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The 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix (2017)

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tarzan.com.jpg 15. Tarzan
Year: 1999
Directors: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
With music from Phil Collins (mercifully, Tarzan doesn’t do the singing) and a cast that includes Minnie Driver, Glenn Close and Tony Goldwyn as the titular Lord of the Jungle, Disney’s Tarzan does justice to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material with its expected anthropomorphic twist. Rosie O’Donnell plays his gorilla buddy and Wayne Knight (best known as Jerry Seinfeld nemesis Newman) provides comic relief as a meek elephant. The plot is tight, the action is well-paced, and the movie is an easy pick to please kids of all ages. If there’s a superlative to be handed out, it’s for the animation team, who walked the fine line of making the gorillas seem both true to nature and relatable to humans. —Josh Jackson


chicken-run.jpg 14. Chicken Run
Year: 2000
Rating: G
If any of the brilliant Wallace and Gromit films aren’t on Netflix Instant, then Chicken Run (made by the same Aardman Animations studios) is certainly the next best thing. The 2000 movie should hardly be classified as a consolation prize, though—with its unique stop-motion clay animation and slapstick sense of humor, this story of a group of chickens who plot their escape from a farm mill provides just as many genuinely hilarious moments as it does thrilling action sequences. It’s an impressive feat of both animation and storytelling, with some spot-on voice acting to boot—what’s not to love about Mel Gibson voicing a slick Rhode Island Red named Rocky? —John Riti


jungle-book.jpg 13. The Jungle Book
Year: 2016
Directors: Jon Favreau 
Jon Favreau’s new real-world re-imagining of the classic Disney animated film melds two cornerstones of the diretor’s career: venturing into the digital frontier, and having the courage to be warm. The curtain rises on the computer-generated animal kingdom as the camera pans across one of The Jungle Book’s many breathtaking virtual sets, which were built after recording the raw footage in an empty Los Angeles warehouse. Essentially, on set, actors in motion-capture suits ran around with Neel Sethi, who makes his movie debut as Mowgli, in front of blue and green screens. Where the level of technology in The Jungle Book has historically been used for maximizing the wow factor in Michael Bay explosion-packed action flicks, Favreau makes the case for special effects that actually affect. The Jungle Book hits the ground running as Mowgli darts through the grass and up trees, sharpening his survival skills through various flight techniques (fighting obviously not available to him). Sethi, 12, is the only truly live-action element of the movie, and carries the physically demanding role with both childlike charisma and the saucy attitude of an adolescent. —Melissa Weller


fantasia.jpg 12. Fantasia
Year: 1940
Directors: Various
Rating: G
Fantasia lost a lot of money when it was released in 1940. (Disney’s earliest features didn’t have a great box office track record at the time—Pinocchio and Bambi also lost money, making three of the company’s first five features financial failures.) It’s not entirely hard to see why: it’s a largely narrative-free film built entirely around classical music. Its commercial prospects were as dim in 1940 as they would be today if the film was being released for the first time. Of course it’s gorgeous, an astounding marriage of art and music featuring some of the most iconic and transcendent images in animation, along with what’s perhaps Mickey Mouse’s most famous appearance (and maybe just a little bit of schmaltz during the Pastoral Symphony and Dance of the Hours segments). The show-closing combo of Night on Bald Mountain and Ave Maria remains one of the most powerful passages in animation. It can be a bit musty at times, but it’s also one of the most conceptually daring and experimental films ever released by a major studio, and a crucial part of animation history. —Garrett Martin


zootopia.jpg 11. Zootopia
Year: 2016
Directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush
It says a lot about the state of America’s cultural dialogues on acceptance and discrimination that a Disney movie feels this urgent, but maybe a movie about animals living under the impression of harmony is a long-term solution for our short-term failures. Then again, we’re talking about a cartoon where TV’s Snow White teams up with Michael Bluth in a sort-of riff on 48 Hours that expands to include references to The Godfather and Breaking Bad. Zootopia is smart in the way it approaches race relations, if unsophisticated and childish. But there are worse things a children’s movie can be than childish, and in Zootopia that word sheds its pejorative implications and instead feels befitting in its innocence. The story takes place in the sprawling zoological metropolis of the title, a place where beasts of all makes and models—large and small, meek and ferocious—somehow manage to coexist in an approximation of civilized society. This is a movie that’s all about big, heartfelt honesty between its principals and its audience. Simple though its politics may be, the film is effective—and coming from a mainstream studio, it is even just daring enough to make a difference. —A.C.


finding-dory.jpg 10. Finding Dory
Year: 2016
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of the 2003 Disney-Pixar blockbuster Finding Nemo. The adorably bumbling blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is still best friends and the third wheel to clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), testing their patience on a daily basis. But this is fully Dory’s tale, as she searches for her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and finds herself in the process. Finding Dory is the rare sequel that repurposes the original as a character foundation rather than as a cheap form of fan service. What could have been an easy cash-in becomes something surprising—a follow-up that reaches new emotional depths. —Michael Snydel


babe.jpg 9. Babe
Year: 1995
Director: Chris Noonan
Not since Wilber has a pig captured the hearts of moviegoers. But this Australian production with a screenplay co-written by Mad Max’s George Miller and director Chris Noonan actually made for a better movie than either of the adaptions of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Babe was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and took home the prize for Best Visual Effects thanks to the lifelike anthropomorphized farm animals who rally around the titular hero. The underrated sequel, Babe: Pig in the City, is also available on Netflix. —J.J.


kung-fu-panda.jpg 8. Kung Fu Panda
Year: 2008
Directors: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Like Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle, DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda punctuates its light-hearted, comedic tone with surprisingly poignant moments along with nonstop homages to a giant list of truly classic Kung Fu films, often scene by scene. In the end, I had to give it to Kung Fu Panda as the more tightly constructed film, though really, they both might as well share this spot with the sheer amount of love for the genre that comes through when watching either film. Jack Black voices Po’s (totally awesome) journey from bumbling martial arts fanboy to unlikely hero with such sincerity that it’s hard not to get swept along, especially given the equally strong performances by Dustin Hoffman as the perpetually exasperated Master Shifu and Ian McShane as the menacing Tai Lung. —K. Alexander Smith


hugo-214.jpg 7. Hugo
Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese 
With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese has created a dazzling, wondrous experience, an undeniable visual masterpiece. In his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese weaves together his many passions and concerns: for art, for film, and for fathers and father-figures. He retells the story of a boy (Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield) in search of a way to complete his father’s work. Alongside Hugo’s tale is the true story of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), one of the world’s first filmmakers. —Shannon M. Houston


nightmare-christmas.jpg 6. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Year: 1993
Director: Henry Selick
On simply a shot-by-shot basis, The Nightmare Before Christmas ranks as one of the most visually splendid films ever made. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to hijack the holiday. Often presented under the title Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, the film echoes many of the hit director’s pet themes, with Jack being one of Burton’s many brooding artistic protagonists. The film’s actual director was Henry Selick, who oversees an ingenious design and a cast of endearing monsters. The film doesn’t quite have the narrative fuel and graceful song lyrics to match Disney’s best animated musicals, but every year the film looks better and better. —Curt Holman


pirates.jpg 5. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Year: 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Daring to base the central character of a Disney franchise on a notorious junkie-alcoholic walking-corpse rock star like Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was a coup, but even more mind-blowing was how well Depp’s crazy idea worked. Guzzling rum as he bobs and weaves—stumbles, really—through this film delivering hilariously slurred one-liners, he is the consummate goodhearted scoundrel, easily stealing every frame he flamboyantly swaggers across. —Steve LaBate


the-secret-of-kells.jpg 4. The Secret of Kells
Year: 2009
Directors: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Set in 8th-Century Ireland, our hero is the 12-year-old apprentice Brendan, who befriends a forest spirit namd Aisling in his quest to protect The Book of Kells from Viking invaders. The Secret of Kells’ hand-drawn style gives it a gorgeous and breathtaking visual flair, a charm most of its contemporaries lack. It’s a little slower-paced than your typical Disney ride, but the story should hold your child’s attention as it broadens his or her imagination. —Josh Jackson


iron-giant.jpg 3. The Iron Giant
Year: 1999
Director: Brad Bird
Brad Bird’s feature debut was traditional 2-D animation when computer animation was the craze, released by studio folk who didn’t realize just how special a film they had on their hands. Luckily, The Iron Giant received its due recognition on home video. Set in the 1950s and drawing off the nuclear fears of the time, it incorporates the hallmark of the era’s science-fiction—a giant metal robot—into a touching coming-of-age story. Bird effortlessly moves between riotous comedy (such as young Hogarth’s efforts to hide his enormous new robot friend from his mother), high-spun action and poignant moments of fear and friendship. —Jeremy Mathews


et.jpg 2. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Steven Spielberg’s classic is many things: an ode to friendship that resonates with child and adult alike, one of the top-grossing films of all time, and the moment his career, on a scale of 1-10, reached 11. Though the Academy would not award Spielberg the Best Director trophy until there were more Nazis involved, E.T. remains perhaps the most deft expression of his directorial hand. —Michael Burgin


princess-bride.jpg 1. The Princess Bride
Year: 1987
Director: Rob Reiner
Quite possibly the most perfectly executed transformation of a beloved book to a beloved film in the history of the sport. A family-friendly “kissing movie” with pitch-perfect performances by the entire cast—from main character to bit player—The Princess Bride is the most relentlessly quotable film anywhere this side of Monty Python and their Holy Grail. Though regarded warmly enough by critics, its status as comedic fable ensures it is criminally underrated on most lists. Inconceivable? Alas, no. But unfair, nonetheless. —M.B.

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