The 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix

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The 40 Best Kids Movies on Netflix

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 some 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 Kids Movies on Netflix:

little-witch-academia-enchanted.jpg 40. 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

encounters-at-the-end.jpg 39. 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

hercules.jpg 38. 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

pocahontas.jpg 37. 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

temple-of-doom.jpg 36. 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

spy-kids.jpg 35. Spy Kids
Year: 2001
Director: Robert Rodriguez 
Rating: PG
That the director of bloody films like Desperado and From Dusk Til Dawn would tackle a kids film was a surprise to everyone, but Spy Kids was all the better for Robert Rodriguez’ experience with adult action films. He enlisted a top rate cast including Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alan Cumming, Teri Hatcher, Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo, and Tony Shalhoub; Danny Elfman to help score; and wrote the story himself. And its that Robert Rodriguez imagination that makes the film—robots with thumbs for heads and Floop’s Floogies are straight out of a bad acid trip. Rodriguez believed kids could handle a little nightmarish imagery and that gamble paid off in the form of $147 million at the box office, positive reviews from critics and three sequels, all of which allowed him to make whatever pulpy films for adults his heart desired. —Josh Jackson

little-prince.jpg 34. 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 33. 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

emp-new-groove.jpg 32. 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

megamind.jpg 31. Megamind
Year: 2010
Director: Tom McGrath
Rating: PG
Featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt and David Cross, Megamind is a family-friendly superhero-themed movie with a simple premise: What is an arch-villain to do when he successfully and permanently defeats his nemesis? The answer is not really that inspired, but neither is it annoying, wasteful or otherwise an example of the type of misstep so common with subpar superhero movies—this is competent kid fare whose focus on the villain will remind many of Gru and Despicable Me, though the humor falls short of that minion-infested franchise. In this and other particulars, Megamind is unlikely to stick with the viewer long after the closing credits. —Michael Burgin

cloudy-meatballs.jpg 30. 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

indiana-jones-crystal.jpg 29. 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

beauty-beast.jpg 28. 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

invader-zim-florpus.jpg 27. Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus
Year: 2017
Director: David Soren
Rating: PG
At a time when original Nickelodeon cartoons included Rocket Power and The Fairly Oddparents, Invader Zim was the network’s attempt to attract the slightly older Cartoon Network crowd. They wanted something edgy and a little bizarre. They got it tenfold with Jhonen Vasquez, a comic-book writer and cartoonist whose previous projects included the hyper-violent comic series Johnny: The Homicidal Maniac, Squee and I Feel Sick. His concept for Nickelodeon was simple: Invader Zim was the story of naive but psychotic Zim, the smallest member of an alien species in which social hierarchy is determined by height, who is assigned to conquer an insignificant planet on the outskirts of the universe: Earth. Although dispatched simply to collect undercover surveillance and stay out of the way, Zim—along with his malfunctioning erratic robot drone, GIR—decides to conquer our planet himself. However, all his attempts to take over are either thwarted by his own inexperience or by Dib, a young paranormal investigator who realizes Zim is an alien. Now, a new Netflix movie brings back Zim and his maniacal laugh, along with the show’s original creator and voice cast. Set in a near future after Dib has grown feeble and disgusting after months of doing nothing but watching his surveillance monitors for a sign of Zim, whose been hiding in a toilet with his useless pizza-loving robot sidekick GIR—Phase One of his evil plan. If only he could remember Phase Two. With Zib demoralized, Dib’s goal shifts from saving the world to finally getting credit for doing so—particularly from his father. But teaming up with Zim proves to be a very bad idea. The new film captures the gloriously dark absurdity of the original with moments like GIR inspiring the children of the world with his song about peace…and chicken and rice…and alternate-realities colliding that include a variety of illustration styles and even claymation. —James Charisma and Josh Jackson

captain-underpants-poster.jpg 26. 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

an-american-tail.jpg 25. 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

mary-witchs-flower.jpg 24. 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

peter-rabbit.jpg 23. Peter Rabbit
Year: 2018
Director: 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

rocko-static-cling.jpg 22. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
Year: 2019
Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Segurson
Rating: TV-Y7
It’s been 23 years since Rocko’s Modern Life went off the air. A progenitor of SpongeBob SquarePants, with much of the cast and creative team moving on from one show to the next, the satire was Nickelodeon’s in-house answer to its more troublesome The Ren & Stimpy Show. And it was sharp. Deranged. Relatable. Ripped from the daily lives of its writers and unlike any other cartoon airing on TV. So now, with the 45-minute special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling coming to Netflix, how does the original spirit of the show persist? Like any good revival, it makes a point of being familiar but different. Original creator Joe Murray is back on writing and directing duties, alongside all the voice actors (Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, and Mr. Lawrence) returning to play Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. The companions, who would feel right at home in either Office Space or a zoo, have been canonically lost in space for two decades since the series finale and finally figure out a way back to Earth. These cartoonish Rips Van Winkle didn’t miss the American Revolution, but they certainly missed enough. With a meta plotline about the cancellation and subsequent rebooting of a beloved cartoon, Static Cling isn’t afraid to be self-effacing about the revival process—or poke a little fun at the fanatical cult audience that got it a second run at Netflix in the first place. Much of what made the show a fan-favorite is still here. Its color-packed, neo-Fleischer Brothers animation (with surreal, askew Chuck Jones backgrounds and images that are just funny enough not to be disturbing, like Rocko’s visible optic nerves when his eyes flying out of his head) and expansive vocabulary balance its fart gags and butt jokes. It’s warm and nostalgic, but only in the sense that its aesthetic maintains a dedication to strangeness. Static Cling is mostly Murray and his team building to their end. It’s them deciding that when Netflix gives you a pulpit, well dammit, you scream your lungs out about what matters. Then you tip your hat and thank everyone for their time. It’s a wish for the future—the special even redistributes the wealth by the finale—masquerading as a return to the past. And it, in the immortal words of Heffer, was a hoot. —Jacob Oller

lilo-stitch.jpg 21. 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

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