18 Best Children & Family Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
If you're living alone and just came back home from a bad day, Wolf Children can make you feel like everything's alright. It's the kind of movie that feels like a warm hug and one that you will likely bookmark to get back to for this exact reason. Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, who's most known for The Girl Who Leaps Through Time, the title is to be taken without any salt: it tells the, allegedly true, story of a woman raising children who are half-human and half-wolf. It all starts with Yuki studying at Tokyo University, where she meets a mysterious and handsome young man, who can turn into a wolf at will. They fall in love and have children inheriting this strange skill. This is where the colorful visuals and life-affirming vibe of this anime give way to a bleak narrative turn. Wolf Children is a strange story of love and parenting told in an imitable style.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amon Kabe, Aoi Miyazaki, Bunta Sugawara, Hajime Inoue, Haru Kuroki, Kumiko Aso, Mamoru Hosoda, Megumi Hayashibara, Mitsuki Tanimura, Momoka Ohno, Momoka Ono, Shota Sometani, Tadashi Nakamura, Taichi Masu, Takao Ohsawa, Takao Osawa, Takashi Kobayashi, Takuma Hiraoka, Tamio Ohki, Tomie Kataoka, Yukito Nishii

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Rating: PG

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.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Andy Nyman, Emma Tate, John Sparkes, Justin Fletcher, Kate Harbour, Mark Burton, Nick Park, Omid Djalili, Richard Starzak, Richard Webber, Sean Connolly, Simon Greenall, Stanley Unwin, Tim Hands

Director: Mark Burton, Richard Starzak

Rating: PG

A Franco-Gaelic animated film nominated for an Academy Award, the Secret of Kells certainly isn't your average Disney fare. Set in 8th century Ireland, it is beautifully animated, taking cues from ancient illuminated manuscripts and Gaelic folk art. Featuring a plot heavily inspired by Irish mythology, it tells the story of the Viking invasion of Ireland and the creation of the Book of Kells, an Irish national treasure. The world of the film pulses with the lush greenery of the island, populated by fairies, giants, magic and mystery.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Brendan Gleeson, Christen Mooney, Evan McGuire, Fabian Erlinghäuser, James William O'Halloran, Kairen Waloch, Liam Hourican, Michael McGrath, Mick Lally, Nora Twomey, Paul Tylack, Paul Tylak, Paul Young, Sean Lennon, Sean Ono Lennon

Director: Nora Twomey, Tomm Moore

Rating: Not Rated

In a global movie industry of children's entertainment that often feels like it isn't even trying, this little Peruvian bear coming to England is a wonderful reminder that films aimed at younger audiences aren't inherently limited. If anything, Paddington challenges itself to come up with a far more creative (and effective) way to talk about the lingering scars of colonialism manifesting as discrimination in everyday "civil" society. It sounds like heavy stuff, but Paddington approaches its fish-out-of-water story with the exact counterbalance of silliness, and a riotous cast that's far funnier than anyone would have expected them to be.

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family, Kids

Actor: Alexander Bracq, Alice Lowe, Ancuta Breaban, Asim Chaudhry, Ben Whishaw, Catherine Shepherd, Cleo Sylvestre, David McKail, Denis Khoroshko, Dominic Coleman, Faith Elizabeth, Geoffrey Palmer, George Newton, Gus Brown, Hamish McColl, Hugh Bonneville, Iain Mitchell, Imelda Staunton, James Bachman, Javier Marzan, Jim Broadbent, Jude Wright, Julie Vollono, Julie Walters, Justin Edwards, Kayvan Novak, Kenneth Hadley, Llewella Gideon, Lottie Steer, Madeleine Harris, Madeleine Worrall, Mary Roscoe, Matt King, Matt Lucas, Michael Bond, Michael Gambon, Nicole Kidman, Nigel Genis, Peter Capaldi, Ross Boatman, Rufus Jones, Sally Hawkins, Samuel Joslin, Simon Farnaby, Steve Edge, Steve Oram, Stuart Matthews, Tarik Blake, Theresa Watson, Tim Downie, Toby Williams, Tom Meeten, Vic Waghorn, Will Smith

Director: Paul King

Rating: PG

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.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Kids

Actor: Adam Tandy, Alistair McGowan, Andy Serkis, Ashley Jensen, Bill Nighy, Brian Cummings, Bronagh Gallagher, Clint Dyer, Cody Cameron, Danny John-Jules, David Menkin, David Schneider, Deborah Findlay, Dominic West, Donnie Long, Emma Kennedy, Eva Longoria, Hugh Laurie, Iain McKee, Ian Ashpitel, Imelda Staunton, James McAvoy, Jane Horrocks, Jerry Lambert, Jim Broadbent, Joan Cusack, Julia Davis, Kerry Shale, Kevin Cecil, Kevin Eldon, Kris Pearn, Laura Linney, Marc Wootton, Michael Palin, Peter Baynham, Ramona Marquez, Rhys Darby, Rich Fulcher, Rich Hall, Robbie Coltrane, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Sarah Smith, Seamus Malone, Seeta Indrani, Stewart Lee, Tamsin Greig

Director: Barry Cook, Sarah Smith

Rating: PG

The Breadwinner is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. The animation is magical as it seamlessly jumps back and forth between Parvana's stark reality and richly detailed fantasy. It's a wonder to just look at, but it's a tapestry brought to life by the story at the center of it. 

Set in 2001, at the height of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the film follows Parvana, a young girl driven to desperate measures to keep her family alive. Because of the violent restrictions imposed on women (they’re not allowed to buy, sell, study, or practically do anything without a male chaperone), Parvana disguises herself as a boy so she can work for a living. The more she gets away with it, the bolder her attempts get. It's a story of survival and standing up, but it's also a sobering reminder of what fundamentalism is capable of doing (or more accurately, ruining). As long as cruel systems like this are taking place in the world, Breadwinner remains essential viewing for all.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family, War

Actor: Ali Badshah, Ali Hassan, Ali Kazmi, Kanza Feris, Kawa Ada, Laara Sadiq, Noorin Gulamgaus, Nora Twomey, Saara Chaudry, Salaman Hamidkohzad, Shaista Latif, Soma Bhatia, Soma Chhaya

Director: Nora Twomey

Rating: PG-13

This movie’s energy is completely intoxicating.

It’s the directorial debut of renown British/Nigerian actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, but it feels like the work of a veteran.

In a true story told in English and Chichewa (a language from Malawi), a young boy is expelled from school because his parents couldn’t afford tuition. At the same time, his village is struck by a variety of natural circumstances that bring them the threat of drought and famine.

The young boy sneaks into the library in the hopes of making a windmill and saving his village, and you can guess what follows from the title.

The triumph of engineering and a boy with a dream; mix in an incredibly interesting culture, full of unique family dynamics and a thought-provoking intersection between religion, tradition, and technology. The result is a delicate but uplifting movie, not to be missed.

Genre: Drama, Family, History

Actor: Aissa Maiga, Bruno Chitsulo, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Eddie Mbugua, Edwin Chonde, Felix Lemburo, Fredrick Lukhere, Grace Msiska, Hope Chisano, Joseph Marcell, Kelvin Chimpokoser, Khalani Makunje, Latifa Tambala, Lemogang Tsipa, Lily Banda, Lomuthi Jere, Maxwell Simba, Noma Dumezweni, Owen Chikanken, Philbert Falakeza, Raymond Ofula

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Rating: TV-PG

Ernest is an old bear and Celestine a young mouse; he lives above ground, while she lives underground. Their kinds fear one another, and borders are set in place so that they never intermingle, but despite all the odds, Ernest and Celestine form a bond—they share one similarity, after all, which is that they’re both outcasts. 

Ernest & Celestine is a classic buddy tale of outsiders finding their place in the world. The story and its messages of acceptance and equality are already charming and weighty on their own, but the hand-drawn and watercolored animation gives the film an extra rush of nostalgia and delight. Beautifully made and surprisingly relevant, it's a children’s film for all ages. It makes sense that it was nominated for Best Animation in the 86th Academy Awards (what doesn't is it losing to Frozen).  

An English dub is available on most streaming platforms, but we highly recommend watching it in French, how it’s originally meant to be heard.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Adeline Chetail, Anne-Marie Loop, Brigitte Virtudes, Colleen O'Shaughnessey, Dominique Maurin, Emmanuel LeMire, Féodor Atkine, Forest Whitaker, Jacques Ciron, Jennifer Fauveau, Lambert Wilson, Lauren Bacall, Léonard Louf, Mackenzie Foy, Maxime Bailleul, Michel Elias, Nathalie Homs, Patrice Dozier, Patrice Melennec, Paul Giamatti, Pauline Brunner, Perrette Pradier, Pierre Baton, Spike Spencer, Vincent Grass

Director: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Rating: PG

That one of 1990’s scariest movies is a kids’ movie makes sense when you know it’s an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story (and directed by horror legend Nicolas Roeg, no less). The Witches dispenses with most of the trappings of kids’ films, swapping bright bubbliness and cute animal CGI for macabre thrills and uncanny valley puppetry courtesy of Jim Henson. It’s astonishingly scary, given its PG certification — not just for its intended audience but for adults, too. Death, grief, and evildoers who prey on children all make an early appearance and never leave the film’s frame, stalking young Luke (Jasen Fisher) and his grandmother (Mai Zetterling) across countries as they try to make a new start in England following a family tragedy in Norway. In typical Dahl style though, The Witches — with its creepy premise and high camp touches — finds a clever balance between being nightmare-inducing and deliciously fun, a tonal blend that harks back to the twisted appeal of traditional fairy tales.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: Anjelica Huston, Annabel Brooks, Anne Lambton, Anne Tirard, Bill Paterson, Brenda Blethyn, Brian Hawksley, Charlie Potter, Debra Gillett, Emma Relph, Jane Horrocks, Jasen Fisher, Jenny Runacre, Jim Carter, Leila Hoffman, Mai Zetterling, Michael Palin, Nicolas Roeg, Roberta Taylor, Rosamund Greenwood, Rose English, Rowan Atkinson, Sukie Smith, Sverre Røssummoen, Vincent Marzello

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Rating: PG

A beloved children’s story gets its umpteenth adaptation here, this time from the screenwriter of 2018’s Watership Down — who proves that it’s a story worth retelling. This version of The Velveteen Rabbit is mostly faithful to Margery Williams’ original 1920s-set tale, but it does pad the plot out with a backstory of sorts about the shy little boy at its center. We’re introduced to William on the last day he spends at his school before moving to another town; the filmmaking gently plays on memories of the scariness of that first-ever goodbye, starting us off on a tender melancholy note that sets the tone for the rest of the 45-minute-long seasonal special.

For his first Christmas in the family’s new house, William is given a cuddly toy bunny in which he finds the comfort and company he misses so acutely. If you had a beloved plaything as a child, chances are you wished they’d come alive with all the might that little you could conjure up — nostalgia that this adaptation taps right into when the rabbit comes to life via mixed animated styles. The sincere emotion of the duo’s commitment to each other — involving sickness and self-sacrifice — is thus difficult to resist, no matter how grown up you are.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Alex Lawther, Bethany Antonia, Clive Rowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Leonard Buckley, Lois Chimimba, Nathaniel Parker, Nicola Coughlan, Paterson Joseph, Phoenix Laroche, Samantha Colley, Sean Duggan, Tilly Vosburgh, Саманта Колли

Director: Jennifer Perrott, Rick Thiele

Rating: G

Even if it seems like nothing really "happens" for much of The Secret Garden, its characters paint quite the moving picture of neglected children and their indomitable capacity to find hope in the world. Director Agnieszka Holland tells this story with just the right amount of whimsy: at times it's spooky and magical, but everything is grounded in the charming performances of the film's young actors, who are allowed to be difficult, smart, and sorrowful whenever they need to be. It may be old-fashioned, but watching it in this new decade—when we're all trying to guard our kids from sickness and death—makes it feel all the more relevant.

Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrea Pickering, Andrew Knott, Arthur Spreckley, Colin Bruce, David Stoll, Eileen Page, Heydon Prowse, Irène Jacob, John Lynch, Kate Maberly, Laura Crossley, Maggie Smith, Peter Moreton, Walter Sparrow

Director: Agnieszka Holland

Rating: G

Vivid, sweeping landscapes surround the simple beauty of a Mongolian family navigating the pressures of globalization while still practicing their traditional nomadic lifestyle. Ostensibly it's about the charming, captivating relationship that forms between a young girl, Nansal, and a dog that she finds. However, the magic of this slow, enthralling film is that it captures the brilliance of familial relationships and power of culture and stories through this simple backdrop. And it is a simple film; everything you can learn from this film comes through its gentle storytelling that invites you to recognize the beauty and profundity that exists in everyday lives.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Babbayar Batchuluun, Batchuluun Urjindorj, Buyandulam Daramdadi, Nansal Batchuluun, Nansalmaa Batchuluun

Director: Byambasuren Davaa

Rating: G

, 1993

Based on the true story of Daniel “Rudy” Rettinger, this biographical movie follows young Rudy as he pursues his childhood dream of playing football for Notre Dame, despite significant obstacles and copious discouragement from those around him. The movie works not by hitching the action to any major sequences of ball play, but rather to the most remarkable feature of the story: the sheer determination of the title protagonist. The film’s success also largely comes down to a fantastically consistent and earnest performance by Sean Astin, who outshines a very talented supporting cast to the legendary, crowd-stirring end.

Genre: Crime, Drama, History, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Amy Pietz, Charles S. Dutton, Chelcie Ross, Christopher Erwin, Christopher Reed, David Anspaugh, Deborah Wittenberg, Forest Whitaker, Gerry Becker, Greta Lind, Jason Miller, Jim Broadbent, John Beasley, Jon Favreau, Kevin Duda, Lauren Katz, Lili Taylor, Luke Massery, Mary Ann Thebus, Miranda Richardson, Mitch Rouse, Ned Beatty, Ralph Brown, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Robert Prosky, Ron Dean, Scott Benjaminson, Sean Astin, Stephen Rea, Vince Vaughn

Director: David Anspaugh, Neil Jordan

Rating: PG

An extraordinary documentary full of drama, comedy and heartbreak. It follows two penguins, a couple, for a year as they migrate, give birth and face hardships and tragedy. It captures never seen before moments that stand as a perfect illustration of survival in particular and life in general. All in a very well crafted documentary that you will find both instructive and deeply moving. Won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.

Genre: Documentary, Family

Actor: Charles Berling, Fiorello, Jules Sitruk, Morgan Freeman, Romane Bohringer

Director: Luc Jacquet

Rating: G

The 1868 semi-autobiographical novels of Louisa May Alcott have been adapted into film, television and theatre so many times: 6 movies, 4 TV shows, even a broadway musical. It’s a compelling story to watch as it unfolds, and it’s easy to see why many hold this one as the best adaptation of the novels. For one, the cast is top-notch and perfect for the roles: Christian Bale as Laurie, Susan Sarandon as Mrs. March, and Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Claire Danes and a very young Kirsten Dunst as the four sisters. Little Women is the story of these four girls living in post-civil war America. We watch them grow together, find love, have their little fights, and try to find their place in the world. Everything from the costumes and settings to the dialogue do an excellent job of conveying the heartwarming story and the emotional impact behind it.

Genre: Drama, Family, Romance

Actor: A.J. Unger, Alan Robertson, Andrea Libman, Bethoe Shirkoff, Beverley Elliott, Cameron Labine, Christian Bale, Christine Lippa, Claire Danes, Corrie Clark, Dale Resteghini, Demetri Goritsas, Donal Logue, Eric Bruno Borgman, Eric Stoltz, Florence Paterson, Gabriel Byrne, Heather Feeney, James Leard, Janet Craig, Janie Woods-Morris, Janne Mortil, Jay Brazeau, John Neville, Kate Robbins, Kirsten Dunst, Mar Andersons, Marco Roy, Marilyn Norry, Mary Wickes, Matthew Walker, Michele Goodger, Peter Haworth, Rebecca Toolan, Samantha Mathis, Sarah Strange, Scott Bellis, Susan Sarandon, Tegan Moss, Trini Alvarado, Winona Ryder

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Rating: G, PG