Pop the popcorn, dim the lights, and get ready for a family movie night. But what to watch? There are endless options for children’s entertainment these days — from always-on TV channels to streaming kids' TV shows to the new sequels, plus plenty of animated movies, live-action remakes, and reboots that get cranked out every year — the quality on them, obviously, varies.
If you really want to give your kids a love of film, go for a classic that stands the test of time (and one that's earned a spot on our list of the all-time best kids’ movies). Sure, you can’t go wrong with firing up the Disney+ streaming service and watching (most of) the movies that Disney has put out. But there are also kids’ movies from around the world, from places like Aardman Animations in the U.K. and Studio Ghibli in Japan, that have also put out some of the funniest or most innovative kids’ fare.
If you go through the flicks on this list, you can marvel at the technical prowess of stop-motion movies, revel in the lush beauty of hand-drawn animation, check out some of the most amazing musical sequences of the past, or be amazed at how far computer graphics have come since the first Toy Story. Whatever you choose, your family movie time is bonding time — when the movies are this good, you don’t have to feel bad about screens.
You can't go wrong with any movie in the Toy Story franchise, but Toy Story 4's new character, Forky, is basically engineered to be delightful to children. Plus, you get a heartwarming tale about what happens when a toy and its child are ready to move on from each other. MPAA rating: G
Based on the memoir by William Kamkwamba, the movie tells the story of a high school boy — a self-taught inventor — who tries to save his village by building a wind turbine big enough to power a water pump for the town's ailing crops. Chiwetel Ejiofor co-stars as well as makes his directorial debut. MPAA rating: PG
Though you can't truly judge films by what critics say (especially about kids' movies), Paddington 2 accomplished the feat of having a 100% fresh rating on movie-review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. It's a delightfully gentle story about a bear trying to find his place in the world. (Paddington is also pretty charming, if you need to start there.) MPAA rating: PG
A young boy named Miguel goes through the Land of the Dead on during Día de Los Muertos and learns hard truths about his ancestors. That sounds like a sad and frightening premise for a movie, but, in Pixar's hands, it's actually a warm, colorful journey that strengthens family connections. MPAA rating: PG
This movie follows the story of a girl named Mitsuha, who lives in a rural town, and a boy named Taki, who lives in the city. The two strangely start dreaming about each other — but are they only dreams, or is something happening in real life? Originally from Japan, this movie is available dubbed or with subtitles, so make sure you're turning on the version you want. MPAA rating: PG
From the creators of stop-motion favorites Wallace & Gromit, and with the same sly British sense of humor, comes a story about a farmer and a flock of sheep who get separated in a big city. Most of the movie is wordless, and the humans speak in gibberish, so this is a good pick for toddlers and preschoolers. MPAA rating: PG
It's easy to be enchanted by the world of vikings and dragons, especially when you meet a dragon as lovable as Toothless the Night Fury. Follow this with the sequels, and you'll get to see the viking Hiccup grow up throughout the series. MPAA rating: PG
Besides being an amazing feat of stop-motion animation (from some of the same people who did The Nightmare Before Christmas), this creepy kids' movie is ultimately about appreciating the parents you have, which we can get behind. Young Coraline goes through a secret door in her new house to find a copycat world, complete with an "other mother" that gives her attention in the ways her real mother doesn't — but she's hiding some sinister secrets. MPAA rating: PG
People were shocked when this movie seemed to come out of nowhere and score an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. (It lost to Up, but that's still pretty good for a practically unheard of film.) Once you give it a look, you can see how it charmed the Academy with its story of a quest steeped in Celtic mythology. MPAA rating: NR
It's never too early to get them into documentaries. And this one, about the lengths penguins have to go to in order to successfully hatch chicks in the Antarctic, is perfect for any budding nature-lover. MPAA rating: G
You can get through the first three movies in the Harry Potter series before the franchise takes a big leap in intensity — and jumps from PG to PG-13 — and probably gets too scary for younger ones. Luckily, there's enough going on in the wizarding world of those first three films to get them dreaming about getting their own Hogwarts acceptance letters.
Revered Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki puts his own spin on an Alice in Wonderland-like story, where a young girl goes on a journey through a world where she doesn't quite understand the rules. To this day, this is the highest-grossing movie in Japan — beating even Titanic — and after you see its beautiful animation, it's easy to understand why. MPAA rating: PG