My favourite children's films: Michael Sheen
The Welsh actor wants children to fall in love with film in new series Cinemaniacs – but what were his own favourites as a kid?
New series Cinemaniacs is a Saturday morning CBBC show for young film fans, with behind-the-scenes features, advice for budding film-makers, and guest appearances from the likes of Ian McKellen, director Ron Howard... and Michael Sheen, who takes on a testing movie challenge each week.
So we asked the Port Talbot-born actor which movies had shaped his youthful self - and there were some interesting choices...
A lot of my favourite children’s films have something a bit strange and a bit mysterious about them. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has that quality, and so does the original Willy Wonka. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang you have the Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann), who is one of the greatest nightmare creatures of all time. And Benny Hill is the toymaker! Just the oddness of it. That’s really stayed with me.
Willy Wonka is set in this weird Eastern European location, which gives it a surreal quality. And then
you throw in a brilliant performance from Gene Wilder that’s odd and scary.
Probably my favourite living filmmaker is David Lynch, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the qualities
I liked in films as a kid continue as themes in films of Lynch’s like Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Inland Empire.
I have a very early memory of watching The Great Escape on television when we lived in Newport. For years I thought that film was black and white, because we had a black-and-white television set.
It’s not a children’s movie, obviously, but it’s a great adventure story, and there’s a lot in there that kids can get, lots of classic moments and just great storytelling.
I’ve seen The Great Escape no end of times and every time it just grips and holds me from beginning to end. Sometimes you do have to take a risk on the films that you show children.
Firstly it was the artwork that struck me – I was into drawing when I was a kid. Pinocchio is a really classic-looking Disney film, but there’s the scene where he goes to the island and all the naughty kids turn into donkeys – the nightmarish quality of that appealed to me. And the fox and the cat that lure Pinocchio into a darker world – they’re all Lynchian characters, like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet.
And it’s not coincidental that Pinocchio turns up in lots of other films as a reference: in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and in Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence. The idea of wanting to become a “real boy” – it’s a really deep, challenging, disturbing idea in all kinds of ways. And kids respond to that. I certainly did!
I’ve got a slight obsession with time travel in films. My parents were involved in amateur dramatics and I remember a production of Brigadoon. The idea of a village that appears every 50 years – that really captured my imagination. So my favourite Back to the Future film is the second one – where Marty McFly meets himself back in time. I love all that.
The more complicated the whole time conundrum gets, the more I love it. You see bits from the original film, but from a different viewpoint. When Michael J Fox is hiding behind a car watching himself doing a scene we saw him do in the first film – that gets me very excited!
When my daughter Lily [from his relationship with Kate Beckinsale] was younger there were two films we had to watch at least once a day.
One was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) – she knew every line and we’d have to act them out. The other was Grease, which made me very happy. When I was a kid I had the original soundtrack album on vinyl, and I went to see it at the Plaza in Port Talbot. Everyone was dancing in the aisle. People say, “Oh, they were dancing in the aisles.” Well, when I saw Grease in the Plaza, they actually were! Just brilliant.
The year I left the National Youth Theatre of Wales they did a production of Grease – and I was so annoyed! My two best friends played Danny and Sonny. But I’d missed my chance.