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5 great family films to watch on St. Patrick's Day

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, March 13 2013 7:16 p.m. MDT

Looking for something to watch this St. Patrick's Day?

Here are five films that would go great with any family traditions, so grab a heaping plate of corned beef and cabbage (or a bowl of Lucky Charms) and celebrate the best of Irish culture with one of these gems that are suitable for broad audiences.

"Darby O'Gill and the Little People" (1959)

Based on a book by Herminie Templeton Kavanagh, this bona fide Disney classic is also the film that introduced a young Sean Connery to James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli.

Albert Sharpe plays the titular Darby O'Gill, the aging caretaker of an Irish country estate who spends most of his time telling stories about the little people who live on the fairy mountain, Knocknasheega. After O'Gill is dismissed from his position and replaced by a younger man (Connery), a chance encounter with the king of the Leprechauns gives the old caretaker three opportunities to fix things before he has to tell his daughter the embarrassing news.

"Darby O'Gill" was something of a passion project for Walt Disney, who was himself half Irish, and it featured some pretty cutting-edge special effects for its time that might still convince younger audiences that Leprechauns do exist.

But it's the characteristic Irish whimsy that makes "Darby O'Gill" the perfect St. Patrick's Day movie for families and film fans of all ages.

"The Quiet Man" (1952)

John Wayne stars as an American ex-boxer who travels to Ireland to buy back his family farm and, in the process, falls in love with a feisty local woman (Maureen O'Hara) in John Ford's love letter to the Emerald Isle.

Shot on location in Ireland, "The Quiet Man" was a huge departure for its director and his go-to star. Thanks to movies like "Stagecoach," "Fort Apache" and "Rio Grande," the two had become practically synonymous with action-filled American westerns.

Like Disney, though, Ford — who was nicknamed "The Irish Cyclops" for the black eye-patch he wore — held a deep love of all things Irish that stemmed from his own ancestry.

It took him 20 years to get it made, but "The Quiet Man" went on to win two Oscars, including Best Director and, perhaps more than any other film, it helped shape the way Americans perceive Ireland.

"Waking Ned Devine" (1998)

Named by Gene Siskel as one of the best films of the year when it was released in 1998, "Waking Ned Devine" is a charming little comedy perfect for family audiences.

When an elderly man in rural Tullymore passes away from shock after winning the lottery, the other 52 inhabitants of the small Irish town, including his best friends Jackie (Ian Bannen) and Michael (David Kelly), concoct a plan to keep the money for themselves to honor their friend's memory.

"Waking Ned Devine" features an outstanding ensemble of Irish character actors, including a few that might be familiar to American audiences like James Nesbitt ("The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey") and Fionnula Flanagan (TV's "Lost").

However, it's Kelly's hilarious and completely unabashed performance that will probably leave the biggest impression.

"The Secret of Kells" (2009)

This joint Belgian, French and Irish production didn't exactly light up the American box office when it arrived in theaters back in 2010 (despite its 91 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but it did earn a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.

Set in and around a medieval Irish monastery during the Viking age, "The Secret of Kells" is a vibrant blend of Gaelic myth and history that explores the background of one of Ireland's national treasures, the Book of Kells.

Audiences will love the adventure-filled story, as well as the luscious visuals inspired by medieval illuminated manuscripts.

It's worth mentioning, however, that a few scenes involving an army of Viking invaders might be too frightening for some small children.

If you're wanting something that captures the same mix of Christian history and Irish legend as St. Patrick himself, though, look no further than "The Secret of Kells."

"The Secret of Roan Inish" (1992)

American filmmaker John Sayles directed this family-friendly film that deals with Selkies, the sea-dwelling creatures from Irish and Orcadian folklore.

When 10-year-old Fiona goes to live with her grandparents near the island of Roan Inish where the Selkies are said to reside, she begins hearing stories of her own Selkie ancestor and a brother who was claimed by the sea when he was still a baby.

Drawing on Ireland's rich tradition of storytelling, Sayles' film highlights the relationship of myth and identity — a key aspect of Irish culture.

"The Secret of Roan Inish" also boasts stunning cinematography that captures the beautiful landscape in a way that will transport viewers.

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