The 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

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. The latter comprise the best kids movies on Netflix. Some of these movies you’ve probably already seen even if your kids haven’t. But we also tried to point out some less-obvious options, as well, including films from around the world. There are superheroes and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 25 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

1. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

pinocchio.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson
Stars: Ewan McGregor, David Bradley, Gregory Mann, Ron Perlman, Finn Wolfhard, Christoph Waltz, Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett
Rating: PG

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Guillermo del Toro has never shied away from infusing the harsh realities of life and death into the journeys of his young protagonists. His fascination with the intersections of childhood innocence and macabre whimsy are what make him the ideal co-director of Netflix’s newest Pinocchio adaptation, a work that marvelously marries the filmmaker’s flair for dark fantasy with the equally strange fairy tale elements of Carlo Collodi’s 1883 The Adventures of Pinocchio. Like all successful marriages, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio brings out the very best of both parties. The stop-motion musical is an artistic triumph that colors Collodi’s cherished storybook characters with humanity and depth to craft a mature tale about rebellion, mortality and the love between a parent and child. This rendition marks the 22nd film adaptation of the Italian novel, and while it remains true to the grisly nature of Collodi’s original stories, it boldly departs from its dated moral lessons. In The Adventures of Pinocchio (and notable renditions thereafter), Pinnochio’s many escapades are structured as cause-and-effect narratives that serve to caution children against defiant behavior. In Disney’s 1940 animated feature, an evening of fun and relaxation on “Pleasure Island’’ nearly turns the wooden boy into a salt-mining donkey. In the original serial La Storia di un Burattino, delinquent behavior leads him to a gruesome death. These values of compliance and servility are reversed by del Toro’s fascist setting. In his Pinocchio, disobedience is a virtue—not a crime. These moral examinations are given a sense of urgency in death—a theme that informs so much of the film’s mind and soul. Where previous adaptations are preoccupied with life—with the puppet’s extraordinary consciousness and the hope that he may someday become a “real boy”—del Toro’s Pinocchio is interested in what our mortality can teach us about being human. In the film, death is never too far away from the protagonist or his loved ones. Death touches Carlo, then remains close to Pinocchio throughout his epic journey. The beauty of del Toro’s Pinocchio is that death isn’t treated with the usual dread and cynicism we typically see in the Western world. Here, death is mysterious, ethereal, soaked in gorgeous blue light. Death is not something to be feared, but respected and accepted when the time comes, because the notion that we will someday—maybe unexpectedly—leave this earth is what makes our time here so beautiful. I don’t typically advise listening to crickets, but believe Sebastian J., because the story of Pinocchio has never been told quite like this.—Kathy Michelle Chacón


2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Release Date: June 2, 2023
Director: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, Justin K. Thompson
Stars: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac, Issa Rae, Jason Schwartzman
Rating: PG

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Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse webs its way into a far more jaded world, one overstuffed with superhero sequels, and specifically, multiverse storytelling. And yet Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse swings in and, yet again, wipes the floor with its genre brethren by presenting a sequel that is both kinetic and deeply emotional. The script by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) smartly builds upon the foundation of its already established characters, their relationships and the ongoing consequences from the first film to further explore the lives of secret teen superheroes Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) and Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) a year after the first film. The writers do so with a clear agenda to not only best themselves visually, but by upping the game of the now-familiar multiple-timeline tropes. Together with the talents of directing team Joaquim Dos Santos (The Legend of Korra), Kemp Powers (Soul) and Justin K. Thompson (Into the Spider-Verse), Across the Spider-Verse—across the board—swings for the cinematic fences in the rare sequel that feels like every frame has been crafted with the intention of wringing every bit of visual wonder and emotional impact that the animators, the performers and the very medium can achieve. The hybrid computer-animation meets hand-drawn techniques established in the first films returns with a more sleek execution that’s a bit easier on the eyes, which affords the animators to get even more ambitious with their array of techniques and character-centric presentations. The depth and breadth of the animation and illustration styles are jaw-dropping. There are frames you just want to fall into, they’re so beautifully rendered and conceived. If there’s any critique, it’s that the more action-centric sequences are almost too detailed, so that the incredible work of the animators moves off-screen so quickly that you feel like you’re not able to fully appreciate everything coming at you. As a middle film in the trilogy (Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse is due in theaters in 2024), it’s a joy to be able to say that Across the Spider-Verse stands well on its own, based on the merits of its story and stakes. There’s also a killer cliffhanger that sets the stage for a third chapter that doesn’t feel like it’s cheating its audience like some other recent films have done (cough Dune cough). In fact, repeat viewings of Across the Spider-Verse to bridge the gap until the final installment next year sounds like a great way to savor this film as it so richly deserves.—Tara Bennett


3. Paddington

paddington.jpgYear: 2014
Director: Paul King
Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Ben Winshaw, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Nicole Kidman
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Rating: PG

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The Paddington films exhibit a sense of wonder for the ordinary, most likely the product of director Paul King and co-screenwriter Simon Farnaby’s acute ability to instill a palpable desire of belonging into a CGI teddy bear voiced by Ben Whishaw. We have, for better or worse (and I would argue the former), reached a point in computer generated technology in which Paddington’s eyes can dilate realistically. His eyes, then, say everything, open to any modicum of familial comfort. It is extremely ordinary to want to be a part of something, to crave the intimacy of loved ones. The first Paddington, released in 2014, was emotionally prophetic in its illustration of the hokey moral panic wrought by xenophobes. Paddington arrives in London from the forests of Darkest Peru. He stands upon his suitcase, scruffy and innocent. Around his neck is a tag that says, “Please look after this bear.” The ways in which the commuters of Paddington Station ignore the bear could be written off as generic selfishness, but outsiders and the impoverished are deliberately ignored in metro areas, a point accentuated by Mr. Brown’s (Hugh Bonneville) claim of “stranger danger.” Still, Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins) gentle heart leads the family to quasi-adopt Paddington, their lives enriched by the bear’s earnestness and genuine desire to be part of their lives. —Kyle Turner


4. Shrek

src=”” width=”210″ height=”311″ class=”mt-image-left” style=”float: left; margin: 0 20px 20px 0;” />Year: 2001
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Stars: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
Genre: Animation/Comedy/Fantasy

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Dreamworks announced itself as an animation powerhouse with this wonderful twist on the Beauty and the Beast saga. It’s wickedly funny thanks to a crisp adaptation of William Stieg’s picture book and voice acting from SNL vets Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, who are given the whole of Fairyland to roam. Cameron Diaz’s princess as ninja warrior was a cutting response to some of Disney’s delicate flower leads—just one of the many subtle digs at the Disney-industrial complex. The film manages to satirize the tropes of children’s movies without losing its heart, an apt parallel to its titular ogre’s gruff exterior/softie interior dynamic. —Josh Jackson


5. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

mitchells-vs-machines-poster.jpgYear: 2021
Director: Mike Rianda, Jeff Rowe (co-director)
Stars: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Eric Andre, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Olivia Colman
Genre: Comedy/Sci-Fi

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Animated generational divides have never been more like a sci-fi carnival than in The Mitchells vs. the Machines. Writer/director Mike Rianda’s feature debut (he and co-writer/director Jeff Rowe made their bones on the excellently spooky, silly show Gravity Falls) is equal parts absurd, endearing and terrifying. It’s easy to feel as lost or overwhelmed by the flashing lights and exhilarating sights as the central family fighting on one side of the title’s grudge match, but it’s equally easy to come away with the exhausted glee of a long, weary theme park outing’s aftermath. Its genre-embedded family bursts through every messy, jam-packed frame like they’re trying to escape (they often are), and in the process create the most energetic, endearing animated comedy so far this year. And its premise begins so humbly. Filmmaker and animator Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is leaving home for college and, to get there, has to go on a road trip with her family: Rick (Danny McBride), her Luddite outdoorsy dad; Linda (Maya Rudolph), her peacemaking mom; and Aaron (Rianda), her dino-freak little brother. You might be able to guess that Katie and her dad don’t always see eye-to-eye, even when Katie’s eyes aren’t glued to her phone or laptop. That technocriticism, where “screen time” is a dirty phrase and the stick-shifting, cabin-building father figure wants his family to experience the real world, could be as hacky as the twelfth season of a Tim Allen sitcom. The Mitchells vs. the Machines escapes that danger not only through some intentional nuance in its writing, but also some big ol’ anti-nuance: Partway through the trip, the evil tech companies screw up and phone-grown robots decide to shoot all the humans into space. This movie needed something this narratively large to support its gloriously kitchen-sink visuals. The Sony film uses some of the same tech that made Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse look so crisp and unique, adding comicky shading to its expressive CG. In fact, once some of the more freaky setpieces take off, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles Morales swing in to save the day. The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ spin on the Spidey aesthetic comes from meme and movie-obsessed Katie, whose imagination often breaks through into the real world and whose bizarre, neon and filter-ridden sketchbook doodles ornament the film’s already exciting palette with explosive oddity. This unique and savvy style meshes well with The Mitchells vs. the Machines’ wonderfully timed slapstick, crashing and smashing with an unexpected violence, balanced out with one truly dorky pug and plenty of visual asides poking fun at whatever happens to be going on.—Jacob Oller


6. Nimona

nimona.jpgYear: 2023
Director: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, Indya Moore, RuPaul, Julio Torres, Sarah Sherman
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 8.0

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You know that joke about how we would all side with the queer-coded villains of our childhood? ND Stevenson’s now decade-old webcomic-turned-graphic-novel Nimona is a commitment to that bit. Like its source material, Nimona is a legend for the freaks and the queers, a story told in figures, archetypes and tropes. Nimona understands that villains are often made villainous for their bodies and identities. Nimona embraces queer coding and turns it into a subversive power fantasy. In the original webcomic, Nimona is a queer anarchist revolutionary who adopts the brown-skinned, disabled Boldheart as her master. He has found himself conned into maintaining the status quo as the villain that the forces of power in his kingdom need, but he gets to prolong his homoerotic rivalry with his nemesis and ex-lover, the Institute’s champion and white pretty boy, Goldenloin. Together, Nimona and Boldheart can, through villainy, actually take down the shockingly malicious Institute that maintains strict order over the kingdom and inspire their followers to see the world differently. There’s no sympathizing with royalists here. You should absolutely go read Nimona. It won’t take much longer to read than it will to watch the 99-minute film (and you should watch it after), but with that space, Stevenson establishes and subverts the archetypes and tropes that shape not just narrative, but world view. It’s not subversive of just form or structure, but of narrative and ideology. Now in the hands of Spies in Disguise directorial duo Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, Nimona is roughly the same chaotic gremlin that fans of Stevenson’s work loved—with some notable reworks to fit into an animated kids movie on Netflix. It kinda skips the whole villain arc of the original story, which I would be more annoyed about if the many other adjustments and the reworked scope didn’t make this such a good standalone adaptation. The movie still captures the heart of Nimona. It may make for a less subversive take on villainy, but remains a thoughtful commentary on systems of power and the othering of non-normative bodies. In many ways, it feels tailored for this moment, for this audience. —Autumn Wright


7. The Monkey King

Year: 2023
Director: Anthony Stacchi
Stars: Jimmy O. Yang, Bowen Yang, Jo Koy, Stephanie Hsu, BD Wong
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 9.0

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The Monkey King journeys to the Western streaming services once more with Netflix’s animated adventure from director Anthony Stacchi (The Boxtrolls, Open Season). As a notorious trickster figure of Chinese mythology, The Monkey King’s story is told time and again. His appearance in the 16th century epic Journey to the West, in which he atones for his misdeeds by aiding a Buddhist monk traveling to India in search of scriptures, makes him a mischievous yet reforming character who models and satirizes ancient Chinese values. Netflix’s delightful retelling of The Monkey King’s story takes place before the events of Journey to the West. Hatched from a rock as a baby monkey with laser vision, our hero quickly learns he doesn’t fit in with the other monkeys. But tricksters are all outsiders, and The Monkey King (Jimmy O. Yang) embraces his liminal status, striking out on his own to meet his destiny. (Re)united with his staff, named Stick for this retelling (with sentient throat-singing by Nan Li), he foils the Dragon King (Bowen Yang) and sets off on a quest to join The Immortal Ones. But The Monkey King never ventures alone. This time he’s accompanied by Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport), a headstrong young villager who is a bit of an outcast herself. Together they’ll journey to hell, heaven and back again, with a bit of havoc along the way. The Monkey King becomes a work of cosmic color that changes form almost as often as its main character. The animation styles whiz by in kaleidoscopic fashion. The few songs written by composers Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss are just as eclectic as the animation styles. Jimmy O. Yang voices our trickster hero with a fitting power and mischievousness. Bowen Yang’s wry and riotous performance as the Dragon King is nothing short of robe-dropping. Those who have grown up steeped in Chinese mythology and iterations of The Monkey King’s story will catch the continual references to other chapters in his saga and Chinese mythology in general. Still, The Monkey King feels like a proper place for experiments in cross-cultural entertainment because Journey to the West is a story of cultures mixing and learning. The film is an enjoyably swinging adventure across time, worlds, and cultures. It’s an enchanting reminder that mythology can be diplomatic and a wonderful way to venture into new worldviews. —B. Panther


8. The Sea Beast

the-sea-beast-poster.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Chris Williams
Stars: Karl Urban, Zaris-Angel Hator, Jared Harris, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dan Stevens, Kathy Burke
Rating: PG
Paste Review Score: 8.5

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When cartographers allowed their senses of imagination and self-preservation to fill the unexplored regions of their maps, they used to warn of creatures like lions, elephants and walruses. Creatures beyond understanding, with teeth and trunks and tusks easy to caricature into danger. But we mostly remember that when you sail to the faded edge of knowledge, there be dragons. The Sea Beast deftly hones this ancient human fear into a sharpened spear tip, striking at ignorance. Its swashbuckling adventure navigates a sea filled with massive critters sure to whet kids’ appetites for piracy, Godzilla films and exciting animation. The first movie from longtime Disney story staple Chris Williams after leaving the House of Mouse for Netflix, The Sea Beast is, to paraphrase Jared Harris’ Ahab-like Captain Crow, all piss and vinegar. That the film even alludes to the phrase, and drops a few other lightly-salted lines you might expect from some seasoned sea dogs, is indicative of its separation from the sanitized juggernaut. It looks violence in the eye; it isn’t afraid to make its threats real. All rightfully so. Telling a tall tale of hunters—mercenary crews funded by a colonialist crown to take out the kaijus populating the ocean—wouldn’t be right without at least a little edge. Our way into the world, the young Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), has experienced its dangerous realities firsthand: Her parents went down with a ship, leaving her as one of dozens of hunter orphans. But that hasn’t stopped her from lionizing her martyred family (something explicitly encouraged by the monarchy) and seeking her own glory. Stowing away on Crow’s ship, the Inevitable, she and the capable Jacob (Karl Urban) find themselves confronting the legendary ambitions they’ve built up in their own heads. Williams and co-writer Nell Benjamin immediately drop us into the Inevitable’s quest to take out Crow’s toothy and horned Red Whale, dubbed the Red Bluster, with total confidence that there’s no time like maritime. As our eyes roll and pitch across the impressively realistic waves and our ears try to follow the meticulously detailed helmsmanship, the hunting scenes ensnare us like the catch of the day. We understand the hierarchy of the diverse crew, the honor code among hunters, the tactics needed to take down imposing creatures that look like Toho turned their greatest hits into Pokémon. It’s savvy and respectful writing, put into legible action by Williams’ skilled hand, that trusts in its setting and subject matter to be inherently cool, and in its audience to greedily follow along. By the time the lances are flying, the cannons are firing and the creatures are dying—or are they?—you’re as deeply hooked as any dad watching Master and Commander. A delightful new-school deconstruction of old-school Romantic adventure that never compromises on the lushness of setting, color and emotion inherent in the latter, The Sea Beast rises to the front of Netflix’s animated offerings like a high tide.—Jacob Oller


9. Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood

apollo-10-1-2-poster.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Milo Coy, Jack Black, Glen Powell, Zachary Levi, Josh Wiggins, Lee Eddy, Bill Wise, Natalia L’Amoreaux, Jessica Brynn Cohen, Sam Chipman, Danielle Guilbot
Rating: PG-13
Paste Review Score: 8.0

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Near the end of Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood, Richard Linklater’s luscious rotoscope ode to the tail-end of the 1960s, the father of our young protagonist Stanley (Milo Coy) worries that his son slept through a historic event. “Even if he was asleep,” says Stanley’s mom (Lee Eddy), “he’ll one day think he saw it all.” The magic trick that is memory serves as the basis of Apollo, a film that recalls Apollo 11 from the rose-colored perspective of Stan, a ten-year-old boy living in Houston—Linklater’s childhood stomping grounds—at the time of the mission. The film begins with two suited men pulling Stan aside at school and informing him that NASA accidentally built a spaceship that was too small for an adult to ride in. Given this, they’ll need Stan to perform a test run to the Moon instead of one of their highly trained adult astronauts. What follows is a 90-minute, highly sentimental, kaleidoscopic examination of 1969, spliced with moments from the greatest fantasy of the Stanleys of the world: Traveling to space. Linklater doesn’t spare any detail of what life was like back then, nor does he worry about boring audiences by delving into the minutiae of it all. Grown-up Stanley (Jack Black), Apollo’s narrator, bounces confidently between descriptions of the monotonous games the neighborhood kids used to play, breakdowns of the plots of old black-and-white sci-fi shows, the conservative methodologies Stanley’s mom applies in making school lunches for her kids, the nuances of spending time with grandparents who lived through the Depression and everything in between. Everything in the film that has to do with chronicling life in 1969 is so captivating on its own that one can’t help but wonder what Apollo would be like if it removed Stanley’s outer space subplot altogether. Still, where Apollo succeeds, it really succeeds. It’s a stylish meditation on childhood that isn’t afraid to indulge in all the sentimentality that goes along with that. Almost 30 years after Dazed and Confused, Linklater is still reminding us exactly why childhood is a uniquely special thing.—Aurora Amidon


10. Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical

matilda-musical.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Matthew Warchus
Stars: Alisha Weir, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough, Lashana Lynch, Sindhu Vee, Emma Thompson
Genre: Musical
Rating: PG

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Many of Roald Dahl’s fantastical stories include adults being exceptionally malicious to children, and that’s certainly the case in Matilda the Musical. Matilda Wormwood’s (Alisha Weir) parents never wanted her, are casually cruel and neglect her to the point they forget to send her to school. Once at school, called Crunchem Hall where a statue with the words “No Sniveling” greets students and headmistress Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson) delights in torturing children. The school motto is “Children are Maggots.” Nice, right? Orphaned children singing about their troubles while unifying their peers is a musical staple (see: Annie). But Matilda is a decidedly stranger, darker show. Matilda has a vivid imagination and magical powers. When she’s not standing up to Miss Trunchbull or dealing with her garish parents, she tells extraordinary, disturbing stories about an Escapologist (Carl Spencer) and an Acrobat (Lauren Alexandra) to kind traveling librarian Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee). But none of that really matters, because Matilda the Musical, an adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical, is so good. Just give yourself over the utter weirdness. Weir is fantastic, bringing a plucky spunk and some fantastic vocals to the lead, while Thompson leaves all (and I do mean all) vanity behind as the horrific Trunchbull. Lashana Lynch is goodness personified as Matilda’s loving teacher Miss Honey; Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are tawdry comic relief as Matilda’s awful parents. And wow, those musical numbers. With original music and lyrics by Tim Minchin, the songs and the accompanying choreography, by Ellen Kane, are full of energy and deliciously executed dance moves. The cast of children, many of whom in their film debut, are terrific. And the message of Matilda the Musical is a good one. Children should be listened to. They know and understand more than you think, and today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. Even though they’re little, they can do a lot. Matilda the Musical is a movie for the entire family that will leave you singing and dancing. A movie musical this good is a miracle—you can tell Matilda’s parents I said so. —Amy Amatangelo


11. Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack

mobile-suit-gundam-chars-counterattack-poster.jpgYear: 1988
Director: Yoshiyuki Tomino
Stars: Toru Furuya, Shuichi Ikeda, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Maria Kawamura, Nozomu Sasaki, Koichi Yamadera
Rating: TV-14

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The first Gundam theatrical film and final chapter in the original saga begun in 1979 with the “Universal Century Timeline” of the Mobile Suit Gundam TV series, Char’s Counterattack has the weight of three seasons of TV behind it. Yoshiyuki Tomino, creator of the Gundam series, directed and wrote the film, adapting it faithfully from his novel, Hi-Streamer. Widely considered the best film in the Gundam franchise, Char’s Counterattack is most successful at wrapping up the 14-year rivalry between the “hero” of the Earth Federation, Amuro Ray, and the leader of Neo-Zeon, Char Aznable. The story involves a classic Gundam dilemma: Char’s Neo-Zeon force attempts to drop an asteroid filled with nuclear weapons onto Earth, which would free the colonies from the yoke of oppression by their rivals, the Earth Federation, and kill everyone on Earth in the process. As with all of the best Gundam tales, Tomino approaches the story from a hard sci-fi point of view, clearly laying out the science behind things like giant mobile suits and “newtypes” (humans that have evolved to acquire psychic abilities). Tomino carefully lays out the reasoning behind Char and Amuro’s passions and hatreds, not allowing the viewer to choose a clear side. Gundam series have always been willing to take on discussions about the horrors of war and how mankind, for all its advancements, never seems to be able to free itself from humanity’s baser instincts. Char’s Counterattack attempts this as well, yet it’s mostly concerned with wrapping up the rivalry between Amuro and Char—and on that note, it succeeds wildly. Featuring gorgeous, tense fight sequences set in space, an excellent soundtrack by Shigeaki Saegusa, and some of the most lauded Gundam designs in the history of the franchise, the film is inarguably one of the high points of the Gundam Universe. One downside: If you don’t have the investment of spending hundreds of episodes of television with these characters, the plot can be confusing, and Char/Amuro’s ending will likely not resonate as strongly. Regardless, Char’s Counterattack remains a key moment in the Gundam universe, one still worth checking out almost 30 years later. Hail Zeon! —Jason DeMarco


12. Wendell & Wild

wendell-wild.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Henry Selick
Starring: Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Angela Bassett, Lyric Ross, Ving Rhames
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rating: PG-13

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Early on, Wendell & Wild feels like it might not be for kids so much as inebriated adults. Over the course of its runtime, that is revealed to be a reductive appraisal—it’s a spooky coming-of-age comedy made of sad and dramatic moments which demonstrate the importance of community resistance to corporate control of the government. The plot has enough going on that it could have been a TV series or a two-parter, but for whatever its flaws or limitations, it flows coherently for 106 minutes to a satisfactory conclusion. All the while, it’s a marvel of artistry and artisanship, with a soundtrack full of Black-fronted rock bands to boot. Kat (Lyric Ross), a young green-haired Black girl, loses her parents—pillars of their community—in a car accident and is roughed up over the years by the juvenile justice system as the film visually summarizes through shadow-puppet illustrations of memories. It’s a nice added layer, artistically and didactically. A grant-funded reintegration program brings Kat back to her now largely-deserted hometown, Rust Bank, and its eponymous private Catholic school. There, Kat discovers her supernatural connection to the underworld through Wendell (Keegan-Michael Key) and Wild (Jordan Peele). Wendell & Wild reminded me of Beetlejuice and Nightmare Before Christmas, but it isn’t cribbing from what has come before. It’s building on it, and kids and parents everywhere are lucky to have this film. Selick hasn’t directed a lot of movies, but his films have a lasting impact, etching themselves in the memories of their audiences for decades. —Kevin Fox, Jr.


13. Orion and the Dark

Year: 2024
Director: Sean Charmatz
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Angela Bassett, Colin Hanks, Natasia Demetriou, Nat Faxon, Ike Barinholtz, Carla Gugino
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rating: TV-Y7

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A children’s movie written by Charlie Kaufman; that’s a sentence that reads like a wry joke in a movie written by Charlie Kaufman (I’m Thinking of Ending Things). But it’s actually a real thing. Kaufman has adapted Emma Yarlett’s preschool picture book, Orion and the Dark, into Netflix’s animated film of the same name. And let me tell you, Orion and the Dark is the most Kaufman-esque children’s movie you could possibly imagine, replete with oodles of existential anxiety, a metafiction narrative and a surprisingly emotional payoff. If Kaufman were to ever admit that he basically conscripted Yarlett’s simple tale—of Dark hanging out with a kid who is afraid of him—as a conduit to write a semi-autobiographical expose of how neurotic little Charlie grew up to be the screenwriter we know and love today, I would not be surprised. Luckily, his script found the perfect animation collaborators in first-time director Sean Charmatz, production designer Tim Lamb and art director Christine Bian who have created a visual landscape that translates the writer’s weirdness into something charming and digestible for both kids and adults.  —Tara Bennett


14. Puss in Boots: The Last Wishboots-wish.jpgRelease Date: December 21, 2022
Director: Joel Crawford
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Da’Vine Joy
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Rating: PG

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After an 11-year cat nap, our favorite orange outlaw is back for another flamenco adventure. Told with a bold and contemporary visual style, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish celebrates the magic of classic folklore with the reverential irreverence we’ve come to love about this storybookland. What could have easily been a hairball of half-digested nostalgia is transformed into a mature and cat-ivating story that positively purrs. When we last left our fearless feline, Puss (Antonio Banderas) was still running across terracotta rooftops. But now it seems all nine of his lives have finally caught up with him. Down to his last life and suddenly aware of his mortality, his only hope of getting his lives back is to wish upon the magic star lodged in the heart of The Dark Forest. His journey crosses paths with his old flame, Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), and Puss even gets his own chatty sidekick/service animal (Harvey Guillén), just like his old pal Shrek. To find the magic star and make a wish, they’ll need to conquer new foes: Goldi (Florence Pugh), The Three Bears (Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo) and Little Jack Horner (John Mulaney). Together they’ll prove there’s no more wondrous magic than Team Friendship. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish excels where The Swampverse has always succeeded: Indexing classic folklore. Like Jack Horner’s collection of magic artifacts being pulled from a bottomless bag, Fisher and Swerdlow provide an unending stream of references to stories, tales, songs and lullabies that we don’t share anymore. No other films today celebrate Mother Goose lullabies, idioms, Dancehall music and literary fairy tales the same way The Last Wish does, let alone takes the time to remind us of the difference between these cultural genres. —B.L. Panther


15. Leo

Year: 2023
Directors: Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, David Wachtenheim
Stars: Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong
Genre: Animation, comedy
Rating: PG

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Truth be told, I’m not really in the Adam Sandler demographic. But I was pleasantly surprised by Leo, an animated movie starring Sandler, his wife Jackie and kids Sadie and Sunny, as well as an ensemble cast including the likes of Bill Burr, Cecily Strong and Rob Schneider. My two kids (ages 13 and 11) and I didn’t expect much from Leo the lizard (Sandler), a class pet, and the friendship that evolves between the reptile and the Florida students in their final year of elementary school. But we were pleasantly surprised; my kids were in stitches at several spots, while I was quite amused. Leo proved to be a perfect, lighthearted watch on a rainy evening that left us with a feeling of bonhomie before switching off the lights for the night. Part of Leo’s charm lies in the story. Leo is 74 years old, and has shared the same glass tank with Squirtle the Turtle (Burr) for more than seven decades. When Leo learns that he may only have another year to live, he wants to make a mad dash for the Everglades and catch the sunsets in the wild before his own final sunset. An opportunity presents itself when the mean substitute teacher Mrs. Malkin (Strong) forces the students to take one of the pets home for the weekend. Summer (Sunny Sandler), the class keener who can bore everyone into facial paralysis with her neverending spiels, gets the first assignment. While making his escape, Leo accidentally lets slip that he can talk. And it turns out that he’s a good listener too. Years of watching the kids go in and out of the classroom makes him a de facto therapist, and he dispenses his wisdom generously, often in nonsensical songs. Leo’s animation is fine; no fancy tricks on the CGI front. Its songs are not schmaltzy, and as such are unlikely to become annoying anthems such as “Let It Go.” If you’re looking for a general mood lifter, and something easy to watch, Leo is a great option. —Aparita Bhandari


16. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

farmageddon.jpgYear: 2020
Directors: Richard Phelan, Will Becher
Stars: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Kids & Family
Rating: PG

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The second Aardman film featuring the smirking, chuckling lil’ scamp Shaun the Sheep, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon takes all the painstakingly lovely claymation of the studio’s previous film and its Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run-filled filmography (which see cameos over the course of the media-stuffed movie) and gives it a broad coat of sci-fi paint. The resulting slapstick, which sees cute baby alien Lu-La stumble onto Mossy Bottom Farm, traverses territory familiar to any fan of the genre while making it accessible to everyone—think of it like a hilarious silent comedy giving young kids a piggyback ride through the likes of E.T., Close Encounters, and The X-Files. Helmers Richard Phelan and Will Becher keep things lively and sharp, with a rollicking pace and diverse antics that are as timeless, hilarious, and age-agnostic as the work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Just fluffier. Farmageddon even taps a bit into a Pixar-esque message system (albeit a simpler theme targeted towards a younger set) about kindness and empathy regardless of differences. It’s a soft and simple movie, with much more in common with the easygoing vibe of kid’s animated TV rather than the sharpest of British comedy, but it’s one that’s completely enjoyable—and that’s a rarity for any film, let alone one basically guaranteed to put at least one livestock-driven smile on your face. —Jacob Oller


17. My Father’s Dragon

my-fathers-dragon.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Nora Twomey
Stars: Jacob Tremblay, Gaten Matarazzo, Golshifteh Farahani, Dianne Wiest, Rita Moreno
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rating: PG-13

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My Father’s Dragon, the latest film from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, is directed by studio co-founder Nora Twomey and based on the beloved children’s book of the same name created by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This adaptation brings to life, in gorgeous 2D animation, a kaleidoscope of surreal visuals and strange creatures encountered by a little boy and his dragon friend. Theirs is an intimate story about processing fear, especially speaking to those children wrestling with the burdens of having to emotionally navigate real-world stresses that invade their lives too soon. Like Gannett’s book, My Father’s Dragon is also narrated (sparsely) by the unseen grown child (Mary Kay Place) of the story’s protagonist, Elmer Elevator (Jacob Tremblay). She sets up an adventure Elmer had in his childhood that not only utilized his talent for finding things, but was also life-changing, involving a talking cat (Whoopi Goldberg) and a dragon (Gaten Matarazzo). Twomey and her artists have done the magic of staying within the illustration aesthetic of their studio’s signature approach, while expanding that into a more surrealistic and fanciful approach that feels individual and unique. It will especially appeal to the sensitive kids (and adults) in your life, and it most definitely meets the high standards Cartoon Saloon continues to make in the medium. —Tara Bennett


18. Klaus

klaus.jpgYear: 2019
Director: Sergio Pablos
Stars: Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, Will Sasso, Norm Macdonald, Sergio Pablos
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG

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Sergio Pablos’ lauded Netflix film Klaus would be a Christmas mythology origin for the ages just on its looks alone, but its complex and mature telling should woo plenty of adults and savvy kids by being a (wood)cut above pretty much all of its animated ilk. The story of its isolated people—from its postman (Jason Schwartzman) to its toy-making hermit (J.K. Simmons) to the ferryman (Norm Macdonald) connecting them all—and feuding clans might contain too much narrative for younger viewers, but its message is crystal clear: Even if started for the wrong reasons, good actions can bring about good results. Some incredible, complex lighting gives the hot-and-cold film’s interiors the look of a fireside, while its exaggerated characters are a delight to watch navigate its realistic world. Not every piece of pop culture needs an origin story, but if they’re as nuanced and beautiful as Klaus, they stand to stuff the stockings of our legends with more than coal. —Jacob Oller

19. The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Year: 2023
Director: Michael Jelenic
Stars: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen
Genre: Kids, Fantasy
Rating: PG

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The most tastefully restrained thing about The Super Mario Bros. Movie is that it somehow took nearly 30 years to arrive. The new movie comes from hit factory Illumination, and though Illumination has a clear house style, it’s also apparently amenable to being overwritten with Nintendo’s code—which is to say, yes, the worlds of Mario look pretty much as a fan would picture it, translated into shiny computer animation. The colors mostly pop, the character designs are largely adorable and nothing looks too eerily, uncannily human. Even in the movie’s nominally non-fantastical Brooklyn, Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) are slightly cartoonier than the family and colleagues who scoff at the idea of two brothers striking out on their own with a plumbing business. While attending to a plumbing emergency, the brothers are sucked into some kind of pipe vortex and separated in a strange new world. Mario lands in the Mushroom Kingdom, where he meets excitable little mushroom guy Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and the brave Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy), who frets over an imminent attack from the fearsome turtle-dragon Bowser (Jack Black). Luigi has wound up in Bowser’s territory, so Mario, Toad and Peach set off to rescue him while fortifying their defenses against Bowser. In one context, The Super Mario Bros. Movie might seem downright reprehensible: It’s a brand extension with only vacuous and insincere things to say, designed to set children in search of dopamine-hit recognition (was that Yoshi?! Will he be in the sequel?!). In the context of having a seven-year-old daughter who grinned through much of the movie and laughed with me at a silly Jack Black tune, it seems mostly harmless. —Jesse Hassenger

20. The Boss Baby

boss baby netflixYear: 2017
Director: Tom McGrath
Stars: Alec Baldwin, Lisa Kudrow, Jimmy Kimmel, Steve Buscemi
Genre: Comedy, animation
Rating: PG

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By all accounts, Tom McGrath’s The Boss Baby is a bizarre film. It imagines that the horror of displacement from the center of one’s family is analogous to corporate takeover (with new babies churned along on a conveyor belt, a select few chosen for “upper management”); that capitalism is so entrenched in the way we think and operate it shapes how we view conception; and that the selfishness of babies is comparable to the dispassionate self-interest of the Suits. Still, most poignantly, it dissects not only how we feel about validation, but how we prioritize it. Its recent Academy Award nomination has sparked skepticism, but perhaps its vivacity and emotional acumen make it both deserving of its nod. When the arrival of a younger brother (Alec Baldwin as Theodore, though the movie mostly refers to him as the Boss Baby) upends seven-year-old year old Tim Templeton’s (Miles Christopher Bakshi) domestic life–once filled with phantasmagorically imaginative episodes of adventure for only him and his parents–Tim initially sets out on a quest to mark his territory. Unused to the attention not being on him, he butts heads with his new baby sibling, and the two vie for their parents’ (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) attention. The Boss Baby looks like a manager, an uncompromising force all suited up, and the tension between the two reaches a detente when the Boss Baby reveals his identity and his mission: He is an undercover manager from BabyCo (where babies come from!) sent to Earth to recenter love and attention on babies because scientifically manufactured young pet animals have become a threat to the status quo. It is both a comedy of sibling rivalry and a corporate espionage film. The Boss Baby articulates a simplified version of Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, specifically the alienation of the worker from the act of production. Even though he makes it to the top of the hierarchy that exists within Baby Corp, the Boss Baby soon realizes that since he experiences such detachment from that labor, he might as well give it up altogether. The film’s reinforcement of nuclear family ideals ends up somewhat more egalitarian; the masculinist obsession with corporate success turns out, in fact, to be hollow and stultifying. That it can delineate between all these different types of fulfillment with such panache more than makes The Boss Baby worthy of a cookie. And cookies are for closers. —Kyle Turner


21. Enola Holmes

enola-holmes.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar
Genre: Thriller, Adventure
Rating: PG-13

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Someone’s finally done right by Millie Bobby Brown and cast her as a fully fleshed out character. While her roles in ’80s nostalgia bonanza Stranger Things (kid cursed with psychokinetic abilities fighting extradimensional monsters) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (kid torn between divorced parents and surrounded rampaging colossi), neither role demands that she emote beyond forlorn gazes. In Enola Holmes, a mystery focused on Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant kid sister and her efforts to foil crime, Brown finally gets to do more than scream and frown. While the movie itself is heavy on plot and heavier on exposition, Brown’s performance makes the story gallop at a breezy clip regardless. She’s liberated, appropriate given that Enola Holmes is about the liberation Enola finds as she comes of age, stepping out of the curated world erected around her by her enigmatic mum, Eudoria (Helena Bonham-Carter). When her mother goes missing, Enola quickly deduces Eudoria has gone on the lam, and so she leaves Ferndell, the Holmes family’s estate, armed with pugilist skills and worldly knowledge passed down to her by her mother, intent on finding her and understanding why she left in the first place. With a wink here, a smile there and a stock-still but knowing glance at viewers, Brown is a dynamo, full of vigor, cheer and enough pathos to make the sub-theme of civil unrest and social change feel real and relevant to children on the cusp of teenhood and teens on the cusp of adulthood. Enola Holmes is about serious matters. Fortunately, it isn’t a serious film, which makes a nice change of pace from the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC series, which never give in to the idea that tracking clues and apprehending villains could actually be fun. —Andy Crump


22. The Munsters

munsters.jpgYear: 2022
Director: Rob Zombie
Stars: Jeff Daniel Phillips, Sheri Moon Zombie, Daniel Roebuck
Genre: Comedy
Rating: PG

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Rob Zombie’s newest feature is his Netflix adaptation of the The Munsters, a family-friendly American sitcom from the 1960s about the goofy, supernatural Transylvanian clan who struggle to fit in among the suburbia of their neighborhood on Mockingbird Lane. If you’re well-acquainted with Zombie, it’s as if his career has been leading up to this. The Munsters has been a direct source of inspiration for Zombie since childhood. The narrative is an origin story, Zombie’s vision from the start, not assuming the audience is entirely caught up on the series. It follows the hijinks-laden creation of Herman Munster by mad scientist Dr. Henry Augustus Wolfgang (Richard Brake), whose doltish assistant Floop (Jorge Garcia) accidentally implants the brain of a flop comedian instead of a genius. Herman’s inception comes at just the right time, as poor Lily is desperate for love but perpetually disappointed by the Transylvanian dating scene. Goofy Herman is Lily’s dream man, and the two meet, fall in love and get married. This is much to the chagrin of The Count (Grandpa Munster, pre-Grandpa), who disapproves of the dimwitted Herman. It’s Herman’s density that puts the family in financial peril, as a scheme concocted by The Count’s vengeful ex-wife, Zoya (Catherine Schell)—in alliance with The Count’s estranged, werewolf son, Lester (Tomas Boykin)—ends up forcing the Munsters to start a new life in sunny California. Zombie’s Munsters film turns out to be the only kind that he could have directed: An extremely earnest, incredibly cheesy adaptation that stays true to the show while being suitably inventive. He creates an off-beat origin story for the Munster family that is neither superfluous nor redundant and always utterly gorgeous, putting the consistently dull, muted color palettes of modern films (chiefly and ironically, Netflix fare) to shame. —Brianna Zigler


23. Lyle, Lyle Crocodile

lyle-lyle.jpgYear: 2022
Directors: Will Speck, Josh Gordon
Starring: Shawn Mendes, Javier Bardem, Constance Wu, Winslow Fegley, Scoot McNairy, Brett Gelman
Rating: PG

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If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile desperately wants to be the American incarnation of Paul King’s Paddington movies, considered by many fans of family-friendly films to be the cream of the contemporary crop. Lyle wants this so badly that it turns most of the elements of King’s films into a checklist: Adorable animal protagonist, family with a creative mom and stuffy-but-sweet dad, a hateful neighbor, wrongful imprisonment. It even mimics the warm bohemian colors and vintage clutter of King’s films. Some of the charm is there, too. However, in their quest to follow Paddington’s lead, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck miss the secret sauce of King’s movies: Not only are they sweet and touching, they’re also great examples of economical storytelling. Lyle, by contrast, skips substance for flash and replaces actual communication and growth with musical numbers that don’t fill that void. At the beginning of the film, Lyle—a singing crocodile whose dulcet tones are voiced by Shawn Mendes—is discovered in the back of a pet shop by struggling performer Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem). Hector takes Lyle home in the hopes of creating a double-act. Lyle can only verbally communicate through song, but his stage fright prevents the act from taking off. Hector goes on the road to make some quick cash, abandoning Lyle. Eighteen months later, the Primm family—teacher Mr. Primm (Scoot McNairy), cookbook author Mrs. Primm (Constance Wu) and their nervous pre-teen son Josh (Winslow Fegley) move into Hector’s old house. The Primms inherit both Lyle, whom Josh immediately takes to, and persnickety downstairs neighbor Mr. Grumps (Brett Gelman). Lyle eventually wins the whole Primm family over, but his future with them gets complicated when Hector comes back into their lives. Lyle is lovingly animated and expressive, making him easy to like. However, the character is stymied by his ability to sing, but not talk. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile knows what kind of movie it wants to be, but unfortunately the folks behind the camera don’t know how to make that happen. In true American fashion, Gordon, Speck and screenwriter Will Davies get caught up in unnecessary gimmickry that nearly undermines the movie’s natural charm. —Abby Olcese


24. Over the Moon

over-the-moon.jpgYear: 2020
Director: Glen Keane
Stars: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeung
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG

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Over the Moon was Netflix’s first bold step into the realm of producing animated films to rival those of Disney. Directed by former Disney animator Glen Keane, who was responsible for bringing films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Tangled to life, and containing a collection of catchy and heartwarming songs, explosively colorful animation and a story immersed in Chinese culture, the film seems to have all the pieces of another animation classic. The film follows a 14-year-old Chinese girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) living with her now-single father four years after the passing of her mother. Still grieving her loss, Fei Fei clings to her mother’s traditional stories of the goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo) living on the moon, awaiting her departed lover, and believes that if she can prove to her father that Chang’e exists, he will follow her example and stop trying to start a new family. Even if poorly contextualized, the beautiful animation sequences of Over the Moon can’t be ignored, and there are times when the colorful display is mesmerizing enough to distract from the plot confusion. There’s a good chance that very young kids will love the movie for its bright colors and cute animals alone, and its songs are catchy enough to not likely drive their parents up the wall upon the millionth time being played. —Joseph Stanichar


25. Vivo

vivo.jpgYear: 2021
Director: Kirk DeMicco, Brandon Jeffords
Stars: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ynairaly Simo, Zoe Saldaña, Juan de Marcos González, Brian Tyree Henry, Gloria Estefan, Nicole Byer, Michael Rooker, Leslie David Baker, Katie Lowes, Olivia Trujillo, Lidya Jewett
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rating: PG

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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s gift with music is unparalleled. He has the unique ability to pair a rapid and clever turn of phrase with an infectious musical hook. The cadence of his voice conveys a longing and hopefulness which, it turns out, works if you are playing one of the founding fathers or an adorable animated animal. Miranda is the perfect choice to voice the title character in the new Netflix movie Vivo. Vivo is a kinkajou, also known as “honey bear,” a rainforest animal in the raccoon family (although Vivo, with his jaunty hat and stylish scarf, is a lot cuter than a raccoon). Vivo spends his days performing with his owner Andrés (Juan de Marcos González) in Havana, Cuba. Vivo thinks his life and its comfortable predictability is perfect. (Viewers can understand Vivo, but to Andrés and everyone else in the movie, Vivo speaks in adorable coos and gibberish.) One day Andrés gets a letter from his old love Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan) asking if he will perform with her one last time at her farewell performance in Miami. Andrés finds the love song he wrote for her years ago and decides he must get the song to her. Alas, a tragedy prevents Andrés from making this journey and Vivo decides he must leave the security of the world he knows to get this song to Marta. Vivo’s travels take him from Havana to Key West to the Everglades to Miami. Along the way he meets Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), a confident, purple-haired 10-year-old who is not in the mood to be like all the other girls. Vivo serves as a vibrant love letter to Cuba, Florida and the people who inhabit them. The more diversity shown in movies aimed at children, the better. Even if this version of Florida is nothing like what we are seeing in the news these days, I’m all for this aspirational Florida. Part adventure, part wistful romance—alongside some nice lessons imparted about friendship, family and taking risks—Vivo is enjoyable and familiar. It probably isn’t a children’s movie we will still be talking about years from now, but I will at least be singing “My Own Drum” for days. —Amy Amatangelo

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