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80 Kids' Movies That Aren't Just for Kids

Family Travel
by Leigh Shulman Jun 11, 2010

I WATCH A LOT of movies, always have.  Not surprisingly, Lila shares my adoration for all things film. Thing is, Lila — as with most children — can watch the same movie over and over. While I can perhaps stomach Barbie and the Diamond Castle once, the idea of sitting through that thing one more time makes me want to rip my eyes out.

OK, I’m being dramatic, but ultimately, if I’m spending time watching movies with my daughter, I’d like to see something I genuinely enjoy.

Movies So Good, I Watch Them Even When Lila’s Not Around

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro No Kamikakushi)

This Japanese animated film directed by Hiyao Miyazaki tells story of a young girl named Chihiro whose parents are turned into pigs at the start of the movie.  To save them from being eaten, Chihiro must work in a bath house run by spirits. I never get tired of it. Ultimately, this movie imparts lessons on growing up, friendship and developing the ability to be responsible for your choices.

I’ve included the Japanese trailer with subtitles, because the straight-up English version doesn’t represent the film well, but you can find the full feature dubbed in English.

Other options:

Fantastic Mr Fox by Wes Anderson. Need I say more?. Pixar’s Up makes even the most hardened adult laugh, cry and maybe realize that the meaning of life is found in the now. The Iron Giant written by poet, children’s writer and husband of Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and directed by Brad Bird whose diverse portfolio spans children’s movies, comedy, action and adventure.

Avatar, not intended to be a kids movie, but I find it more enjoyable to think of it as one. 9, produced by Tim Burton tells of a world after Armageddon. Humans have destroyed themselves and rag dolls save the world. Then there’s Yellow Submarine with the Beatles. Milo and Otis (aka Koneko Monogatari) narrated by Dudley Moore. This flick is guaranteed to give you a contact high. Chicken Run features Mel Gibson as a catapult riding chicken saving the girl chickens from a death farm. What’s not to love?

Movies That Take Us Back To Childhood

Sometimes, remakes and revisits of movies or books we adored as children disappoint us in adulthood. At their best, though, they transport us back in time, allowing us to see the world as we did then. When you watch these with a child you love, the excitement of discovering a great film for the first time is infectious.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl’s book was the first I read by myself in its entirety. It took weeks and required running back and forth to my parents bedroom to ask for word clarification. Then I reread the damn thing until the cover fell off and pages fell out.

While I do enjoy the 1971 Gene Wilder version of the movie, I prefer the more recent remake. Johnny Depp perfectly portrays the kooky, weird Willy Wonka from my imagination. My favorite scene: When Violet Beauregarde turns into a massive blueberry after chewing gum she’s not supposed to chew. Gets me every time.

Other options:

ET, The Wizard of Oz, My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and The Parent Trap Both old and new versions are of the Parent Trap have their merits, but I’m partial to the 1961 film with Hayley Mills and Leo G Carroll. Then check out newer films such as Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, The Secret Garden, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Cat In the Hat, Horton Hears A Who (Who doesn’t love Steve Carell?) and, finally, Where the Wild Things Are.

Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki

I’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli film I didn’t like.

Kiki’s Delivery Service follows Kiki and her bad attitude black cat as she leaves home for the first time to find her way in this world as a witch. She moves to a new town, starts her own business. There’s never any fear of leaving home nor is there any danger involved. Perfect message for young kids and a great reminder for adults that at some point we all need to leave home and find a new one elsewhere.

Some Studio Ghibli can be a bit frightening for children, but Kiki works for all ages.

Other Ghiblis:

My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Castle In the Sky, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Movies Made For Adults, But Kids Like Them, Too.

27 Dresses. Great for little girls into fashion. They may not understand the plot, but watching Katherine Heigl play dress up with an endless stream of ugly outfits was enough to keep all of us occupied during a long layover in Panama. Legally Blonde serves the same purpose, only add a small yippy dog and a lot more pink leather and nail polish.

For boys, consider Jim Henson’s Labyrinth with a Ziggy Stardust done David Bowie and lots of trolls. Then there’s Dune: another freaky science fiction piece with enormous worms, Sting and silly names like Yueh and MaudDib to fuel the best kid crazy talk. If, by the end, you’re not standing in your living room fist in the air proclaiming yourself the kwisatz haderach, clearly, you’ve worn a suit and tie one too many times.

And while we’re talking Jim Henson, for the love of God, don’t overlook The Muppets. From movies to the show that popped on television every Friday night before I had to go to bed, they appeal equally to all ages and genders.

I’ll finish off this adult list with the all pleasing Princess Bride. Have fun storming the castle!

Awesome Series

Star Wars

The story of a girl, a boy and a universe a billion years in the making. It’s epic– an adventure unlike anything on your planet. Yep, it’s big. This trailer may be like nothing you’d see today, but the films, all six in the series, hold up fantastically. I still get chills when the music begins.

After that, check out the Harry Potters, Wallace and Grommit, The Chronicles of Narnia and Transformers.


In the older Disney films, Snow White and Cinderella as prime examples, evil was truly evil. It showed up at your door to poison you or locked you in a high tower to die. There’s something far more appealing to the hard-edge good versus evil of the early films — however racist and sexist they may be — than the updated PC versions of women and ethnic groups that have been so watered down, they’re just plain boring to watch.

If nothing else, the shock of seeing Red Indians dancing around a fire saying “How” from Peter Pan or the painfully stereotypical characters in Dumbo will make you feel like you’re seeing it for the first time.

Most times I forgo these films altogether, but when Lila insists on watching one, I try to steer her towards my favorites: Mulan, Brother Bear, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Alice in Wonderland.

Pixar Picks

My favorite Pixar film changes over time. We watch over and over until Lila’s ready for the next. In this way, we’ve been through every Pixar film numerous times. What I like about this Disney branch-off studio is how the films incorporate inside jokes and references that relate to each other. Even better, they all include nods to other great films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, War of the Worlds and even This is Spinal Tap.

Each time I watch these films, I notice something new.

Right now, Toy Story II sits on top of our family movie time rotation.

There’s nothing quite like watching Kelsey Grammar as Stinky Pete the Prospector macking on two Barbie Dolls while Buzz Lightyear pops a wingspan boner after watching Jessie the Cowgirl flip through the air. I haven’t yet figured out a way to explain to Lila why those are funny.

Other Pixar favorites:

Finding Nemo, The Incredibles (another Brad Bird), Wall-E, Monsters, Inc and Cars

Stephen Spielberg and Dreamworks

I have only seen the trailer for How To Train Your Dragon, but it’s enough to tell me I would enjoy watching it at least once with Lila. It reminds me of Harry Potter wrapped in the promise of a young boy learning that dragons — ie metaphor for anything we don’t understand — aren’t quite as scary as we think.

While Dreamworks doesn’t sit at the top of my favorite movies, no list of kid’s flicks would be complete without including the following:

Antz with Woody Allen as a self-actualized New Yorky complaining ant looking for individuality. Mike Meyer’s as Shrek doesn’t disappoint. Will Smith and the myriad of hip-hop and R&B references in Shark Tale is always fun. Plus, I’m never one to miss any film — animated or otherwise — in which Robert Dinero plays the Don. And while we’re mentioning actors reprising familiar roles, let’s not forget Jerry Seinfeld in Bee Movie.

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