Remind me, getting dressed up in fancy clothes to sit through a show is whose idea of fun? Too often, it’s not the squirming kid, nor the parent who shelled out a premium for those seats only to tick down the minutes until intermission.
Been there, and here’s what I suggest: How about trying a cozy family movie night instead? It’s way cheaper and super fun for everyone. Here are nine easy hacks for a show-stealing and memorable family flick night.
Set the stage
Roll out the red carpet (or your red scarf or blanket) to welcome guests to your film premiere. Buy a roll of raffle tickets ($3.99, Party Warehouse) or print out homemade admission tickets (search “free printable movie ticket” online). One kid with a hole punch gets to be in charge of ticket sales. Your regular TV is fine for everyday watching, but consider upping your game with a big screen. All you need is a white wall or bed sheet and an inexpensive smartphone projector. The small but mighty DBPower mini projector ($59.99, Amazon) gets the job done.
Choose your movie wisely
Err on the side of the lowest common denominator. Something that might seem innocuous could wind up terrorizing the youngers. (And I am speaking as a mom who once had to leave a theater with a sobbing child. The movie was about butterflies.) Not sure whether something is appropriate? Check out ratings from Common Sense Media.
If you've exhausted your in-house collection of kid flicks, sign up for a free one-month trial of Netflix or Hulu. Or check out a Red Box kiosk, from which you can rent new releases for $1.75. Even better, use your Seattle public library card to stream or download feature films and TV shows for free.
Pair the movie with a hands-on activity
You’ll feel less guilt about plunking the kids down for screen time if you can finagle some educational component out of it. Learn about real-life creatures by visiting the zoo or aquarium before watching “The Lion King” or “Finding Nemo.” Remember, you can check out free passes to Woodland Park Zoo and the Seattle Aquarium through the Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program.
Other ideas for hands-on activities that go with movies: Watch “Moana” and go kayaking; watch “Frozen” and drive up to the mountains and play in the snow; or watch “Coco” and play with musical instruments (read: bang on pots and pans). Our favorite? Watch “Up” and blow up tons of balloons using a helium tank ($20.99, Target).
Up your concession offerings
Kick those basic movie concession offerings — popcorn and soda — up a notch with these simple recipes. The amounts are flexible and don’t require any measuring cups.
For caramel corn: Put basic popped corn in a big bowl and drizzle jarred caramel sauce over it. Mix it up to give it an even coating, then spread the popcorn on a sheet pan. Bake at 350 degrees for five minutes, stir, and then bake for an additional three minutes.
Add bubbles to juice for a showstopping fruity spritzer: Start with your juice (a single juice or any combination): pineapple juice, orange juice and orange-mango sparkling water. Add some additional fizz factor with ginger ale, 7 Up or pineapple soda. Garnish with citrus slices to make it fancy.
For a huge sugar rush, host an interactive screening of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” a delicious idea plucked from Seattle International Film Festival’s “Smell-O-Vision.” Prep snacks so your tummies can experience the movie sensorially along with Charlie. Items to have at the ready: chocolate syrup (i.e., a river of chocolate), chewing gum, blueberries, fizzy drinks and, of course, chocolate bars.
Get the show on the road
You’ve seen “Cars” before, but never like this: Make an indoor drive-in movie theater! This activity is a huge draw at the Olympic Sculpture Park’s winter family Saturdays, and it’s an easy idea to replicate at home. Round up some cardboard boxes, each one big enough for a kid to sit in comfortably. Add paper plates for wheels and a steering wheel. Let the kids decorate their rides with racing stripes and numbers. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!
Rock a theme night
Plan your movie around your kids’ current favorite bedtime read; “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Harry Potter” and “Charlotte’s Web” are great options. A book-inspired movie night makes a terrific reward (or bribe) for finishing a book. Cementing your kids’ love of reading is an idea we can all totally get on board with.
Host a costume night and invite everyone to show up as their favorite character. Pick something out of the dress-up bin, or recycle last year’s Halloween costume. Be creative!
How about a sing-along karaoke night? Try the classic “Sound of Music” or crowd favorite “Frozen.” If you know the words to “Let It Go” (come on, you know you do), join in the fun and belt it out along with the kids.
Plan a Disney-shorts film festival
Most Disney shorts are less than 10 minutes long, which is the perfect duration for short attention spans. Invite friends over for a self-curated mini film festival, and let the kids vote for their favorites in goofy categories like “smelliest character in a movie” or “movie that makes you the hungriest.” Hand out star placards and let the kids give each short a rating.
You can also tie the film shorts to a fun family activity. Watch “Bao” and make some of your own pork buns out of playdough. Watch “Inner Workings” and cook a stack of pancakes. Or, watch “Geri’s Game” and start to learn to play chess.
Try something new
Encourage your kids to watch something they haven’t already seen a zillion times. Maybe a different genre, a new documentary or even a black-and-white classic (Whaaa-uut?). Sell the idea by letting the kids be the judges. Give each movie 15 minutes, then vote to see if everyone wants to continue watching or to ditch it. It’s an easy movie night to pull off when you’re signed up for a free Netflix or Hulu movie trial. Lots of choices, no additional cost.
Choose your own ending
School-age kids can make up their own alternate endings to movies. Describe it, write it down or, better yet, act it out and film it using your phone. A movie starring the kids is sure to become a household classic!