Best kids' movies: 50–41
It's a simple story, really: Boy meets alien. Boy and alien become best friends. Boy says goodbye to alien when his outer-space buddy has to go home, causing audiences everywhere to sob uncontrollably. How Steven Spielberg tells it, of course, makes a world of difference, as he infuses this family blockbuster with a childlike sense of awe. If you can think of a more magical '80s movie moment than E.T. and Elliott biking past the moon, we'll personally buy you a bag of Reese's Pieces. Rated PG.
We’re not going to lie, The Witches does not come without scares (director Nicholas Roeg is also the man behind terrifying ’70s flick, Don’t Look Now). But this British gem, based on the gnarly Roald Dahl book of the same name, manages the balance between frights, thrills and laughs brilliantly. The story is a dark twist on Potterverse: witches live amongst us, but none of them are kind. And when a young boy and his grandmother tumble across a convention of witches while on a seaside holiday, hilarious chaos is unleashed. Angelica Huston chews the scenery like so much gum as the fabulously evil Grand High Witch, but the real star here is the makeup—you’ll wince when you see what lies beneath these witches’ human masks. Rated PG.
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A perennial Christmas favorite, this fairy tale about a department-store Santa who claims to be the real Kris Kringle never ceases to bring the seasonal cheer. Edmund Gwenn makes for the perfect jolly old elf, but it's joyful nine-year-old Natalie Wood that exemplifies what the holiday is really about: faith in the kindness of your fellow man. Not rated.
Kermit the Frog & Co. were already household names in 1979, thanks to their popular television variety show; once you watch Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and the rest of their felt-skinned friends crack wise, mingle with famous faces and narrowly avoid danger in their first feature film, though, you suddenly understand why folks from age five to 95 loved them. There was a residual countercultural coolness in their self-referentiality—at one point, they check to see what happens next by consulting the movie's script—yet they were still kid-friendly. Jim Henson's approach made the Muppets seem both hip and harmlessly square, but more important, he understood the timeless appeal of putting on a show: Even contemporary kids who don't know from Hare Krishna jokes still giggle at a monster bursting through a movie screen and still sway to the strains of "The Rainbow Connection." Rated G.
We've seen gajillions of American movies about boys and their pet dogs, horses, freed whales, monsters and alien friends; it took the French, however, to realize the poignancy of making a short film about a boy and his balloon. Clocking in at a mere 34 minutes, Albert Lamorisse's featurette follows a child named Pascal, who encounters the title's floating red object tied a railing. After untying the balloon, the lad and his newfound companion traipse around Paris, riling up his classmates and even meeting his female counterpart (though her helium-filled friend is blue). Lamorisse treats childhood as one big adventure, with Pascal and pal wandering innocently throughout an urban landscape filled with adults to bother, buildings to explore and streetside bazaars to peruse. This is the city as a playground and a place where magic happens; even when tragedy strikes, The Red Balloon still has one trick left up its sleeve, ending in a sky ride that simply must be seen to believed. Not rated.
Judy Hopps dreams of joining the police force and leaves her farm and family for the bustling metropolis Zootopia to achieve this goal. As the first rabbit in the crew, she isn’t taken seriously by her fellow police officers. Tired of writing up parking violations, Judy decides to take on a missing persons case to prove herself. When she enlists the unwilling help of con fox Nick Wilde, the pair find themselves going down a rabbit hole of clues, scandals and close calls. Rated PG.
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Jim Henson’s cult classic centers on a dark premise: a teenage girl (yes, that’s a very young Jennifer Connelly) is forced to enter a fantasy world and solve a wild labyrinth in order to rescue her baby brother, who’s been kidnapped and is being held by the Goblin King. The plot, though, is really just for director Jim Henson to delight the audience with all manner of strange puppet creatures and musical numbers—the Goblin King is played, of course, by David Bowie, who takes over the movie at several points for some delicious musical interludes. The little ones will be singing “Magic Dance” for weeks. Rated PG.
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This adorable animated film is yet another hit from Pixar, documenting what it feels like to go from complete joy to total rage (in the form of cute little characters)! The movie goes inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl as she weathers a rollercoaster of emotion following a move from the Midwest to San Francisco. Rated PG.
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What would happen if one of those big-eyed, eternally optimistic Disney princesses somehow landed in our world? And in New York City, no less? Thus goes the premise of this modern classic from the Mouse House, which sees princess Giselle (Amy Adams) banished by an evil queen and emerging from a manhole in the middle of modern-day Manhattan. There are encounters with grumpy New Yorkers, cockroaches, a dragon, a witch and a couple of handsome, but Enchanted stands out for two reasons, really: the songs by Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast) and Amy Adams’ pitch-perfect performance as the princess finding her way, and herself, in the scary non-fairy tale world. Rated PG.
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Best kids' movies: 40-31
When an orphaned girl named Mary Lenox is sent to live with her mysterious uncle, she discovers more than she bargained for at his sprawling mansion and overgrown estate. She’ll brave a scary head housekeeper, meet a young friend, encounter a cousin she’s never met and a stumble upon a garden in desperate need of some serious TLC. Rated G.
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In this Disney classic, Mowgli, a young boy who was raised by a pack of wolves, develops a sense of curiosity that may prove to be dangerous to himself and his jungle family. Wise panther Bagheera attempts to get Mowgli back with his own kind, but the boy's stubborn ways are encouraged by Baloo, the carefree bear. Will he make it to the man-village before the jungle's feared predator, Shere Khan, tracks him down? Rated G.
No offense, Lassie, but when it comes to screen dogs, we'll always have a soft spot for that golden Lab so beloved by Tommy Kirk and his family. Those weren't tears, by the way; we just got, er, something in our eyes toward the end of the film. Rated G.
Our favorite of the many versions,1982’s Annie features a young girl who must live in an awful orphanage during the 1930s. Annie’s life is governed by a tyrannical woman named Miss Hannigan, but her luck seems to change when she’s selected to live with a wealthy local businessperson, Oliver Warbucks. Rated PG.
Meet Lindsay Lohan…and Lindsay Lohan...(Hallie and Annie, identical twins separated at birth) in this remake of the classic 1961 film. You’ll be seeing double as they accidentally meet at summer camp and scheme to get their divorced parents (Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid) back together. Rated PG.
Loosely based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famous novel, the film tells the story of an imaginative little girl named Sara Crewe who feels that all girls are princesses. When her father heads off to war, he sends her to the same New York boarding school her late mother attended; even through a series of unfortunate events, Sara remains optimistic and manages to inspire all the kids (even overcoming the evil headmistress Miss Minchin). Rated G.
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When Buddy the Elf learns he was adopted by Santa’s helpers in the North Pole, he travels to the big city in search of his real father. Except his father has never known of his existence and Buddy has no idea how to properly act within society. Holiday hijinks ensue when Santa needs help and it’s up to Buddy and crowd-sourced holiday spirit to save Christmas. Rated PG.
E.D. Baker's children's book—a sly riff on the Grimm brothers' tale about smooched amphibians turning into royalty—is relocated to the Bayou and rendered in bold, beautiful colors by Disney's animation team. More important, the studio that made Song of the South finally gives us an African-American princess, a lovely (and long overdue) addition to the canon. Rated G.
The world’s first-ever full-length LEGO adventure shares the tale of a superweapon called the Kragle; evil Lord Business (yep, you heard us) stole the coveted weapon from good wizard Vitruvius, the Kragle’s protector! There’s only one thing to stop him: the “Piece of Resistance,” a brick capable of stopping the Kragle. The film boasts a script that’ll make both parents and kids laugh, plus it has a star-studded cast—you’ll hear the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and more! Rated PG.
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The real-life mystery of the massacred Romanov royal family and the disappearance of the youngest princess Anastasia plays out in this animated film. We follow orphan Anya as she teams up with Dimitri and Vladimir in search for her real family, which she believes to be in Paris. Little does she know that the two conmen have been holding auditions to fool the Dowager Empress and receive the reward money being offered to whomever can find and return her granddaughter home. Along the way, the trio encounter the curses of sorcerer Rasputin, whose hex against the Romanov family went unfinished with Anastasia’s survival, and viewers find a new villain’s sidekick to love in Bartok the albino bat. Rated G.
Best kids' movies: 30-21
Robin Williams wore many spectacular hats in his lifetime—and even a few dresses and aprons! When a finalized divorce leaves funny-guy Daniel Hillard (Williams) without custody of his kids, he devises a quirky plan to spend time with them anyway—disguised as their nanny! Families will love following the story of Mrs. Doubtfire, “Scottish Nanny” as he bonds with his kids, fools his ex-wife and terrorizes her new boyfriend. Rated PG-13.
Walt Disney had already made a name for himself, having worked on a number of animated shorts (he actually had high hopes for a rodent character he'd just created, Mickey something or other), but in early 1934 he felt it was time to move into the big leagues. Disney announced that he and his team would be starting on their first feature-length film: an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a princess and her septet of pint-size friends. The rest, as they say, is history. When you watch this extraordinary effort today, you can see the company's decades-old recipe for success forming before your very eyes: the heroine in peril, the moving musical numbers ("Some Day My Prince Will Come"), the humorous (Dopey), the horrifying (the Wicked Queen) and the happily-ever-after ending. It all starts here. Rated G.
The original girl-meets-horse movie, in which Mickey Rooney and young Elizabeth Taylor turn a wild gelding into a contender at the Grand National Steeplechase, remains a charming, quaint look at going for equestrian gold. It still goes down as smooth as its title. Rated G.
This coming-of-age tale is a true classic…after all, what’s more American than baseball? Quirky youngster Scottie Smalls (Thomas Guiry) moves to a new neighborhood and manages to make some friends at a local baseball diamond. Together, they get themselves into tons of trouble (and must even band together to retrieve a piece of precious baseball memorabilia). Rated PG.
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Rapunzel joins the Disney stable of princesses, only this young lady with the long, flowing locks isn't the passive type; she's adventurous, curious about the world outside her window and wields a mean frying pan. Disney's animation has rarely looked more gorgeous, and Alan Menken's raucous "I Have a Dream" number proves the old Mouse House magic still works wonders. Rated PG.
A magical board game unleashes a world of adventure on siblings Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst). While exploring an old mansion, the youngsters find a curious, jungle-themed game called Jumanji in the attic. When they start playing, they free Alan Parrish (Robin Williams), who's been stuck in the game's inner world for decades. If they win Jumanji, the kids can free Alan for good– but that means braving giant bugs, ill-mannered monkeys and even stampeding rhinos! Rated PG.
It’s impossible to forget this 1996 classic. What parents could forget their kid’s age, or discourage reading?! The enchanting Roald Dahl story, brought to life by characters like Matilda (Mara Wilson), Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman (Mr. & Mrs Wormwood), follows Matilda, a misunderstood little girl, on her journey through a terrible school, meetings with a terrible principal and—well—terrible times in general. Luckily, Matilda’s a tough, smart cookie who kicks butt through it all, eventually outsmarting all of those bad eggs—a true tale of triumph your kids will totally adore. Rated PG.
Young Viking Hiccup wants to be just like his tough dragon-hunting father and the rest of his clan, but instead he winds up befriending the rarest and most feared dragon of them all: the Night Fury. Hiccup names him Toothless and together, the pair seeks to change the villagers’ relationship with dragons while confronting a common nemesis that is threatening them all. Rated PG.
Disney’s latest princess story takes viewers to Ancient Polynesia where Moana, the daughter of her tribe’s chief, is faced with the task of braving the ocean in order to save her island from a curse. She teams up with legendary demigod Maui in order to confront the creatures that lurk in the seas and fulfill her dangerous quest. She eventually discovers that true north rests within herself. Rated PG.
Disney's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's fantasy takes you down the rabbit hole with a whirligig of dazzling color, delightful wordplay (a very merry unbirthday to you, Mad Hatter) and visual absurdities around every corner. Looking for a way to introduce kids to a great work of literature? Go ask Alice. Rated G.
Best kids' movies: 20-11
The tale is as old as time, but it’s a classic that will be enchanting no matter how many times you see it. Bookworm Belle is labeled an outcast by the villagers in her provincial town, but she finds love and comfort from her widowed father. When he goes missing, she rides off in search of him and finds that he’s been locked up by the Beast. Belle decides to sacrifice her freedom in exchange for her father’s and soon discovers that life inside the abandoned mansion is not quite what it seems. Rated G.
This animated gem from Universal Pictures spawned perhaps the world's most lovable villain, Gru, as well as an endless supply of branded merchandise, thanks to his yellow, gibberish-speaking Minions. When the evil mastermind (voiced by Steve Carell) puts his plot to steal the moon into motion, he's interrupted by the presence of three adorable orphans who just might melt his wicked heart. Rated PG.
Here’s a family classic that your kids will actually be pumped to watch—partly because it’s so over the top (uh, leg lamp?) and filled with famous one-liners. In the 1940s, all little Ralphie wants is a B.B. gun for Christmas...but no one’s listening! Will he ever get one? You’ll just have to wait and see, and also follow him along his wild ride on his mission to get one (no matter what it takes). Rated PG.
Tired of living a pampered life surrounded by thingamabobs under the sea, mermaid Ariel makes a deal with Ursula the sea witch to trade her voice in for a pair legs and the chance to capture Prince Eric’s heart. Ariel has three days to get Eric to kiss her or else she’ll return to her mermaid form and serve as Ursula’s slave. Of course the whole plan meets one obstacle after another, but the love Ariel has for her prince is rooted deeper than her underwater cove. Rated G.
The original child superstar, Shirley Temple was never better than in this prototypical Temple-esque tale of a curly-haired orphan trying to live with her kindly pilot godfather. To watch the moppet perform "On the Good Ship Lollipop" is to witness onscreen precociousness at its finest. Rated PG.
Could Rob Reiner's simultaneous send-up and celebration of fairy tales have better captured the imagination of all who live for the phrase "Once upon a time..."? In-con-ceiv-able, we say! You won't find a sweeter love letter to the glories of cross-generational storytelling. Rated PG.
You didn't have to own a cowboy doll or a space-ranger-ish action figure to appreciate Pixar's first feature film. (It certainly doesn't hurt if you did, however.) As much as director John Lasseter and his team of computer animators use both baby boomer and Gen-X nostalgia to their advantage—hey, I had that Slinky Dog and Mr. Potato Head as a kid too!—this is a movie that's very much about the importance of having your buddy's back. But it's also about the bond that every kid has with the playthings of his or her youth, and how these inanimate objects are given life by a child's imagination. (Never mind that Pixar seriously raised the bar in terms of storytelling, animation style and character development in kids' flicks.) What matters most is that they paid loving tribute to the plastic, movable building blocks that help tomorrow's scientists, scholars and CEOs engage with the world while thoroughly thrilling us. The next two Toy Story films would build off this premise beautifully, but it's here that the seeds of next-gen quality family entertainment are planted and the bounty reaped. Rated G.
You may have heard “Wax on, wax off” a hundred times by now—that’s about the amount of times we could watch this movie in a row without tiring. Young Danny finds himself to be the target of a group of bullies, but with repairman (and martial arts master) Mr. Miyagi’s help, he trains to master martial arts and eventually compete and defend himself against his foes. Rated PG.
Based on the trilogy YA novels of the same name, Katniss Everdeen takes her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death with children from each of Panem’s 12 districts. The odds are stacked against her, but she’s determined to come out of the competition alive to protect her family and revolt against the Capitol’s cruel government. Rated PG-13.
Part warped Broadway musical and part My First Goth Party, this stop-motion animated gem—courtesy of the prince of goofy darkness, Tim Burton—watches as Halloween's witches, zombies and showtune-singing skeletons try their hand at St. Nick's regular beat. The holidays have rarely seemed so ghoulishly giddy. Rated PG.
Best kids' movies: 10-1
The first movie heartbreak in the lives of 90s kids was likely the first time they watched the Lion King, an equally heartbreaking and heartwarming tale of a young lion who needs to stand up and save his pride from the shadows and Scar, his evil uncle. With help from pals like Timon (meerkat) and Pumbaa (warthog), he’s able to overcome even the most difficult problems, but first, he’ll need to get over his own ego. Rated G.
The very first movie in the beloved Harry Potter series, this flick introduced us to our favorite characters in the flesh—Daniel Radcliff (Harry), Rupert Grint (Ron), Emma Watson (Hermione) and Alan Rickman (Snape), to name a few. Harry learns of his powers and leaves his horrible aunt, uncle and cousin behind for a wizarding school called Hogwarts, where he’ll learn that he’s more than just his invincible reputation—and, ultimately, that he really can handle anything with fast friends, dedication and a little bit of magic. Rated PG.
You don't need to be a kid to enjoy George Lucas's old-fashioned tale of outer-space adventure, as the global cult of adult wanna-be Jedis and devoted Droidaphiles can attest. Lucas, though, has readily admitted that he was trying to capture the thrill he had as a child watching Saturday-afternoon matinees, and that's the real target audience for this beloved pop-culture totem: a seven- to ten-year-old who gets to experience a hero's journey from boyhood to manhood for the very first time. The rest of us are simply re-experiencing our nostalgia for that first time we saw it, which is why seeing the first Star Wars with your own child is such a rewarding experience. The second that opening symphonic blast comes on, we're all seven years old, sitting in the dark and bonding over the knowledge that the force is within each and every one of us. Rated PG.
A group of childhood friends, a treasure map, a scary (but ultimately sweet) giant named Sloth, thrills, spills, chills: This '80s adventure bears all of the hallmarks of exciting YA-lit drama and producer Steven Spielberg's brand of derring-do. Rated PG.
It’s pretty hard to find the right nanny, and one banker (and his kids) know that to be all too true. That is, until Mary Poppins, the perfect nanny, appears magically to help them mind their manners and learn that there’s a wonderful world to be explored all around them. While not everyone agrees with Mary’s peculiar methods, she gives the kids (and your kids, for that matter) the ability to view things a little differently. Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke made this film an instant classic. Rated G.
Robin Williams wore many spectacular hats in his lifetime—and even a few dresses and aprons! When a finalized divorce leaves funny-guy Daniel Hillard (Williams) without custody of his kids, he devises a quirky plan to spend time with them anyway—disguised as their nanny! Families will love following the story of Mrs. Doubtfire, “Scottish Nanny” as he bonds with his kids, fools his ex-wife and terrorizes her new boyfriend. Rated PG.
Ever since she was a girl, Elsa (Idina Menzel), princess of Arendelle, has had literally chilling powers. With a wave of her hand she can cover everything around her in ice and snow. However, when her frosty abilities nearly kill her sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa is confined to a room in her castle, not to emerge until she comes of age for her queenly coronation. On that day, unsurprisingly, things go very awry, and the two sisters—with help from a friendly snowman who dreams of spring—must work together to save the kingdom from eternal winter. Plasticine CG animation brings the icy world to life in this Walt Disney musical production, which sparked a nationwide frenzy to scoop up any and all themed merchandise. The almost instantaneous popularity speaks to the film’s success with the peanut gallery—not to mention countless parents who admittedly sang along to Menzel’s showstopping, self-actualizing ballad “Let It Go” more than a few times. Rated PG.
Helicopter parents undoubtedly watch this Pixar entry through their fingers, but the adventures of a neurotic clownfish searching for his lost son halfway across the ocean not only contain a valuable lesson about letting children make their own mistakes; it also brings the family-friendly funny, thanks to Albert Brooks's nebbish hero and Ellen DeGeneres's forgetful-to-a-fault regal tang. Rated PG.
A girl stuck on a farm in dreary, sepia-toned Kansas dreams of a more exciting life somewhere over the proverbial rainbow; she gets her wish and then some when a tornado deposits the Midwesterner and her little dog, Toto, too, into a Technicolor wonderland. For over 70 years, this Hollywood classic has continued to wow one generation after the next. Its staying power has been attributed to many things, but what keeps enthralling each new wave of underage viewers is the sheer vibrancy and charm of the movie's imaginary world: flying monkeys and good witches, fleet-footed scarecrows and fraidy-cat lions, eye-poppingly pastel towns of Munchkins and a garishly green Emerald City. And then there's its timeless message: You can go out and see the world, have adventures, make new pals and experience life at its most grand. But in the end, there's no place like home, and no one quite like your family and friends. That, more than anything else, is why millions of folks keep returning with their kids to this classic—and why many more will keep following the yellow-brick road for decades to come. Rated G.
As the camera swoops down from the heavens toward a young woman running through a field, this angel opens her mouth to exclaim "The hills are a-liiii-ve..."; from that moment on, Robert Wise's Oscar-winning musical has you right in its grasp. Julie Andrews's star was born as soon as she trilled the first line of Rodgers and Hammerstein's score, but this classic really is an ensemble affair: Every one of the von Trapps, from dear old dad Christopher Plummer to 16-going-on-17-year-old Charmian Carr and the youngest, five-year-old Kym Karath, pitch in to this juggernaut of sing-along fun. To hear the cast belt out staples like "So Long, Farewell" and "Do-Re-Mi," and watch a family band together to prove that it takes more than Nazis to break up a tight-knit clan, is to understand why, generation after generation, this movie continues to be one of our favorite things. Rated G.
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