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Pet movies: 15 best animal-themed films for families

From animated flicks with talking cats and dogs to heart-wrenching films based on real animals, we present our 15 favorite pet movies.

  • There’s something about animals that makes them among the most memorable children’s cinema characters of all time, whether they’re hand-drawn, computer-animated or real, live (highly trained) four-legged actors. Is it their adorable look? Their lovable personalities? Their anthropomorphic qualities? Above all, it seems to be their connection with the human world that makes cinema critters—particularly those that end up as family members—so beloved. Our roundup of the top 15 pet movies for families celebrates that human-animal relationship, even though their stories can often take a heart-wrenching turn (despite the G and PG ratings, you might want to shelve some of these flicks until your kids are a little older). Read through our picks, then schedule a family movie night (include your own Fido or Fluffy, if you have a family pet!) to watch one of these films, whether it’s an old-time favorite, such as Lassie Come Home, or a more contemporary gem, like Because of Winn-Dixie.

    Click the right arrow on the image above to see our 15 best pet movies.

  • Pet movies

    15. Cats & Dogs (2001)

    The age-old question of what it means to be a cat or a dog person is taken to extreme lengths in this action-packed spy movie. When Mr. Tinkles (a white Persian cat voiced by Sean Hayes) decides to take over the world, the long-standing secret war between cats and dogs intensifies, and it’s up to a beagle puppy (Tobey McGuire) to stop it. Listen closely and you’ll also hear Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon; the kids, though, will be too distracted by the adorable animals and massive explosions to care. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    14. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1989)

    This 1986 Japanese film was edited for American audiences (the original featured some less-than-kid-friendly scenes) and was released three years later. But the English version is just as action-packed, including two bears, a snake and, surprisingly, not a single human. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    13. Air Bud (1997)

    The story of a golden retriever who can play basketball may sound like your standard straight-to-DVD movie plot, but the wildly successful Air Bud was based on (and features in its starring role) the stray dog found in the Sierra Nevada mountains that became a national sensation. (He even played the role of Comet on an episode of Full House!) Air Bud’s unexpected talent helps 12-year-old Josh Framm break out of his shell to try out for the school basketball team. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    12. The Aristocats (1970)

    Kids will likely agree with Scat Cat, the jazzy band leader whom Duchess and her brood of kittens meet on their quest to retrieve the inheritance their wealthy owner left them: Everybody does want to be a cat. Streetwise tomcat O’Malley leads Duchess through danger (two scary hound dogs and an evil English butler) to the safety of their Parisian mansion. In the words of little Marie, “How romantic!” Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Watch now or rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    11. Homeward Bound (1993)

    Chance the bulldog, Shadow the golden retriever and Sassy the cat embark on a journey through the California forest to find the family who they believe abandoned them while on vacation to San Francisco. Run-ins with a mountain lion, a porcupine and the ominous pound provide the necessary obstacles on the road to a heartwarming finale. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    10. Marley & Me (2008)

    Marley & Me markets itself as a family-friendly comedy-drama, but don’t be fooled: This movie will bring even the hardest hearts to full-blown sobs. You may want cut the cord halfway through, when the film hasn’t yet breached its eventual subjects of miscarriage, postpartum depression and the slow decay of Marley’s health. That said, it still manages to cater to the comic sensibilities of kids, albeit through many tears. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    9. Beethoven (1992)

    If you ever encounter a need to understand the full implications of investing in a St. Bernard, seek out Beethoven. The story of a reluctant father’s eventual love for the slobbery pet is funny, sentimental and sometimes dark, but the part that’s most remembered is the slow-mo scene of the gargantuan dog shaking the dirt off its coat while inside the house, providing parents with the perfect excuse for retaining a pet-free home. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    8. My Dog Skip (2000)

    Three school bullies with amazing names (Big Boy Wilkinson, Henjie Henick and Spit McGee) make nine-year-old Willie’s life a living hell—until his family gets a lovable Jack Russell terrier. As told by the real Willie Morris, looking back on his childhood in 1940s Mississippi, this tale might best be left to kids who have an understanding of American history and the fact that their four-legged friends will someday go to doggie heaven. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    7. Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

    The beloved children’s novel about a lonely girl who moves in with her preacher father after being abandoned by her mother makes for a similarly sweet onscreen story, thanks in large part to a spunky Picardy Shepherd, who plays the title role. After finding Winn-Dixie at a supermarket, ten-year-old Opal learns how to meet friends and reconnect with her equally lonesome father. Rated PG.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    6. Babe (1995)

    Who knew that the story of a pig who wants to be a sheepdog would turn into one of the world’s most beloved children’s classics? A brilliant screenplay, impressive computer graphics and true heart won Babe an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and the acclaim of critics and families, perhaps enough to turn even the most carnivorous of humans into vegetarians. That’ll do, pig. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    5. Old Yeller (1957)

    Yet another example of how heartbreaking pet movies can be, Old Yeller remains an American classic. Set in post–Civil War Texas, the destitute Coates children find a big yellow dog in the cornfield, and encounter black bears, boars and the ultimate coming-of-age experience when oldest son Travis is forced to put down his beloved pet after he’s bitten by a rabid wolf. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    4. Charlotte's Web (1973)

    Leave the 2006 live-action iteration in favor of the 1973 animated musical, one of the most successful movies of its kind not to come out of the House of Mouse. When Fern saves Wilbur, the runt of the litter, from his deadly fate, the piglet learns that an even scarier one looms. With the help of a friendly (and artistic) spider, Wilbur learns to “chin up” in the face of fear. Rated G.

     Buy on Amazon

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    3. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

    In a scene that continues to live on in the minds of grossed-out kids and romance-obsessed tweens alike, Lady and the Tramp made spaghetti dinners just a little bit more exciting. When a misunderstanding causes Lady, a cocker spaniel with unreasonably great hair (er, fur), to be kicked out of her cushy home, it takes a wrong-side-of-the-tracks mutt named Tramp to take her back where she belongs. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    2. Lassie Come Home (1943)

    Decades of remakes can’t compete with the 1943 Technicolor classic, which features the original Lassie (played by a male dog named Pal) and an 11-year-old Liz Taylor. Set in Depression-era Britain, a poor family is forced to sell their beloved collie to a wealthy duke. In order to reunite with her true owners, Lassie must brave the dangerous adventure back home. Rated G.

     Watch now on iTunes    Watch now at Amazon Instant Video

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

  • Pet movies

    1. 101 Dalmatians (1961)

    Having 101 puppies might be the stuff of dreams for kids, but the Disney classic is just as lovable for parents. When a struggling composer’s Dalmatian gives birth to 15 new pups, Cruella De Vil, better known as the greatest movie villainess of all time, arranges to steal them in order to make a fabulous spotted fur coat. When the little ones are rescued at Cruella’s mansion, 86 more are discovered. Rated G.

     Buy on Amazon

     Rent the DVD with Netflix

There’s something about animals that makes them among the most memorable children’s cinema characters of all time, whether they’re hand-drawn, computer-animated or real, live (highly trained) four-legged actors. Is it their adorable look? Their lovable personalities? Their anthropomorphic qualities? Above all, it seems to be their connection with the human world that makes cinema critters—particularly those that end up as family members—so beloved. Our roundup of the top 15 pet movies for families celebrates that human-animal relationship, even though their stories can often take a heart-wrenching turn (despite the G and PG ratings, you might want to shelve some of these flicks until your kids are a little older). Read through our picks, then schedule a family movie night (include your own Fido or Fluffy, if you have a family pet!) to watch one of these films, whether it’s an old-time favorite, such as Lassie Come Home, or a more contemporary gem, like Because of Winn-Dixie.

Click the right arrow on the image above to see our 15 best pet movies.


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