Child's play

Film - Philip Kerr thanks Walt Disney for helping him to survive the summer holidays

It had been foretold by Uranus and Gaia that their son Cronus (whom the Romans equated with their god of agriculture, Saturn) would be dethroned by one of his children; and so, to avert such a calamity, Cronus resorted to the cruel expedient of devouring all his children as soon as his sister/wife, Rhea, had given birth to them. He had already swallowed five (Goya's painting in the Prado Museum renders this scene rather well, I think) when Rhea, having just given birth to her sixth child, Zeus, presen-ted her husband with a stone facsimile of the in-fant prodigy, wrapped in swaddling clothes, which Cronus proceeded to swallow unawares.

I have always admired that Goya picture because Cronus looks how I feel during the school summer holidays. We get terribly worked up about infanticide in this country, forgetting that it was enjoined by the ideal legislations of Plato and Aristotle no less, and by the actual legislations of Lycurgus and Solon. Naturally, the Greeks were at a considerable disadvantage in comparison with people today, and while they did have a word for cinema I'm pretty sure they didn't have a word for "Walt" or one for "Disney".

There is much to dislike about Walt Disney the man - his anti-Semitism, his strange opinions about women - but during these aeonic school summer holidays, I can only kiss the feet of his memory, at least until Walt's cryogenic limbs thaw out. Things might have been a little different in the Cronus household if Rhea had been equipped with videos of Toy Story (1995) and The Little Mermaid (1989). In The Little Mermaid, loosely based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton, is dissatisfied with life in the sea. She longs to be with the humans above the surface and frequently argues with her father about "those barbaric fish-eaters". I could go on. Andersen's descendants were obviously more tolerant than the nephew of Carlo Lorenzini ("Collodi"), who tried to persuade the Italian government to sue Disney for making Pinocchio too American. Subliminally, I have probably seen or heard The Little Mermaid, or bits of it, a dozen times. Incredible as it now seems (see below), this is the movie that helped to restore Disney's reputation for excellence, and seemed to revitalise just what could be achieved with pen and ink. The Little Mermaid made more than $150m.

Fourteen years later, however, with the imminent release of Finding Nemo, another undersea animated picture from Disney, The Little Mermaid looks like something that Cronus kicked across the floor of his cave in yet another fit of paternal pique. The animation in Finding Nemo is quite breathtaking and this movie, created by Pixar, the same outfit that made Toy Story, looks like The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, with lots of talking fish as opposed to one old talking frog. Small wonder zat zis film has already taken more zan $300m in ze US alone, and looks like being Disney's most successful movie ever.

Finding Nemo is a Certificate U, but there were several sequences in which a partly disabled clownfish (this is a goldfish with a dodgy fin which has painted a white stripe across its face in an effort to emulate Adam Ant) is chased through the depths by a very fierce-looking shark, and these were clearly too much for some very small children. I saw several under-fives being carried out of the cinema in tears. So that's all right, then. Even if you're a bit of an old Larkin and have decided not to have any kids yourself, I urge you, if you do get out, to see this marvellous film when eventually Disney takes pity on British parents and releases it here in the UK.

Almost as enjoyable, although not nearly as breathtaking, was Spy Kids 3-D: game over - the third and final case for the sleuthing Cortez family, a franchise that has generated more than $230m for Dimension Films, a division of Miramax. In truth there's very little here to do with the two previous movies, which were about two kids who worked for the OSS, a thinly disguised version of the CIA. It may be that, like Bush and Blair, Dimension decided that intelligence stories need a bit of sexing-up these days; either way, Spy Kids 3-D looks more like Tron (1982) than Spy Kids 2 (2002), in that it's all set inside a computer game. It is no less enjoyable for that, and although it is not as visually stunning as Finding Nemo, the 3D stuff works really well. What a pity Bush and Blair didn't think to issue us all with a special pair of glasses before the Iraq war. That way, perhaps, we could all have seen what they obviously saw, too.

Finding Nemo (U) is released on 3 October

Spy Kids 3-D: game over (12a) is out on general release