There’s no shortage of animated movies out there about animals, but there’s just something special about a family film featuring real animals. Working with them isn’t always easy though, and to ensure both the actor and the animal’s safety can be a tricky process that often requires years of filming.
When done properly though, the end result is almost always a movie that touches upon that special connection so many people have with their pets. The films on our list deliver both heart and heart-pounding adventure with heroes both big and small. From giant whales to tiny kittens, here are eight movies of incredible animals in action that the whole family will enjoy.
1. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
Release Date: 1993
Animal movies really don’t get much more adventurous than this early 90s classic. When a family moves to San Francisco, they must leave behind their three pets. The pets aren’t about to be deserted though and set out to cross dangerous mountain territory in order to find their family. With thrilling cinematography and a story that pulls at your heartstrings, it’s an instant classic.
Release Date: 1996
Based on the 1960s TV series, the movie follows a boy who reluctantly spends the summer in the islands with his uncle. After befriending a dolphin, the boy soon learns that a fisherman on the island wants Flipper dead. (Talk about worst person ever, right?) Neither the boy nor Flipper is about to go down without a fight though.
3. Free Willy
Release Date: 1993
In a weird way, Free Willy was the fictional precursor to the documentary Blackfish. A boy befriends a killer whale who has been confined to a depressing life in captivity. Unwilling to let his orca friend continue to suffer, the boy hatches a plan to set the whale free and return him to the open sea.
Release Date: 2018
Kids bringing home stray pets is a time-honored tradition and one that Benji executes with both humor and heart. This rebooted version of the 1970s movie finds a pair of siblings who run across the dog and instantly bond with him. After the kids are kidnapped and Benji springs into action to save them, there’s no way their mom won’t let them keep him, right?
Release Date: 1995
Babe was essentially “the little film that could” when it was released, and pretty much shocked everybody when it became a $254 million success in theaters. The story centers around Babe, a pig who’s searching for where he fits in on the farm. Babe soon discovers that he has a talent for sheep herding, despite the doubts from farm animals and humans alike.
6. The Adventures Of Milo & Otis
Release Date: 1989
Fun fact about Milo & Otis: it took over four years to shoot. Kittens and pugs aren’t the easiest actors to work with apparently. The movie is all about the friendship between an orange kitten and a mischievous pug who start out life together on a farm and eventually become separated and find themselves on a series of adventures. It’s the only film on our list without a single human on the screen but don’t worry, you won’t miss the lack of people.
7. 101 Dalmatians
Release Date: 1996
Based on the animated 1961 movie of the same name, this live-action version features Glenn Close as the evil Cruella Deville. Determined to use the 101 dalmatian puppies to create herself a fur coat, Deville hires some henchmen to capture the puppies. These pooches aren’t giving up that easy though, and all sorts of mayhem quickly ensue.
8. Because of Winn-Dixie
Release Date: 2005
This lovable film is all about how tough it can be trying to fit into someplace new, and how a friend can make all the difference in the world. The movie follows a young girl who is struggling to get used to the small Florida town that she’s moved to with her father. The little girl finds that the town isn’t so bad after meeting a dog who, as she puts it, “is better at making friends than anyone.”