Netflix makes it easy to gather the family around for movie night, but it doesn’t protect you from watching something terrible. Netflix’s hefty selection of kids’ movies includes some gems, but it also includes some of those weird Air Buds from when they were running out of sports and had to make him play obscure things like water polo or soccer (it’s a joke, soccer fans, don’t email me). This is your guide to the best kids’ movies in Netflix’s Children & Family section, including ones for older kids, younger kids, and parents who don’t want to watch any more direct-to-video Disney sequels.
The Best Kids’ Movies on Netflix
E.T. the Extraterrestrial (1982)
Computer-generated films can be great, but it’s never a bad idea to throw it back to the practical effects and puppeteering of E.T. Steven Spielberg’s classic lost-alien twist on the old kid-and-animal bonding flick has aged well: once you get the kids to give it a chance, you’ll probably end up watching it more than once.
If you’re trying to sneak some culture into your family film night, you have a great option in Hugo. Bright and magical, Hugo charms with the best of them. It also offers serious artistry from the legendary Martin Scorcese, working outside of his usual genres but not outside of his usual quality. Hugo is a beautiful movie, and adults can admire the technique while kids devour the story.
The Iron Giant (1999)
The Iron Giant was made in the 90s and is set during the Cold War, but it still feels fresh. The funny and moving story follows a friendship between a boy and the titular giant metal robot. Think E.T. or Old Yeller with a fifty-foot metal eating robot and you’ve got the idea. Critically acclaimed and nearly universally beloved, The Iron Giant is a safe bet for the family and won’t drive you crazy.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Kubo and the Two Strings is equal parts charming and visually stunning. The film’s award-winning visual effects rely on large-scale puppets and stop-motion filming. The big-budget take on the classic film technique is executed flawlessly, and the studio had enough cash left over to snap up big stars like Charlize Theron and Ralph Fiennes to do the voice acting. It all works perfectly, somehow, for a magical story set in feudal Japan.
Moana is an archetypal Disney film, complete with a determined and rebellious (but just enough) protagonist, a motley-yet-charming supporting cast, and fantastic songs. Moana’s tunes might seem less ubiquitous than those from a certain other Disney flick from this decade, but to your faithful blogger’s ear they’re just as good — and perhaps a little less grating upon repetition.
The Mighty Ducks (1992)
There are a lot of great kids’ sports movies out there, but The Mighty Ducks is the gold standard. The Mighty Ducks is essential nostalgia material for parents and remains a blast for the young ones. Emilio Estevez is great as a showboat lawyer who lands the youth hockey coach gig courtesy of court-ordered community service, and the film sneaks plenty of heartwarming personal growth into a plot that will (still) make you cheer.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Kids’ movies aren’t often cult classics, but Tim Burton’s weird and wonderful The Nightmare Before Christmas is in its element in the narrow shared space of those genres’ Venn diagram. Not every kid will love The Nightmare Before Christmas (and younger kids may need a year or two to handle the spooky vibe, which is mild enough for children’s fare but still has an edge that Disney movies usually lack), but those who do will find that there’s nothing else quite like it. From its distinctive animation style to its strange plot, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a welcome break from the tired techniques and familiar tropes of family filmmaking.
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