The 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now (Fall 2020)

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The 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now (Fall 2020)

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 even if your kids haven’t, ‘80s classics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. 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 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-spider-verse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin
Genre: Superhero, Animation, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Action & Adventure, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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There are, rarely, films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where ingredients, execution and imagination all come together in a manner that’s engaging, surprising and, most of all, fun. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, writer-director Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord have made a film that lives up to all the adjectives one associates with Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler. Amazing. Spectacular. Superior. (Even “Friendly” and “Neighborhood” fit.) Along the way, Into the Spider-Verse shoulders the immense Spider-Man mythos like it’s a half-empty backpack on its way to providing Miles Morales with one of the most textured, loving origin stories in the superhero genre. Plenty of action films with much less complicated plots and fewer characters to juggle have failed, but this one spins order from the potential chaos using some comic-inspired narrative devices that seamlessly embed the needed exposition into the story. It also provides simultaneous master classes in genre filmmaking. Have you been wondering how best to intersperse humor into a storyline crowded with action and heavy emotional arcs? Start here. Do you need to bring together a diverse collection of characters, nimbly move them (together and separately) from setting to setting and band them together in a way that the audience doesn’t question? Take notes. Do you have an outlandish, fantastical concept that you need to communicate to the viewers (and characters) without bogging down the rest of the story? This is one way to do it. Would you like to make an instant contemporary animated classic? Look (and listen). —Michael Burgin


2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

raiders-of-the-lost-ark.jpg Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Wolf Kahler, Ronald Lacey
Genre: Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 115 minutes

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A near-perfect distillation of the excitement and fun of the radio and pulp serials of yesteryear, Raiders of the Lost Ark established Harrison Ford’s wookie-free leading man credentials once and for all (with an assist from Blade Runner). The film also raises the question: Has anyone had a more impressive, more industry-transformative five-year run than Spielberg & Lucas did from 1977-1982? —Michael Burgin


3. Back to the Future

back-to-the-future.jpg Year: 1985
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells
Genre: Comedy, Science-Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 116 minutes

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Not until Matt Groening/David X. Cohen’s animated TV series Futurama would we again see the lighter side of the grave consequences inherent in time-travel paradoxes. Robert Zemeckis and Michael J. Fox each securely attached their names on the A-list with this sci-fi comedy that ensured Christopher Lloyd would be forever associated with the Crackpot Inventor archetype, and that any DeLorean on the road would eventually be ticketed for speeds in excess of 88 mph. —Scott Wold


4. The Breadwinner

breadwinner-poster.jpg Year: 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Stars: Saara Chaudry, Soma Bhatia, Kawa Ada, Ali Badshah, Shaista Latif
Genre: Animation, Drama, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 93 minutes

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Having worked on both The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, Nora Twomey has taken a different tack than her Cartoon Saloon cohort, Tomm Moore, departing the mythology-rich shores of Ireland for the mountains of Afghanistan, focusing on the region’s own folklore against the backdrop of Taliban rule. The film is based on Deborah Ellis’s 2000 novel of the same name, the story of a young girl named Parvana who disguises herself as a boy to provide for her family after her father is seized by the Taliban. Being a woman in public is bad for your health in Kabul. So is educating women. Parvana (Saara Chaudry) understands the dire circumstances her father’s arrest forces upon her family, and recognizes the danger of hiding in plain sight to feed them. Need outweighs risk. So she adopts a pseudonym on advice from her friend, Shauzia (Soma Bhatia), who is in the very same position as Parvana, and goes about the business of learning how to play-act as a dude in a world curated by dudes. Meanwhile, Parvana’s embrace of familial duty is narrated concurrently with a story she tells to her infant brother, about a young boy who vows to reclaim his village’s stolen crop seeds from the Elephant King and his demonic minions in the Hindu Kush mountain range. If there’s a link that ties The Breadwinner to Moore’s films, besides appreciation for fables, it’s artistry: Like The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner is absolutely gorgeous, a cel-shaded stunner that blends animation’s most traditional form with interspersed cut out animation. The result mixes the fluid intangibility of the former with the tactile quality of the latter, layering the film’s visual scheme with color and texture. Twomey gives The Breadwinner ballast, binding it to the real-world history that serves as its basis, and elevates it to realms of imagination at the same time. It’s a collision of truth and fantasy. —Andy Crump


5. ParaNorman

paranorman.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell
Stars: Kodi Smt-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 96 minutes

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The beautifully crafted stop-motion film ParaNorman opens with two important pieces of information. First, we observe our young hero as he watches a B-zombie flick, complete with choppy edits and a boom mic that creeps its way into the frame. This lets us know that the filmmakers approach the upcoming story with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Second, Norman carries on a conversation with his grandmother. This part of the scene is only significant once we learn that grandma is quite dead. The tale that follows is part Something Wicked This Way Comes, part The Goonies. The town of Blithe Hollow, once a colonial village, now a struggling tourist trap, has lived under the threat of a witch’s curse for 300 years—long enough for fear to transmogrify into camp. Norman can see and talk with ghosts, an ability that might make him quite popular with the dead set, but one that does little to improve his social standing with his living schoolmates… or his immediate family. At school, Norman is subject to bullying from students and teachers alike, and we quickly come to care for this small, tough, sweet boy as he patiently cleans the word “freak” from his locker. Another social outcast, the rotund Neil latches onto Norman, becoming his new best friend (whether Norman wants one or not). The arrival of Neil also indicates the arrival of the true heart of this endearing film, which is its humor. ParaNorman took two years to animate, and it shows in the exquisite craftsmanship of its design and execution. The artistic direction illustrates such a love for detail and texture that every bit of scenic design, from the town hall to a plastic bag caught in a fence, creates a perfect world for this story. Lead Animator Travis Knight and his sprawling team of animators, designers, and fabricators execute the vision with great flair. The result is a clear-headed and touching film about finding your own purpose, accepting others as they are and, most importantly, forgiveness. —Clay Steakley


6. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

cagliostro.jpg Year: 1979
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Stars: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Goro Naya
Genre: Animation, Acton & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: NR
Runtime: 100 minutes

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The nature of Miyazaki’s oeuvre is such that it brims with an embarrassment of riches, each film in its own part situated indelibly into the continuum that is the anime canon. His films garner so much acclaim for their visual storytelling and emotional virtuosity that even those few that could be considered his “worst” movies still rank leagues above those animators who only aspire to his status. Case in point: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki’s take on Kazuhiko Kato’s notorious master criminal is at once a rip-roaring heist film with heart and what might arguably be Miyazaki’s lesser films. Chalk it up to Miyazaki’s nascent efforts as a director; Castle of Cagliostro suffers from a plodding middle half and a disappointingly simplistic antagonist while still somehow managing to sparkle with his signature charm peeking through the baggage of a preexisting work. Fans of the series passionately criticized the film for relieving Lupin of his anarchic predilections and instead casting him in the mold of a true gentleman thief, stealing only when his nebulous sense of honor permits it. In any case, The Castle of Cagliostro remains an important and essential artifact of Miyazaki’s proto-Ghibli work. A flawed Miyazaki film is a triumph all the same. —Toussaint Egan


7. Ralph Breaks the Internet

ralph-breaks-internet-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Phil Johnston, Rich Moore
Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Jack McBrayer, Taraji P. Henson
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Kids & Family
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

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When it was released in 2012, Wreck-It Ralph hit theatergoers over the head with its incredible animation, videogame call backs and moving story. As the title suggests, and as sequels tend to do, Ralph Breaks the Internet greatly expands the Wreck-It Ralph universe even as it further develops the tensions inherent in the relationship status quo present when the film begins. Wreck-It Ralph existed in a self-contained bubble—a villain longed to be a hero. A glitch longed to be fixed. Together, they help one another understand the beauty within and save one another. Ralph Breaks the Internet bursts out of those confines and escapes to the larger stage of the internet.Directors Phil Johnston and Rich Moore are no strangers to world building, having worked together on Zootopia, and it’s in bringing worlds to life that the power of Disney’s team of artists and craftspeople is most apparent (and impressive). But ultimately, much like the original, Ralph Breaks the Internet delivers it strongest punches when it’s focused on the evolution of Ralph and Vanellope’s relationship. It’s clear pretty much from the start that their relationship has become toxic. Ralph, well-meaning as he may be, has formed an unhealthy attachment to his best friend. As we as a society continue to define toxic masculinity and what abuse looks like, Ralph Breaks the Internet feels like a timely introduction to the topic for children. Instead of being just another manifestation of the “girl power/you can be anything” trope, it populates the screen with women in powerful positions—as an actual CEO, as the leader of a dope car crew, and as a little girl trying to find her place in the world. It’s a reminder that girl power exists naturally; it does not need to be forced. That’s a message worth building a franchise around. —Joelle Monique


8. Hugo

hugo-214.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz
Genre: Mystery, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

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With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese has created a dazzling, wondrous experience, an undeniable visual masterpiece. In his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese weaves together his many passions and concerns: for art, for film, for fathers and father-figures. He retells the story of a boy (Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield) in search of a way to complete his father’s work. Alongside Hugo’s tale is the true story of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), one of the world’s first filmmakers. By film’s end, Hugo makes a persuasive case that the art of film is as Méliès defines it—the invention of dreams. (And conversely, there’s a case to be made that, in our modern world, dreams are now the invention of film.) Regardless, as an ode to the history of movies, this film is a success. Indeed, it soars in visual achievement, which is what the moving pictures were originally about. Martin Scorsese has made a 3D film in an attempt to point to that lifelike quality in movies that has always existed—even before 3D. This quality is the very essence of film, and it is glorified—and rightly so—in Hugo, a cinematic tribute to the art of movies and to art itself. —Shannon M. Houston


9. Muppets Most Wanted

muppets-most-wanted.jpg Year: 2014
Director: James Bobin
Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson
Genre: Comedy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

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The follow-up to 2011’s rebooted The Muppets pays specific tribute to Kermit, the beloved amphibian behind the Muppets’ longevity; the film shows us what the crew might look like without his guiding influence, and it’s a pretty anarchic picture. But unlike The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t overtly pay homage to its subjects, and instead quite contently filters its bounty of heist caper tropes through a felt-tinted lens. By doing so, the film ends up being just as much of an ode to the Muppets’ brand of unbridled delight without having to wax sentimental; in the end, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller cleverly get to have their cake and eat it, too. And so do we. —Andy Crump


10. The Dark Crystal

the-dark-crystal.jpg Year: 1982
Directors: Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Stars: John Baddeley, Stephen Garlick, David Buck
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

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In 1982, audiences were mixed on Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal, which was very much not in the same vein as The Muppets or Sesame Street. The strange, mystical film reveled in its fantasy setting, and in particular, its unique character design. One of the primary races in The Dark Crystal, the Skeksis, are massive, grotesque and wizened vulture-like creatures reminiscent of the inhabitants of Versailles—if those inhabitants were already dead. That was enough to spook parents looking for softer family-friendly fare in the ’80s, and perhaps rightfully so. And yet, revisiting the film in 2019 ahead of Netflix’s prequel series, it still feels bold. The Dark Crystal was ahead of its time in a number of ways, both in its “puppets, but dark!” aesthetic as well as its outstanding use of animatronic arts. There are sequences within The Dark Crystal that make time for the unnamed, fascinating, totally bizarre creatures that inhabit the world of Thra. These moments aren’t tied to plot, only world-building—which is a luxury few fantasy properties feel they can afford. A now rarely-used narrative device sets up the world of Thra and the origin of the central conflict: There is a life-giving crystal that was broken in two, giving rise to two opposing races. The aggressive Skeksis took over the throne while their counterparts, the gentle Mystics, retreated to the mountains. Caught up in the subsequent war was an elf-like race called Gelflings, all of whom have now been eradicated other than Jen (adopted by the Mystics) and—as we later come to find—Kira (adopted by the Podlings). Jen is also the one who has been chosen to find the shard to restore the crystal, bringing peace and balance to Thra. (That opening narration saves almost an entire act of exposition, and allows The Dark Crystal to have a hugely respectable 93-minute runtime.) Aside from a unique take on a familiar “chosen one” fantasy trope, where The Dark Crystal really shines is in its visual splendor. It’s clear how intricate and ornate these creatures are for casual Muppets fans as well as modern audiences. The design work—from the large-scale characters down to Fizzgig—creates an environment where there’s something intriguing to spot in every frame. Thra is a dying world that nevertheless feels fully alive because of the care that Henson, Gary Kurtz and Frank Oz put in to managing all of these extraordinary details. —Allison Keene


11. Song of the Sea

b>Year: 2014
Director: Tomm Moore
Stars: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

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Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea is an absolutely visceral stunner: you may find yourself wishing you could interact with its characters, live in its vividly realized world, participate in its defining ancestral conflicts. The alluring magic of its storytelling is buoyed by the textured, deceptively simple aesthetics of its 2D animation and a deep appreciation for national mythology; Moore saturates his film with enough references to Irish folklore to make Neil Gaiman blush. Song of the Sea begins with a trope familiar to many children’s movies—the death of a parent—and from there transitions into a yarn about sibling resentment. As a child, Ben (David Rawles) happily lives with his father, Conor (Brendan Gleeson), and his mother, Bronagh (Lisa Hannigan), until, spurred on for no immediately obvious reason, she seemingly abandons them; on that same night, she gives birth to a daughter, Saoirse, who all these years later still hasn’t learned to speak. Ben blames Saoirse for his mother’s death, and has diligently maintained a grudge against his sister ever since that fateful, stormy eve. But then Saoirse gets her tiny hands on a shell flute Bronagh bequeathed to Ben, and each tune she plays the instrument it slowly but surely reveals a hidden, enchanted world full of fae inhabitants. Thus, adventure commences. Bright and vibrant, fresh but wholly lived-in, Song of the Sea, like Moore’s previous film, 2009’s The Secret of Kells, is a beautiful tour through the legends that color his country’s proud history of narrative tradition. You will want to repeatedly revisit Ben’s and Saoirse’s world, peppered with whimsy and awe, sharing in the sort of lore-soaked fiction that most authors and directors wish they could come up with, creating something so effortlessly timeless. —Andy Crump


12. Enola Holmes

enola-holmes.jpg Year: 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
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
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


13. Mirai

mirai.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


14. Lu Over the Wall

lu-over-wall-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Stars: Kanon Tani, Shota Shimoda, Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh
Genre: Animated, Comedy, Kids & Family, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Rating: G
Runtime: 107 minutes

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Distributor GKids sells Lu Over the Wall as “family friendly,” which it is, an innocuous, offbeat alternative to the conventional computer animated joints typically found in modern multiplexes. But there’s “whimsical” and there’s “weird,” and Lu Over the Wall ventures well past the former and into the latter before director Masaaki Yuasa gets through the opening credits. Barely a moment goes by where we come close to touching base with reality: Even its most human beats, those precious hints of relatable qualities that encourage our empathy, are elongated, distorted, rendered nigh unrecognizable by exaggeration. Lu Over the Wall isn’t a movie that takes itself seriously, and for the average moviegoer, that’s very much a trait worth embracing. The plot is both simple and not: Teenager Kai (voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas in the English dub), recently relocated from Tokyo to the quiet fishing village of Hinashi, spends his days doing what most teenage boys do, sullenly hunkering down in his room and shutting out the world. As Kai struggles with his self-imposed isolation, he befriends Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), a manic pixie dream mermaid wrought in miniature. What’s a solitary emo boy to do in a literal and figurative fish-out-of-water plot that’s buttressed by xenophobic overtones? Lu Over the Wall blends joy with political allegory with vibrant color palettes with storytelling magic, plus some actual magic, plus too many upbeat musical interludes to count. Describing the film merely as “creative” feels like an insult to its inspired madness. —Andy Crump


15. The Witches

the-witches.jpg Year: 1990
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Stars: Anjelica Huston, Mai Zetterling, Jasen Fisher, Rowen Atkinson, Bill Paterson
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 91 minutes

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People have a tendency to somehow overlook the subversive, almost perverse nature of Roald Dahl’s sense of humor—you know, the guy who wrote George’s Marvelous Medicine, a book about a boy who tries to poison his grandmother—but it’s hard not to see it on display in The Witches, and particularly the 1990 film adaptation. This just happens to be one of the more macabre “kids movies” ever made, right up there in Return to Oz country. The grotesque, Jim Henson-conceived witch makeup is equal parts repulsive and goofy, and it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable watching the witches scratch madly at their open sores after removing their wigs. Make no mistake here, their goal is nothing short of the eradication of every single child on Earth, in ways both creative and cruel. In fact, once protagonist Luke is transformed into a mouse, the film becomes almost entirely a series of death-defying escapes—it’s like that harrowing Ratatouille sequence where Remy is almost roasted in an oven, except stretched out to feature length. Even that was ultimately not enough danger for Dahl, though, who objected to the film’s more upbeat ending, as opposed to the book’s rather devastating one. What a hardass. —Jim Vorel


16. The Croods

croods.jpg Year: 2013
Directors: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener
Genre: Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 98 minutes

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The Croods is full of kinetic action sequences, a few laughs, and strong voice work. It’s a fairly straightforward tale about family. There’s Grug (Nicolas Cage), the overprotective father, and his rebellious daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), each trying to make the world in their own view, one cautious and the other curious. There’s the token sassy mother-in-law, the weary but loving mother and the rest of the family that’s imagined mostly in two dimensions, despite the 3D rendering. There’s even the strange outsider and a road trip narrative that lends itself to some familiar laughs. The joke that we’re supposed to be in on is that these aren’t clichés if they’re happening for the first time, chronologically. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel tired to any member of the audience old enough to drive. Grug is scared of everything new and governs his brood with this philosophy. “Never not be scared,” he instructs, and it’s almost as if the writers took his advice. Things kick up a notch or two, though, when a nomad named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) arrives, full of ideas—the biggest of which is that the world is ending and the family that was sequestered in a cave needs to get out and get moving, or end up as fossils. It’s through his eyes that The Croods really comes to life. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins consulted on some of the visuals, and it shows in scenes involving Eep’s discovery of fire and the enormity of the universe, as seen for the first time from the top of a forest. This is where the 3D really shines—not in gimmicky sequences with things flying out of the screen, but by adding a depth to the field of vision that is immersive and subtle. There is a fascinating underlying question here—what must it have been like to be the first to experience the wonders of the world? It isn’t asked often, but when it is, the results are poignant and beautiful. —Tyler Chase


17. WarGames

wargames.jpg Year: 1983
Director: John Badham
Stars: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Ally Sheedy
Genre: Adventure, Thriller
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 110 minutes

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Before Ferris Bueller took the day off, Matthew Broderick’s career was launched with WarGames, a film about an innocent, young hacker (Broderick) who plays with the computer in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal and inadvertently starts the countdown to World War III. This is all resolved with a friendly game of tic-tac-toe, an infinite number of computed stalemates, and the message that you can’t hug your children with nuclear arms. —Matt Goodlett


18. John Mulaney a& the Sack Lunch Bunch

jm-sack-lunch.jpg Year: 2019
Director: Rhys Thomas
Stars: John Mulaney, Alexander Bello, Tyler Bourke, Ava Briglia, Cordelia Comando
Genre: Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 70 minutes

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“You know who’s honest—drunks and children.” John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch opens with these immortal words by Erika Jayne of Real Housewives fame, which accurately sets up what you are about to watch: a kids show made by adults with kids present. But what Mulaney’s nostalgia-soaked special delivers is more honest than any children’s programming before it. How is it honest? Well, it’s mostly about death. Like, there is a lot of talking and singing about death, which seems odd for a children’s show until you remember every fairy tale you’ve ever seen Disney-ified. The bigger question coming into this special was how the pre-teen actors would fair sharing the screen with one of the decade’s best stand-up comedians. The Sack Lunch Bunch’s collective performance wholly encapsulates the special’s overall aesthetic of being professional yet playful, equally balancing between adults-only and all-ages humor. The kids clearly establish themselves as talented actors and singers while still reminding viewers that they are in fact kids who just happen to also act and not mini Daniel Day Lewises who spend their Saturdays self-taping for A24 films. It’s less Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls and more Amy Poehler as Dakota Fanning on SNL’s “The Dakota Fanning Show” sketch. They love Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and recognize Fran Lebowitz on-site but their dancing is just amateur enough to not feel overly-produced while their hilariously frank confessions in a series of interviews in which they are asked about their biggest fears are authentic and endearing. They keep the mood light and fun, just like a children’s show should. A joyous mixture of silly humor and niche references makes John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch the most entertaining Netflix original of last year. —Olivia Cathcart


19. How To Train Your Dragon 2

dragon-2.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Dean DeBlois
Stars: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 112 minutes

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How to Train Your Dragon was the definition of a pleasant surprise, so its sequel had big shoes to fill. It’s to the creative team’s credit then that, rather than rehash the themes of the first film all over again, they chose to instead expand the world out into new and interesting directions. It’s been five years since the events of the last film. Everyone in the Viking village of Berk now lives in harmony with the dragons and even participates in fun-filled games. Though our protagonist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), has grown since we last saw him, he remains as lovably goofy and sarcastic as ever. Yet, not all is well in paradise. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to start grooming his son to succeed him as village chieftain. It’s a position Hiccup feels woefully ill-equipped for, despite encouraging words from now-girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera). Our hero’s personal squabbles, however, are interrupted when he and Astrid stumble upon a group of men attempting to capture dragons. They are led by dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), who claims to be on a mission from Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a ruthless conqueror hellbent on raising a dragon army and taking over the land. Whereas the first film benefited from a simpler, concise narrative involving the classic boy-and-his-dog/cat/dragon arc, this latest entry bites off a little more story than it can chew. But it has more than enough great moments to pick up the slack. From a technical standpoint, it’s a marvel to behold. As great as the flying sequences were in the original film, this entry effectively one-ups them. Also, the sheer detail of the animation is, at times, baffling. How to Train Your Dragon 2 may not be Toy Story 2 (or The Empire Strikes Back, for that matter), but it’s a more than worthy successor to the first film. Even when it falls short of its lofty ambitions, you can’t help but appreciate how thoroughly it commits to achieving them. —Mark Rozeman


20. The Lorax

lorax.jpg Year: 2012
Director: Chris Renaud
Stars: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Betty White
Genre: Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 87 minutes

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The creators of Despicable Me adapted the favorite tale of the beloved children’s author for the big screen, rendering his whimsical 2-D illustrations in shiny, computer-generated 3-D. The moral of the story, published more than 40 years ago, couldn’t be more topical: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot [about trees specifically or the environment generally], nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Unfortunately, in their bid to expand the good doctor’s rhymes to feature length, the filmmakers bookend the fable about the Lorax with a new storyline that distracts and detracts from the core message of the original book. The boy featured at the start and end of The Lorax now has a name: Ted, presumably in homage to his creator. Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) is smitten with Audrey, named after Geisel’s wife, whose greatest wish in life is to see a real, live tree. You see, Ted and Audrey (Taylor Swift) live in Thneed-Ville, an entirely plastic city with inflatable bushes, mechanical flowers and battery-operated trees sealed off from the outside world. As described in the film’s opening anthem, though, the people of Thneedville, all smooth surfaces and no sharp edges, are happy with the way things are, especially since O’Hare Air bottles and delivers fresh, clean O2 right to your door. In many ways, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a stunning visual achievement. Hair and fur have always proved a tremendous challenge for CGI artists, but here the Lorax’s feathery mustache, the critters’ fuzzy fur, and the trees’ wispy tufts have been so finely crafted that one can practically feel how soft they are to the touch. But for better or worse, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax wears its heart on its sleeve. —Annlee Ellingson


21. The Princess and the Frog

princessandthefrog.jpg Year: 2009
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Stars: Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, Oprah Winfrey
Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Comedy, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: G
Runtime: 97 minutes

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The classic fairytale about a princess who kisses a frog and becomes an amphibian herself gets a jazzy remake in this beloved 2009 Disney animated film. It still hasn’t made its way to Disney+, but that’s OK because it’s still streaming on Netflix right now. Anika Noni Rose voices the character of Princess Tiana, a struggling New Orleans waitress who vows to help a frog turn back into his rightful state as a human prince. However, she herself transforms into a frog, and the pair must tear through the Louisiana bayous as they try to become human again. This is the first Disney princess film that features a Black woman as the main character, and it has in the last decade solidified itself among the ranks of the Disney vaults as a classic musical romp. Ballads like “Almost There” and “When We’re Human” bring lots of color to the soundtrack, which also features an appearance by the late NOLA icon Dr. John. —Ellen Johnson


22. The Neverending Story

neverending-story.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Stars: Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stronach
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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The pacing of The Neverending Story may stretch the attention span of Gen Z kids, but there’s a reason Gen X has such fond memories. When Bastian seeks refuge in the school attic to hide from the local bullies with only the book he swiped from an old bookstore, the journey into the world of a valiant hero and a noble empress begins. But Fantasia begins to seem more and more real the further he reads, and the threat of the Nothing becomes his problem to fix. Of course the real star of The Neverending Story is a giant flying dog named Falkor that will capture the heart of any kid—regardless of her generation. —Josh Jackson


23. Mary and the Witch’s Flower

mary-witchs-flower.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Stars: Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

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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


24. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

cloudy.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Stars: Bill Hader, Anna Faris, James Caan
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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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


25. Mr. Peabody & Sherman

peabody.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Rob Minkoff
Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Ariel Winter, Patrick Warburton
Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

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Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a reminder that Hollywood’s obsession with reboots/revivals/re-imaginings can be done right. The characters originated on the beloved ’60s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and the track record for bringing segments from that show to the big screen is pretty dreadful. Peabody director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) makes the wise choice of keeping the new film strictly animated, no live action needed. That decision both respects the original material and frees up the possibilities for a story that begins with a wacky premise—a dog, Mr. Peabody, who happens to be a certified genius adopts a human boy, Sherman, as his son—and gets crazier from there as the duo travel through time in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine (that’s pronounced “way-back”). He’s a sort of doggie Doctor Who, although his travels are confined to Earth. The original Peabody shorts are known for their smart, pun-driven humor and amusing riffs on history and culture, all of which is retained here. —Geoff Berkshire


26. Puss in Boots

puss-in-boots.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Chris Miller
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes

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This swashbuckling kitty is both suave (since he’s voiced by Antonio Banderas) and impossibly cute. He can bend anyone to his will with his big kitten eyes and even out-cutes a trio of kittens in this Shrek spinoff that takes Puss up the beanstalk into the Land of Giants to get the Golden Goose. —Sharon Knolle


27. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

rocko-static-cling.jpg Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Segurson
Stars: Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Jill Talley
Genre: Animation, Comedy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%
Rating: TV-Y7
Runtime: 45 minutes

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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


28. Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

indiana-jones-crystal.jpg Year: 2008
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, John Hurt
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 78%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes

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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


29. Mary Poppins Returns

mary-poppins-returns.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Rob Marshall
Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Woody Harrelson
Genre: Fantasy, Musical
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 130 minutes

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More than a half-century after she first floated down from the sky with her umbrella, Mary Poppins is back in a sequel, which takes place during the Great Depression. Jane and Michael are all grown up, as is Bert’s young assistant Jack, a lamplighter who’s just as at ease with the inexplicable magic of Mary Poppins as the old chimney sweep was. Michael is a down-on-his luck widower whose three children have been forced to grow up too fast in the year since their mother’s death. When Mary Poppins shows up, having not aged a day, Michael begrudgingly hires her, though he can’t even afford to pay back the loan on his house. Mary Poppins Returns adheres to the Star Wars philosophy of recycling storylines and set pieces that worked the first time. The film is filled with nostalgic nods to the past, and unless that fact itself bothers you, the results are as light and warm-hearted as the original. Emily Blunt may not be Julie Andrews, but she does an admirable impression, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is a more charming cohort than the notoriously bad-accented Dick Van Dyke (who reprises one of his roles as the elderly banker Mr. Dawes, complete with an adorable little dance). Mary Poppins’ magic is the deus ex machina that keeps any real danger or possibility of failure at bay, but the songs and dancing and imaginative worlds to visit with everyone’s favorite nanny are the real point here, an opportunity to forget your worries and trip the light fantastic. —Josh Jackson


30. The Little Prince

little-prince.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Mark Osborne
Stars: Rachel McAdams, Mackenzie Foy, Paul Rudd, James Franco, Marion Cotillard
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 106 minutes

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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

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