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Media: Wholesome Family Entertainment:

Did you think you were reading a right-wing rag for a minute there? Actually, “wholesome” is not such a bad word when you really think about it. It just means no unnecessary additives, nothing poisonous to destroy the illusion of happiness we all cling to in times of stress. But if you’re seeking a safe way to dwell in happier, unspoiled times, why not check out the series TCM has been running called Essentials, Jr.

Essentials, Jr. plays every Sunday (Funday) at 8 p.m. through August 31 and screens a delightful selection of films that were designed for the whole family to enjoy, something we rarely see anymore on the big screen. It’s either films aimed at tiny tots, video-game- raised boys, dating teens, or rated R. Back when the censors had more control over what could be shown, however, many of the films of days gone by really do fit the definition of “wholesome family entertainment.”

With so many channels devoted to sponsored children’s programming, and so many toys sold as tie-ins (even for the great Wall-E), finding quality storytelling in film and on TV is rare these days. But there is no reason to leave behind good films just because things have changed.

TCM says on its website, “The chosen films are ones that any cinema-literate child should know about and be able to enjoy with family and friends including grown-ups. So, parents and grandparents: mark you calendars, pop the corn and settle in for movies your kids will love as much as you do!”

The series is hosted by Abigail Breslin and Chris O’Donnell, both of whom star in the recent “wholesome” family film, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl. While that movie seems to have done poorly at the box office, there is no time like the present to take advantage of those stay-in Friday nights now that the economy has taken a nosedive. TCM has the right idea here.

Check out the Essentials, Jr. schedule, which can be viewed on their website at tcm.com/2008/essentialsjr/schedule/. Next up is Meet Me in St. Louis for this Sunday, July 13. After that, it’s Sherlock, Jr./The Music Box and on the 27th, Mr. Deeds. August brings Roman Holiday (August 3), The Man Who Knew Too Much (August 10), On the Town (August 17), Yours, Mine and Ours (August 24) and Captains Courageous (August 31).

If your children find any of these films interesting enough to sit still through, you know you have a true budding cinephile on your hands. If they stop in the middle and ask you if they can watch Spongebob, well, you have some work to do.

Still, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart, Buster Keaton, Gary Cooper, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy – these cinematic icons have never been equalled, and what better way to educate the young ones than to show them how great they were on screen?

That is, unless of course you’ve already begun showing your children great movies as I have. My daughter has seen almost every Hitchcock movie. The Birds is her favorite. She’s 10. I know, I’m a bad mother.

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