Coronavirus: Stay home, stay entertained

A father-and-daughter team recommends some TV and movie titles the whole family can enjoy

Like a lot of Singapore parents in these circuit breaker times, I am at home with my kids 24/7.

After all the WFH (working from home), HBL (home-based learning) and seemingly never-ending household chores are done, one of our favourite ways to blow off steam is to plonk ourselves on the sofa and indulge in movies and television series on various streaming services.

While I doubt my sanity will hold up if I have to watch another season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, there are plenty of other options that adults and kids can watch together.

Streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV, HBO Go and Amazon Prime Video have family friendly-themed selections that narrow down the choices. Netflix also lets you create a dedicated kids' profile that ensures they have access to only programmes that are ageappropriate, while the adult profiles helpfully suggest shows that you can watch as a family.

I roped in my resident seven-year-old television and movie critic, my older daughter Aira, to co-review five shows, movies, series and a documentary that we have watched together in the past week.

It is a list that mixes both recent offerings as well as classics that date back to my own childhood.

The criteria for this list are simple - the shows have to be entertaining first and foremost, but they should also have positive messages and be educational without being heavy-handed.

Five shows to watch


PG/125 minutes

Available on: Netflix

Advisory: Some violence

Synopsis: 10-year-old Chihiro stumbles into the spirit world and tries to break the spell holding her parents captive.

My take: 5 stars

Featuring breathtaking visuals and gorgeous animation, this Oscar-winning Studio Ghibli classic written and directed by Japanese master animator Hayao Miyazaki is a film that enthrals adults and children alike.

Kids can relate to the main character Chihiro, whose development from scared little child to determined protagonist unfolds over the course of the film.

It also offers lessons on the dire effects brought about by greed and pollution.

Parents might want to note that there are scenes with slight violence - characters bleed when they get hurt and some get swallowed alive.

Aira's take: 5 stars

She loves the rich array of characters and the fine details in the art, singling out scenes such as the one where a dragon undergoing a transformation sheds its shiny scales.

One takeaway she got from the show is that people are not always what they seem to be at first.

"They look like they are bad, but they are not because they help others."


2 TOY STORY 4 (2019)

PG/100 minutes

Available on: Google Play/Apple TV

Advisory: None

Synopsis: Sheriff Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys are with their new owner, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), who makes her own toy, Forky (Tony Hale), at kindergarten. But Forky gets separated when the family go on a road trip and it is up to Woody and the rest to rescue him.

My take: 4 stars

This recent Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature is an affecting, heartwarming continuation of the much-loved Toy Story franchise.

We had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, especially at the antics of new characters such as Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele). The artwork and animation are stunning, but it is the characters and the qualities they espouse - love, loyalty, teamwork and courage - that make this a winning choice for viewing with kids.

The film is No. 1 on Rotten Tomatoes' Top 100 Kids & Family Movies list.

Aira's take: 5 stars

She thought many of the characters were hilarious - the repeated jokes about Forky thinking he is part of the trash got tired for me, but for her, they got funnier every time.

There were scenes that made her sad, like when the toys are rejected by their owners, but the positive outcomes cheered her up.

"You don't always get what you want, but that's okay," she noted.



PG/114 minutes

Available on: Google Play/Apple TV/Amazon Prime Video

Advisory: Some strong language, death scene

Synopsis: A 10-year-old boy, Elliott (Henry Thomas), befriends an alien who is stranded on Earth and tries to help it reunite with its fellow extra-terrestrials.

My take: 4 stars

I chose this film for purely selfish reasons - I have good memories of watching it when I was Aira's age in the early 1980s.

Clearly I am not alone - it is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time and is widely considered as one of director Steven Spielberg's finest.

In the context of today's sci-fi blockbusters, the special effects look a little hokey. But the sense of wonder, the spirit of friendship and the premise of kids emerging triumphant against all odds still get to me after repeated watching.

Note that there is some light swearing by some of the older kids and a death scene that might be upsetting.

Aira's take: 2.5 stars

I was a little disappointed that she did not think much of the show. "It was boring," she said. "I didn't like it."

In the age of Marvel blockbusters and sophisticated animated flicks, perhaps the good old tale of boy and alien is too drab for a savvy seven-year-old.



PG/Seven episodes ranging from 25 to 27 minutes

Available on: Apple TV+

Advisory: None

Synopsis: A new boy in school and his friends must solve mysteries while being the only ones who can see messages from a ghost as well as characters from classic books come alive.

My take: 4 stars

A reboot of a 1990s children's television series, the first season of Ghostwriter features three storylines broken up into seven episodes.

It is a great show for kids because it nurtures a love of books. The protagonists try to solve mysteries with clues provided by a ghost, while contending with the appearance of characters from classic and contemporary literature such as Alice In Wonderland.

Kids will identify with the show's contemporary touches - the characters use their smartphones to get information on books - while its inclusive cast of characters reflects the diverse faces of an urban society.

Aira's take: 5 stars

Like me, she loves mystery and supernatural stories, so this show was right up her alley. She got most excited when the titular ghost offers clue words to help the main characters solve the mysteries.

"Some people think ghost stories are scary, but this show is quite fun,"she said.



PG/Six episodes from 44 to 52 minutes

Available on: Netflix

Advisory: Some violence, mating scenes

Synopsis: Using breakthrough technology, cameras capture the nocturnal activities of animals on land, air and sea.

My take: 3.5 stars

Using the latest advancements in camera technology, the makers of nature documentary Night On Earth managed to clearly capture the activities of nocturnal animals, even those that take place in near total darkness.

The six episodes feature all sorts of creatures across the globe, from lions and cheetahs on the African savannah to otters and colugos in urban Singapore.

The visuals are impressive, but the narration might be too monotonous to fully engage a seven-year-old.

Also, parents should let their kids watch only if they are comfortable with explaining to them the violent relationship between predators and prey, as well as the various mating scenes.

Aira's take: 4 stars

The episodes were a little long for her and we had to break each of them up into two viewings. But there were many scenes that made her go wow, such as the lions and panthers intruding into human habitats and the otter families in the familiar Singapore landscape.

The show also generated multiple questions. "How do they know there are 20 million bats?" she asked in one scene that depicts a cave in Texas that the narrator tells us contains the largest concentration of mammals on Earth. "Did they count them all?"

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2020, with the headline Stay home, stay entertained. Subscribe