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Now That's Funny!

Compiled By Gregory Keer

Nothing cuts through the heaviness of a bad day more than hearing your kids laughing themselves silly. On the flip side, few activities are more important to children than laughter. Laughter gets kids through embarrassing moments (like spilling something or tripping) and helps them excel in social interactions (everyone feels at ease with someone who shares the gift of laughter).

In Kids Who Laugh: How to Develop Your Child's Sense of Humor, psychologist and former comedian Louis R. Franzini, Ph.D., talks about what makes kids laugh (infants love peek-a-boo, early grade-schoolers gravitate toward taboo language such as poopie). Not surprisingly, these are the kinds of humor elements found in the better child-oriented movie comedies. Listed below (in no particular order) are a few of the all-time great belly-busting movies available on DVD and/or VHS. Some are full of slapstick and others packed with silly words, but all are sure to keep the family laughing.


The Muppets Take Manhattan The Muppets Take Manhattan
Ages: All Ages
Columbia TriStar Home Video, $9.95 (VHS)

What list of family comedies is complete without a nod to the masterful work of Jim Henson? Arguments can be made for several of the films starring some of the refugees from Sesame Street, but this musical has the most laughs for kids and adults alike. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and their Muppet ensemble hit the Big Apple to produce a play on old Broadway. They run into some shady and creative characters (some played by the real Liza Minnelli, Art Carney, Brooke Shields, and other big-name stars) yet find happiness and success in the end. Gentle fun is mixed with witty jokes for a truly sunny-day experience.

Gregory Keer is a writer, teacher, and father of two boys. He can be reached at

Shrek DVD
Ages: 2 & Up
Dreamworks Home Entertainment, $26.99 (DVD)   

Those parents who already own the DVD know that this flick has something new to chuckle at each time you see it. Shrek is based on William Steig's children's story of an ogre who finds love. The filmmakers flesh out the oddball charm with action-adventure sequences, buddy comedy repartee, and plenty of pop-culture references (i.e., the Robin Hood-meets-Lord of the Dance-and-The Matrix scene). With Mike Myers giving Shrek a Scottish burr, Eddie Murphy infusing Donkey with stand-up comic edge, Cameron Diaz making Princess Fiona a kind of romantic debutante, and John Lithgow unleashing smarminess on Lord Farquaad, the voice cast seems to have as much fun as their brilliantly conceived computer-generated characters. The humor hits on so many levels that kids will laugh at new jokes and sight gags as they get older. A sequel (due in theaters this summer) will be hard-pressed to outdo this laugh-a-minute classic.

Toy Story 2 Toy Story 2
Ages: 3 & Up
Walt Disney Home Video, $29.99 (DVD)    $26.99 (VHS)

The sequel to the groundbreaking Toy Story actually packs in more laughs and cleverness than its predecessor. A greedy toy collector steals Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) leaving Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and the gang to mount an elaborate (and accident-filled) rescue operation. Stocked with intelligence and sentimentality (try not to cry at the music-video sequence involving Jesse's departure from her little girl's life), the animated feature has more than enough to round out its humorous side. And, oh, what a humorous side. Slapstick humor (Woody trying to sneak up on Al the toy thief while he's asleep) and sight gags (Barbies add some doll-appeal for the male toys) enhance the yuck-stuffed dialogue. Appropriate for all ages, even the jealous Prospector (Kelsey Grammer) comes off as a mild villain in the hands of filmmakers who seem to care most about showing the value of playfulness.

The Absent-Minded Professor
Ages: All Ages
Walt Disney Home Video, $19.99 (DVD

Here, the original outshines the remake (the over-produced Flubber with Robin Williams) because of its low-tech approach to a high-concept story. Fred MacMurray (the dad from the TV classic My Three Sons and the brilliant grown-up film The Apartment) is a creative but mild-mannered college professor who invents a sticky material that can bounce like crazy. Silly yet grounded in an old-fashioned, down-to-earth way, the film's best-known and funniest scene involves a basketball team leaping to great heights while wearing the "flubber" on their shoes. This is one of the most enjoyable films of the many family comedies Disney made in the 1960s.

Home Alone Home Alone
Ages: 8 & Up
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, $7.99 (VHS)

During the '80s and early '90s, writer-director John Hughes made some of the most hilarious films for kids and teenagers (Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club). Hughes's success resulted from telling the story from the perspective of young people. In Home Alone, the filmmaker presents us with an eight-year-old (Macaulay Culkin) whose parents manage to forget him at home. During the time it takes his parents to realize their little mistake and get back, Kevin must defend himself and his home from two would-be burglars (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci). The boy succeeds brilliantly and the crooks are whacked, tripped, and spilled on by the traps this smart kid throws at them. All the while, Kevin seems to enjoy having the run of the house, playing grown-up and doing everything he's usually not allowed to do. The physical humor does veer toward the live Looney Tune variety, so this is definitely not for little ones. But for kids eight on up, this is the source of instant hysterical laughter.

The Pink Panther
Ages: 9 yrs. & Up
MGM/UA Studios, $19.95 (DVD)

The late, great Peter Sellers continues to send families rolling on the den rug in laughter with this classic comedy. As Inspector Clouseau, Sellers must chase down a jewel thief (played by the debonair David Niven). Unfortunately, Clouseau's unintelligible French accent and bumbling ways keep him from having much success in his detective work. All the slapstick humor should translate well to younger kids, but the nine and older set will have a better time with the plot and characters. Director Blake Edwards re-teamed with Sellers for several other Panther films, including A Shot in the Dark and three other sequels to a film that will forever remain in the pink.

The Princess Bride The Princess Bride
Ages: 10 & Up
MGM Home Entertainment, $14.99 (DVD)    $7.99 (VHS)

"Have fun storming the castle," says Billy Crystal as the elfish, Borsht-Belt talking Miracle Max in the film version of the classic young-adult book. In the film, a grandfather (Peter Falk) tells his cynical grandson (Fred Savage) about a great romance between a young man named Westley (Cary Elwes) and a woman called Buttercup (Robin Wright-Penn) he must save from a loveless marriage to mean Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). Director Rob Reiner and writer William Goldman (who wrote the original novel) leave the boy's bedroom for a medieval world populated with characters of magic and eccentricity. Along the way, the young man gathers a crew of intrepid adventurers who help him extract Princess Buttercup. Few performances in this imaginative and clever movie top that of Mandy Patinkin (as swashbuckling Inigo Montoya) and Christopher Guest (as the dark henchman, Count Tyrone Rugen). The Princess Bride will fulfill many a viewer's humor wishes with everything from physical humor for the younger viewers to double-entendre for the grown-ups.

Mrs. Doubtfire
Ages: 8 yrs. & Up
Fox Home Entertainment, $7.49 (VHS); $24.99 (DVD)

Choosing the funniest film Robin Williams has ever done is no easy task. So, let's settle for the funniest family film, which Mrs. Doubtfire certainly is. Playing an immature but caring father in the midst of a divorce from his responsibility-oriented wife (Sally Field), Williams is knock-down, drag-out hysterical when he disguises himself as a British nanny to get more time with his children. Younger children may be too tender an age to understand the very adult story of divorce, but older kids will be bowled over by this dad in a lady suit (just the scene of Williams vacuuming and dancing to Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" will have them in tears). Under-appreciated is Pierce Brosnan who, as the boyfriend of Field's character, handles humiliation with more grace than Bond could ever hope for. In the end, this is one silly and heartwarming comedy worth owning.

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