Tag: 2023 kids movies

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That this film, an adaptation of a beloved classic and girlhood staple for 50 years and counting, is able to retain the same power, charm, and wisdom as the source material by Judy Blume is impressive in and of itself. 

Director Kelly Fremon Craig (Edge of Seventeen) turns the must-read novel into a must-see film, as urgent and relevant as ever in its frank portrayal of feminine woes and joys. Buying your first bra, getting your first period, losing a friend, doubting your faith, seeing—really seeing—your family for the first time, and knowing in your heart what you stand for...these are some of the thorny requisites of womanhood, and Craig navigates them with a bittersweet ease that never feels pandering nor patronizing. Like the book, the film honors this young person's big feelings by centering them in a sprawling story that involves other characters, who are just as fleshed-out as the lead. Rachel McAdams deserves special mention for turning in a sweetly nuanced performance as Margaret's mother Barbara, an artist attempting to balance her domestic role with her career goals. 

The film may be 50 years in the making, but it tells a timeless tale that will continue to hold the hands of teenage girls for generations to come.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Abby Ryder Fortson, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong, Benny Safdie, Echo Kellum, Eden Lee, Elle Graham, Ethan McDowell, Gary Houston, George Cooper, Holli Saperstein, JeCobi Swain, Jim France, Johnny Land, Judy Blume, Kate MacCluggage, Kathy Bates, Mia Dillon, Rachel McAdams, Sloane Warren, Wilbur Fitzgerald

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig

Rating: PG-13

Friday Night Plan resembles many a classic teen film (most notably, Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Booksmart), but it also doubles as a thoughtful inquiry into the delicate bond between siblings who could not be more different from one another. Sid and his younger brother Adi (Amrith Jayan) have different ideas of what matters most in life, ideas that get tested when their mother’s car gets towed away during their night of fun. Sid thinks it’s only right to come clean and retrieve the car no matter what, but Adi believes this can all wait until tomorrow morning: tonight is Sid’s night to celebrate and finally connect with peers he’s shut off all his life. This tension comes as a surprise in what otherwise looks like an ordinary teen movie, but it’s also a welcome addition that helps Friday Night Plan stand out from the rest. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family

Actor: Aadhya Anand, Amrith Jayan, Babil Khan, Juhi Chawla, Juhi Chawla Mehta, Ninad Kamat

Director: Vatsal Neelakantan

Rating: TV-14

Funny, refreshing, and heartwarming, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah gives the seminal girlhood film Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. a Gen Z update. Stacy and her friends are constantly on social media and watch each other for potentially politically incorrect terms, but they also struggle with period pain, crushes, and falling out with former friends. It’s a confusing time in a kid’s life, and  You Are So Not Invited, like Are You There God? before it, honors that. It never condescends, never strays far from the child’s perspective. It’s jubilant and heartwarming, and (to me at least) it’s always fun to see real-life families play themselves in movies. Judd Apatow experimented with this structure in his semi-autobiographical films Knocked Up and This Is 40, which first gave us a glimpse into his daughter Maude Apatow’s acting prowess. I feel You Are So Not Invited will do the same to its young star Sunny Sandler, whose effortlessly funny and charming performance will surely carve a path for a promising career in the future.  

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Adam Sandler, Allison McKay, Beth Hall, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Bunny Levine, Dan Bulla, Dean Scott Vazquez, Dylan Chloe Dash, Dylan Hoffman, Idina Menzel, Ido Mosseri, Jackie Hoffman, Jackie Sandler, Jean Edwards, Joseph Vecsey, Luis Guzman, Michael Buscemi, Miya Cech, Nigel Downer, Oscar Chark, Sadie Sandler, Samantha Lorraine, Sarah Sherman, Sunny Sandler

Director: Sammi Cohen

Rating: PG-13

Much sweeter and much more bittersweet than one might expect, World's Best does some deceptively clever things with its major themes of math and rap. Somehow, this pre-teen coming-of-age story finds a way to play with preconceived notions of equations always resulting in certain answers, and of modern hip hop being all about swagger and status. Unsurprisingly (or maybe disappointingly for some), the film ultimately touches on grief and loss, which an increasing number of Disney films have been doing as of late. But World's Best keeps itself fresh through its sincere, energetic tone, colorful production design, and spirited performances by Utkarsh Ambudkar and the young Manny Magnus. So even when the rapping gets corny (which it does more often than it should), the spirit behind it is so endearing that it's hard to be mad.

Genre: Comedy, Family, Music

Actor: Chris River, Christopher Jackson, Dorian Giordano, Doug E. Fresh, Jake Choi, Jordan Heron, Jorja Rae Inksetter Lardy, Karan Soni, Kathryn Greenwood, Kayla Njeri, Manny Magnus, Max Malas, Maya McNair, Neil Crone, Noah Lamanna, Piper Wallace, Punam Patel, Robyn Matuto, Sathya Sridharan, Tricia Black, Utkarsh Ambudkar

Director: Roshan Sethi

Rating: PG

Shooting Stars may be based on LeBron James’ account of his teenage years, but this adaption by Chris Robinson is more than just a vanity project. In fact, James is hardly the lead here—every one of his friends gets a chance to shine in this coming-of-age story about brotherhood and friendship. It’s closer to films like Boyz N the Hood and Stand By Me in that way, but that’s not to say it’s a letdown in the sports department. The games are choreographed beautifully; the actors display wonderful athleticism and the filmmakers employ various camera techniques that never fail to surprise. There are times, though, that these techniques distract more than excite, and there is a sense that the film could’ve benefited from a more pared-down style. But this ultimately doesn’t take away from the film’s tender and thrilling story.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Algee Smith, Caleb McLaughlin, Chad L. Coleman, Dermot Mulroney, Joe Fishel, Katlyn Nichol, Khalil Everage, Mookie Cook, Natalie Paul, Scoot Henderson, Wood Harris

Director: Chris Robinson

Rating: PG-13

, 2023

Dream is a sports dramedy that is susceptible to a lot of the genre’s cliches. Yes, we follow Hong-dae’s journey from being an egomaniac lone wolf to an empathetic team player. Of course, we get to witness all the heartwrenching backstories of the homeless football members. And sure, we even see get to see ourselves in Lee So-min (IU), the hardworking filmmaker who puts her all into this documentary in the hopes that it could somehow pay off her student loan debt. These are plotlines you’ve heard of before, and there are holes in a lot of them (like how it criticizes documentaries for exploiting sob stories while doing the same in the film, for instance). But at the end of the day, Dream only wants to be an uplifting feel-good movie and in that regard, it succeeds immensely. Say what you want about Seo-joon and his exaggerated yell-all way of acting, but the man knows how to draw out a chuckle from even the most reserved viewer. And paired with IU, who brings with her a plucky charm, the two can command an audience any which way they want. If you’re looking for a serious deep dive into the world of sports, the deceit of documentaries, and the complex reality of homelessness, Dream touches on a bit of that but don’t expect it to fully deliver. However, if you’re looking for an easy watch filled with delightful performances and feel-good moments, then Dream is your film.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Baek Ji-won, Han Jun-woo, Han Sang-chul, Heo Joon-seok, Hong Wan-pyo, IU, Jeong Soon-won, Jeong Sun-won, Jo Woo-jong, Jun Suk-ho, Jung Seung-kil, Kang Ha-neul, Kim Il-jung, Kim Jong-soo, Kim Nam-woo, Ko Chang-seok, Lee Eun-jae, Lee Ha-nui, Lee Hae-woon, Lee Hyun-woo, Lee Ji-hyeon, Lee Seung-joon, Lee Yu-bi, Nam Min-woo, Park Hyeong-su, Park Hyoung-soo, Park Moon-sung, Park Myung-hoon, Park Seo-jun, Park Seong-jun, Song Yeong-sik, Yang Hyun-min, Yoon Ji-on, Yun Ji-on

Director: Lee Byeong-heon

, 2023

After Nimona's long journey to the big screen (involving the shutdown of animation studio Blue Sky, and Disney's resistance to LGTBQ+ themes), the fact that the movie has been completed and allowed to tell its story at all is something to be celebrated. The film itself is pretty standard fare for American children's animation, with a script that spends far too much time on quips, and visuals that don't take advantage of the movie's science-fantasy world. But if you can get beyond its more ordinary aspects, Nimona becomes a surprisingly thorough metaphor of Otherness and queerness—best represented in the title character's shapeshifting abilities, and how people fear and become violent with her before even trying to understand her. It's a film that's sadly become more relevant than ever now, addressing how prejudice is something that's taught and passed down, packaged in an easy, entertaining manner for younger audiences.

Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family, Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Science Fiction

Actor: Beck Bennett, Chloë Grace Moretz, Cindy Slattery, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Indya Moore, Jarrett Bruno, Julio Torres, Karen Ryan, Lorraine Toussaint, Matthew J. Munn, ND Stevenson, Nick Bruno, Riz Ahmed, RuPaul, Sarah Sherman, Tim Nordquist, Troy Quane

Director: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane

Rating: PG

Seven years after Zootopia, Pixar takes another crack at a racial prejudice metaphor — but, while the analogy is less creaky here, it’s still an awkward one, as diametrically opposed elements like fire and water stand in for human beings. The gaping flaws in its central concept aside, Elemental does wring something compelling out of its story: an exploration of second-generation immigrant guilt.

That might seem like an oddly specific and complex topic for what is ostensibly a kids’ film to grapple with, but this is the Pixar of Soul and Bao, not Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Ember (Leah Lewis) is an anthropomorphized young flame whose parents migrated from their home in Fireland to run a store in the NYC-like melting pot of Element City; she’s keenly aware of the sacrifices they made to give her a better life and believes the only way to repay them is to abandon her own dreams and run their store. This is the one part of Elemental’s metaphor that really lands, but it’s unfortunately sidelined to make way for an inter-elemental romance between Ember and a water-man that only pulls the focus back onto the film’s biggest weakness. Still, its emotional specificity and beautiful animation prevent it from being a total washout.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Alex Kapp, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pera, Jonathan Adams, Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Mason Wertheimer, Matthew Yang King, P.L. Brown, Ronnie del Carmen, Ronobir Lahiri, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Wilma Bonet

Director: Peter Sohn

From the moment it begins, The Monkey King hardly pauses to take a breath. The characters are always frantically jumping into the next scene, the action is nonstop, and the jokes, though juvenile, arrive one after the other. This is okay if you’re looking for a brisk viewing experience, but not so if you’re prone to vertigo. It moves at a relentless pace, which doesn’t just make the film a dizzying watch; it also robs the animation’s beautiful details of the time it needs to be appreciated. The movie’s core message, too, is buried under all the film’s pizzaz, which is a shame considering its refreshing pragmatism. When all the other kids’ movies are promoting courage and confidence, The Monkey King actually warns against the dangers of an inflated ego. The Monkey King is passable entertainment for the family, but with a better pace, it could’ve been great. 

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

Actor: Andrew Kishino, Andrew Pang, Artemis Snow, BD Wong, Bowen Yang, David Chen, Dee Bradley Baker, Hoon Lee, James Sie, Jimmy O. Yang, Jo Koy, Jodi Long, Jolie Hoang-Rappaport, Kaiji Tang, Mark Benninghoffen, Robert Wu, Ron Yuan, Sophie Wu, Stephanie Hsu, Vic Chao

Director: Anthony Stacchi

Rating: PG