Finding entertainment for a child can be difficult – especially if you have to stick around and participate in it, too. The truth of the matter is that most movies designed with children in mind are not made with quality in mind. They’re made to sell toys, distract with bright colors and loud noises, and tell jokes that only people under the age of 6 will find entertaining. “Quality movies for children” may not be an oxymoron, but it’s not that far off.
With all that said, here are the best movies for children from 2016 (that adults can also enjoy).
Disney decided to do a live-action version of Cinderella, which is technically not a remake but is for all intents and purposes a remake. It changes things up, as most remakes/reimaginings do, but the story is pretty much the same. It’s earnest and heartfelt and colorful. It’s longer than the not-even-80-minute original, and you’re still better off watching that one, but this isn’t a bad version of it. It looks great, and if you’re in the frame of mind to not be overly cynical about it, it can make for an entertaining watch.
He Named Me Malala
I don’t normally put documentaries on these lists about movies for children, in large part because most documentaries aren’t made for them and therefore they won’t care. But there are going to be two on this one because (1) 2015 was a weak year for kids’ movies and (2) there are two big ones that are really applicable.
The first is He Named Me Malala, a film about Malala Yousafzai, who at a very young age was gunned down by the Taliban for speaking up for girls’ education in Pakistan. She survived and continued her activism – becoming the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate ever in the process. It’s a movie advocating for the rights of children by an at-the-time child and also serves as a testament to determination and the power of the human spirit.
Inside Out is very smart. It is very funny. It will move you emotionally. It will make you remember your childhood, make you think about the way you act now, and make you care about a stupid imaginary pink elephant. That last one will make sense once you watch it. Inside Out is one of those rare movies that works regardless of your age; adults will take different things from it than children will, but everyone will have a good time. It’s about anthropomorphic emotions inside a young girl’s head, and it’s one of 2015’s best movies.
A LEGO Brickumentary
LEGO toys are a lot of fun. They encourage imagination and creativity and are endless amounts of fun. Most kids really enjoy playing with them. If they ever were curious about about the LEGO company, how the toys are made, and the toys’ worldwide appeal, A LEGO Brickumentary is the movie for them.
It’s nothing more than that, but that’s still something of value.
The Peanuts Movie
I’ve never been the biggest Peanuts fan. The comic strip and the TV specials never appealed to me a whole lot – no, not even A Charlie Brown Christmas, sorry – and seeing a 3D animated version of that seemed like a bad idea. It didn’t wind up making much of a difference. It feels a lot like what you remember and if you or your kids like the previous Peanuts properties, then you’ll dig this movie, too. Don’t let the art style fool you: it’s the same type of story and comedy you’re used to.
Shaun the Sheep
Claymation – and stop-motion animation in general – has gone largely by the wayside. There aren’t many studios even attempting it anymore. Aardman Animations is one that still is. Every couple of years, a new one pops up. They’re typically clever, funny, and engaging – if a bit too simplistic. Shaun the Sheep Movie is about some sheep who go into the big city and cause trouble. It’s largely slapstick, mostly without dialogue, and it’s hilarious. And the animation is great, and not something you get to see much of anymore.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water
I’m told the SpongeBob SquarePants television show is still happening on TV, which is a pretty impressive run, isn’t it? It’s about characters who live underwater and … that’s really it. It’s clever and/or annoying, depending on who you ask. The movie’s pretty funny. It gets weird near the end when they capitalize on the “sponge out of water” premise and become 3D characters interacting with live-action people and objects, but it’s not bad. And if you’re a fan of the show, it’s a great feature-length episode.
Strange Magic is a messy movie that feels like its plot was created around its soundtrack, which features a bunch of popular songs. It’s a musical about a fairy princess who decides, after a bad experience, that love is bad. She then has to go on a quest and maybe fall in love again. The visuals are strong and the songs are sung well, even if its plot is a mess and it’s thematically simple.
Perhaps most interestingly, the advertising declared that it is “from the mind of George Lucas.” He’s mostly stayed away from movies since the Star Wars prequels, so it was odd to see his name attached to this.
Tomorrowland is a sci-fi adventure movie that hopes to teach its audience about the importance of science and winds up feeling much more like a lecture than an adventure. It’s a good message, sure, but its delivery needed improvement. The plot is breezy, the dialogue is snappy, and the effects are great. It just winds up being too preachy for its own good – to the point that the good parts wind up being put on the back burner.
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet is a perpetually sweet movie about a 10-year-old boy taking a journey from Montana to the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. after being informed that his invention has won a prize, and they’re holding a reception in his honor. Most of the film follows him on his trip, which he’s taken without the knowledge of his family.
It’s been directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whom you may know as the man behind Amelie. It’s a more kid-friendly version of a similar type of sweet, funny, optimistic adventure movie that has many observations about humanity embedded within it.