Movies like The Kid and Toy Story have given us countless unforgettable moments that educate, inspire, and even calm the most challenging of kids. Some of us were raised on Pixar, while others were introduced to the magic of animation via Disney’s classics or Studio Ghibli’s fantastical realms. But what should be the first special treat you give your kids? We’ve been debating this same issue, so thank you for asking! We lost a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but in the end, we created some of the best kid-friendly films ever made. And, hey, at least we can all be buddies again.
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Labyrinth isn’t nearly as hideous as its predecessor The Dark Crystal, but it’s no less stunning for that, and Jim Henson’s understanding of the darker side of true fairy tales is evident throughout. Ex-Python The screenplay’s final draft was written by Terry Jones, who added humor and energy. Still, at its heart, this is the story of a hero who ventures into the depths of darkness to save a newborn from evil. Of course, there’s also Bowie. Listen up, fellas.
Shrek 2 (2004)
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With Shrek, animation entered a new, more mature phase. Where Pixar modernized the classic Disney formula, DreamWorks skewered it, making vivid fun of princesses and knights. Everyone’s favorite grumpy ogre faces his greatest difficulty — the in-laws — in this first sequel, which is easily the best of the series thus far.
The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
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This updated take on the Arthurian legend was well worth the wait for Joe Cornish’s second feature picture. Come for the visual of school kids fighting ghost warriors, stay for Angus Imrie, and occasionally Patrick Stewart’s silly take on Merlin.
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We’d be doing a disservice to a whole generation of kids if we didn’t include “Frozen” on our list. However, we do provide a trigger warning for it. Many parents around the world are now confined to padded rooms, straight-jacketed, rocking gently back and forth, and humming “Let It Go” to themselves as a treatment for Post-Frozen Stress Disorder (PFSD), a psychological side effect of watching Disney’s icy fairy tale on repeat for months. Think of them in your prayers.
The Toy Story (1995)
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The movie established Pixar as a major studio and computer animation as a legitimate form of storytelling. Toy Story may have been the first computer-animated feature picture, but that’s hardly the most impressive thing it did; rather, it was the first to successfully adapt the tried-and-true Disney fairy tale formula to a contemporary setting, replete with biting humor and a big, warm heart. This isn’t a toy for little kids.
The Muppet Movie (1979)
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Jim Henson’s first big-screen Muppetathon was an origin tale long before Batman Begins and Co. joined the fray, and it remains the finest of its kind to this day. In the opening scene, Kermit watches a film about his own swamp-based beginnings (meta much? ), and then the Dark Frog sets off on a road trip throughout the United States, where he is brainwashed, he takes insta-grow pills, he meets Dr. Teeth, and bizarro/awesome appearances from Telly Savalas and Orson Welles ensue. The kids will love you for trying to explain the narrative, but you’ll end yourself on a mental watch list if you do.
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The film adaptations of the works of Roald Dahl, the greatest children’s novelist of all time, have been mixed at best. Children of a specific age group revere this rendition, which tells the narrative of a mistreated girl who develops telekinetic skills. The film’s actual sweetness comes from the final resolution between Matilda (Mara Wilson) and Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz), not the notorious chocolate-eating sequence.
How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
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A familiar tale of a kid and his dog, with one major difference: the dog in this case breathes lightning and would gladly consume a whole village. Based on the works of Cressida Cowell, this animated film stars Jay Baruchel as the bumbling Viking Hiccup, who goes against cultural norms by befriending and training a wounded dragon. The tale (new friendships, overcoming prejudice) is sweetly handled, but DreamWorks’ wonky-tailed lizard, Toothless, steals the show.
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Make way, make way for another modern Disney phenomenon like Moana with its subtly subversive plotline, breathtakingly vivid animation, and earworm tunes. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is very delightful as the shape-shifting demi-god minion Maui, and the first Polynesian princess from The Mouse House is a courageous and independent heroine. A scene-stealing comic chicken, songs by Lin-Manuel ‘Hamilton’ Miranda, and a big evil crab inspired by Bowie and voiced by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords make for genuinely delicious fare.
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The concept was unlikely, and the initial trailer didn’t impress everyone, but director Paul King’s small bear was a delight to watch once he made his big screen debut. This is essential watching for parents who want their children to learn about the value of family, community, and always having a sandwich on hand. If at all possible, skip the scene in which Hugh Bonneville dresses as a maid.
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The famous tale by Charles Dickens about an orphan who wants more has been adapted at least a dozen times. But few musical adaptations can match the indelible quality of Lionel Bart and Carol Reed’s rendition. The original ad proclaimed it to be “much more than a musical” due to the stunning staging, great performances, and unique songs that take the original narrative to a whole new level. We tend to agree with you.
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Humanity has left Earth, which is now overrun with trash and waste, 800 years in the future. An endearing trash-compacting robot that has matured enough to experience love is all that remains. Talents like Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt and cinematographer Supreme Roger Deakins contributed to WALL-E’s immense size and intimate appeal, making it one of Pixar’s most ambitious endeavors.
Home Alone (1990)
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When robbers terrorize the neighborhood, what should an 8-year-old child do to protect himself? The prudent action would be to alert the authorities and request assistance from nearby residents. However, this classic from Chris Columbus and John Hughes presents another option: severe violence. Home Alone’s unique combination of complex booby traps and poignant life lessons has made it a holiday staple since it first aired and introduced the world to Macaulay Culkin.
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Pixar’s latest non-sequel is another dazzlingly colored adventure, so long as your kids can handle the skeletal staff. The film is set in Mexico during the Day of the Dead, and it follows young Miguel as he pursues his ambition of becoming a great musician against his family’s disapproval. After an accident sends Miguel to the afterlife, his long line of ancestors must assist him in returning to the realm of the living. Parents, stock up on tissues because the ending is going to hit you hard. This is yet another Pixar classic.
Series of Harry Potter Films (2001-2011)
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Over eight films, Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, and David Yates did an excellent job adapting J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World from the books. The narrative of The Boy Who Lived is a generation-defining epic drama. The early films deal in lovely technicolor whimsy, but the later films, after the arrival of Dark Lord Voldemort, are certainly for older youngsters because of the violence and adult themes they include. With its cracking time-twisting adventure, Gary Oldman an escaped murderer (or is he?) Sirius Black, and one of the series’ greatest creatures in Buckbeak the Hippogriff, Cuaron’s Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) is our top pick.