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

Movies Lists Netflix
Share Tweet Submit Pin
The 30 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now (July 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 E.T., 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 France, Brazil, Ireland and Japan. 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

Watch on Netflix

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

Watch on Netflix

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

Watch on Netflix

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. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

e-t-poster.jpg
Year: 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote
Genre: Science-Fiction, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 114 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


5. Boy & the World

boy-world.jpg Year: 2013
Director: Alê Abreu
Stars: Vinícius Garcia, Lu Horta, Marco Aurélio Campos
Genre: Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 81 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Boy & the World, like any should-be classic of kids’ cinema, is laced with images of pure, incomprehensible terror. Nearly wordless, it’s also a subcutaneous wonder: heartbreaking and sumptuous and sometimes so gorgeous you feel like you should weep in appreciation, at near microscopic levels Boy & the World excels. As Cuca, our eponymous boy—defined mostly by his Charlie Brown head and infectious giggle—is literally swept up on a hallucinogenic journey, political iconography and economic devastation gradually devour the vibrant, weird colors that define his idyllic home. Your kids probably won’t recognize the fascistic implications of Abreu’s designs—which culminate in an actual battle between the pitch-black Reichsadler and a rainbow phoenix (birthed, of course, from the music of the oppressed lower classes)—but the feeling he wants to give them is easy enough to understand. The World may be a big and scary place, he admits, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth exploring. —Dom Sinacola


6. Despicable Me

despicable-me.jpg Year: 2010
Directors: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Stars: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Genre: Animation, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 81%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 95 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Followed by three more franchise flicks—one of which, 2013’s Despicable Me 2, is so old-timey racist and unabashedly violent and culturally tone-deaf it’s legitimately detrimental to the health of young children—the original Despicable Me shines best by flattening the dichotomy between good guys and bad guys, removing all but the most heart-strings-tugging stakes from what would otherwise be a minefield of superhero and spy thriller movie tropes. In the world of career super villain Gru (Steve Carell, playacting a mouthful of an Eastern European accent), good guys are boring state-subsidized bureaucrats, and bad guys aren’t all that bad, just ambitious pseudo-scientists with big ideas and healthy competitive natures. They don’t actually want to hurt anybody. So, really, once Gru begins unwittingly step-fathering three young orphan girls (the youngest voiced adorably by Eighth Grade’s Elsie Fisher) he sheds all of his sociopathic tendencies to become an ersatz Good Guy replete with brand new nemesis, Vector (Jason Segal). Though the two sequels and standalone Minions vehicle needlessly complicate the DM mythos, further muddying Gru’s lineage and giving the Minions personalities (the funniest joke in this first film is how Gru talks to each Minion as if they are an individual being, giving them normie names, even though they are impossible to distinguish)—which then means we have to ask questions about how Minions procreate and/or go to the bathroom—the first Despicable Me movie is a pleasantly pure distillation of family-friendly values, slapstick and indifferent character designs, bolstered by a good joke or two. If only it ended there. Instead, we must wonder, in 2019: If a Minion with its pants around its ankles has no genitals, is it really naked? —Dom Sinacola


7. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


8. Incredibles 2

incredibles-2-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Catherine Keener, Eli Fucile, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Bird, Sophia Bush, Brad Bird
Genre: Superhero, Animation, Action & Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 118 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Incredibles 2 starts right where the first film ended, with the costumed Family Parr reacting to the arrival of the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). Their scuffle with the villain gains the attention of Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk)—or more precisely, allows Deavor and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener), to gain the attention of the Parrs. The siblings want to bring supers back into the light, using Winston’s salesmanship and Evelyn’s tech to sway public opinion back to the pro-super side. To do so, they want to enlist Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) as the tip of the spear in their charm offensive, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on the sidelines for now. (She tends to fight crime in a manner that results in less property damage than her husband, after all.) This sets up a second act that’s firmly by the numbers in terms of story development—watch the husband try to succeed as a stay-at-home dad!—yet no less enjoyable. Bob’s attempts to handle teen romance, Jack-Jack’s manifestation of powers and, horror of horrors, “new” math will strike a chord with any mom or dad who has ever felt overwhelmed by the simple, devastating challenges of parenthood. (The family interactions, one strength among many with the first film, remain a delight in the sequel.) Meanwhile, we get to watch Elastigirl in action, as she encounters, foils and matches wits with the film’s mysterious villain, Screenslaver. As in the first film, watching Helen Parr do the hero thing is also quite the delight—she’s resourceful, tough and, above all, a professional. Watching Elastigirl operate almost makes one feel sorry for the criminals. Delving more into the plot would do the film a disservice—suffice to say both villainous and family challenges are faced, and it takes a village, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Edna Mode (Bird) to emerge victorious. Whether you enjoy Incredibles 2 as much as the original will likely depend on your opinion of the latter, but regardless, you’ll be happy both exist. And in today’s sequel-saturated environment, that is practically a superheroic achievement in itself. —Michael Burgin


9. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


10. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


11. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


12. Elf

elf_poster.jpg
Year: 2003
Directors: Jon Favreau
Stars: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 107 minutes

Watch on Netflix

In a sense, making Christmas “funny” can be as easy as responding to something meant to be sincere and joyful with cynicism and darkness. Is there any comedic Christmas character that embodies a genuine love of Christmas? Thankfully, we have Will Ferrell’s fearlessly committed performance as the titular elf to answer this question with a resounding yes. Nothing represents Christmas cheer better than Will Ferrell in yellow tights, a green parka and cone-shaped cap. He wrings a ton of comedy out of responding to everything with wide-eyed, childlike wonder. Arguably our generation’s classic Christmas movie, watching Buddy the Elf makes you laugh, makes you smile and, to paraphrase from the Grinch, makes your heart grow three sizes bigger. Even if the movie devolves into a formulaic, race-against-the-clock flick in the last 30 minutes, its myriad gifts outweigh its problems. From endlessly quotable nuggets like “cotton-headed ninnymuggins”; the hysterical fruit spray scene; Zooey Deschanel showcasing her pre-She & Him singing chops; Mr. Narhwal and the arctic puppets (a band name if I ever heard one); to, finally, Ferrell’s infectious enthusiasm, Elf is instant holiday merriment. —Greg Smith & Jeremy Medina


13. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

batman-mask.jpg Year: 1993
Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm
Stars: Kevin Conroy, Stacy Keach, Dana Delaney, Mark Hamill
Genre: Superhero
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 80 minutes

Watch on Netflix

For millions of fans, Batman: The Animated Series stands as the definitive Batman—the Batmaniest iteration of all the Batmen through the decades. It’s easy to understand why. Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and company went back to the character’s roots, drawing from both the graphic style of the era, and the original purpose of the Dark Knight himself: Batman is a detective first, dramatic crime-fighting vigilante second. Following the success of the cartoon series, Warner Bros. decided to release what was meant to be a straight-to-video Batman: The Animated Series movie in theaters, instead. Unfortunately, it was rushed in production as a result, and not very well promoted by the studio, and so failed at the box office. But the failure falls squarely on the shoulders of WB marketing execs, because Mask of the Phantasm makes a strong argument for being the best Batman movie. It’s a minor tweak on Batman’s origin, but a damn effective one. It may be the most humanized Bruce Wayne has ever been treated onscreen—of course, it’s the murder of his parents that initially shapes his obsession with justice—but it’s a different Bruce Wayne, jilted by a new love, who finally dons the cape and cowl. And it’s a new Batman who emerges parallel with the mysterious Phantasm, who helps him determine the best way to mete out his vigilantism, by standing in sharp relief of his new rival who’s perfectly content to kill criminals in the name of justice. Using the The Animated Series as a template from which to tell the story was a savvy move by the filmmakers. The neo-noir feel and art deco look beautifully underline the dark places the story goes. It’s not just a Batman origin that’s “mature for a cartoon,” this is a Batman story that’s most assuredly all grown-up. —Scott Wold


14. Song of the Sea

song-sea.jpg Year: 2014
Director: Tomm Moore
Stars: David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan
Genre: Animation, Fantasy
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 94 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


15. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


16. My Life as a Zucchini

my-life-zucchini-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Claude Barras
Stars: Will Forte, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page, Amy Sedaris
Genre: Animation
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 66 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


17. April and the Extraordinary World

april-extraordinary-world-poster.jpg Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Olivier Gourmet
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 105 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Keeping real life global history straight in narratives that leapfrog across decades and centuries is tough enough—making sense of alternate history when it’s articulated at breakneck speed throughout multiple eras of European cultural advancement is just downright strenuous. Think of April and the Extraordinary World as an intense workout for your brain, during which the film shapes a surrogate Earth in the span of mere minutes and fires off salvos of detail, visual and aural alike, in the pursuit of recalibrating the past. The inattentive and unimaginative need not apply. Good news for diligent viewing types, though: April and the Extraordinary World is pretty great, a compact exercise in world building without handholding that rewards a patient, observant audience. If you can keep pace with the film’s plot deployment, you’ll be in for a wonderful ride littered with talking cats, fabulous steampunk backdrops, rollercoaster excitement and terrific characters, all drawn through the fundamental beauty of cel animation. April and the Extraordinary World reminds us of the aesthetic value of traditional animation and the necessity of human ingenuity, all without treating its audience like idiots. —Andy Crump


18. The Karate Kid

karate-kid.jpg Year: 1984
Director: John G. Avildsen
Stars: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 122 minutes

Watch on Netflix

Ralph Macchio’s crane-legged Karate Kid would become an icon of the ’80s, as would Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, the sensei who trains the bullied Daniel LaRusso in martial arts. While many of the scenes can feel a little worn, that’s mostly due to how much the film has been copied in the years since its release. It also features one of the great villains of ’80s cinema in the merciless Cobra Kai coach, Sensei John Kreese: “Sweep the leg, Johnny.” —Josh Jackson


19. Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant-man-wasp-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer
Genre: Superhero
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 118 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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

20. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


21. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


22. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


23. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


24. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


25. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


26. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

the-last-crusade.jpg Year: 1989
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 126 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


27. 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

Watch on Netflix

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


28. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

temple-of-doom.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Steven Spielberg
Stars: Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Jonathan Ke Quan, Amrish Puri
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 118 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


29. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus

invader-zim-florpus.jpg Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Stars: Richard Steven Horvitz, Rosearik Rikki Simons, Andy Berman
Genre: Animation, Science Fiction
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 71 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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


30. Bolt

bolt.jpg Year: 2008
Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams
Stars: John Travolta, Malcolm McDowell, Mark Walton, Miley Cyrus, James Lipton
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%
Rating: PG
Runtime: 96 minutes

Watch on Netflix

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

Also in Movies