The 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

A great kids movie is a beautiful and rare thing. As a father of three, I’ve suffered through enough bad kids entertainment to be enormously thankful for filmmakers who take the same kind of care in crafting movies aimed at children as those geared toward a more discerning adult audience. Netflix’s catalog of Children & Family movies ranges from terrible to fantastic, and the following guide is meant to help you avoid the former. Some of these movies you’ve probably already seen even if your kids haven’t. But we also tried to point out some less-obvious options, as well, including films from around the world. There are superheroes and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

1. Paddingtonpaddington.jpgYear: 2014
Director: Paul King
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Ben Winshaw, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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The Paddington films exhibit a sense of wonder for the ordinary, most likely the product of director Paul King and co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby’s acute ability to instill a palpable desire of belonging into a CGI teddy bear voiced by Ben Whishaw. We have, for better or worse (and I would argue the former), reached a point in computer generated technology in which Paddington’s eyes can dilate realistically. His eyes, then, say everything, open to any modicum of familial comfort. It is extremely ordinary to want to be a part of something, to crave the intimacy of loved ones. The first Paddington, released in 2014, was emotionally prophetic in its illustration of the hokey moral panic wrought by xenophobes. Paddington arrives in London from the forests of Darkest Peru. He stands upon his suitcase, scruffy and innocent. Around his neck is a tag that says, “Please look after this bear.” The ways in which the commuters of Paddington Station ignore the bear could be written off as generic selfishness, but outsiders and the impoverished are deliberately ignored in metro areas, a point accentuated by Mr. Brown’s (Hugh Bonneville) claim of “stranger danger.” Still, Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins) gentle heart leads the family to quasi-adopt Paddington, their lives enriched by the bear’s earnestness and genuine desire to be part of their lives. —Kyle Turner


2. Miraimirai.jpgYear: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


3. Men in Blackmen-in-black-1997-poster.jpgYear: 1997
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith have tremendous chemistry in what’s essentially a buddy cop movie. But if the cocky, young cop starts out sure of himself, Jones’s Agent K quickly brings him down to an alien-infested Earth. Delightful in tone, director Barry Sonnenfeld plays into all our wildest conspiracy dreams, turning our everyday world into a secret refuge for an imaginative variety of creatures from planets beyond. The plot might be a little slim, but the alien vignettes along the way are clever enough to carry the weight. —Josh Jackson


4. The Mitchells vs. the Machinesmitchells-vs-machines-poster.jpgYear: 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe (co-director)
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman
Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi

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Animated generational divides have never been more like a sci-fi carnival than in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Writer/director Mike Rianda’s feature debut (he and co-writer/director Jeff Rowe made their bones on the excellently spooky, silly show Gravity Falls) is equal parts absurd, endearing and terrifying. It’s easy to feel as lost or overwhelmed by the flashing lights and exhilarating sights as the central family fighting on one side of the title’s grudge match, but it’s equally easy to come away with the exhausted glee of a long, weary theme park outing’s aftermath. Its genre-embedded family bursts through every messy, jam-packed frame like they’re trying to escape (they often are), and in the process create the most energetic, endearing animated comedy so far this year. And its premise begins so humbly. Filmmaker and animator Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving home for college and, to get there, has to go on a road trip with her family: Rick (Danny McBride), her Luddite outdoorsy dad; Linda (Maya Rudolph), her peacemaking mom; and Aaron (Rianda), her dino-freak little brother. You might be able to guess that Katie and her dad don’t always see eye-to-eye, even when Katie’s eyes aren’t glued to her phone or laptop. That technocriticism, where “screen time” is a dirty phrase and the stick-shifting, cabin-building father figure wants his family to experience the real world, could be as hacky as the twelfth season of a Tim Allen sitcom. The Mitchells vs. the Machines escapes that danger not only through some intentional nuance in its writing, but also some big ol’ anti-nuance: Partway through the trip, the evil tech companies screw up and phone-grown robots decide to shoot all the humans into space. This movie needed something this narratively large to support its gloriously kitchen-sink visuals. The Sony film uses some of the same tech that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse look so crisp and unique, adding comicky shading to its expressive CG. In fact, once some of the more freaky setpieces take off, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles Morales swing in to save the day. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ spin on the Spidey aesthetic comes from meme and movie-obsessed Katie, whose imagination often breaks through into the real world and whose bizarre, neon and filter-ridden sketchbook doodles ornament the film’s already exciting palette with explosive oddity. This unique and savvy style meshes well with The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ wonderfully timed slapstick, crashing and smashing with an unexpected violence, balanced out with one truly dorky pug and plenty of visual asides poking fun at whatever happens to be going on.—Jacob Oller


5. Despicable Medespicable-me.jpgYear: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews
Genre: Animation, Sci-Fi
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


6. The Sea BeastNetflix Release Date: July 8, 2022
Director: Chris Williams
Stars: Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, Kathy Burke
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 8.5

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When cartographers allowed their senses of imagination and self-preservation to fill the unexplored regions of their maps, they used to warn of creatures like lions, elephants and walruses. Creatures beyond understanding, with teeth and trunks and tusks easy to caricature into danger. But we mostly remember that when you sail to the faded edge of knowledge, there be dragons. The Sea Beast deftly hones this ancient human fear into a sharpened spear tip, striking at ignorance. Its swashbuckling adventure navigates a sea filled with massive critters sure to whet kids’ appetites for piracy, Godzilla films and exciting animation. The first movie from longtime Disney story staple Chris Williams after leaving the House of Mouse for Netflix, The Sea Beast is, to paraphrase Jared Harris’ Ahab-like Captain Crow, all piss and vinegar. That the film even alludes to the phrase, and drops a few other lightly-salted lines you might expect from some seasoned sea dogs, is indicative of its separation from the sanitized juggernaut. It looks violence in the eye; it isn’t afraid to make its threats real. All rightfully so. Telling a tall tale of hunters—mercenary crews funded by a colonialist crown to take out the kaijus populating the ocean—wouldn’t be right without at least a little edge. Our way into the world, the young Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), has experienced its dangerous realities firsthand: Her parents went down with a ship, leaving her as one of dozens of hunter orphans. But that hasn’t stopped her from lionizing her martyred family (something explicitly encouraged by the monarchy) and seeking her own glory. Stowing away on Crow’s ship, the Inevitable, she and the capable Jacob (Karl Urban) find themselves confronting the legendary ambitions they’ve built up in their own heads. Williams and co-writer Nell Benjamin immediately drop us into the Inevitable’s quest to take out Crow’s toothy and horned Red Whale, dubbed the Red Bluster, with total confidence that there’s no time like maritime. As our eyes roll and pitch across the impressively realistic waves and our ears try to follow the meticulously detailed helmsmanship, the hunting scenes ensnare us like the catch of the day. We understand the hierarchy of the diverse crew, the honor code among hunters, the tactics needed to take down imposing creatures that look like Toho turned their greatest hits into Pokémon. It’s savvy and respectful writing, put into legible action by Williams’ skilled hand, that trusts in its setting and subject matter to be inherently cool, and in its audience to greedily follow along. By the time the lances are flying, the cannons are firing and the creatures are dying—or are they?—you’re as deeply hooked as any dad watching Master and Commander. A delightful new-school deconstruction of old-school Romantic adventure that never compromises on the lushness of setting, color and emotion inherent in the latter, The Sea Beast rises to the front of Netflix’s animated offerings like a high tide.—Jacob Oller


7. Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhoodapollo-10-1-2-poster.jpgNetflix Release Date: March 25, 2022
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Milo Coy, Jack Black, Glen Powell, Zachary Levi, Josh Wiggins, Lee Eddy, Bill Wise, Natalia L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, Danielle Guilbot
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 8.0

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Near the end of Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater’s luscious rotoscope ode to the tail-end of the 1960s, the father of our young protagonist Stanley (Milo Coy) worries that his son slept through a historic event. “Even if he was asleep,” says Stanley’s mom (Lee Eddy), “he’ll one day think he saw it all.” The magic trick that is memory serves as the basis of Apollo, a film that recalls Apollo 11 from the rose-colored perspective of Stan, a ten-year-old boy living in Houston—Linklater’s childhood stomping grounds—at the time of the mission. The film begins with two suited men pulling Stan aside at school and informing him that NASA accidentally built a spaceship that was too small for an adult to ride in. Given this, they’ll need Stan to perform a test run to the Moon instead of one of their highly trained adult astronauts. What follows is a 90-minute, highly sentimental, kaleidoscopic examination of 1969, spliced with moments from the greatest fantasy of the Stanleys of the world: Traveling to space. Linklater doesn’t spare any detail of what life was like back then, nor does he worry about boring audiences by delving into the minutiae of it all. Grown-up Stanley (Jack Black), Apollo’s narrator, bounces confidently between descriptions of the monotonous games the neighborhood kids used to play, breakdowns of the plots of old black-and-white sci-fi shows, the conservative methodologies Stanley’s mom applies in making school lunches for her kids, the nuances of spending time with grandparents who lived through the Depression and everything in between. Everything in the film that has to do with chronicling life in 1969 is so captivating on its own that one can’t help but wonder what Apollo would be like if it removed Stanley’s outer space subplot altogether. Still, where Apollo succeeds, it really succeeds. It’s a stylish meditation on childhood that isn’t afraid to indulge in all the sentimentality that goes along with that. Almost 30 years after Dazed and Confused, Linklater is still reminding us exactly why childhood is a uniquely special thing.—Aurora Amidon


8. Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattackmobile-suit-gundam-chars-counterattack-poster.jpgYear: 1988
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Stars: Toru Furuya, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Maria Kawamura, Nozomu Sasaki, Koichi Yamadera
Rating: TV-14
Runtime: 119 minutes

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The first Gundam theatrical film and final chapter in the original saga begun in 1979 with the “Universal Century Timeline” of the Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, Char’s Counterattack has the weight of three seasons of TV behind it. Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of the Gundam series, directed and wrote the film, adapting it faithfully from his novel, Hi-Streamer. Widely considered the best film in the Gundam franchise, Char’s Counterattack is most successful at wrapping up the 14-year rivalry between the “hero” of the Earth Federation, Amuro Ray, and the leader of Neo-Zeon, Char Aznable. The story involves a classic Gundam dilemma: Char’s Neo-Zeon force attempts to drop an asteroid filled with nuclear weapons onto Earth, which would free the colonies from the yoke of oppression by their rivals, the Earth Federation, and kill everyone on Earth in the process. As with all of the best Gundam tales, Tomino approaches the story from a hard sci-fi point of view, clearly laying out the science behind things like giant mobile suits and “newtypes” (humans that have evolved to acquire psychic abilities). Tomino carefully lays out the reasoning behind Char and Amuro’s passions and hatreds, not allowing the viewer to choose a clear side. Gundam series have always been willing to take on discussions about the horrors of war and how mankind, for all its advancements, never seems to be able to free itself from humanity’s baser instincts. Char’s Counterattack attempts this as well, yet it’s mostly concerned with wrapping up the rivalry between Amuro and Char—and on that note, it succeeds wildly. Featuring gorgeous, tense fight sequences set in space, an excellent soundtrack by Shigeaki Saegusa, and some of the most lauded Gundam designs in the history of the franchise, the film is inarguably one of the high points of the Gundam Universe. One downside: If you don’t have the investment of spending hundreds of episodes of television with these characters, the plot can be confusing, and Char/Amuro’s ending will likely not resonate as strongly. Regardless, Char’s Counterattack remains a key moment in the Gundam universe, one still worth checking out almost 30 years later. Hail Zeon! —Jason DeMarco


9. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddonfarmageddon.jpgYear: 2020
Directors: Richard Phelan, Will Becher
Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Kids & Family
Rating: PG
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The second Aardman film featuring the smirking, chuckling lil’ scamp Shaun the Sheep, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon takes all the painstakingly lovely claymation of the studio’s previous film and its Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run-filled filmography (which see cameos over the course of the media-stuffed movie) and gives it a broad coat of sci-fi paint. The resulting slapstick, which sees cute baby alien Lu-La stumble onto Mossy Bottom Farm, traverses territory familiar to any fan of the genre while making it accessible to everyone—think of it like a hilarious silent comedy giving young kids a piggyback ride through the likes of E.T., Close Encounters, and The X-Files. Helmers Richard Phelan and Will Becher keep things lively and sharp, with a rollicking pace and diverse antics that are as timeless, hilarious, and age-agnostic as the work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Just fluffier. Farmageddon even taps a bit into a Pixar-esque message system (albeit a simpler theme targeted towards a younger set) about kindness and empathy regardless of differences. It’s a soft and simple movie, with much more in common with the easygoing vibe of kid’s animated TV rather than the sharpest of British comedy, but it’s one that’s completely enjoyable—and that’s a rarity for any film, let alone one basically guaranteed to put at least one livestock-driven smile on your face. —Jacob Oller


10. Lu Over the Walllu-over-wall-movie-poster.jpgYear: 2018
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Stars: Kanon Tani, Shota Shimoda, Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Kids & Family, Fantasy
Rating: G
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Distributor GKids sells Lu Over the Wall as “family friendly,” which it is, an innocuous, offbeat alternative to the conventional computer animated joints typically found in modern multiplexes. But there’s “whimsical” and there’s “weird,” and Lu Over the Wall ventures well past the former and into the latter before director Masaaki Yuasa gets through the opening credits. Barely a moment goes by where we come close to touching base with reality: Even its most human beats, those precious hints of relatable qualities that encourage our empathy, are elongated, distorted, rendered nigh unrecognizable by exaggeration. Lu Over the Wall isn’t a movie that takes itself seriously, and for the average moviegoer, that’s very much a trait worth embracing. The plot is both simple and not: Teenager Kai (voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas in the English dub), recently relocated from Tokyo to the quiet fishing village of Hinashi, spends his days doing what most teenage boys do, sullenly hunkering down in his room and shutting out the world. As Kai struggles with his self-imposed isolation, he befriends Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), a manic pixie dream mermaid wrought in miniature. What’s a solitary emo boy to do in a literal and figurative fish-out-of-water plot that’s buttressed by xenophobic overtones? Lu Over the Wall blends joy with political allegory with vibrant color palettes with storytelling magic, plus some actual magic, plus too many upbeat musical interludes to count. Describing the film merely as “creative” feels like an insult to its inspired madness. —Andy Crump


11. The Amazing Spider-Manamaze-spider.jpgYear: 2012
Directors: Marc Webb
Stars: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field
Genre: Superhero
Rating: PG-13

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Marc Webb’s film proves that rebooting a successful franchise is no sure thing. First, a reboot works best with properties that have become stale, over-burdened by conflicting bits of canon or weakened by over-exposure. Only ten years removed from the first film (and five from the third), it’s not like Raimi’s trilogy was a distant memory for viewers. Considering the films occupy spots #1 through #3 in all-time box office for Sony/Columbia, it’s tough to argue flagging interest, either. Finally, unlike another popular rebooted property, Star Trek, where its heroes’ early days have been untouched on film—and thus make for intriguing fan-bait—Spider-Man’s origin story is a central part of his Big Screen tale. As a result, Webb was faced with a daunting proposition: Retell a story that was just told (and told well) a few years earlier—and, oh yeah, no major changes to the origin allowed. Perhaps this stricture explains why The Amazing Spider-Man feels less like a reboot than an extended paraphrasing of the plot points and emotional beats from the first two films in the Raimi/Maguire trilogy. But whether judged in relation to Raimi’s trilogy, compared with successful superhero franchises as a whole, or just rated on its own terms as an action film, the only thing amazing about Webb’s reboot is how quickly a Hollywood studio can forget the lessons its own films have taught it. (See full review.) —Michael Burgin


12. Despicable Me 2despicable-me-2.jpgYear: 2013
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Stars: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rating: PG

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Upon its arrival in 2010, the first Despicable Me combined Bronze-age Disney (cute, precocious children and goofy sidekicks) with a dose of over-the-top sci-fun that owed less to the reality-tethered (if tenuously so) super hero science of The Incredibles than to the freed-from-physics antics of Marvin the Martian, Spy vs. Spy and Inspector Gadget. Ultimately, Despicable Me weighed in more as harmless, low-calorie animated fun than insta-classic family fare. On the surface, Despicable Me 2 is more of the same. Former arch-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) has abandoned his efforts to bring the world to its knees in favor of a task even more daunting—raising the three young girls he acquired in the first film. As for his aged henchman, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and myriad minions, Gru has taken a page from 1987’s Baby Boom and turned his inventiveness toward a life of jellies and jams. Fortunately for the audience (and any would-be consumers of the aforementioned jelly), Gru is soon recruited by Lucy (Kristin Wiig) on behalf of the Anti-Villain League to track down a mysterious new threat. (Think of it as an “It takes an arch-villain to catch an arch-villain” initiative.) Hi-jinks ensue, at pretty much a comparable level of execution as found in the first film. Still, Despicable Me 2 is more fun than its predecessor. In part, this may be due to the extra lift provided it as a sequel, freed from minutes-chewing origins and introductions and is able to start with the payoff of Gru’s character arc from the previous film—his confirmation as a sympathetic character via his overwhelming love for his children. Despicable Me 2 continues his rehabilitation from complete societal outlier to minion-infested community fixture. Amidst the intrigue and action, it’s a message that underlies and elevates the sequel—everyone, no matter how different, deserves to be loved. It’s a simple, snark-free message both parents and children can appreciate. —Michael Burgin


13. Klausklaus.jpgYear: 2019
Director: Sergio Pablos
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Norm Macdonald, Sergio Pablos
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Sergio Pablos’ lauded Netflix film Klaus would be a Christmas mythology origin for the ages just on its looks alone, but its complex and mature telling should woo plenty of adults and savvy kids by being a (wood)cut above pretty much all of its animated ilk. The story of its isolated people—from its postman (Jason Schwartzman) to its toy-making hermit (J.K. Simmons) to the ferryman (Norm Macdonald) connecting them all—and feuding clans might contain too much narrative for younger viewers, but its message is crystal clear: Even if started for the wrong reasons, good actions can bring about good results. Some incredible, complex lighting gives the hot-and-cold film’s interiors the look of a fireside, while its exaggerated characters are a delight to watch navigate its realistic world. Not every piece of pop culture needs an origin story, but if they’re as nuanced and beautiful as Klaus, they stand to stuff the stockings of our legends with more than coal. —Jacob Oller


14. Enola Holmesenola-holmes.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar
Genre: Thriller, Adventure
Rating: PG-13

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Someone’s finally done right by Millie Bobby Brown and cast her as a fully fleshed out character. While her roles in ’80s nostalgia bonanza Stranger Things (kid cursed with psychokinetic abilities fighting extradimensional monsters) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (kid torn between divorced parents and surrounded rampaging colossi), neither role demands that she emote beyond forlorn gazes. In Enola Holmes, a mystery focused on Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant kid sister and her efforts to foil crime, Brown finally gets to do more than scream and frown. While the movie itself is heavy on plot and heavier on exposition, Brown’s performance makes the story gallop at a breezy clip regardless. She’s liberated, appropriate given that Enola Holmes is about the liberation Enola finds as she comes of age, stepping out of the curated world erected around her by her enigmatic mum, Eudoria (Helena Bonham-Carter). When her mother goes missing, Enola quickly deduces Eudoria has gone on the lam, and so she leaves Ferndell, the Holmes family’s estate, armed with pugilist skills and worldly knowledge passed down to her by her mother, intent on finding her and understanding why she left in the first place. With a wink here, a smile there and a stock-still but knowing glance at viewers, Brown is a dynamo, full of vigor, cheer and enough pathos to make the sub-theme of civil unrest and social change feel real and relevant to children on the cusp of teenhood and teens on the cusp of adulthood. Enola Holmes is about serious matters. Fortunately, it isn’t a serious film, which makes a nice change of pace from the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC series, which never give in to the idea that tracking clues and apprehending villains could actually be fun. —Andy Crump


15. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballscloudy-meatballs.jpgYear: 2009
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg, Will Forte, Bruce Campbell
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes

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The director-producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have worked on everything from animated films The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to live action comedies 21 Jump Street and The Last Man on Earth. But they got their start adapting and directing the perfectly enjoyable kids film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s classic 1978 book. In the film, inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) on the tiny island of Chewandswallow finally finds success with a machine that turns water to food. All is well until a tornado of spaghetti and meatballs threatens the island and Flint must work against the corrupt mayor (Bruce Campbell) to save everyone from destruction. Lord and Miller’s quirky humor is on display, backed by a funny cast: Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg, Will Forte, Mr. T and, appropriately, Al Roker. —Josh Jackson


16. Over the Moonover-the-moon.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Glen Keane
Stars: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeung
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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Over the Moon was Netflix’s first bold step into the realm of producing animated films to rival those of Disney. Directed by former Disney animator Glen Keane, who was responsible for bringing films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Tangled to life, and containing a collection of catchy and heartwarming songs, explosively colorful animation and a story immersed in Chinese culture, the film seems to have all the pieces of another animation classic. The film follows a 14-year-old Chinese girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) living with her now-single father four years after the passing of her mother. Still grieving her loss, Fei Fei clings to her mother’s traditional stories of the goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) living on the moon, awaiting her departed lover, and believes that if she can prove to her father that Chang’e exists, he will follow her example and stop trying to start a new family. Even if poorly contextualized, the beautiful animation sequences of Over the Moon can’t be ignored, and there are times when the colorful display is mesmerizing enough to distract from the plot confusion. There’s a good chance that very young kids will love the movie for its bright colors and cute animals alone, and its songs are catchy enough to not likely drive their parents up the wall upon the millionth time being played. —Joseph Stanichar


17. Nightbooksnightbooks.jpgYear: 2021
Director: David Yarovesky
Stars: Winslow Fegley, Lidya Jewett, Krysten Ritter
Genre: Horror, Family
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Leave it to Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Pictures to curate the perfect entry point horror film for kids with Nightbooks. An adaptation of J. A. White’s middle grade book of the same name, this Netflix original harkens back to the ’80s era of filmmaking where it was understood that giving tweens and teens light nightmares was a cinematic rite of passage. A big part of the fun of Nightbooks is that it doesn’t pander or pull any punches with its jump scares or dark moments. Right from the top, director David Yarovesky doesn’t dither with setup and gets right into the plight of young Alex (Winslow Fegley). A middle schooler with a penchant for all things horror, he’s stomping around his darkly decorated house, appropriately Halloween-themed for his birthday, as his parents whisper about their concerns for his off-kilter obsession. While they worry, Alex packs a bag full of his notebooks filled with original stories and gets into his apartment’s elevator. Only it doesn’t let him off on the ground floor. It drops him off on a creepily desolate floor where the door to 4E is wide open, featuring a tasty slice of pumpkin pie and a small TV playing The Lost Boys. As it turns out, Alex is an easy mark because that’s all it takes for him to get trapped inside the busily decorated abode of Natasha (Krysten Ritter). She’s a witch that lures children into her clutches and if there’s nothing special about them, they’re dispatched with nary a second thought. It’s only Alex’s books, filled with scary stories, that saves him, with Natasha demanding he read her a new story every night. —Tara Bennett


18. Vivovivo.jpgYear: 2021
Director: Kirk DeMicco, Brandon Jeffords
Stars: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldaña, Juan de Marcos González, Brian Tyree Henry, Gloria Estefan, Nicole Byer, Michael Rooker, Leslie David Baker, Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, Lidya Jewett
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rating: PG

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s gift with music is unparalleled. He has the unique ability to pair a rapid and clever turn of phrase with an infectious musical hook. The cadence of his voice conveys a longing and hopefulness which, it turns out, works if you are playing one of the founding fathers or an adorable animated animal. Miranda is the perfect choice to voice the title character in the new Netflix movie Vivo. Vivo is a kinkajou, also known as “honey bear,” a rainforest animal in the raccoon family (although Vivo, with his jaunty hat and stylish scarf, is a lot cuter than a raccoon). Vivo spends his days performing with his owner Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) in Havana, Cuba. Vivo thinks his life and its comfortable predictability is perfect. (Viewers can understand Vivo, but to Andrés and everyone else in the movie, Vivo speaks in adorable coos and gibberish.) One day Andrés gets a letter from his old love Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) asking if he will perform with her one last time at her farewell performance in Miami. Andrés finds the love song he wrote for her years ago and decides he must get the song to her. Alas, a tragedy prevents Andrés from making this journey and Vivo decides he must leave the security of the world he knows to get this song to Marta. Vivo’s travels take him from Havana to Key West to the Everglades to Miami. Along the way he meets Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a confident, purple-haired 10-year-old who is not in the mood to be like all the other girls. Vivo serves as a vibrant love letter to Cuba, Florida and the people who inhabit them. The more diversity shown in movies aimed at children, the better. Even if this version of Florida is nothing like what we are seeing in the news these days, I’m all for this aspirational Florida. Part adventure, part wistful romance—alongside some nice lessons imparted about friendship, family and taking risks—Vivo is enjoyable and familiar. It probably isn’t a children’s movie we will still be talking about years from now, but I will at least be singing “My Own Drum” for days. —Amy Amatangelo


19. Mr. Peabody & Shermanpeabody.jpgYear: 2014
Director: Rob Minkoff
Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Ariel Winter, Patrick Warburton
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a reminder that Hollywood’s obsession with reboots/revivals/re-imaginings can be done right. The characters originated on the beloved ’60s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and the track record for bringing segments from that show to the big screen is pretty dreadful. Peabody director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) makes the wise choice of keeping the new film strictly animated, no live action needed. That decision both respects the original material and frees up the possibilities for a story that begins with a wacky premise—a dog, Mr. Peabody, who happens to be a certified genius adopts a human boy, Sherman, as his son—and gets crazier from there as the duo travel through time in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine (that’s pronounced “way-back”). He’s a sort of doggie Doctor Who, although his travels are confined to Earth. The original Peabody shorts are known for their smart, pun-driven humor and amusing riffs on history and culture, all of which is retained here. —Geoff Berkshire


20. John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunchjm-sack-lunch.jpgYear: 2019
Director: Rhys Thomas
Stars: John Mulaney, Alexander Bello, Tyler Bourke, Ava Briglia, Cordelia Comando
Genre: Comedy
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 70 minutes

Watch on Netflix

“You know who’s honest—drunks and children.” John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch opens with these immortal words by Erika Jayne of Real Housewives fame, which accurately sets up what you are about to watch: a kids show made by adults with kids present. But what Mulaney’s nostalgia-soaked special delivers is more honest than any children’s programming before it. How is it honest? Well, it’s mostly about death. Like, there is a lot of talking and singing about death, which seems odd for a children’s show until you remember every fairy tale you’ve ever seen Disney-ified. The bigger question coming into this special was how the pre-teen actors would fair sharing the screen with one of the decade’s best stand-up comedians. The Sack Lunch Bunch’s collective performance wholly encapsulates the special’s overall aesthetic of being professional yet playful, equally balancing between adults-only and all-ages humor. The kids clearly establish themselves as talented actors and singers while still reminding viewers that they are in fact kids who just happen to also act and not mini Daniel Day Lewises who spend their Saturdays self-taping for A24 films. It’s less Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls and more Amy Poehler as Dakota Fanning on SNL’s “The Dakota Fanning Show” sketch. They love Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and recognize Fran Lebowitz on-site but their dancing is just amateur enough to not feel overly-produced while their hilariously frank confessions in a series of interviews in which they are asked about their biggest fears are authentic and endearing. They keep the mood light and fun, just like a children’s show should. A joyous mixture of silly humor and niche references makes John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch the most entertaining Netflix original of last year. —Olivia Cathcart


21. Wish Dragonwish-dragon-poster.jpgYear: 2021
Director: Chris Appelhans
Stars: Jimmy Wong, John Cho, Constance Wu, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Will Yun Lee, Ronny Chieng
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rating:
Runtime: minutes

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Produced by Sony, Tencent and more, Wish Dragon is Netflix’s newest animated film and the feature debut of Chinese studio Base Animation. It’s also the directorial debut of children’s book author and illustrator Chris Appelhans, who also wrote the movie’s script. There’s a lot to love in Wish Dragon. It’s got cute characters, a sweet—if oversimplified—message and a pleasant animation style, all of which are hard to hate. Set in modern China, the movie follows sweet but naïve college kid Din (Jimmy Wong), who is obsessed with reconnecting with his childhood friend and love interest, Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Fortunately for him, he comes across a magical teapot that contains the titular “Wish Dragon” Long (John Cho), who can—say it with me here—grant him three wishes. Killing people and making others fall in love with you are still no-gos, but apparently bringing them back from the dead is fine. Just no time travel. The genie-in-a-bottle story is one that’s been done ad nauseum, and it feels like Wish Dragon copies 90% of Aladdin. We have a magical being who provides much of the movie’s comedy through his theatrical movements, a boy who uses his wishes to impress a girl from a much richer family who yearns for life outside of her highly controlled environment, and an evil group who chases after the hero in order to use the teapot for their own schemes. The different environment and time period helps shake things up, but it still feels unavoidably derivative. —Joseph Stanichar


22. Modest Heroesmodest-heroes-poster.jpgYear: 2019
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Yoshiyuki Momose, Akihiko Yamashita, Takuya Okada
Stars: Fumino Kimura, Rio Suzuki, Masaki Terasoma, Machiko Ono
Genre: Anime, Fantasy, Drama
Rating: PG
Runtime: 53 minutes

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Short film anthologies are some of the most impressive showcases of boundary-pushing visual storytelling in animation, let alone Japanese animation. A cursory glance of anime anthologies produced within just the last 30 years is enough: From Masao Maruyama and Rintaro’s 1987 film Labyrinth Tales (known in the West as Neo Tokyo), to Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1995 film Memories, to even the 2003 American-Japanese co-production Animatrix, anthologies stand the test of time not only as landmarks of anime history, but as a vital venue through which to facilitate the introduction of new and exciting talent into the animation industry. With this mind, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, along with former Ghibli animators Yoshiyuki Momose (The Tale of The Princess Kaguya) and Akihiko Yamashita (Howl’s Moving Castle), have pooled their significant creativity to create a new installment in the storied lineage of prestige anime anthologies: Modest Heroes, the first volume in Studio Ponoc’s series of animated short films. “Kanini & Kanino,” directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is the first and most explicitly “Ghibli-esque” of the anthology’s three shorts. Following the story of a pair of anthropomorphic crab children living at the bottom of a riverbed, the short could be interpreted as something of a reprise of Yonebayashi’s directorial debut, the 2010 film The Secret World of Arrietty, although this time conceived and written entirely by himself. The anthology’s second short, directed by Yoshiyuki Momose, is the volume’s most poignant installment and, arguably, the true namesake of Modest Heroes. “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose” tells of a young mother and her son Shun, a happy and otherwise unassuming little boy born with a debilitating food allergy to eggs. “Life Ain’t Gonna Lose” sets a high bar for the film going forward, but the anthology’s final short, “Invisible,” manages to meet and yet even surpass those expectations. Directed by Akihiko Yamashita, known not only for his prior work on Howl’s Moving Castle, but also as a character designer on Yasuhiro Imagawa’s Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, “Invisible” follows the story of a man who struggles with a condition that seemingly renders him completely unnoticeable to every person he comes across. Modest Heroes is a satisfying sophomore effort from Studio Ponoc, a collection of shorts that, together, resonate with the sentiment of that most joyous and courageous of adages made famous by the likes of Rod Serling: “…there’s nothing mightier than the meek.”—Toussaint Egan


23. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Clingrocko-static-cling.jpgYear: 2019
Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Segurson
Stars: Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Jill Talley
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rating: TV-Y7
Runtime: 45 minutes

Watch on Netflix

It’s been 23 years since Rocko’s Modern Life went off the air. A progenitor of SpongeBob SquarePants, with much of the cast and creative team moving on from one show to the next, the satire was Nickelodeon’s in-house answer to its more troublesome The Ren & Stimpy Show. And it was sharp. Deranged. Relatable. Ripped from the daily lives of its writers and unlike any other cartoon airing on TV. So now, with the 45-minute special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling coming to Netflix, how does the original spirit of the show persist? Like any good revival, it makes a point of being familiar but different. Original creator Joe Murray is back on writing and directing duties, alongside all the voice actors (Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, and Mr. Lawrence) returning to play Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. The companions, who would feel right at home in either Office Space or a zoo, have been canonically lost in space for two decades since the series finale and finally figure out a way back to Earth. These cartoonish Rips Van Winkle didn’t miss the American Revolution, but they certainly missed enough. With a meta plotline about the cancellation and subsequent rebooting of a beloved cartoon, Static Cling isn’t afraid to be self-effacing about the revival process—or poke a little fun at the fanatical cult audience that got it a second run at Netflix in the first place. Much of what made the show a fan-favorite is still here. Its color-packed, neo-Fleischer Brothers animation (with surreal, askew Chuck Jones backgrounds and images that are just funny enough not to be disturbing, like Rocko’s visible optic nerves when his eyes flying out of his head) and expansive vocabulary balance its fart gags and butt jokes. It’s warm and nostalgic, but only in the sense that its aesthetic maintains a dedication to strangeness. Static Cling is mostly Murray and his team building to their end. It’s them deciding that when Netflix gives you a pulpit, well dammit, you scream your lungs out about what matters. Then you tip your hat and thank everyone for their time. It’s a wish for the future—the special even redistributes the wealth by the finale—masquerading as a return to the past. And it, in the immortal words of Heffer, was a hoot. —Jacob Oller


24. The Willoughbysthe-willoughbys-poster.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Kris Pearn, co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier
Stars: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Seán Cullen, Ricky Gervais
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Netflix’s oddball Lois Lowry adaptation from director Kris Pearn and co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier, The Willoughbys delights in subverting expectations for your traditional family-based animated movie. A plot based around children looking to “orphan” themselves by sending their terrible, abusive, overly lovey-dovey (to each other) parents on a series of increasingly dangerous vacations certainly doesn’t have that slick Disney sheen. For those looking for something a little different, or those with kids a little darker and weirder than those obsessed with cleaned and pressed fairy tale fare, it’s hard to go wrong with the funny and often beautiful Willoughbys. Smart writing, with sharp jokes and intriguingly silly characters (voiced by emphatic all-stars like Will Forte and Maya Rudolph) give the rounded, yarny designs plenty of energy and unending entertainment value—even as the film meanders through detour after detour. A jazzy score from Mark Mothersbaugh pushes further pep, though all that sugar-rush energy would be wasted without its fun, original messaging and story beats. With a few heartwarmers woven in, the film maintains its A Series of Unfortunate Events-esque meanness with a deadpanned straight face all the way to its tonally apt ending. —Jacob Oller


25. A Whisker Awaya-whisker-away-poster.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama
Stars: Mirai Shida, Natsuki Hanae, Hiroaki Ogi, Koichi Yamadera,Minako Kotobuki
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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There have been creepier things done in movies than magically turning into a cat in order to get closer to your crush, but those are few and far between. It’s not exactly standing outside a window with a boombox. But in directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama’s A Whisker Away, even this bonkers premise yields beauty and touching romance. Mari Okada’s script deftly leaps the anime through some emotional loops, running it through crinkly toy tunnels, ultimately landing its silly premise—replete with a troupe of angsty, depressed middle schoolers—in emotional honesty. A dash of otherworldly magic from the canon of Miyazaki (a corpulent face-dealing cat and an entire invisible cat-world) mixes well with some honest dives into the mental health issues of its characters (not quite as deeply and darkly as Neon Genesis Evangelion, but with a similarly stylish flair). While the characters are a little annoying when you meet them—they’re middle schoolers, after all—the truth behind the writing manages to shine through, all the while impressing us with its realistic animal animation and stunning depictions of smaller-town Tokoname life. —Jacob Oller