Proving that children's entertainment can be legitimate art like any other kind of cinema, the sequel to 2014's Paddington displays a stronger love for community and storytelling than many other adult-oriented productions. It may be cutesy and innocent, but Paddington 2 also uses its stunning visual effects and intricate production design to prop up a sophisticated story about discrimination, staying true to one's self, and (most surprisingly) the prison-industrial complex. It's a proper throwback to another era of family movies that offers something far more substantial to young children and genuinely moving moments for the parents and children at heart.
11 Best Kids Movies to Watch
There’s a lot of good to be found in the charming, poignant, and endlessly quotable Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. It follows a documentarian named Dean, who has as his subject the one-inch talking shell that is Marcel. Marcel looks after an empty house along with his grandma Connie, and together they run a delightfully intricate system subsisting on electric mixers, tennis balls, and the occasional human hair.
Despite his small size, Marcel unwittingly makes big observations about life and the world around him, often moving Dean (and this writer) close to tears. It’s a simple film with a grand message, with lots to say about the importance of participating in life as opposed to merely observing it. But ultimately this is a movie with a precocious talking shell at the heart of it all, so really, what’s not to like?
After third-grader Ali loses the only pair of shoes his sister Zahra owns, the siblings agree to share Ali's sneakers for school. Zahra uses the tattered, ill-fitting footwear in the morning, and in the afternoon, she hands them over to Ali, who then races to get into school in time. The siblings wait for things to get better at home before they mention anything to their already-burdened parents, but in the meantime, they persevere, scooping up every bit of silver lining they find, whether it's popping soap bubbles or taking in the city's ultramodern sights.
In this way, Children of Heaven is neither cynical nor cheesy. It presents the harsh reality of Tehran's poor without robbing them of hope and agency, giving the movie the right amount of self-aware and feel-good that elevates it into a classic. Thanks to this masterful balance, plus many awe-inspiring shots and lines, it should come as no surprise that Children of Heaven is the first Iranian film to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars.
Vibrant and quirky in a way that always rings true for its plucky protagonists, this abruptly cancelled children's series embodies the optimism and empathetic spirit that we should all hope to gain from the younger generations. By starting their own neighborhood business, the core characters of The Baby-Sitters Club (played with undeniable star power and chemistry by its young ensemble) learn how to bring joy and healing to others while facing everything from discrimination and generational trauma to their own imperfect family lives. Behind the club's humorous, sugarcoated antics is a real sense of helplessness that each character struggles with—forging ahead and doing whatever they can to fix things that they've been told are out of their control. It's an unexpectedly touching gem of a show that proves kids' entertainment can be truly beautiful.
Through positively adorable characters and zero dialogue whatsoever, Shaun the Sheep Movie reminds viewers young and old of the sheer artistry that goes into a truly great children's cartoon. Animated by British stop motion godfathers Aardman Animations, the film delivers one excellent visual joke after another, while still telling a coherent story that arrives at surprisingly tender places touching on the importance of community and home. In an animation industry that's constantly trying to innovate, a movie like Shaun the Sheep stands as a reminder that there are certain fundamentals in storytelling that deserve to be preserved and passed down to every new generation. It's the loveliest thing around.
A recent holiday classic you likely haven't seen, Arthur Christmas uses its premise of the North Pole as a massive spy organization to touch on how commercialization tears people apart. It's a surprisingly smart film with a fascinating dynamic among its family of Santas, with an incredibly funny script full of dry, British wit. And while the animation may already look dated at first glance, Arthur Christmas more than makes up for its looks with truly imaginative art direction and director Sarah Smith's fast-paced set pieces. This is that rare Chirstmas movie that doesn't just surrender to schmaltz; the lessons learned by the characters here are unique, complex, and timeless.
Once you get past its kiddy dialogue and somewhat overenthusiastic voice performances, Maya and the Three delivers one of the most thrilling action spectacles for children's television. Taking its cue from Mesoamerican folklore, this nine-episode miniseries is draped from head to toe in lavish, intricate visuals and is directed with a surplus of stylistic choices, with characters frequently breaking out of the frame itself. And once the action starts, it almost never lets up. It never becomes too frightening for kids, and it's mounted on a seriously impressive scale that any adult should appreciate. The fights are dynamic, intense, and beautifully constructed almost like dances—giving kids and kids-at-heart lots to marvel at together.
What this Dr. Seuss adaptation might lack in originality, it makes up for by committing to the bit: visual gags aplenty, colorful art direction, and ridiculous situations ramping up into full set pieces. But beyond the show's playfulness is a story about families just trying to make things work and people who don't get along (with the second season even touching on anti-war themes)—which should all prove insightful enough for adults and for slightly older kids. And with simple animation that has clear effort put into it, Green Eggs and Ham's unfortunately short run never comes off as a cheap cash grab.
As classic children's TV done in the same style as The Muppets, this reboot of Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock manages to thread together wacky adventures, an environmental message, lots of music, and light satire about human behavior in less-than-30-minute chunks. This show is firmly for kids first, with the carefree, somewhat naive subterranean Fraggles meant to be childlike in nature as they learn how to accept others' differences and their own complicated feelings through kindness and community. But parents who are at all interested in colorful variety shows should still find lots to enjoy, be it in the intricate craft of puppetry across various species of creatures, or in the genuinely catchy songs that range from innocent earworms to beautifully composed anthems straight out of the musical theater tradition.
The Sea Beast tells the story of Jacob, a legendary sea monster hunter, and Maisie, a wannabe monster hunter herself. When a dangerous encounter isolates them from the rest of the crew, they’re forced to team up and reconcile their opposing beliefs—Maisie believes there’s good in the beasts, but Jacob has yet to be convinced.
Action-packed, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining, The Sea Beast is a perfect weekend watch. The part-Moana, part-Pirates-of-the-Caribbean tale also has the added bonus of being age-appropriate (rated PG), making it suitable for those spending their precious movie time with kids.