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The 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix (2019)

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A great kids movie is a beautiful and rare thing. As a father of three, I’ve suffered through enough bad kids entertainment to be enormously thankful for filmmakers who take the same kind of care in crafting movies aimed at children as those geared toward a more discerning adult audience. Netflix’s catalog of Children & Family movies ranges from terrible to fantastic, and the following guide is meant to help you avoid the former. Some of these movies you’ve probably already seen, like the many Marvel/Star Wars/Disney films available. But we tried to point out less-obvious options, as well, including films from France, Brazil, Switzerland and Japan. There are documentaries on both Antarctica and Mars; thrilling live-action adventures; and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 40 Best Children & Family Movies on Netflix:

40. The Mars Generation
Year: 2017
Director: Michael Barnett
Rating: PG
Documentary filmmakers have a fascinating responsibility to shed light on particular subjects that a typical movie-going audience wouldn’t necessarily be privy to. If someone can capture an audience with complex scientific topics, for instance, they’ve accomplished a feat worthy of celebration. In a film featuring science icons Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Michio Kaku, director Michale Barnett asks the question, “Will we ever put people on Mars?” The kids featured in The Mars Generation certainly hope so. Coupled with a generous amount of historical space exploration footage (some of which is fairly heavy), this film concurrently follows a group of teenagers at Space Camp and the science community’s general desire to go to Mars, highlighting a younger generation of aspiring astronauts who just want a chance to get off the Earth. —Pete Mercer


39. Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade
Year: 2015
Director: Yoh Yoshinari
Rating: NR
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade is the crowd-funded immediate follow-up to Studio Trigger’s 2013 runaway hit Little Witch Academia (also available on Netflix, but at 26 minutes, too short for this movies list). The Enchanted Parade follows the trio of apprentice witches from the previous short film, Akko Kagari, Lotte Yanson and Sucy Manbavaran, following a harrowing incident during their transfiguration class. As punishment for their involvement, the girls are tasked with orchestrating their school’s annual Enchanted Parade. But when Akko’s overzealous efforts to revamp the Parade’s image inadvertently drive a wedge between her and her friends, can the trio make it out in one piece and out of trouble? Beautiful animation, sharp humor, elaborate action sequences, and a heartwarming conclusion, the only thing wrong with Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade is that it’s only an hour-long and not a full-length series. At least, not yet anyway! —Toussaint Egan


38. Encounters at the End of the World
Year: 1987
Director: Werner Herzog 
Rating: G
Werner Herzog’s uncertainty in what he was setting out to explore in Antarctica is both what makes Encounters interesting and its primary problem, as the film wavers from topic to topic without ever settling on a purpose. The film opens with a serene underwater shot, but this doesn’t last long before transitioning to an industrial plane and showing people traveling to Antarctica’s harsh setting. This beginning sets the pace, as Herzog’s trip takes him from one part of the McMurdo Research Station to the next, with the director stopping intermittently to take in the scenery and local fauna. Why do people choose to live in such an extreme environment, and what is it, exactly, that makes us human? These are big questions—especially the latter—but each is explored in a scattershot manner without enough screen time. Encounters’ strongest moments occur when Herzog finally gets around to filming Antarctica. These sections rival anything put together by Planet Earth and, here, the film reaches transcendence. From the tops of volcanoes to the underwater depths beneath the ice, each part of the continent is more mysterious and beautiful than the last. But even while visiting the most remote parts of Antarctica, the landscape the film tours is surprisingly populated. —Sean Gandert


37. Boss Baby
Year: 2017
Director: Tom McGrath
Rating: PG
By all accounts, Tom McGrath’s The Boss Baby is a bizarre film. It imagines that the horror of displacement from the center of one’s family is analogous to corporate takeover (with new babies churned along on a conveyor belt, a select few chosen for “upper management”); that capitalism is so entrenched in the way we think and operate it shapes how we view conception; and that the selfishness of babies is comparable to the dispassionate self-interest of the Suits. Still, most poignantly, it dissects not only how we feel about validation, but how we prioritize it. Its recent Academy Award nomination has sparked skepticism, but perhaps its vivacity and emotional acumen make it both deserving of its nod. When the arrival of a younger brother (Alec Baldwin as Theodore, though the movie mostly refers to him as the Boss Baby) upends seven-year-old year old Tim Templeton’s (Miles Christopher Bakshi) domestic life—once filled with phantasmagorically imaginative episodes of adventure for only him and his parents—Tim initially sets out on a quest to mark his territory. Unused to the attention not being on him, he butts heads with his new baby sibling, and the two vie for their parents’ (Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow) attention. The Boss Baby looks like a manager, an uncompromising force all suited up, and the tension between the two reaches a detente when the Boss Baby reveals his identity and his mission: He is an undercover manager from BabyCo (where babies come from!) sent to Earth to recenter love and attention on babies because scientifically manufactured young pet animals have become a threat to the status quo. It is both a comedy of sibling rivalry and a corporate espionage film. The Boss Baby articulates a simplified version of Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, specifically the alienation of the worker from the act of production. Even though he makes it to the top of the hierarchy that exists within Baby Corp, the Boss Baby soon realizes that since he experiences such detachment from that labor, he might as well give it up altogether. The film’s reinforcement of nuclear family ideals ends up somewhat more egalitarian; the masculinist obsession with corporate success turns out, in fact, to be hollow and stultifying. That it can delineate between all these different types of fulfillment with such panache more than makes The Boss Baby worthy of a cookie. And cookies are for closers. —Kyle Turner


36. Hercules
Year: 1997
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Rating: G
Hercules is yet another staple to come out of Disney’s ’90s reign, stuck between 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 1998’s Mulan. Featuring voice contributions from Tate Donovan, Danny DeVito and James Woods, the film follows the harrowing adventure of Greek demigod Hercules (Donovan), who, after he’s banished to Earth by his evil uncle Hades (Woods), must learn to become a “true hero” and go back home to Olympus to defeat his uncle once and for all. It’s not the most substantial of Disney films, but its quality and style is impressive, vaguely reminiscent of Greek art without feeling flat, given how many films Disney was churning out at that time. —Eric Gossett


35. Pocahontas
Year: 1995
Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
Rating: G
On my seventh birthday, I got two identical Pocahontas Barbie dolls. My parents asked me if I wanted to return one of them and exchange it for something else. I opted to keep them both. That’s how obsessed with Pocahontas—or in my case, the two Pocahontii—I was. Of course, as with most Disney movies, as I got older I could recognize its whitewashing of history and the less-than-feminist ideals, but despite its problems, Pocahontas remains at the very least a conversation-starter, a jumping-off point from which to begin talking to your kids about race. Pop it in and then discuss it with them, warts and all. —Bonnie Stiernberg


34. The Great Gilly Hopkins
Year: 2016
Director: Stephen Herek
Rating: PG
Author Katherine Paterson’s inimitable heroine, Galadriel Hopkins, is a fierce 11-year-old foster child who wants nothing more than to be reunited with her mother. Defiant and brilliant at sabotaging every foster family she’s placed in, Gilly is sure that new foster parent Maime Trotter will be no exception. Much to her own surprise, Gilly finds a place within Maime’s odd little composite family: W.E., a 7-year-old boy who is terrified of almost everything and everyone, and Mr. Randolph, an elderly, blind African-American man who comes to supper every night. Unfortunately, the arrival of her maternal grandmother interrupts her newfound happiness. Paterson’s son David, who also penned the script for 2007’s quasi-successful Bridge to Terabithia, wrote the screenplay for this film adaptation. The actors are particularly well cast, especially Kathy Bates as the quirky Trotter. It’s a thoughtful, family-oriented film, but we’d recommend reading the book. —Shelley Wunder-Smith


33. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Year: 1984
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG
Yes, Kate Capshaw is incredibly annoying as Willie Scott, and no kind of match for the gruff, world-trotting Indy, but beyond her this much-maligned movie has always held up. Perhaps Short Round doesn’t do it for you either, but can you imagine how much darker still the film would be without him? By far the most dire movie of the series, it’s buoyed by gorgeous set design and a classic sense of comic-book pulp in the vein of Doc Savage. It’s got one of John Williams’ best scores, a scary villain in Mola Ram and some great action set-pieces. No, it’s not in the same tier as Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s not nearly so far from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as some people would like to believe. And by the way, if you didn’t remember—Temple of Doom is actually a prequel to Raiders. I find it amazing how many people don’t realize this, but if you’re wondering why Marion isn’t there and Indy hasn’t developed any faith from his experience with the Ark, that would be why. Temple of Doom takes place a year earlier. —Jim Vorel


32. The Little Prince
Year: 2016
Director: Mark Osborne
Rating: PG
The film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s seminal novella The Little Prince is a strange film—and not just because it finishes the entire story set out by the original source material before the first hour is over. But even as it struggles to not undermine its own messages in its second half, Mark Osborne’s adaptation bursts with life, and serves as an overly blunt but effective story about growing up without losing why childhood mattered. Or as the film succinctly puts it: It’s the difference between growing up and becoming a grown-up. Osborne creates a new framing device for Saint-Exupéry’s story of allegorical power—a little girl (Mackenzie Foy) who’s living a painfully practical existence. She lives with her single mother in the house next to the narrator, The Aviator (a madcap Jeff Bridges), her mom (Rachel McAdams) planning out every minute of her day, as represented by a comically detailed wall tableau. A friendship develops, and soon the little girl hungers to hear more of the Aviator’s story and The Little Prince’s adventures that he’s written over many years. Cutting between Bridges’ folksy narration and the internal world of the story he’s telling, the film flashes between computer-generated animation with photorealistic environments and stunning stop-motion. The storybook world is presented as a sprawling diorama fantasia with The Little Prince (Riley Osborne), made up of malted wood and meticulous tissue paper placement, and the world around him layered in fine fabric, construction paper and purposely artificial details like stars hanging from a string off the top of the frame. The Little Prince is a conflicted final product. The film is admirable for its gentle hand when it comes to difficult subjects like the ephemeral nature of life, and its bold visual style, but it’s also a film whose final reel seems unwilling to recognize the realities of its own story. —Michael Snydel


31. Tarzan
Year: 1999
Directors: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima
Rating: PG-13
With music from Phil Collins (mercifully, Tarzan doesn’t do the singing) and a cast that includes Minnie Driver, Glenn Close and Tony Goldwyn as the titular Lord of the Jungle, Disney’s Tarzan does justice to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material with its expected anthropomorphic twist. Rosie O’Donnell plays his gorilla buddy and Wayne Knight (best known as Jerry Seinfeld nemesis Newman) provides comic relief as a meek elephant. The plot is tight, the action well-paced and the movie is an easy pick to please kids of all ages. If there’s a superlative to be handed out, it’s for the animation team, who walked the fine line of making the gorillas seem both true to nature and relatable to humans. —Josh Jackson


30. The Emperor’s New Groove
Year: 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
Rating: G
The lasting appeal of this 2000 animated buddy comedy from Disney can likely be attributed to some truly genius voice casting: there’s David Spade as a vain emperor-turned-llama, John Goodman as a lovable peasant, Patrick Warburton as a dim-witted and deep-voiced palace guard and, of course, the perfect Eartha Kitt as the deliciously evil usurper of the throne. The story is fairly predictable, but the fun Peruvian setting is visually appealing and the fast-paced story allows for moments of lighthearted comedy that welcome repeat viewings. Also, the fact that it’s a Disney movie with no hokey musical numbers is a plus. —John Riti


29. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Year: 2017
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Rating: PG-13
One of the many right moves that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales pulls off in order to steer this behemoth of a franchise in the right direction is to acknowledge that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) works better as comedy relief than the absolute focal point of the narrative. A little of Depp’s unholy love child of Keith Richards, Buster Keaton and a drunken octopus goes a long way. The fifth film in the series embodies a fairly superficial, yet breezy and well-executed pirate adventure/fantasy story—handsome rapscallion Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) wants Poseidon’s trident to break a curse that keeps his father, Will (Orlando Bloom), trapped in a ship under the sea. The smart and gorgeous Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) wants to find it to prove the validity of her father’s scientific research. Captain Barbarosa (the always reliably gruff and cranky Geoffrey Rush) wants it to, well, it’s not exactly clear. In the midst of all this, Jack Sparrow has to come along in order protect himself from the wrath of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ruthless ghost captain whose zombie crew is wreaking havoc across the sea in service of one goal: Kill Jack Sparrow. Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t rewrite the rulebook for the franchise or the genre as a whole, and is wholly predictable from start to finish, but the likable characters—Thwaites and Scodelario have more natural presence and mutual chemistry than Bloom and Knightley—creative action set pieces, and Depp finally being put in his place in the franchise creates a fun ride that’s instantly forgettable. You know, like the ride itself. —Oktay Ege Kozak


28. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Year: 2009
Director: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Rating: PG
The director-producer team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have worked on everything from animated films The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to live action comedies 21 Jump Street and The Last Man on Earth. But they got their start adapting and directing the perfectly enjoyable kids film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs based on Judi and Ron Barrett’s classic 1978 book. In the film, inventor Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) on the tiny island of Chewandswallow finally finds success with a machine that turns water to food. All is well until a tornado of spaghetti and meatballs threatens the island and Flint must work against the corrupt mayor (Bruce Campbell) to save everyone from destruction. Lord and Miller’s quirky humor is on display, backed by a funny cast: Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Andy Samberg, Will Forte, Mr. T and, appropriately, Al Roker. —Josh Jackson


27. Indiana Jones: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Year: 2008
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG-13
Indiana Jones had neither swashed nor buckled on the big screen in 19 years, but he returned in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which appropriately takes place 19 years after the previous film. It’s now 1957, and Indy has aged along with his fans and, more importantly, the actor who plays him. But, aside from a couple of jokes about his age, you’d hardly know it. He still throws—and takes—more punches than the rest of the world’s archaeologists combined, but surprisingly, Harrison Ford, now 66, looks neither computer generated nor out of place in these fist fights. Crystal Skull has an almost antiquated realness, an art that I thought was lost in the embrace of CGI. The film is fun, but it doesn’t hold a torch to the original. It’s too busy reconnecting severed ties and repeating our favorite bits, but it comes closer to capturing the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) than the other sequels did, and parts of it are more thrilling than anything else in the entire series. The plot involves an elongated crystal skull that looks like a glass rendering of Ridley Scott’s alien. Naturally, everyone wants it because whoever returns the skull to the temple from whence it came gets some sort of unimaginable reward, one that doesn’t seem to be monetary. The Soviets, like the Nazis who pursued the Ark of the Covenant in the first film, want the skull for nefarious purposes. Beyond this outline, the story is a tangle of barbed wire that hardly seems worth the bloody fingers it would take to straighten it, and screenwriter David Koepp doesn’t expect us to. Every once in a while someone sums everything up (“He’s telling us to look in Peru!”), and then the film dissolves to a map and follows a red line to an exotic new locale. In the film’s centerpiece, a fantastic, absurd, high-speed chase through trees, Spielberg masterfully juggles five or six characters such that we always have a pretty good idea of who is where, even as they leap from vehicle to vehicle. This clarity seems to defy modern-action conventions that demand obscure, confusing visuals, and the result is thrilling. Also great is Cate Blanchett as a tenacious, helmet-haired, thick-accented villain who makes her foes work for their gains. —Robert Davis


26. The Prince of Egypt
Year: 1998
Directors: Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells
Rating: G
The scene where Moses parts the seas in this animated musical is a truly epic moment. An adaptation of the Book of Exodus, the biblical DreamWorks release follows Moses in his climatic quest to free the slaves from Egypt—all of which can be summed up by the line “Let my people go!” The score was composed by Hans Zimmer, who collaborated with Stephen Schwartz on “When You Believe,” which won Best Original Song at the 1999 Academy Awards. Disclaimer: Kids might argue plot lines are factual history at a later date. —Alexa Carrasco


25. Beauty and the Beast
Year: 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Rating: PG
This tale as old as time (or at least as old as the 1740 book by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve) gets re-told on screen for 13th time by our count. Disney’s live adaptation of their animated classic includes most of the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken songs you know from the 1991 film and 1994 Broadway production. Emma Watson is a natural fit for Belle, beautiful and bookish, propelling the film to gross more than $1.2 billion worldwide. Dan Stevens (Legion) plays the Beast, virtually unrecognizable under the CGI effects. Though it hews fairly close to the charming original, the new songs, written by Menken and Tim Rice, who took over lyrical duties after the death of Ashman just before the release of the original, aren’t nearly as memorable. Still, it’s an entertaining romp through 18th-century France and the magical, baroque castle with anthropomorphic furniture we know so well. —Josh Jackson


24. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Rating: PG
Most superheroes look like they’re wearing their underwear on the outside of their clothes. What this movie gleefully presupposes is: Maybe one can. The presumptuously titled Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, based on Dav Pilkey’s first four children’s books in the Captain Underpants series (all of which have amusingly lengthy titles themselves), pokes a lot of fun at the concept of superheroes, the concept of action movies and the very cinematic medium in which it’s found itself. Created accidentally by prankster elementary schoolers George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), Captain Underpants provides a harmless bit of antagonizing to his alter-ego, principal/despot Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Krupp hates the two boys and their antics so much that he threatens to end their friendship, so, after going through the requisite whoopee cushions and joy buzzers, the boys discover it’s finally a cereal box hypnosis ring they can use to strike back against their cruel taskmaster. When the boys snap their fingers, Krupp loses his toupee, attitude and clothing to become their own comic book creation: Captain Underpants. Krupp finds earnestness and confidence as the near-nude crimefighter enamored with his own (made-up) legend. The movie looks very different from what you may expect from Dreamworks animation: Mikros Image, the animation company behind The Little Prince, gives this parodic world a soft, matte roundness that’s as inviting for kids as its lowbrow jokes sound. Likewise, Hart and Middleditch have ample opportunity to sell ridiculous lines, break the fourth wall and generally have a ball without getting bogged down or restrained by Dreamworks’ typical reference-heavy humor. It may be in the gutter, but Captain Underpants is as buoyant a film as the studio has made in years. —Jacob Oller


23. An American Tail
Year: 1986
Director: Don Bluth
Rating: G
This beautiful story of a young Jewish immigrant from Imperial Russia, Fievel Mousekewitz, seems even more relevant now than its release in 1986. Separated from his parents on the journey, Fievel ends up in New York in 1885, searching for his family. Conned, taken advantage of and sold to a sweatshop, Fieval undergoes trials that illustrate how a country built on immigrants has never been completely welcoming towards those seeking a better life on our shores. Don Bluth had left Disney with several fellow animators to start his own production company, producing The Secret of NIMH. An American Tail was his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment, which resulted in two successful franchises, including The Land Before Time. An American Tail would result in four feature films (all available on Netflix), several books, videogames and a TV spinoff, but none would quite capture the magic of the original. —Josh Jackson


22. Chicken Run
Year: 2000
Rating: G
If any of the brilliant Wallace and Gromit films aren’t on Netflix Instant, then Chicken Run (made by the same Aardman Animations studios) is certainly the next best thing. The 2000 movie should hardly be classified as a consolation prize, though—with its unique stop-motion clay animation and slapstick sense of humor, this story of a group of chickens who plot their escape from a farm mill provides just as many genuinely hilarious moments as it does thrilling action sequences. It’s an impressive feat of both animation and storytelling, with some spot-on voice acting to boot—what’s not to love about Mel Gibson voicing a slick Rhode Island Red named Rocky? —John Riti


21. Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Year: 2018
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Rating: PG
There’s something heartbreaking about the idea of a child who’s eager to help around the house but creates more of a mess than they end up cleaning. That’s Mary, the title character of Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s new film Mary and the Witch’s Flower. She wants to be useful to her great-aunt Charlotte (Lynda Baron), and to Charlotte’s housekeeper, Miss Banks (Morwenna Banks), but she can’t relieve Charlotte of an empty teacup without dropping it on the floor. The kid’s a walking disaster. It’s practically tragic. She’s a good kid, she just has nothing to do, until she meets a couple of outdoor cats who lead her to a clutch of glowing blue flowers which capture her curiosity on sight. Not knowing exactly what they are (hint: they’re witch’s flowers), Mary takes them back to Charlotte’s and quickly discovers that the flowers bestow temporary magical abilities on whoever touches them. Mary and the Witch’s Flower’s plot—and, boy, there’s a lot of plot—kicks off from there: Mary is whisked away by a flying sentient broom to an academy for witches, led by Madame Mumblechook (Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Jim Broadbent), who put on a kindly front that disguises unsavory intentions. There’s a familiarity to Mary and the Witch’s Flower as narrative: Harry Potter-lite by way of Studio Ghibli-lite with a dash of Yonebayashi’s past thematic interests. The whole thing is spirited, gentle and unfailingly lovely. We all look for magic in the world around us, and when we do the world routinely lets us down. Movies like this remind us that there’s magic, and life, in art—and perhaps especially in animation. —Andy Crump

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


19. Lilo & Stitch
Year: 2016
Directors: Dean DeBois, Chris Sanders
Rating: PG
Writer/directors Dean DeBois and Chris Sanders wrote Mulan and wrote/directed How to Train Your Dragon, and that same humor and originality is at play in Lilo & Stitch a story about a little girl who wants a dog and an alien who fulfills her wish and then some. The adorable prankster from outer space is at the heart of this film about accepting differences, and crash-landed his place in the Disney roster of iconic animated heroes. Funny, heartwarming and imaginative, it’s got an Elvis-led soundtrack to boot. —Josh Jackson


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


17. Mulan
Year: 1998
Director: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Rating: G
It seems like all of Eddie Murphy’s best comedic performances since Coming to America are animated. His little dragon Mushu is a sharp source of humor in this otherwise touching retelling of a Chinese folktale—a wonderful move by Disney to give its target market a strong heroine, whose bravery and sense of duty is admirable. Gorgeously animated with rich, saturated colors, the 2-D film is populated by three-dimensional characters, and in a story about honor, the studio brings just the right Eastern touches to pay due respect to China’s history. —Josh Jackson


16. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Year: 1979
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Rating: NR
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


15. Song of the Sea
Year: 2014
Director: Tomm Moore
Rating: PG
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


14. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Year: 2016
Director: Gareth Edwards
Rating: PG-13
Gareth Edwards’ venture into a galaxy far, far away is the Star Wars film we never knew we needed. It’s a triumphantly thrilling, serious-minded war movie that is incalculably stronger for the fact that it’s NOT the first chapter in a new franchise. Rogue One is a complete film in a way that no other Star Wars movie other than A New Hope is capable of being. It doesn’t “set the stage” for an inevitable next installment, and its characters are all the realer for the fact that they’re not perpetually sheathed in blasterproof Franchise Armor. It is, so help me, a satisfyingly complete story, and I had no idea until I watched the film how refreshing that concept would be. Our protagonist is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a plucky young woman whose brilliant scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) has been controlled throughout her life by the Empire and coerced into designing superweapons of the moon-sized, planet-killing variety. Forced into a young adulthood on the fringes of the Rebel Alliance, she’s assembled a Jack Sparrow-esque rap sheet and, as the film begins, finds herself in Imperial prison on various petty charges. What Rogue One is, most accurately, is what it was sold as all along: a legitimate war movie/commando story, albeit with some familial entanglements. —Jim Vorel


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


12. April and the Extraordinary World
Year: 2015
Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Rating: PG
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


11. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Rating: PG-13
In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, James Gunn shows that “second verse, mostly same as the first” can serve the viewer (and, inevitably, the box office) well, especially when one has most of the Marvel universe to pull from. To a large extent, GotG Vol. 2 follows the playbook from its predecessor, though now, with the entire cast familiar faces to the audience, Gunn skips introductions and goes right to the funny. In this case, that means an opening credits sequence featuring the entire team and what amounts to a highlight reel of character traits meant to amuse: rapid banter from Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), humorous ’roid-rage from Drax (Dave Bautista), quiet bad-assitude from Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and an extended cute-Groot frolic. During this sequence and throughout the movie, the comic elements of this particular space opera feel as if they have been ratcheted up, but, though he doesn’t seem to want the audience to have too much time between laughs, Gunn also seems determined to match the increased comic volume with more heart. The audience is unlikely to feel they’ve seen anything that different from Vol. 1, but it’s clear that Gunn and company knew exactly what qualities made the first film so enjoyable, and what they needed to do to make sure this particular sequel was worth the wait. —Michael Burgin


10. Coraline
Year: 2009
Directors: Henry Selick
Rating: PG
Director Henry Selick matches the Gothic whimsy of Nightmare Before Christmas and adds even more compelling emotional content with this adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novella. An unhappy little girl discovers an alternate reality that seems to offer all the magic and wonder her real home lacks, only to discover the sinister implications behind the candy-colored exteriors. Gaiman’s inventive approach to fairy-tale rules matches Selick’s luminescent colors and blend of everyday emotions and dream-like wonders. Perhaps the greatest stop-motion film ever, it even looks great in 3D. —Curt Holman


9. Ghostbusters
Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Rating: PG-13
As the slew of ’80s merchandise and a cartoon series would prove, Ghostbusters had mass-appeal with kids. The film followed a team of parapsychologists—played by Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray—who tackle big-ghost issues in New York City. Sure some of the effects are dated, but this one has staying power. And although the bad guys come from beyond the grave, they’re also kid-friendly, with the begging-to-be-a-plush-toy Slimer and a giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Pass this classic comedy along to the next generation. —Tyler Kane


8. Avengers: Infinity War
Year: 2018
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Rating: PG-13
Avengers: Infinity War is epic in a way that has been often aspired to but never fully grasped when it comes to the translation from comic book panel to the Big Screen. It’s what happens when moviemakers take their source material seriously, eschewing unnecessary melodrama even as they fully embrace the grandeur, the sheer spectacle, of it all. (And if there’s one lesson Disney has learned, it’s that if you focus on the viewer experience, the product lines will take care of themselves.) For every frenetic fight scene in Avengers: Infinity War—and there are plenty of them—there are myriad character interactions and emotional beats the audience has been prepped for by the previous films (okay, maybe not 2008’s The Incredible Hulk). As a result, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have ample room to riff and play as characters meet for the first time or see each other again. Some of the interactions are easy to anticipate (if no less enjoyable)—the immediate ego clash between Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange and Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, for example—but our familiarity with these characters adds resonance to nearly every scene and every line, as the vestiges and ripples of emotional arcs laid down in the last decade’s worth of movies bolster even the smallest moment. —Michael Burgin


7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Year: 2017
Director: Rian Johnson
Rating: PG-13
The Last Jedi, unlike its predecessor, has the freedom to be daring, and perhaps the most thrilling thing about it—and there are many, many thrilling things—is how abundantly it takes advantage of that freedom. If The Force Awakens was basically just Star Wars told again in a new, but familiar way, The Last Jedi challenges the audience, challenges the Star Wars mythos, even challenges the whole damned series itself. It blows the universe up to rebuild it; it is a continuation and a new beginning. And more than anything else, it goes places no Star Wars film has ever dreamed of going. In a way, the success J.J. Abrams had with The Force Awakens, particularly how decidedly fan-servicey it was, laid the groundwork for what The Last Jedi is able to pull off. That movie reminded you how much power and primal force this series still had. This movie is an even more impressive magic trick: It uses that power and force to connect you to something larger. Not everything in The Last Jedi works perfectly, but even its few missteps are all founded in the desire for something new, to take risks, to push an American myth into uncomfortable new directions. —Will Leitch


6. Coco
Year: 2017
Director: Lee Unkrich
Rating: PG
With the release of Coco, the 19th film from Pixar Studios, there are at least two questions the answer to which every member in the audience can be certain of before that desk lamp comes hopping across the screen. Will the animation be top-notch, meriting adjectives like “vibrant” and “gorgeous” and perhaps even “luscious?” Without a doubt. Will the voice acting be superb, enhancing the aforementioned animation in every way? You bet it will! You can also count on at least a few effective strummings of the ol’ heartstrings. (And thanks to films like Up and Inside Out, you might even dread how destroyed you’ll be after said strumming.) Of course, that doesn’t mean a Pixar film is quite the sure thing it was before, say, 2011’s Cars 2 (for many, Pixar’s critical nadir). Inside Out and Finding Dory were home runs, but in between, there was The Good Dinosaur (a weak infield popup, at best). Fortunately, thanks to its story and, most importantly, its setting, Coco will count as one of the studio’s successes—and for many who long to see their culture center stage instead of just a flavor sprinkle, the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he struggles to pursue his dreams may prove Pixar’s most meaningful film yet. —Michael Burgin


5. Shrek
Year: 2001
Directors: Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson
Rating: PG
Dreamworks announced itself as an animation powerhouse with this wonderful twist on the Beauty and the Beast saga. It’s wickedly funny thanks to a crisp adaptation of William Stieg’s picture book and voice acting from SNL vets Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy, who are given the whole of Fairyland to roam. Cameron Diaz’s princess as ninja warrior was a cutting response to some of Disney’s delicate flower leads—just one of the many subtle digs at the Disney-industrial complex. The film manages to satirize the tropes of children’s movies without losing its heart, an apt parallel to its titular ogre’s gruff exterior/softie interior dynamic. —Josh Jackson


4. Boy & the World
Year: 2013
Director: Alê Abreau
Rating: PG
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 devouring 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


3. The Breadwinner
Year: 2017
Director: Nora Twomey
Rating: PG-13
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


2. Black Panther
Year: 2018
Director: Ryan Coogler
Rating: PG-13
 Black Panther might be the first MCU film that could claim to most clearly be an expression of a particular director’s voice. We shouldn’t go so far as to call it auteurist, because it’s still a Disney movie and (perhaps ironically) a part of that monopolizing Empire—i.e., eat the rich—but Black Panther’s action scenes, especially, feel one with Coogler’s oeuvre. Look only to an early scene in a South Korean casino, in which T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurire) and Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) plan to intercept a deal between Klaue and everyone’s favorite CIA milquetoast, Everett Ross (Martin Freeman, lovable) for a vibranium-filled artifact which Klaue stole from some colonizer-run museum with Killmonger’s help. We’re introduced to Klaue through the surprising spryness of his violence—Andy Serkis, too, freed from mocap, is still an amazing presence, even as a gangster shitbag—and Coogler gets on his wavelength, carving out the geography of the casino in long tracking shots, much like he convinced us to love stained, shitty-seeming Philadelphia gyms in Creed by helping us to comprehend the many crevices and corners of each hole in the wall. When the casino brawl breaks out into the streets, morphing into a death-defying car chase (slow motion thankfully kept to a minimum), we feel as if we know exactly what these characters—and this wonderful director—are capable of. His vision for Wakanda—shot by recent Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison as an Afrofuturist paradise—rightly draws its inspiration from an omnibus of natural sources, just the a casino scene affords Morrison the chance to go full Deakins (James Bond references all over this thing), imagining the world of the MCU as Steven Soderbergh might have scoped out Traffic, developing a fully sensual visual language to define the many locations of this world-hopping adventure without resorting to sterile maps or facile borders. If T’Challa’s whole narrative arc concerns the need for him to realize the importance of bringing Wakanda into our globalized world, of revealing its riches to a world that probably doesn’t deserve them, then the vastness of that world, the many different kinds of people who populate it, must be felt in all of its ungraspable diversity. —Dom Sinacola


1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Year: 1981
Director: Steven Spielberg 
Rating: PG
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

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