, death, friendship, and consequences. It features one of my favorite movie quotes of all time, “Stay gold, Ponyboy”—a reference to this poem by Robert Frost. And the movie really does make you think about the importance of staying pure at heart even though all good things, including youth, come to an end. It’s half angst-y and half melancholic without being overly dramatic, and it makes me think about my life from a new perspective and appreciate it more. It also has a lot of famous actors, like Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, and Tom Cruise, all very young, all looking hot and awesome. —María Fernanda

hemlock groveHemlock Grove (2013–present, Netflix)
This Netflix horror/mystery series is about weird families, possible werewolves, secret angels, mad scientists, psychics, the devil, and other antiheroes who inhabit a down-and-out town in Pennsylvania called Hemlock Grove. One of them is responsible for the murders of two teen girls, and it’s hard to tell which. No character in this series is really “good,” but I tend to like them anyway. I’m also a fan of their gory transformations from human to not-quite-human (nowhere else will you see a werewolf so full of existential angst, I assure you). I’m surprised it isn’t more popular, but I guess it can’t be easy to live in the shadow of Orange Is the New Black. —Arabelle

harry potterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Believe it or not, this movie was my first exposure to Harry Potter. I went in thinking it would just be a regular kids’ movie, but after the opening scene, when the great wizard Dumbledore appears and dims the street lights with his magic wand, and a cat transforms into a witch (Professor McGonagall!), I knew it would be something a lot more magical. There is nothing like stepping into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with Harry for the first time. You have to take a train from a secret platform to get there! The ceiling in the great hall looks and moves just like the sky outside! The staircase is like a real, shifting M.C. Escher drawing! In gym class, students whiz around on brooms to play Quidditch, and people are flying around on brooms. It’s exciting! Since then, I’ve seen the movie and read the book so many times that I know that plot beat by beat. It isn’t even my favorite installment in the Harry Potter saga, but it’s still my number-one movie for escaping reality. —Stephanie

cinema paradisoCinema Paradiso (1988)
My mom rented a copy of this movie for me to watch and dared me not to cry. She won the bet, because I ended up sobbing about four times before it was over. The story begins with a famous director named Salvatore Di Vita. Following the death of a childhood friend, he flashes back to the small Italian town of his childhood. The village is pretty unromantic, but its movie theater and the films shown there provided young Salvatore with an escape into a more glamorous world. It’s a movie about our general fascination with movies—the sway they hold over our perceptions and aspirations, and the way life can change for people who emulate what they see in them. Salvatore’s life doesn’t work out perfectly, the way a movie’s ending does, but it is enriched by what movies taught him to imagine. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but you should really watch it! Just be sure to have some tissues around because my mom was right—you’ll probably need them. —Lucy

enchantedEnchanted (2007)
I usually get annoyed with live-action musicals, but this one is the exception. It follows a seemingly naïve gal named Giselle, played by Amy Adams, as she gets ejected from her problem-free cartoon fairy world, Andalasia, and lands in real-life New York City. Giselle’s story pieces together chunks of the Disney animated princess movies we all know and sometimes hate—a bit of Cinderella here, some Snow White there, a little Sleeping Beauty thrown in near the end—but what makes Giselle lovable is that she’s stubborn and fights for what she believes in. She doesn’t give up on finding the magical essence of “happily ever after,” even in cold, hard realities. —Chanel

Princess_MononokePrincess Mononoke (1997)
This epic anime feature takes place in Japan hundreds of years ago, during the Muromachi period. It follows Ashitaka, the last prince of the Emishi tribe, as he sets into the forest to find a cure for his arm. (While defending his village from a demon, he suffered a magical injury that gave him superhuman fighting abilities but that will also shorten his life.) As he searches for a spirit that might be able to help him, he stumbles into a battle between humans and forest gods and creatures whose fearless leader is Princess Mononoke, a human raised by wolves. The stunning imagery pulls you right into the princess’s enchanted forest. Her world is threatened by industry and war, though (just like ours), and the movie’s message about environmental protection is what I love most about it. The original film is in Japanese, but an English version was released a few years later and was voiced by some of my favorite actors (Claire Danes is Princess Mononoke!). —Stephanie ♦

17 Comments

  • chandlerandco August 21st, 2014 11:13 PM

    ahhh, I’ve been waiting for the push to watch hemlock grove. I guess this was it!

    http://chandlerandco.tumblr.com/

  • rockwrenroll August 21st, 2014 11:39 PM

    shoutout to amber for the cinderella recommendation!!! i live for that movie!!! i downloaded the soundtrack recently and i cannot listen to anything else ((“and the dearest looove in allll the world is waiting somewhere for meee” ugh lets discuss))

  • trenirka August 22nd, 2014 12:37 AM

    dudes, how can you talk about the outsiders and not mention rob lowe?
    sodapop <3
    sodapop wearing a towel <3 <3 <3

  • Thecampergirls August 22nd, 2014 1:46 AM

    The outsiders is my lifeeeee

  • RatioRae August 22nd, 2014 2:46 AM

    Ahhhhh thank you for adding a Studio Ghibli film!

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com
    http://danyrys.tumblr.com

  • Dayzee August 22nd, 2014 5:36 AM

    Cinema Paradiso is amazing, although I hold a grudge against any sad films because UGH WHY COULDN’T THEY JUST MAKE IT HAPPY GOD.

  • spudzine August 22nd, 2014 7:40 AM

    Eek! As soon as I saw The Outisiders on the list, I knew the rest of the list would be promising! I was actually super obsessed with Ponyboy and the gang a while back (plus Dallas is super hot).

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Abby August 22nd, 2014 9:18 AM

    I couldn’t watch Hemlock Grove anymore after what that vampire mom did to the investigator lady. That show was fucked up but that was just TOO fucked up.

  • littleredridinghood August 22nd, 2014 9:32 AM

    BERNARD’S WATCH! I used to love that program but no one I know seems to remember it :(

  • Abbey xoxo August 22nd, 2014 9:53 AM

    Oh gosh, I love the Outsiders!! And I still remember seeing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Enchanted as a kid…good times. :)

    http://www.dearabbeyxoxo.weebly.com

  • TicTacChlo August 22nd, 2014 10:29 AM

    I’m so excited because Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre must be what that “Hello, I’m Shelley Duvall” video in the Lorde interview is from. (If you haven’t seen that video go back and watch it, it’s the best thing)

    http://samestillness.blogspot.com/

  • ohdarling August 22nd, 2014 2:00 PM

    I’m so happy Bernard’s Watch is on the list I may have actually shouted aloud with glee! It felt like one of the most important shows I watched as a kid and whenever I mention it to people they don’t know what I’m on about.
    Hook is one of my all time favourite movies still <3
    I think I need to watch The Outsiders ASAP, it sounds awesome.

    http://www.oh-darling.net

  • honorarygilmoregal August 22nd, 2014 11:07 PM

    I love Enchanted because Amy Adams is a delight, and Princess Mononoke is wonderful. I would also highly recommend Spirited Away.

  • quirkflower August 22nd, 2014 11:42 PM

    Shelley Duvall’s show was on all the time at my house growing up. I loved it, but my parents loved how weird and low-budget it all was.

  • Jenn xx August 23rd, 2014 11:10 AM

    Princess Mononoke is one of my favourites <3333

  • Ozma August 23rd, 2014 1:51 PM

    Yassss!!! Princess Mononoke!

  • VagabondZombie September 2nd, 2014 5:29 AM

    Ahhh~ I think everyone should watch ALL the Studio Ghibli films! They’re all pretty magical and whimsical and the animations are excellent! Oh, oh, Pan’s Labyrinth is a wonderful film too. :3

    http://vagabondzombie.blogspot.ae/

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