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. Our roundup of the top 15 pet movies for families celebrates the connection between humans and animals—cats, dogs and even pigs, included. Some of these flicks make us laugh, some make us cry, and a few even qualify as some of the very best kids’ movies. If you don’t have your own Fido or Fluffy, you might even want to reference our NYC pet guide and track down the best pet stores nearby—your kids are sure to start begging for one of their own after watching these movies!
Click the right arrow on the image below to see our 15 best pet movies.
Kids will love this fun tale of a boy and a dolphin—which proved popular enough to merit a movie sequel and launch a fondly remembered '60s TV series. Sandy (Luke Halpin), a young boy who lives in Florida with his family, nurses a dolphin back from injury and names him Flipper. Sandy’s father, fisherman Porter Ricks, dislikes the creature since it competes for fish in the local waters and distracts the neighborhood kids with its silly antics. Sandy must persuade his grouchy pop to let him keep his new-found pal as a pet. Not rated.
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.
Free Willy (1993)
This one’s for everyone who loves the ocean. Who wouldn’t want a whale friend? The 1993 classic follows troubled kid Jesse and Willy, a whale who is separated from his family to become an attraction for greedy aquarium owners. When Jesse is caught red-handed defacing the aquarium, he’s made to make amends by helping to clean it, and in doing so befriends the whale and its trainer. Rated PG.
Lassie Come Home (1943)
For some of us, Lassie was the first dog we ever wanted to adopt. In this 1943 classic set in Britain during the Depression, an 11-year-old Liz Taylor is paired with the lovable collie (the original Lassie was played by a male dog named Pal) until the family is forced to sell Lassie to a wealthy duke. Determined to return to her family, Lassie sets off on a dangerous journey to get back home. Rated G.
Happy Feet (2006)
Most penguins find a mate through singing, but Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) must turn to a different method, considering his voice isn't exactly up to par. His infectious dance move will make viewers of all ages (and possibly penguins) fall in love. If you're looking for more arctic fun, a sequel was released in 2011. Rated PG.
Kung Fu Panda
Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) has the chance to turn his dreams into a reality when his people are threatened by an evil snow leopard. He always wanted to be a kung fu master—now's the chance...but it might take some work. Don't forget to check out the rest of the films in the series! Rated PG.
Peter Rabbit (2018)
In this modern-day take on Beatrix Potter's classic tale, Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) and his fury crew take on their sadistic Mr. McGregor, who is intends to keep the "vermin" off his property. The bunnies and McGregor are both vying for the heart of their neighbor, Bea, and the duel is anything but sweet. Though funny and charming, this flick might be best for older rabbits who are able to handle more mature content. Rated PG.
Ice Age (2002)
If you thought NYC winters were rough, just be glad you're not hanging around this crew while they battle the Paleolithic ice age! There's frigid fun aplenty with a variety of films in the franchise. Rated PG.
101 Dalmatians (1961)
Forget today’s supervillains: Cruella de Vil, whose life goal is to make a luxurious fur coat out of puppies, is the most evil of all. After two adult Dalmatians fall in love (and make their owners Anita and Roger fall in love, too), their litter of 15 puppies draws the eye of none other than Ms. de Vil, who will stop at nothing to have them in her clutches). Will the pups and their parents be able to escape Cruella and her criminal cronies? Rated G.
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.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
What would your pets tell you if they could talk? This crew (Chance the bulldog, Shadow the golden retriever and Sassy the cat) would tell you that they’re on an epic journey to find their family, who seemingly abandoned them in San Fran. Luckily, this furry dream team has what it takes to overcome all kinds of challenges (think porcupines, mountain lions…even the pound!) to get where they belong. Rated G.
After an outbreak of diphtheria makes a very sweet little girl sickly in Nome, Alaska, a dashing doggie outcast named Balto must step in to help save the day. As an unlikely addition to a local dogsledding team, he helps to deliver the antitoxin that saves her life (and uses scent rather than sight to lead his team home in brutal winter weather). The Disney rendition is based on a true story and a real dog named Balto! Rated G.
The Aristocats (1970)
Get ready: After watching this classic, kids will be saying everybody wants to be a cat! When Duchess and her three little kittens are on a mission to retrieve the hefty inheritance their owner left them all the while avoiding the claws of two hound dogs and their evil butler, it’s up to tomcat O’Malley and his savvy alleycat ways to help them return to their Parisian mansion safely. Not only will parents experience a bit of nostalgia here, but the jazzy soundtrack will have kids dancing along. Rated G.
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 might want cut the cord halfway through, when the film hasn’t yet breached the 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.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
When Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) finds out that his owner brings home a new four-legged roommate, heis determined to show the new guy who’s boss. However, when his new brother, Duke, lands the pair in the middle of the city with no clue as to how to return home, the two set off on a series of misadventures and close calls while garnering laughs from viewers big and small. We dare you to not to love the dramatic bunny, Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart). Rated PG.