/Answers: The Movies That Define Our Childhood

Every week in /Answers, we answer a new pop culture-related question. In this edition, tying in with the release of Ready Player One, we ask "What movie defines your childhood? What nostalgic favorite floats to the top of your brain whenever your think back on your early film fandom?"

Vanessa Bogart: Labyrinth

My dad was a music fanatic and indoctrinated us into the gospel of David Bowie at a young age. Like the chicken and the egg, I don't actually know what came first for me when I was little, Ziggy Stardust or Jareth the Goblin King. Music and movies are deeply rooted in our family relationships, and Labyrinth encompassed both. In a six person family, I am the youngest of four kids. I idolized my older siblings growing up, and while there are many movies that we call "Bogart Family Classics," Labyrinth is the one that always made me feel closest with my sister and my two older brothers.

No matter how cool my big brothers were, "Magic Dance" always turned into a singalong. I remember my sister and I spying on our brothers watching Labyrinth and giggling at these two metal shirt-wearing teenagers singing the different parts, but it always made me feel extra special when the four of us would watch it together and it became a family musical number.

I still watch Labyrinth multiple times a year, even though I am still terrified of the fire puppets, and the sight of David Bowie now brings a swift tear to my eye. So engrained in our upbringing, the loss of Bowie was felt like a shockwave through our house. While it is a classic all on its own, nothing evokes that deep nostalgic feeling of when we all lived under one roof quite like Labyrinth.

Ethan Anderton: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

There is no VHS that I watched more as a kid than the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 1990. Though Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory gave it a run for its money, neither of those movies had a line of toys for me to obsess over and recreate the scenes from the movie. It was the first franchise that I loved, so much that I went as Donatello for Halloween one year. Every dowel rod I found became a bo staff. My cake for my sixth birthday had Raphael on it. I watched the animated series every Saturday morning. I sought out as many action figures and vehicles as I could. It was my first love and passion.

The movie also helped shape my expectations for what I expected from the franchise I loved. The sequels that followed the original ended up being disappointing to me, even at a young age. This experience would begin to define my love for movies and the development of characters, even if I didn't understand the intricacies of the franchise's evolution (or devolution) just yet. But perhaps more important, it also just made me enjoy the hell out of my childhood and connected me to friends who loved exactly what I love. It was my first time being a literal fanboy, and it's only escalated since then.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Kiki's Delivery Service

I could list any Disney movie from the '90s as one that defines my childhood, but the first movie that comes to mind is from an entirely different animation studio: Kiki's Delivery Service. Funnily enough, for a long time I didn't even own it. Kiki's Delivery Service was a movie that was a special treat for me whenever I visited my grandparents' house, the beat-up VHS nestled in her basement waiting for me to watch it for the 100th time. My grandma always kept a collection of movies for me and my little sister whenever we visited, which was often. She only lived 30 minutes from us, and she would babysit me and my little sister almost every other week.

As soon as I arrived at my grandparents' house, I would rush downstairs and throw on Kiki's Delivery Service. It was more than just a movie I watched to pass the time while I hung out with my grandparents. It changed my life. Long before I knew what anime was, it would set me down a path of unhealthily obsessing over Hayao Miyazaki movies, and of wearing dark witchy clothing. I connected with the young, go-getter Kiki as she set of on a daunting year of independent living at 13 years old. And I connected even more deeply when she lost her way and thus her powers. (Yes, I was a very introspective 7-year-old.) Kiki was the first time I saw a heroine who was so much like me: a young, naive girl who messed up more than she succeeded, who got embarrassed, who loved pancakes. We even had the same haircut! Yes, she had superpowers, but she was so much more ordinary than any Disney heroine I had ever seen in my short life.

And because I only ever watched Kiki's Delivery Service at my grandparents' house, the movie became like a warm security blanket. Even as my grandparents' basement collected dust, as the videotape became so grainy that it became nigh unwatchable, Kiki's Delivery Service was to me those lazy, happy years when I slept over at my grandparents' house and could stay up as late as I wanted. Or as late as I could — which was usually before 9 p.m. When my grandma moved out of that house a few years ago and threw away the old VHS tapes, I bought a DVD of Kiki's Delivery Service. It wasn't quite the same — there was no crackling of white noise right before the movie started, the picture is now crystal clear — but it still brings me the same flood of nostalgia every time. And yes, I can still sing every word to Sydney Forest's "Soaring."

Matt Donato: An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

It's hard to recall a time when watching movies didn't entail hours of keyboard pounding afterwards, but scant childhood memories always unearth the same recurring details. An orange and green comforter that kept me warm (that's still in my possession today). Buttery Ritz crackers topped with cheese and pickle slices (Gherkins, duh). Sitting with Grandma and demanding to rewatch An American Tail: Fievel Goes West for the hundredth time because cats and mice and the Wild West were apparently my jam back then – these are my earliest memories as a junior cinephile.

Mom and pops both vanished daily to their professional obligations, so most of my early memories rebuild one of two grandparent households. The first less visited – a plastic-coated Italian den that always smelled deliciously of simmering red sauce pots and runny meat juices (where I watched my Darkwing Duck episodes) – the other a quaint crafter's nest where it'd either be The Jungle Book or An American Tale. These were places of comfort, which is what Fievel's adventure became to me. Something dependable while my parents worked to give me a good goddamn life. Who doesn't like to relax in front of a film while their grandmother spoils them rotten just for being born? A raggedy, Jewish-Ukrainian mouse by my side while I tried to figure out how one scores such a sweet gig.

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West is a saloon-stompin' calamity that appealed to all my interests – gun-slingin' excitement, anthropomorphic cowboy animals, wanderlust settings – only I didn't know it at the time. Talk to pint-sized me and he'd probably puke from anxiety at the thought of conducting on-camera celebrity interviews or traveling to numerous film festivals a year. Maybe I was entertained by Dom DeLuise as a diety cat, or Jon Lovitz as a crazy-eyed henchspider, or a doggone dueler named Wylie Burp (James Stewart), but I like to think my Fievel addiction came from a hidden thirst for adventure. Circular awakenings that now call back to this vividly animated desperado film.

Or maybe it's because Fievel was always alone? A young mouse separated from his family, and me, an only child also without his parents in that moment (please don't take this as a sob story, my parents were/are still major rockstars). When retroactively analyzing themes and trying to draw connections, there's sense to be made. Fievel was my squeaky counterpart, both of us against the big bad world. Only my reality was less scary considering the numerous creative activities my grandmother pulled like rabbits from her magic babysitter hat. Yet, there could be something there – a vagabond rodent with all the gumption in the world to succeed. The undermouse hero companion I needed.

Maybe I just fell in love with the artistry of An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Maybe all I needed was as top-hatted aristocat to endanger mouse populations, and knee-slapper musical numbers. Maybe I was drawn to themes of family or baddies getting their comeuppance in the most Amblin way (produced under Spielberg's Amblimation banner). No matter the reason, one of my fondest childhood memories will forever be a couch, Grandma's house and a VHS of Fievel Goes West. Ain't that a slice of something special.

Ben Pearson: Hook

I still remember my family's VHS copy of Hook, with the title written in light blue highlighter across a strip of white tape on the spine. I probably watched it more than any other live-action movie growing up, and back then, every aspect of the film worked like gangbusters for me. I had seen the animated Peter Pan movie when I was younger, but this was my introduction to the concept of a sequel that takes place decades after the events of the original tale, and I was totally captivated by the idea.

I loved the story on a primal level. As a kid yearning for adventure, I was particularly taken with the notion of the Lost Boys suiting up and battling Hook's pirates. It tapped into what I thought were the best parts of movies like Home Alone and Macaulay Culkin's Richie Rich: the gadgets. Blinding mirrors, marble launchers, paint sprayers, egg cannons – it all looked like so much fun, and as a kid, I valued that feeling more than anything else in the movies. Factor in elaborate tree houses, rope swings, pirate ships, vehicles that surfed through the trees, baseball, over-the-top insults, and one of the best food fights ever committed to the big screen, and you can probably see why I was so taken with this movie.

I know it's popular to crap on Hook, and sure, your mileage may vary depending on what age you were the first time you saw it. (I first saw The Goonies in my late 20s, so I despise that movie.) But there are elements here that I will go to bat for to this day: John Williams' incredible score, the film's colorful production design that feels like the extension of a child's imagination, and Robin Williams' heartfelt and energetic performance, just to name a few. I have one word for all the haters out there: bangarang.

Chris Evangelista: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Before Avengers: Infinity War became "the most ambitious crossover event in history," there was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The 1948 comedy teamed-up the former burlesque comedy duo turned movie stars with Universal's classic monsters – Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster. Bela Lugosi even returned to play Dracula one last time. The result was a huge box office hit, and also, many many many years later, a film I watched over and over and over again when I was a child.I was a fan of the Universal Monsters from a young age, so I existed on a steady movie diet of watching and re-watching Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and so on, on a steady loop. But for reasons I can't even fully comprehend, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the film that truly had an impact with me. I couldn't get enough of the film, and when I think back on my childhood viewing habits, this is the film that quickly springs to mind. I can remember sliding the VHS tape into the VCR and sitting transfixed, to the point where I had every line – every joke – memorized. I wish I could give you some sort of deeper answer here; reveal some inner truth about myself, and break down a psychological reason as to why this film had such a hold on me. But I think the answer was simple: I loved monsters, and Abbott and Costello were pretty damn funny. Sometimes, the simplest answer makes the most sense.

Jacob Hall: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I grew up in a house filled with VHS tapes, but there was one movie that saw more play than any other. Maybe it was because Raiders of the Lost Ark only existed in my early life as a fuzzy version recorded off the TV with commercial breaks, but Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was my go-to movie for any moment and any mood. To this day, I still know it backwards and forwards. Every line. Every beat. Every scene. It's burned into my brain.

I remember averting my eyes whenever the Nazi villain chose poorly, because his rapidly deteriorating corpse gave me nightmares. I remember having to ask my mom who the weird guy with the mustache was in the scene with the book burning. I remember thinking that the tank fight near the end of the film was the coolest, gnarliest, most violent thing I had ever seen and that surely no movie would top it.

Years later, the film holds up. It's no Raiders (what is!), but it a remarkable piece of popcorn entertainment that shows off Spielberg's immense skill. It's as funny as it is thrilling, a genuinely clever expansion on the Indiana Jones world. I like it because it's a damn good movie. But I love it because I literally grew up with it.

Lindsey Romain: The Wizard of Oz

I can't remember a time that The Wizard of Oz wasn't a part of my life. It was somehow even more than that – it was my life. My mom raised me on MGM musicals and Judy Garland specifically, but nothing stuck the way Oz did. The film and its characters existed in an astral plane of existence for me, a world I could step into whenever I wanted, with the push of a VHS tape. I loved The Wizard of Oz so intensely that it dripped over into everything. I was an avid collector of memorabilia – Hallmark ornaments, dolls, costumes, blankets, figurines, books, at least a dozen plastic ruby red slippers – which I routinely displayed across my home state of Michigan. I was the freaky Oz kid, and I loved it.

I could never parse out just what about Oz spoke to me. But it's one of those eerie things that grew in significance later, after tragedy warped my family life. My mother – who showed me Oz, Judy, the whole thing – died when I was 11, and the film suddenly took on some sort of celestial quality. I had the feeling that I was meant to have it then so I could have it now, a constant solace in her absence. Dorothy went from the pretty-voiced girl I wanted to be to someone I truly was: looking for meaning in every relationship, on my own path of self-discovery.