The 20 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

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The 20 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now

A great kids movie is a beautiful and rare thing. As a father of three, I’ve suffered through enough bad kids entertainment to be enormously thankful for filmmakers who take the same kind of care in crafting movies aimed at children as those geared toward a more discerning adult audience. Netflix’s catalog of Children & Family movies ranges from terrible to fantastic, and the following guide is meant to help you avoid the former. Some of these movies you’ve probably already seen even if your kids haven’t, ‘80s classics like The Karate Kid 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 20 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:


1. 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
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


2. Mirai

mirai.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Mamoru Hosoda
Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino
Genre: Anime
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


3. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

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

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


4. Hugo

hugo-214.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz
Genre: Mystery, Adventure
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


5. 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
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


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
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. 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
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


8. John Mulaney & 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
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


9. 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
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


10. Over the Moon

over-the-moon.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Glen Keane
Stars: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeung
Genre: Adventure, Family
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

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


11. Nightbooks

nightbooks.jpg Year: 2021
Director: David Yarovesky
Stars: Winslow Fegley, Lidya Jewett, Krysten Ritter
Genre: Horror, Family
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 103 minutes

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Leave it to Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Pictures to curate the perfect entry point horror film for kids with Nightbooks. An adaptation of J. A. White’s middle grade book of the same name, this Netflix original harkens back to the ’80s era of filmmaking where it was understood that giving tweens and teens light nightmares was a cinematic rite of passage. A big part of the fun of Nightbooks is that it doesn’t pander or pull any punches with its jump scares or dark moments. Right from the top, director David Yarovesky doesn’t dither with setup and gets right into the plight of young Alex (Winslow Fegley). A middle schooler with a penchant for all things horror, he’s stomping around his darkly decorated house, appropriately Halloween-themed for his birthday, as his parents whisper about their concerns for his off-kilter obsession. While they worry, Alex packs a bag full of his notebooks filled with original stories and gets into his apartment’s elevator. Only it doesn’t let him off on the ground floor. It drops him off on a creepily desolate floor where the door to 4E is wide open, featuring a tasty slice of pumpkin pie and a small TV playing The Lost Boys. As it turns out, Alex is an easy mark because that’s all it takes for him to get trapped inside the busily decorated abode of Natasha (Krysten Ritter). She’s a witch that lures children into her clutches and if there’s nothing special about them, they’re dispatched with nary a second thought. It’s only Alex’s books, filled with scary stories, that saves him, with Natasha demanding he read her a new story every night. —Tara Bennett


12. 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
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


13. Jumanji

hulu poster jumanji 1995.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Joe Johnson
Stars: Robin Williams, Jonathan Hyde, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt
Genre: Adventure, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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No, the Rock is nowhere in this version of Jumanji. This is the first adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s children’s book about an enchanted board game that magically makes rhinos and Robin Williams appear when you play it, or something like that. Williams was deep into his family friendly phase by this point, far removed from the coke-addled mania of his stand-up days, but he was still a warm and charming presence, and still brought a lot of comic weight to what is otherwise a fairly standard mid ’90s children’s fantasy film. Jumanji can’t escape that studio blockbuster factory feel, and the special effects have not aged gracefully, but it’s worth watching for a solid Williams performance. —Garrett Martin


14. Vivo

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

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


15. 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
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


16. Wish Dragonwish-dragon-poster.jpg

Year: 2021
Director: Chris Appelhans
Stars: Jimmy Wong, John Cho, Constance Wu, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy O. Yang, Aaron Yoo, Will Yun Lee, Ronny Chieng
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rating:
Runtime: minutes

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Produced by Sony, Tencent and more, Wish Dragon is Netflix’s newest animated film and the feature debut of Chinese studio Base Animation. It’s also the directorial debut of children’s book author and illustrator Chris Appelhans, who also wrote the movie’s script. There’s a lot to love in Wish Dragon. It’s got cute characters, a sweet—if oversimplified—message and a pleasant animation style, all of which are hard to hate. Set in modern China, the movie follows sweet but naïve college kid Din (Jimmy Wong), who is obsessed with reconnecting with his childhood friend and love interest, Li Na (Natasha Liu Bordizzo). Fortunately for him, he comes across a magical teapot that contains the titular “Wish Dragon” Long (John Cho), who can—say it with me here—grant him three wishes. Killing people and making others fall in love with you are still no-gos, but apparently bringing them back from the dead is fine. Just no time travel. The genie-in-a-bottle story is one that’s been done ad nauseum, and it feels like Wish Dragon copies 90% of Aladdin. We have a magical being who provides much of the movie’s comedy through his theatrical movements, a boy who uses his wishes to impress a girl from a much richer family who yearns for life outside of her highly controlled environment, and an evil group who chases after the hero in order to use the teapot for their own schemes. The different environment and time period helps shake things up, but it still feels unavoidably derivative. —Joseph Stanichar


17. Puss in Boots

puss-in-boots.jpg Year: 2011
Director: Chris Miller
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis
Genre: Animation, Adventure
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


18. 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
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


19. The Willoughbys

the-willoughbys-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Kris Pearn, co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier
Stars: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Seán Cullen, Ricky Gervais
Genre: Action, Comedy
Rating: PG
Runtime: 90 minutes

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Netflix’s oddball Lois Lowry adaptation from director Kris Pearn and co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier, The Willoughbys delights in subverting expectations for your traditional family-based animated movie. A plot based around children looking to “orphan” themselves by sending their terrible, abusive, overly lovey-dovey (to each other) parents on a series of increasingly dangerous vacations certainly doesn’t have that slick Disney sheen. For those looking for something a little different, or those with kids a little darker and weirder than those obsessed with cleaned and pressed fairy tale fare, it’s hard to go wrong with the funny and often beautiful Willoughbys. Smart writing, with sharp jokes and intriguingly silly characters (voiced by emphatic all-stars like Will Forte and Maya Rudolph) give the rounded, yarny designs plenty of energy and unending entertainment value—even as the film meanders through detour after detour. A jazzy score from Mark Mothersbaugh pushes further pep, though all that sugar-rush energy would be wasted without its fun, original messaging and story beats. With a few heartwarmers woven in, the film maintains its A Series of Unfortunate Events-esque meanness with a deadpanned straight face all the way to its tonally apt ending. —Jacob Oller


20. A Whisker Away

a-whisker-away-poster.jpg Year: 2020
Director: Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama
Stars: Mirai Shida, Natsuki Hanae, Hiroaki Ogi, Koichi Yamadera,Minako Kotobuki
Genre: Romance, Fantasy
Rating: TV-PG
Runtime: 104 minutes

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There have been creepier things done in movies than magically turning into a cat in order to get closer to your crush, but those are few and far between. It’s not exactly standing outside a window with a boombox. But in directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama’s A Whisker Away, even this bonkers premise yields beauty and touching romance. Mari Okada’s script deftly leaps the anime through some emotional loops, running it through crinkly toy tunnels, ultimately landing its silly premise—replete with a troupe of angsty, depressed middle schoolers—in emotional honesty. A dash of otherworldly magic from the canon of Miyazaki (a corpulent face-dealing cat and an entire invisible cat-world) mixes well with some honest dives into the mental health issues of its characters (not quite as deeply and darkly as Neon Genesis Evangelion, but with a similarly stylish flair). While the characters are a little annoying when you meet them—they’re middle schoolers, after all—the truth behind the writing manages to shine through, all the while impressing us with its realistic animal animation and stunning depictions of smaller-town Tokoname life. —Jacob Oller

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