The 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix

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The 30 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 (though several Disney films have recently been taken off Netflix in anticipation of the Disney+ launch). But we tried to point out some less-obvious options, as well, including films from France, Brazil, Switzerland and Japan. There are documentaries and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

spy-kids.jpg 30. 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 29. 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 28. 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


cloudy-meatballs.jpg 27. 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


temple-of-doom.jpg 26. 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


invader-zim-florpus.jpg 25. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus
Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Rating: PG
At a time when original Nickelodeon cartoons included Rocket Power and The Fairly Oddparents, Invader Zim was the network’s attempt to attract the slightly older Cartoon Network crowd. They wanted something edgy and a little bizarre. They got it tenfold with Jhonen Vasquez, a comic-book writer and cartoonist whose previous projects included the hyper-violent comic series Johnny: The Homicidal Maniac, Squee and I Feel Sick. His concept for Nickelodeon was simple: Invader Zim was the story of naive but psychotic Zim, the smallest member of an alien species in which social hierarchy is determined by height, who is assigned to conquer an insignificant planet on the outskirts of the universe: Earth. Although dispatched simply to collect undercover surveillance and stay out of the way, Zim—along with his malfunctioning erratic robot drone, GIR—decides to conquer our planet himself. However, all his attempts to take over are either thwarted by his own inexperience or by Dib, a young paranormal investigator who realizes Zim is an alien. Now, a new Netflix movie brings back Zim and his maniacal laugh, along with the show’s original creator and voice cast. Set in a near future after Dib has grown feeble and disgusting after months of doing nothing but watching his surveillance monitors for a sign of Zim, whose been hiding in a toilet with his useless pizza-loving robot sidekick GIR—Phase One of his evil plan. If only he could remember Phase Two. With Zib demoralized, Dib’s goal shifts from saving the world to finally getting credit for doing so—particularly from his father. But teaming up with Zim proves to be a very bad idea. The new film captures the gloriously dark absurdity of the original with moments like GIR inspiring the children of the world with his song about peace…and chicken and rice…and alternate-realities colliding that include a variety of illustration styles and even claymation. —James Charisma and Josh Jackson


an-american-tail.jpg 24. 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 23. 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


peter-rabbit.jpg 22. Peter Rabbit
Year: 2018
Director: Will Gluck
Rating: PG
I blame the marketing campaign for missing the cgi/live-action take on Beatrix Potter’s garden pest when it first came out. The early commercials pictured a protagonist who seemed insufferable and a bit of a douche—and frankly, 2018 has been a year where my tolerance for smug pains-in-the-butt has been all but exhausted by actors on the political stage. Thankfully, the rest of my family saw it anyway, and quickly convinced me to give it a try. This iteration of the children’s classic character is spirited, clever and, while not quite Paddington 2 levels of anthropomorphic storytelling—the gold standard, after all—an undeniable gem in a year filled with animated treasures. Director Will Gluck and his team have a created a world where the humor inherent in Potter’s works is allowed to run free. Coupled with solid performances from the actual humans (Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson), this film would likely have been best of show any other year. Instead, it’ll just have to settle for making $350 million worldwide on a budget of $50 million … and being a reason parents can enjoy watching animated farm animals up to mischief along with the kids. —Michael Burgin


rocko-static-cling.jpg 21. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Segurson
Rating: TV-Y7
It’s been 23 years since Rocko’s Modern Life went off the air. A progenitor of SpongeBob SquarePants, with much of the cast and creative team moving on from one show to the next, the satire was Nickelodeon’s in-house answer to its more troublesome The Ren & Stimpy Show. And it was sharp. Deranged. Relatable. Ripped from the daily lives of its writers and unlike any other cartoon airing on TV. So now, with the 45-minute special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling coming to Netflix, how does the original spirit of the show persist? Like any good revival, it makes a point of being familiar but different. Original creator Joe Murray is back on writing and directing duties, alongside all the voice actors (Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, and Mr. Lawrence) returning to play Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. The companions, who would feel right at home in either Office Space or a zoo, have been canonically lost in space for two decades since the series finale and finally figure out a way back to Earth. These cartoonish Rips Van Winkle didn’t miss the American Revolution, but they certainly missed enough. With a meta plotline about the cancellation and subsequent rebooting of a beloved cartoon, Static Cling isn’t afraid to be self-effacing about the revival process—or poke a little fun at the fanatical cult audience that got it a second run at Netflix in the first place. Much of what made the show a fan-favorite is still here. Its color-packed, neo-Fleischer Brothers animation (with surreal, askew Chuck Jones backgrounds and images that are just funny enough not to be disturbing, like Rocko’s visible optic nerves when his eyes flying out of his head) and expansive vocabulary balance its fart gags and butt jokes. It’s warm and nostalgic, but only in the sense that its aesthetic maintains a dedication to strangeness. Static Cling is mostly Murray and his team building to their end. It’s them deciding that when Netflix gives you a pulpit, well dammit, you scream your lungs out about what matters. Then you tip your hat and thank everyone for their time. It’s a wish for the future—the special even redistributes the wealth by the finale—masquerading as a return to the past. And it, in the immortal words of Heffer, was a hoot. —Jacob Oller


indiana-jones-crystal.jpg 20. 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


solo-star-wars.jpg 19. Solo: A Star Wars Story
Year: 2018
Director: Ron Howard 
Rating: PG-13
A rollicking mix-em-up of heist flick, war film, western and Indiana Jones-style adventure (in this case: Temple of Doom), Solo handsomely runs our titular hero (portrayed believably enough by Alden Ehrenreich) through one episode of fan service after another, setting up big action set pieces to make sure that everything you know about Han Solo from Episodes 4-6 finds its genesis here. Han gives himself a last name, meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), is gifted the blaster that he’d later use to murder Greedo in cold blood, meets Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), wins the Millennium Falcon from Lando, makes the Kessel Run in less (give or take) than 12 parsecs, first crosses paths with the burgeoning rebellion and ultimately sets out to meet Jabba the Hutt on Tatooine, all within the course of what probably amounts to a couple days. It’s pretty graceless—and borderline nonsensical—if you think about it too hard, as if screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and son Jonathan were bloodlessly ticking off boxes on their contracts, remembering every once in a while to have Han refer to an accomplice as “buddy.” Han calls everyone buddy. Regardless, Solo is a good time at the movies, even if Ron Howard should not have helmed it. He’s never been much of an action director, but his limitations are painful here, every fight and shootout as coherent as a car chase conceived by Olivier Megaton. While Howard thrives in scale, he lacks imagination for what he could do with this lived-in property, and the Kasdans’ script follows suit. Instead of exploring what a western or a heist film could be in the Star Wars universe, he rips two identical shots directly from Sergio Leone and transforms what could have been an iconic scene—Han winning the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a card game—into an exercise in not trusting your audience to be remotely intelligent. Which may be Solo’s saving grace: It’s a pretty great blockbuster if you don’t think about it much. —Dom Sinacola


the-last-crusade.jpg 18. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Year: 1989
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG-13
After the mindfreak that was Indiana Jones and the Temple Doom left a bad taste in audiences’ mouths (creating the PG-13 rating in the process), Steven Spielberg and his collaborators went back to the drawing board, crafting a film that would retain the simpler tone of Raiders of the Lost Ark without feeling like a rehash of that Oscar-nominated adventure. After filing through several different pitches and drafts (Spielberg even admitted at one point he felt he was “too old” for some of the stories), Spielberg and producer/writer George Lucas settled on a story about the search for The Holy Grail. Spielberg’s stroke of genius, however, was not only his decision to incorporate Indiana’s Jones estranged father into the plotline but to cast Sean Connery to fill the role. The dramatic dynamic between father and son lends the film an emotional heft that is noticeably absent from the more lightweight Raiders. In this way, one could perhaps even hold up Last Crusade as the superior story (emphasis on “perhaps”). Plus, as an added bonus, the film offers a prologue featuring the late, great River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones. —Mark Rozeman


ant-man-wasp-movie-poster.jpg 17. Ant-Man and the Wasp
Year: 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Rating: PG-13
Admittedly, in the past decade superpowers have been as reliable a source of the “action” in action movies as a certain thickly accented, Austria-born bodybuilder named Arnold was in the 1980s. But with all due respect to vibranium shields, high-tech suits of armor and Uru hammers, few things provide the pure “action fuel” of the shrinking/enlarging Pym particles in Ant-Man and the Wasp. “Normal” fight scenes become a yo-yo-ing spectacle of kinetic uncertainty. Trucks become skateboards. Pez dispensers become major plot developments. And it all contributes to the fun and spectacle any good action film demands. Of course, there’s much more going on in the MCU’s second film revolving about Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)—the continued development of the Quantum Realm, some welcome rebalancing of screen time to give Lilly’s Wasp her dues, etc.—but in terms of action that keeps the viewer delighted and excited, Ant-Man and the Wasp provides some of the year’s best. —Michael Burgin


my-life-zucchini-poster.jpg 16. My Life as a Zucchini
Year: 2016
Director: Claude Barras
Rating: PG-13
My Life as a Zucchini begins bleakly. Our nine-year-old, blue-haired protagonist (voiced by Gaspard Schlatter) is called Icare—translated in English as “Icarus,” though the allusion hardly seems to matter—but he insists on going by Courgette (“Zucchini”), not because he looks like a vegetable or because a zucchini has any metaphorical relevance, but because it’s a nickname his mother gave him. And within those opening minutes, Zucchini has every reason to cling to a small gift from his mom: The boy, completely by accident, kills her. Nowadays, this is just how Oscar nominated kids movies do. From there, the film lightens considerably, even though Zucchini, orphaned post-accident, meets a cadre of broken children at the orphanage to which he’s assigned. After winning the begrudging respect of Simon (Paulin Jaccoud), the self-appointed leader of the small group of castaways, Zucchini learns of the plights of his fellow children: abuse, pedophilia, severe mental illness, alcoholism—all of this Simon relates with little understanding, besides that for each child an unthinkable tragedy means there is no one left to love them, and thus they end up there, bound by their foster-less-ness. Director Barras’s most impressive feat—besides keeping this animated film under 70 minutes—is how effortlessly he gives the film to Zucchini, never once letting the corruption of the adult world stain My Life as a Zucchini’s lively hues and livelier magnanimity. Tonally, Barras struggles in almost every scene, especially when the heaviness of his characters’ lives aren’t given the seriousness such heaviness demands, and optimism threatens to obfuscate the crimes of the adults whose choices led to these kids’ situations so directly. Still, if all Barras is trying to say is that human beings are essentially good—contrary to popular opinion at the moment—then that should be enough. One can’t fault a film too harshly for loving its characters too much to watch them suffer needlessly, or fault an artist too adamantly for adopting the indefatigable idealism of a prepubescent with a pointless nickname. —Dom Sinacola

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