This is turning into a banner year for family friendly aliens. Recently, Reese Witherspoon and a team of misfit monsters successfully saved our planet from a gang of G-rated extraterrestrials in Monsters vs Aliens and in Race to Witch Mountain a cab driver learned that not all space invaders are “little green people with antennas.”
Later this year the cute and cuddly animated aliens of Planet 51 will be invaded by an astronaut from Earth and in this weekend’s Aliens in the Attic a group of kids protects their vacation home from creatures from outer space.
E.T.s in kids’ entertainment are nothing new. The futuristic animated utopia of the Jetsons, featuring aliens galore, originally ran on Saturday morning television in the early ’60s, but has since been spun off into comics, games, a short-lived 1980s TV series, television movies and a 1990 feature film imaginatively called Jetsons: The Movie.
Around the same time The Jetsons were on the small screen, a movie The Monster Times called “the worst science fiction flick ever, bar none” was entering theatres. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, released in 1964, is a no-budget wonder which ping-pongs from so-bad-it’s-good right back to bad again. Cinematically it may be the biggest Christmas turkey ever, but its crazy story, about Martians kidnapping Santa so their little green kids can get some presents just like human children, is a guilty pleasure.
The ’70s and ’80s were a particularly fertile time for kiddie “take me to your leader” movies. Of course there were the original three Star Wars movies, E.T. (and the shameless E.T. rip-off Mac and Me) but looking past Lucas and Spielberg reveals other, not as well-known alien movies for the rugrats.
Invaders from Mars, from Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper, sees a teenage hero (actress Karen Black’s real life son Hunter Carson) enlist the help of a school nurse (played by his mother) and the Marines to prevent aliens from assuming human form and taking over his hometown.
Finally, also worth a look is Explorers, a 1985 kid’s flick starring Ethan Hawke and River Phoenix as BFFs whose dream of intergalactic travel comes true when they build a homemade spaceship, complete with a Tilt-a-Whirl cockpit. It was the feature film debut for both Hawke and Phoenix and while it isn’t groundbreaking sci-fi, it’s a fun film for the whole family.