Family movie nights are a fun tradition, but they can get old pretty quickly if you’re stuck rewatching Frozen. Every. Single. Week. The good news is, we have more access than ever before to the wide variety of kid-friendly films that have been released over the decades, through streaming services and good old-fashioned cable TV and DVDs. The best family movies cover a variety of different stories and cultures from North America and around the world and will entertain kids and parents alike. (If you aren’t sure if a movie is appropriate for all the kids in your crew, check out the ratings and descriptions at Common Sense Media, which also includes helpful conversation guides for some movies.)
1. My Neighbor Totoro
Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films are classics in Japan and around the world. My Neighbor Totoro may be the best known of them, perhaps because of its gentle magic, charming young protagonists and, of course, cuddly and adorable Totoro, who is a cross between a Japanese raccoon, cat and owl in this fantasy film. Kids who are adjusting to a new home, in particular, will find comfort in how Totoro and his forest friends help two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, adjust to their new life.
In addition to being beautiful to look at, Coco is a funny and touching movie about loss, family and culture. The story deals with death via the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), but it does so in a way that celebrates the lives of those we love who have passed on. Bonus: The music is truly great.
3. Mary Poppins
Even young children can enjoy this classic film, which is free of any scary elements and remains charming more than half a century after its release. The pace is upbeat, which will keep children who are used to today’s films engaged, and the songs are as catchy as they’ve always been. If this one’s a hit with your kids, give the recent release Mary Poppins Returns a try.
4. Toy Story
All of the movies in this now-classic franchise are good choices, but the original is a solid place to start, especially if your children have never seen it before. Toy Story’s themes of friendship, teamwork and giving new friends a chance never get old.
Animals are great vehicles for storytelling for children, and Babe is no exception. This live-action movie deals with the fact that humans eat animals (fair warning, vegetarians!), but the film’s message of persevering against great odds is a valuable one, and the animals are funny and cute.
One of several recent children’s films with powerful female protagonists, Moana mixes a classic coming-of-age story with fascinating cultural and historical elements, including mythology and the seafaring history of the Polynesians. Between the Rock’s comic relief and catchy Lin-Manuel Miranda songs, parents will enjoy this as much as their kids.
7. Akeelah and the Bee
A couple of mild curse words make this a movie for older kids (or younger ones who are trusted not to repeat them!), but the value of the story remains. Like so many kids, Akeelah struggles with fitting in and coping with loss. But she finds confidence through spelling, and her story shows that we all have unexpected gifts. It’s a great movie for tweens, who will identify with Akeelah’s struggles in growing up.
8. The Lion King
If your kids were thrilled with the remake released this summer, get them familiar with the original movie. Timon and Pumbaa were funny then, too, and the classic Disney animation retains its charm. As with the original, there is some darkness (Simba’s father’s death, in particular), but if your child was OK with the remake, they should be fine with this one, too.
9. The Princess Bride
Show your child who loves fairy tales something a bit different with The Princess Bride and indulge in some nostalgia of your own. There are a few elements that may scare some children, but the overall fun and quirkiness of this now-classic movie tempers some of the intermittent darkness.
Nearly 40 years after its release, this story of an alien far from home still appeals to kids. Most children can identify with the fear of being lost, even if it’s just for a split second at a store. There are some tense scenes in the race to reunite the lovable extraterrestrial with his family, but it all works out in the end. And even without the help of CGI, E.T. is just as lovable today as he was in the ’80s.
11. Song of the Sea
This animated Irish movie isn’t as well known as some of the others on this list, but it deserves to be. Saoirse is the last selkie (seal child), and her brother, Ben, is helping the pair find their way home. The hand-drawn animation is beautiful, as is the story of a loving sibling relationship.
12. Big Hero 6
This movie is appealing for several reasons, but one of the standouts is the diversity of its characters—not as common in children’s movies as it should be. There’s a lot of action, which will make it appealing to fans of superhero movies, but also valuable messages about doing the right thing and standing by your friends.
The story of this charming British bear has been around for a while, but both Paddington movies have become modern classics—and for good reason. Start with the original, which tells the story of an orphan bear who gets into mischief (which may be, in a few cases, alarming for young kids) but also finds a loving family. The sequel, Paddington 2, is equally winsome.
14. The Sound of Music
Not just for Christmas, this timeless classic is an entertaining watch year-round. The story of the von Trapp family introduces children to the joy of music. And for older (or curious younger) children, the historical context of the movie is a good starting point for a discussion on the Second World War.
This buddy comedy for kids has some tense moments, and younger children may find it a bit much. But the animated movie is also a surprisingly good way to teach kids about tolerance, including discussions on stereotypes, racism and discrimination. Adults will enjoy the jokes aimed strictly at them (don’t worry, they’ll go over kids’ heads). And if you hate musicals, good news: Zootopia is mostly free of musical numbers.
16. Kiki’s Delivery Service
As with many other films by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Kiki’s Delivery Service has a female lead character who is kind and independent, solves problems herself and finds her place in the world. Kiki is a witch, which will appeal to kids who enjoy supernatural stories and fairy tales, but there is nothing spooky here, making this a great movie for younger children, too.
A live-action version of this animated movie is coming out in a few months, which makes this a great time to introduce children to the original. Mulan is a young Chinese woman who goes to war to protect her ailing father and proves herself courageous in the process. There are some battle scenes and the expected Disney villain, which might make this frightening for some children. But, ultimately, Mulan’s bravery and love for her family are inspiring.
18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Some of the more recent Harry Potter movies are rather dark, which makes sense as Harry and his friends aged along with the books. But this first movie, while still intense in some parts, will be appropriate for most kids who are old enough to read the books. It’s a great way to bring the children’s novels to life for fans.
19. The Wiz
This retelling of The Wizard of Oz features multiple musical numbers and an all-black cast of actors. Some of the villains may be too intense for young kids, but on the whole, this film keeps the fun of the original story while adding a twist that will appeal to kids who like upbeat musical numbers.
20. Christopher Robin
Your child is surely familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh, but this live-action story (with, of course, some computerized help for Pooh and friends) is slower paced yet charming. A grown-up Christopher Robin has all but forgotten the value of play, but his beloved childhood pals help him remember the importance of family, gratitude and fun. Try not to let your kids see when you weep a little over the bittersweet nature of growing up.
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