14 Best Children & Family Movies Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors
Many things clash in this beautifully layered, semi-autobiographical film of American director Lulu Wang: cultures, morals, and emotions. The result is a type of comedy that is complex and bittersweet⁠—and based on a true lie: this is the story of a Chinese grandma whose family won't tell her that she is fatally ill. Instead, they organize a fake wedding in China, where everyone gets together to bid a farewell to the unwitting matriarch (played by Zhao Shuzhen). The fake wedding is, in fact, a premature funeral for a person unaware that she is going to die. Played by rapper and comedian Awkwafina, Billi, a New-York-based Chinese-American with a complicated relationship to China, embodies the cultural and moral question at the heart of this story: is it right or wrong not tell grandma? It is thanks to Wang's deft writing and Awkwafina's outstanding performance that The Farewell homes in on answers without ever being melodramatic. Warm, honest, and beautiful.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aoi Mizuhara, Awkwafina, Chen Han, Diana Lin, Gil Perez-Abraham, Hong Lu, Ines Laimins, Jiang Yongbo, Jim Liu, Lu Hong, Shuzhen Zhao, Tzi Ma, X Mayo, Yang Xuejian, Zhang Jing, Zhao Shuzhen

Director: Lulu Wang

Rating: PG

Frequently considered one of the greatest animated movies of all times, and certainly the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Spirited Away is Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli at their very best. It was also the first non-English animation movie to win an Oscar. On the surface, it's a film about a Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. In a creepy spiritual world full of Shinto folklore spirits, she sees all kinds of magic and fantastic creatures, while having to find a way to save her parents and escape. In addition to the adventure, the coming-of-age theme, and the motifs of ancient Japanese lore, the film can also be understood as a critique of the Western influence on Japanese culture and the struggle for identity in the wake of the 1990s economic crisis. A deep, fast-paced, and hypnotizing journey.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Akiko Tomihira, Akio Nakamura, Bob Bergen, Bunta Sugawara, Daveigh Chase, David Ogden Stiers, Hayashikoba, Hiromi Takeuchi, Ikuko Yamamoto, Jack Angel, Jason Marsden, Jim Ward, John Ratzenberger, Kaori Yamagata, Katsutomo Shîbara, Kazutaka Hayashida, Ken Yasuda, Koba Hayashi, Lauren Holly, Mari Natsuki, Masayuki Kizu, Mayumi Saco, Michael Chiklis, Michiko Yamamoto, Mina Meguro, Minako Masuda, Miyu Irino, Naoto Kaji, Noriko Kitou, Orika Ono, Paul Eiding, Rina Yamada, Rodger Bumpass, Rumi Hiiragi, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shigeru Wakita, Shigeyuki Totsugi, Shinobu Katabuchi, Shiro Saito, Sonoko Soeda, Susan Egan, Suzanne Pleshette, Takashi Naito, Takehiko Ono, Tara Strong, Tatsuya Gashuin, Tetsurô Ishibashi, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yasuko Sawaguchi, Yayoi Kazuki, Yo Oizumi, Yoko Ono, Yoshitaka Sukegawa, Yumi Tamai, 沢口靖子

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Rating: PG

, 2019

Shot by Sergio Pablos, a weathered animation film creator, here's a future holiday classic to be reckoned with. Klaus is a beautifully old-school-looking, 90s Disney-style animation movie about the origin story of the world's most beloved toymaker, Santa Klaus. Dispatched to a bleak arctic town, because he really wasn't very good at his job at all, mailman Jesper stumbles upon the now-famous Klaus, making an acquaintance that will change the town forever, and, with it, the way Christmas is celebrated around the world. In addition to its homely warmth, funny moments, and nostalgic hand-drawn animation style, you will recognize many famous voice-overs in this festive family film, including the always amazing J.K. Simmons, Rashida Jones, and Jason Schwartzman, to name a few.

Genre: Animation

Actor: J.K. Simmons, Jason Schwartzman, Joan Cusack, Neda Margrethe Labba, Norm Macdonald, Rashida Jones, Sergio Pablos, Will Sasso

Director: Sergio Pablos

Rating: PG

Studio Ghibli has brought us moving, remarkable animated films such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke. One of Studio Ghibli’s most overlooked movies is Yoshifumi Kondou’s Whisper of the Heart, which finds magic in the ordinary every day. Shizuku is a young girl with great aspirations to become a writer—the only thing stopping her is herself. When she comes across a curious antique shop, she befriends a mysterious boy and his grandfather, who are just the push she needs to look inward and discover her own artistic capabilities.

If you have ever wanted to create something bigger and better than yourself—a story, a song, a poem, a painting, a work of art—then Whisper of the Heart will excite you, will call to you, will remind you to answer your heart’s calling.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Family

Actor: Issey Takahashi, Kazuo Takahashi, Keiju Kobayashi, Maiko Kayama, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Minami Takayama, Mitsuaki Ogawa, Naohisa Inoue, Shigeru Muroi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Shiro Kishibe, Takashi Tachibana, Toshio Suzuki, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshifumi Kondo, Yoshimi Nakajima

Director: Yoshifumi Kondô, Yoshifumi Kondou

Rating: G

This beautiful, realistic, and nostalgic anime movie about childhood is one that almost anyone can relate to. Set in the year of 1982, twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima is traveling to the countryside by train. Along her journey, she gets flashbacks of her childhood: mostly in elementary school, stealing glances at a boy, and navigating puberty. The movie goes back and forth between past and present, easily making one long for sun-filled summers of yesteryear and silly jokes between playfriends. As well as telling a story about Taeko's past, Only Yesterday also tells a story about her present, and the combined realism of the plotline with the beautiful animation grips you and doesn’t let go. Only Yesterday truly feels like home.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Romance

Actor: Chie Kitagawa, Ichirō Nagai, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Ito, Masahiro Itou, Mayumi Iizuka, Mayumi Izuka, Michie Terada, Miki Imai, Toshiro Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Yorie Yamashita, Yoshimasa Kondô, Yuki Minowa, Yuuki Masuda

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

This animated movie is absolutely wonderful. It’s an Irish production, and the drawings/graphics are so beautiful and different from what you usually see in this genre. This alone, along with the music, would be good reasons to watch this.

But what really makes this worth your time is the story – it’s about a boy dealing with the loss of his mother. He embarks on an adventure into a parallel world of feelings to save his sister.

I found it to be refreshingly original, sometimes quite intense (I cried, but I easily cry), and heartwarming. The details are great. And I love the way the story was interwoven with Irish mythology, making it magical.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Brendan Gleeson, Colm ÓSnodaigh, Colm O'Snodaigh, David Rawle, Fionnula Flanagan, Jon Kenny, Kevin Swierszcz, Liam Hourican, Lisa Hannigan, Lucy O'Connell, Pat Shortt, Paul Young, Tomm Moore, Will Collins

Director: Tomm Moore

Rating: PG

As impressive as Studio Ghibli’s collection of films are, I am still stubborn to believe that Porco Rosso is its most underrated film. Porco Rosso, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, is the story of a World War military aviator-turned-bounty hunter who has mysteriously been transformed into a pig. 

Bright with humor, heart, and flight (Miyazaki is largely influenced and inspired by the art of aviation), Porco Rosso manages to also acknowledge and reckon with the horrors of war. It also boasts one of, if not the greatest, line in any Ghibli film: I’d rather be a pig than a fascist.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Akemi Okamura, Akio Otsuka, Bunshi Katsura, Bunshi Katsura Vi, Hiroko Seki, Mahito Tsujimura, Minoru Yada, Osamu Saka, Reizō Nomoto, Sanshi Katsura, Shûichirô Moriyama, Tokiko Kato, Tsunehiko Kamijo, Yoko Soumi, Yu Shimaka

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

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

Arrietty may not be as epic as other Ghibli movies, both in the literal and figurative sense, but its tiny world is so richly detailed that you could spend hours studying a single frame of the film. In Arrietty’s lovely house-underneath-a-house, stamps are hung on the walls like paintings, a flowerpot serves as the hearth, a tea canister is a cabinet, an olive a chair, a sewing pin a sword, a clothespin a hair tie, and so on. The possibilities are endless, but the film tries to exhaust them as much as it can. This alone makes Arrietty a delightful watch, but the simple story at the heart of it—one of survival, empathy, and faith—elevates into a timeless classic.

Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Amy Poehler, Bridgit Mendler, Carol Burnett, David Henrie, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Takeshita, Kirin Kiki, Mirai Shida, Moises Arias, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinichi Hatori, Shinobu Otake, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Will Arnett

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Rating: G

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

While more known for their fantastical children’s stories, Studio Ghibli occasionally serves a down-to-earth, domestic film set in the real world. One of them is From Up On Poppy Hill. On the surface is a story of two student activists who fall in love while fighting to keep their high school club’s Latin Quarter from demolition. Of course, with this in mind, the most surprising event in the film is the incest scare. However, this seemingly random plot point feels important in the sense that everything is resolved once they've fully understood the past. And because of the 1960s post-Korean War Tokyo setting, the film is nostalgic yet dares to question whether or not Japan has fully processed and acknowledged their losses in a war that isn't theirs.

Genre: Animation, Drama

Actor: Aoi Teshima, Goro Miyazaki, Haruka Shiraishi, Jun Fubuki, Jun'ichi Okada, Junichi Okada, Keiko Takeshita, Masami Nagasawa, Nao Ōmori, Rumi Hiiragi, Shunsuke Kazama, Takashi Naito, Teruyuki Kagawa, Tsubasa Kobayashi, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Goro Miyazaki

Rating: PG

This 1994 animated gem from Studio Ghibli is one of their many environmentally-conscious works. In a world of shape-shifting animals and environmental conservation, Pom Poko beautifully combines folklore, humor, and social commentary to tell a tale of raccoons fighting to save their forest home from human encroachment. The animation is stunning, showcasing Ghibli's signature attention to detail and vibrant visuals. But it's the heartfelt story and lovable characters that really steal the show. Although it is slow-paced, Pom Poko is a thought-provoking and entertaining film that will make you laugh, cry, and appreciate the wonders of nature. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Fantasy

Actor: Akira Fukuzawa, Akira Kamiya, Beichou Katsura, Bunshi Katsura, Gannosuke Ashiya, Kobuhei Hayashiya, Kokondei Shinchou, Kosan Yanagiya, Makoto Nonomura, Megumi Hayashibara, Nijiko Kiyokawa, Norihei Miki, Osamu Kato, Shigeru Izumiya, Shincho Kokontei, Shozo Hayashiya, Takehiro Murata, Yorie Yamashita, Yumi Ichihara, Yuriko Ishida

Director: Isao Takahata

Rating: PG

With a forest home destroyed, leaving an adorable cat spirit child displaced, The Legend of Hei seemed like a Studio Ghibli-esque tale, at least in themes, child protagonist, and fantasy flying. There’s charming moments where Hei appreciates the day-to-day– moments where he diligently learns his powers, enjoys the simple human pleasures present in the modern world, and of course, feels at home in the stunning natural spirit places. However, it’s not quite Ghibli as there are plenty of wuxia-inspired fight scenes, with as many flying kicks involved. That being said, there is a pro-peace message here, that at face value, is probably a good message for children, but this film’s peace comes without clear details about Hei’s displacement, or the general condition of the spirit world at large. The Legend of Hei’s charming animation is lovely, but this push for peace could have been more meaningful if it also considered justice.

Genre: Action, Animation, Fantasy

Actor: Ding Dang, Hao Xianghai, Li Lu, Liu Mingyue, Shan Xin, Sheng Feng, Wang Youji, Yang Ning, Yeqiao Yan, Yuntu Cao

Director: MTJJ, Mtjj Mutou

Rating: PG

Expect both heavy emotional punches and great comedic moments in this engaging comedy-drama. Boosted by amazing writing, the characters are easy to relate to but remain interesting throughout the movie, with many ideas and layers to them. Jenny Slate and Chris Evans are both great as a very gifted child and her uncle who find themselves at the center of a custody battle. The plot may be a little unusual but it offers a great vehicle to explore the dynamics between a caring uncle, a gifted child, and an obsessive mother.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Aidan McKenna Bateman, Ashley L. Thomas, Brody Rose, Candace B. Harris, Chris Evans, Crystal Freyermuth, Danielle Deadwyler, David Cordell, Desmond Phillips, Elizabeth Marvel, Glenn Plummer, Gordon Danniels, Jack Landry, Jenny Slate, Joe Chrest, John Finn, John M. Jackson, Jon Sklaroff, Jona Xiao, Jordan Ellenberg, Julie Ann Emery, Karleigh Chase, Keir O'Donnell, Kelly Collins Lintz, Lindsay Duncan, Maia Moss-Fife, Marc Webb, Mckenna Grace, Michael Kendall Kaplan, Octavia Spencer, Teresa L. Graves, Walt Elder, Will Buie Jr.

Director: Marc Webb

Rating: PG-13