The 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix

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The 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix

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, like the many Marvel/Star Wars/Disney films available. But we tried to point out some less-obvious options, as well, including films from France, Brazil, Switzerland and Japan. There are documentaries on both Antarctica and Mars; thrilling live-action adventures; and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

bolt.jpg 40. Bolt
Year: 2008
Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams
In 2008, Disney Animation’s Bolt unmistakably bore the conflicting influence of Pixar’s innovation and Disney’s old ideals. The movie follows the title dog (voiced, enthusiastically, by John Travolta), a TV star who believes that the character he plays—a genetically enhanced dog destined to protect a scientist’s daughter, Penny (Miley Cyrus)—is very much who he is in real life. When he escapes from the set, it isn’t long before he stumbles onto some uncomfortable truths. It’s a forgivably predictable premise, and the movie’s decidedly clean-minded approach to comedy (not a single poop joke by our count) bestows the material with maturity unlikely for a film predicated on such a gimmick. If the plot never breaks from a perfunctory routine, the movie’s breezy narrative sensibility, enhanced by 3D in equipped locations, ensures a smooth and agreeable ride. What the movie fails to do is carve a place for itself in animation’s new creative paradigm. Bolt feels inescapably as if it was designed to fit the old Disney model and reluctantly dragged into its new traditions, a suspicion confirmed when the end credits revert to a classic 2D format that seems more fondly rendered than the actual movie. It’s a shame that an animated form that’s been around as long as film itself has been subjected to such fierce creative Darwinism, but the tenuous middle ground Bolt attempts to strike leaves it as a charming but undistinguished addition to a fast-evolving canon. —Jeffrey Bloomer


balto.jpg 39. Balto
Year: 1995
Director: Simon Wells
Loosely based on a true story about a dog named Balto who helped save children from the diphtheria epidemic of 1925 in Nome. In the cartoon version of the story, the wolf-dog hybrid (voiced by Kevin Bacon) is an outcast among the other dogs because of his wolf heritage. When the epidemic hits, there’s no way to get the antitoxin in, except by sled dog. Balto is determined to save a girl named Rosy (whose dog Balto is in love with) and the other children, but his chances to lead the expedition are sabotaged by the town’s top dog, a Malamute named Steele. When Steele fails to come through, it’s up to Balto to spectacularly save the day. —Sharon Knolle


mars-gen.jpg 38. The Mars Generation
Year: 2017
Director: Michael Barnett
Rating: PG
Documentary filmmakers have a fascinating responsibility to shed light on particular subjects that a typical movie-going audience wouldn’t necessarily be privy to. If someone can capture an audience with complex scientific topics, for instance, they’ve accomplished a feat worthy of celebration. In a film featuring science icons Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Michio Kaku, director Michale Barnett asks the question, “Will we ever put people on Mars?” The kids featured in The Mars Generation certainly hope so. Coupled with a generous amount of historical space exploration footage (some of which is fairly heavy), this film concurrently follows a group of teenagers at Space Camp and the science community’s general desire to go to Mars, highlighting a younger generation of aspiring astronauts who just want a chance to get off the Earth. —Pete Mercer


little-witch-academia-enchanted.jpg 37. Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade
Year: 2015
Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Rating: NR
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade is the crowd-funded immediate follow-up to Studio Trigger’s 2013 runaway hit Little Witch Academia (also available on Netflix, but at 26 minutes, too short for this movies list). The Enchanted Parade follows the trio of apprentice witches from the previous short film, Akko Kagari, Lotte Yanson and Sucy Manbavaran, following a harrowing incident during their transfiguration class. As punishment for their involvement, the girls are tasked with orchestrating their school’s annual Enchanted Parade. But when Akko’s overzealous efforts to revamp the Parade’s image inadvertently drive a wedge between her and her friends, can the trio make it out in one piece and out of trouble? Beautiful animation, sharp humor, elaborate action sequences, and a heartwarming conclusion, the only thing wrong with Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade is that it’s only an hour-long and not a full-length series. At least, not yet anyway! —Toussaint Egan


encounters-at-the-end.jpg 36. Encounters at the End of the World
Year: 1987
Director: Werner Herzog 
Rating: G
Werner Herzog’s uncertainty in what he was setting out to explore in Antarctica is both what makes Encounters interesting and its primary problem, as the film wavers from topic to topic without ever settling on a purpose. The film opens with a serene underwater shot, but this doesn’t last long before transitioning to an industrial plane and showing people traveling to Antarctica’s harsh setting. This beginning sets the pace, as Herzog’s trip takes him from one part of the McMurdo Research Station to the next, with the director stopping intermittently to take in the scenery and local fauna. Why do people choose to live in such an extreme environment, and what is it, exactly, that makes us human? These are big questions—especially the latter—but each is explored in a scattershot manner without enough screen time. Encounters’ strongest moments occur when Herzog finally gets around to filming Antarctica. These sections rival anything put together by Planet Earth and, here, the film reaches transcendence. From the tops of volcanoes to the underwater depths beneath the ice, each part of the continent is more mysterious and beautiful than the last. But even while visiting the most remote parts of Antarctica, the landscape the film tours is surprisingly populated. —Sean Gandert


hercules.jpg 35. Hercules
Year: 1997
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Rating: G
Hercules is yet another staple to come out of Disney’s ’90s reign, stuck between 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 1998’s Mulan. Featuring voice contributions from Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito and James Woods, the film follows the harrowing adventure of Greek demigod Hercules (Donovan), who, after he’s banished to Earth by his evil uncle Hades (Woods), must learn to become a “true hero” and go back home to Olympus to defeat his uncle once and for all. It’s not the most substantial of Disney films, but its quality and style is impressive, vaguely reminiscent of Greek art without feeling flat, given how many films Disney was churning out at that time. —Eric Gossett


pocahontas.jpg 34. Pocahontas
Year: 1995
Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
Rating: G
On my seventh birthday, I got two identical Pocahontas Barbie dolls. My parents asked me if I wanted to return one of them and exchange it for something else. I opted to keep them both. That’s how obsessed with Pocahontas—or in my case, the two Pocahontii—I was. Of course, as with most Disney movies, as I got older I could recognize its whitewashing of history and the less-than-feminist ideals, but despite its problems, Pocahontas remains at the very least a conversation-starter, a jumping-off point from which to begin talking to your kids about race. Pop it in and then discuss it with them, warts and all. —Bonnie Stiernberg


temple-of-doom.jpg 33. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Year: 1984
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG
Yes, Kate Capshaw is incredibly annoying as Willie Scott, and no kind of match for the gruff, world-trotting Indy, but beyond her this much-maligned movie has always held up. Perhaps Short Round doesn’t do it for you either, but can you imagine how much darker still the film would be without him? By far the most dire movie of the series, it’s buoyed by gorgeous set design and a classic sense of comic-book pulp in the vein of Doc Savage. It’s got one of John Williams’ best scores, a scary villain in Mola Ram and some great action set-pieces. No, it’s not in the same tier as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s not nearly so far from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as some people would like to believe. And by the way, if you didn’t remember—Temple of Doom is actually a prequel to Raiders. I find it amazing how many people don’t realize this, but if you’re wondering why Marion isn’t there and Indy hasn’t developed any faith from his experience with the Ark, that would be why. Temple of Doom takes place a year earlier. —Jim Vorel

18-Netflix-Docs_2015-cave-forgotten-dreams.jpg 32. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Year: 2010
Director: Werner Herzog 
Rating: G
Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the story of humanity’s oldest surviving pieces of artwork: everything they can teach us about ourselves and how we got here. It’s yet another one of those seemingly random yet functionally primordial bits of human minutia that the German director’s imagination so often keys upon, and in this case it yielded one of his most placidly beautiful, intimate films. As Herzog provides minimal narration, drifting with his camera through Chauvet Cave in southern France, the film unfolds rather like an educational movie that one might watch at a museum or informational kiosk at a historical site, except infused with the director’s personal, unflagging sense of wonder. Here, we learn the stories and historical perspective behind the oldest cave paintings on record, estimated at 32,000 years old, the product of some of the first modern human beings in Europe. The walls depict vivid impressions of their surroundings—and in some sense breaches the fabric of their imaginations. The film has that same sleepy, oneiric quality; it’s never in any hurry, and it feels remarkably self-sufficient, thanks to the three-person crew that filmed the entire thing due to French law regarding access to the caves. Herzog himself even worked the lights, in what is also his only 3D film, offering moving, unprecedented, tactile access to a piece of our biological history which the majority of us will never be able to see in even our wildest dreams. —Jim Vorel

spy-kids.jpg 31. Spy Kids
Year: 2001
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
Rating: PG
That the director of bloody films like Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn would tackle a kids film was a surprise to everyone, but Spy Kids was all the better for Robert Rodriguez’ experience with adult action films. He enlisted a top rate cast including Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and Tony Shalhoub; Danny Elfman to help score; and wrote the story himself. And its that Robert Rodriguez imagination that makes the film—robots with thumbs for heads and Floop’s Floogies are straight out of a bad acid trip. Rodriguez believed kids could handle a little nightmarish imagery and that gamble paid off in the form of $147 million at the box office, positive reviews from critics and three sequels, all of which allowed him to make whatever pulpy films for adults his heart desired. —Josh Jackson


little-prince.jpg 30. The Little Prince
Year: 2016
Director: Mark Osborne
Rating: PG
The film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s seminal novella The Little Prince is a strange film—and not just because it finishes the entire story set out by the original source material before the first hour is over. But even as it struggles to not undermine its own messages in its second half, Mark Osborne’s adaptation bursts with life, and serves as an overly blunt but effective story about growing up without losing why childhood mattered. Or as the film succinctly puts it: It’s the difference between growing up and becoming a grown-up. Osborne creates a new framing device for Saint-Exupéry’s story of allegorical power—a little girl (Mackenzie Foy) who’s living a painfully practical existence. She lives with her single mother in the house next to the narrator, The Aviator (a madcap Jeff Bridges), her mom (Rachel McAdams) planning out every minute of her day, as represented by a comically detailed wall tableau. A friendship develops, and soon the little girl hungers to hear more of the Aviator’s story and The Little Prince’s adventures that he’s written over many years. Cutting between Bridges’ folksy narration and the internal world of the story he’s telling, the film flashes between computer-generated animation with photorealistic environments and stunning stop-motion. The storybook world is presented as a sprawling diorama fantasia with The Little Prince (Riley Osborne), made up of malted wood and meticulous tissue paper placement, and the world around him layered in fine fabric, construction paper and purposely artificial details like stars hanging from a string off the top of the frame. The Little Prince is a conflicted final product. The film is admirable for its gentle hand when it comes to difficult subjects like the ephemeral nature of life, and its bold visual style, but it’s also a film whose final reel seems unwilling to recognize the realities of its own story. —Michael Snydel


tarzan.com.jpg 29. Tarzan
Year: 1999
Directors: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
Rating: PG-13
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 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


emp-new-groove.jpg 28. The Emperor’s New Groove
Year: 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
Rating: G
The lasting appeal of this 2000 animated buddy comedy from Disney can likely be attributed to some truly genius voice casting: there’s David Spade as a vain emperor-turned-llama, John Goodman as a lovable peasant, Patrick Warburton as a dim-witted and deep-voiced palace guard and, of course, the perfect Eartha Kitt as the deliciously evil usurper of the throne. The story is fairly predictable, but the fun Peruvian setting is visually appealing and the fast-paced story allows for moments of lighthearted comedy that welcome repeat viewings. Also, the fact that it’s a Disney movie with no hokey musical numbers is a plus. —John Riti


pirates-dead-men.jpg 27. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Rating: PG-13
One of the many right moves that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales pulls off in order to steer this behemoth of a franchise in the right direction is to acknowledge that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) works better as comedy relief than the absolute focal point of the narrative. A little of Depp’s unholy love child of Keith Richards, Buster Keaton and a drunken octopus goes a long way. The fifth film in the series embodies a fairly superficial, yet breezy and well-executed pirate adventure/fantasy story—handsome rapscallion Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) wants Poseidon’s trident to break a curse that keeps his father, Will (Orlando Bloom), trapped in a ship under the sea. The smart and gorgeous Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) wants to find it to prove the validity of her father’s scientific research. Captain Barbarosa (the always reliably gruff and cranky Geoffrey Rush) wants it to, well, it’s not exactly clear. In the midst of all this, Jack Sparrow has to come along in order protect himself from the wrath of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ruthless ghost captain whose zombie crew is wreaking havoc across the sea in service of one goal: Kill Jack Sparrow. Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t rewrite the rulebook for the franchise or the genre as a whole, and is wholly predictable from start to finish, but the likable characters—Thwaites and Scodelario have more natural presence and mutual chemistry than Bloom and Knightley—creative action set pieces, and Depp finally being put in his place in the franchise creates a fun ride that’s instantly forgettable. You know, like the ride itself. —Oktay Ege Kozak


cloudy-meatballs.jpg 26. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Year: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Rating: PG
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


indiana-jones-crystal.jpg 25. Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Year: 2008
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG-13
Indiana Jones had neither swashed nor buckled on the big screen in 19 years, but he returned in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which appropriately takes place 19 years after the previous film. It’s now 1957, and Indy has aged along with his fans and, more importantly, the actor who plays him. But, aside from a couple of jokes about his age, you’d hardly know it. He still throws—and takes—more punches than the rest of the world’s archaeologists combined, but surprisingly, Harrison Ford, now 66, looks neither computer generated nor out of place in these fist fights. Crystal Skull has an almost antiquated realness, an art that I thought was lost in the embrace of CGI. The film is fun, but it doesn’t hold a torch to the original. It’s too busy reconnecting severed ties and repeating our favorite bits, but it comes closer to capturing the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) than the other sequels did, and parts of it are more thrilling than anything else in the entire series. The plot involves an elongated crystal skull that looks like a glass rendering of Ridley Scott’s alien. Naturally, everyone wants it because whoever returns the skull to the temple from whence it came gets some sort of unimaginable reward, one that doesn’t seem to be monetary. The Soviets, like the Nazis who pursued the Ark of the Covenant in the first film, want the skull for nefarious purposes. Beyond this outline, the story is a tangle of barbed wire that hardly seems worth the bloody fingers it would take to straighten it, and screenwriter David Koepp doesn’t expect us to. Every once in a while someone sums everything up (“He’s telling us to look in Peru!”), and then the film dissolves to a map and follows a red line to an exotic new locale. In the film’s centerpiece, a fantastic, absurd, high-speed chase through trees, Spielberg masterfully juggles five or six characters such that we always have a pretty good idea of who is where, even as they leap from vehicle to vehicle. This clarity seems to defy modern-action conventions that demand obscure, confusing visuals, and the result is thrilling. Also great is Cate Blanchett as a tenacious, helmet-haired, thick-accented villain who makes her foes work for their gains. —Robert Davis


beauty-beast.jpg 24. Beauty and the Beast
Year: 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Rating: PG
This tale as old as time (or at least as old as the 1740 book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) gets re-told on screen for 13th time by our count. Disney’s live adaptation of their animated classic includes most of the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken songs you know from the 1991 film and 1994 Broadway production. Emma Watson is a natural fit for Belle, beautiful and bookish, propelling the film to gross more than $1.2 billion worldwide. Dan Stevens (Legion) plays the Beast, virtually unrecognizable under the CGI effects. Though it hews fairly close to the charming original, the new songs, written by Menken and Tim Rice, who took over lyrical duties after the death of Ashman just before the release of the original, aren’t nearly as memorable. Still, it’s an entertaining romp through 18th-century France and the magical, baroque castle with anthropomorphic furniture we know so well. —Josh Jackson


captain-underpants-poster.jpg 23. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Rating: PG
Most superheroes look like they’re wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes. What this movie gleefully presupposes is: Maybe one can. The presumptuously titled Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, based on Dav Pilkey’s first four children’s books in the Captain Underpants series (all of which have amusingly lengthy titles themselves), pokes a lot of fun at the concept of superheroes, the concept of action movies and the very cinematic medium in which it’s found itself. Created accidentally by prankster elementary schoolers George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), Captain Underpants provides a harmless bit of antagonizing to his alter-ego, principal/despot Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Krupp hates the two boys and their antics so much that he threatens to end their friendship, so, after going through the requisite whoopee cushions and joy buzzers, the boys discover it’s finally a cereal box hypnosis ring they can use to strike back against their cruel taskmaster. When the boys snap their fingers, Krupp loses his toupee, attitude and clothing to become their own comic book creation: Captain Underpants. Krupp finds earnestness and confidence as the near-nude crimefighter enamored with his own (made-up) legend. The movie looks very different from what you may expect from Dreamworks animation: Mikros Image, the animation company behind The Little Prince, gives this parodic world a soft, matte roundness that’s as inviting for kids as its lowbrow jokes sound. Likewise, Hart and Middleditch have ample opportunity to sell ridiculous lines, break the fourth wall and generally have a ball without getting bogged down or restrained by Dreamworks’ typical reference-heavy humor. It may be in the gutter, but Captain Underpants is as buoyant a film as the studio has made in years. —Jacob Oller


an-american-tail.jpg 22. An American Tail
Year: 1986
Director: Don Bluth
Rating: G
This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson


mary-witchs-flower.jpg 21. Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Year: 2018
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Rating: PG
There’s something heartbreaking about the idea of a child who’s eager to help around the house but creates more of a mess than they end up cleaning. That’s Mary, the title character of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. She wants to be useful to her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron), and to Charlotte’s housekeeper, Miss Banks (Morwenna Banks), but she can’t relieve Charlotte of an empty teacup without dropping it on the floor. The kid’s a walking disaster. It’s practically tragic. She’s a good kid, she just has nothing to do, until she meets a couple of outdoor cats who lead her to a clutch of glowing blue flowers which capture her curiosity on sight. Not knowing exactly what they are (hint: they’re witch’s flowers), Mary takes them back to Charlotte’s and quickly discovers that the flowers bestow temporary magical abilities on whoever touches them. Mary and the Witch’s Flower’s plot—and, boy, there’s a lot of plot—kicks off from there: Mary is whisked away by a flying sentient broom to an academy for witches, led by Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent), who put on a kindly front that disguises unsavory intentions. There’s a familiarity to Mary and the Witch’s Flower as narrative: Harry Potter-lite by way of Studio Ghibli-lite with a dash of Yonebayashi’s past thematic interests. The whole thing is spirited, gentle and unfailingly lovely. We all look for magic in the world around us, and when we do the world routinely lets us down. Movies like this remind us that there’s magic, and life, in art—and perhaps especially in animation. —Andy Crump

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