The 5 Best Under-the-Radar Movies for Kids of All Ages

Ideas for Presents

Whether you're putting together a gift basket, trying to please picky nephews and nieces, or just trying to share your love of cinema, movies make wonderful presents for kids. Children young and old appreciate a well-told story, and movies offer a chance for the whole family to spend a relaxing evening together. Everyone loves free movies, in particular, so consider buying one for a child's birthday, Christmas, or any event.

Hollywood blockbusters are fun, but children have an even greater appreciation for films that seem like secrets they have discovered themselves. Under-the-radar movies often aren't classified as the best movies ever, because they often lack the budget of the larger films or deal with advertising constraints. Rather than have the exposure, these movies often have the substance. Here are five lesser-known movies for kids of all ages.

The Secret of Kells

If you like evocative animation, rich in memorable images and cultural allusions, consider buying a DVD of The Secret of Kells. This 2009 movie is about Brendan, the Irish boy behind the story of the legendary Book of Kells. The real Book of Kells is held at Trinity College in Dublin, and is one of the most important artifacts of Irish history. This animated film tells how Brendan meets the fairy Aisling in a dark forest, while he is on a mission to assist in the actual writing of the Book of Kells. An imminent theological and physical clash with barbarians creates real tension, but the movie as a whole is mystical and memorable, particularly during an amazing song sequence by Aisling. After watching The Secret of Kells, any child or adult will be thinking about this movie for weeks, if not months.

This film has been nominated and has won awards, but surprisingly, too few people have seen it. The Secret of Kells is definitely worth a look, particularly for children 7 and up.

The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal is a Jim Henson/Frank Oz film from 1982, which is why most children today have never seen it. It's a rich fantasy done with puppetry, but not at all like The Muppets or Fraggle Rock . Instead, The Dark Crystal explores a strange, distant world in a distant time, pitting the orphan Jen against bird-like lizards called Skeksis, all of whom desire the power afforded them by a shard of the crystal. Unusual creatures and landscapes abound in this unique story. Some of the small visual touches in this live-action movie will be sure to stick with you for years.

The Dark Crystal is at times a risky and dark adventure, and isn't best suited for very small children. Close calls and weird monsters make this film better for kids 10 and up.

The Waterbabies

One of my personal favorites, The Waterbabies is a half-animated, half-live-action movie from 1978, so it's virtually unknown to children today. Despite its age, however, The Waterbabies is a strange and wonderful journey; it chronicles the travels of little Tom, the apprentice chimney sweep, who makes his way in 1850s England. Tom is in the care of an abusive and criminal-minded James Mason (nothing too upsetting, so don't worry) when he's accused of theft. In an attempt to escape the unfounded charges, Tom jumps into a river, starting an animated epic journey.

Full of memorable songs and a Wizard of Oz-like story format, The Waterbabies lives on as a tale of innocence and redemption.  It's suitable for kids of all ages.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably the least under-the-radar entry of the list, considering it's a 2009 puppet-animated movie with the voices of George Clooney and Meryl Streep.  It's different enough, however, to warrant a spot here.  If you haven't seen this movie yet, get moving.  The Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a book by Roald Dahl, chronicles the adventures of Mr. Fox as he returns to the thieving ways of his youth.  Nearby farms offer too much temptation for the quirky fox in this funny, odd-ball film, and eventually, a clash between farmers and animals becomes an all-out battle.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox is fun for all ages, and contains several instances of humor adults will cherish. 

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit, a 2009 half-animated, half-live-action film, is a surprisingly wonderful homage to the beloved book by the same title. Unlike The Waterbabies , The Velveteen Rabbit mixes both formats seamlessly throughout the movie. Set in England, Toby is sent to live with his grandmother by his distracted, workaholic father for the holidays. Unhappy with his isolation, Toby begins to be drawn in by the "magic attic" once enjoyed by his own father as a boy. Ultimately, Toby will have to fight against losing a sense of the real world over his imagined fairy-tale existence, and his cherished rabbit plays a key role. Love and gratitude highlight the lessons learned in this timeless story.

The Velveteen Rabbit is appropriate for all ages, and while it deviates from the original book, it is still sure to conjure up familiar images for adults.

A Very Catchy Song From The Waterbabies

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Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Thank you for the suggestion, I am going to have a look at 'The Secret of the Kells' (for myself, of course). But what a coincidence, Out of the blue, today, I suddenly thought about 'Tom and the Water Babies' you do an efficient bit of thought transference there, don't you?

But while we're talking about movies, I can hardly recommend more highly the adaption of 'Rapunzel' which is now showing under the title of 'Tangled'. One of the funniest and most charming animation movies you would ever want to see,

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Great minds and all that, TL, right? :)

Tom sticks in your memory, doesn't he? I'm not sure what it is about that movie that's so darn hard to forget. I think it's the music, mostly. I love the very end of it. You will love The Secret of Kells. It's thought-provoking and mesmerizing.

I haven't seen Tangled, but I'll definitely give it a look. Thanks for the suggestion!

Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Great whole family love The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Dark Crystal... we will have to check out The Secret of Kells....voted up

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, Cogerson. It sounds as if your family likes the same kind of unique movies that mine does. :)

DoItForHer 5 years ago

The Princess and the Goblin was surprisingly good, too. My little one isn't so little anymore, but when we get the chance, we may try one of your suggestions.

I like a good sleeper movie.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Hi DIFH--Your daughter is a teenager, right? In that case, I'd recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox or for a weird experience, The Dark Crystal. She'll definitely find The Dark Crystal to be unusual!

lorddraven2000 profile image

lorddraven2000 5 years ago from Wheelwright KY

I am still in love with the Dark Crystal and I am 29 years old. It is such a timeless story.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

It's impossible to describe accurately to anyone who hasn't seen it, huh, lorddraven2000? It's a permanent memory for me, too.

Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Thanks for the list. I am unfamiliar with a few. Sounds like I should watch Dark Crystal.

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author


Are you a kid at heart, TS? If not, you won't want to sit and watch it alone. If you usually enjoy kids' movies, then by all means, enjoy!

DoItForHer 5 years ago

The Dark Crystal was impressive. When I was younger, I liked it a lot. Now that I'm older, I can really appreciate the talent that went into making it in addition to the well-written story.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox will be viewed shortly. :)

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

You'll get a couple good laughs out of Fantastic Mr. Fox, DIFH.

StarCreate profile image

StarCreate 5 years ago from Spain

lovely - thank you!

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

Thanks, StarCreate! That's great to hear!

crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

So much in love with the story of the dark crystals.

Fortadam profile image

Fortadam 5 years ago from Portland Oregon

I LOVE DARK CRYSTAL!!!!! One of the best muppet movies of all time ...

shogan profile image

shogan 5 years ago from New England Author

crystolite and Fortadam--Thanks for writing! Yes, The Dark Crystal is one of those "you love it or you don't" films. That being said, it sort of grew on me over the years. It's so unique...I have honestly never seen another movie like it.

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