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5 Best Family Movies

Updated on February 21, 2018
Kenna McHugh profile image

I've written, contributed to several books on film. I like to share the insights of the business as best I can for those who appreciate it.

Netflix or Amazon

In whatever manner we stream movies or still go to the local video store, families are looking for the best movies for everyone. Covering all ages from 5 – 80 is the choice search through movies on Netflix or movies on Amazon. We want the instant gratification of finding a family movie that is streaming on a cable app or on Prime. The following is the best family movies in my humble opinion. I will be adding more to the list as the best new family movies arrive, so visit again and even leave a comment about what you feel is the best-rated family movie.

1. Disneynature’s Earth a True Family Movie

Disneynature celebrates each Earth Day with the release of a documentary celebrating Earth, the environment, and animals. The first of the series was Earth, which was released in 2009. The movie was the best opening-day gross ever for a documentary making $4 million at 1,804 theaters.

Even the concessions person was telling moviegoers that the movie theater had four loaded school buses for the special 10:00 am showing for local schools. He talked how the concessions were swamped with an order of sixty kid's treat packages. Obviously, Disney conducted a heavy promotion to schools and families to attend the Earth Day opening, a wise attempt on their part.

Plenty of Animals

As mentioned earlier, Earth is the initial release from Disneynature, a company label that was formed to place, once again, the traditional Disney nature films as a true family film. The movie features plenty of animals, as Time Magazine says it so nicely "none of them cartoons." The film charts a full year in the life of the planet, starting in the dead of winter, January, at the Arctic and finishing a year later in Antarctica, the end of a short summer.

Dan Hahn

Don Hahn, who is executive producer of Earth as well as the subsequent Oceans and African Cats explained in an interview that these documentaries take five years to make.“I think what’s encouraging to me and what’s fun for me is to take it on one-on-one. For example, now I’m at Disneyland actually doing this interview and I just walked out of a screening full of school kids. There were probably 400 school kids in this theater watching Oceans and each one of them will take home a piece from that movie: a memory, a sense of responsibility, a sense of awe or wonderment at it. I think that one-on-one relationship with a filmmaker and an audience or an adult and a child, or a teacher and a student is really crucial and important to changing our mindset.”

Three Animals Tell the Story

In the movie Earth, we are introduced to a mother polar bear and her two cubs as we first catch sight of their snouts peeking out from their winter den. The movie charts several other animals, but the documentary focuses primarily on these three animals to tell the story of Earth: the polar bears, humpback whales, and African elephants. It is by far an epic film giving the attention this in end endangered planet deserves.

Any movie night can become your own special Earth Day by watching a Disneynature film or one of the older Disney films about nature called True Life Adventures. Adventures movies focus on wildlife and were an Oscar-winning series initiated by Walt Disney himself. He truly loved wildlife and saw the importance of conveying the message to keep your planet sustainable. Once your family views a Disneynature documentary, you can discuss the need to change our living habits and help preserve our planet Earth, the importance of keeping it intact for many generations to come.

2. Pixar Shorts is a Family Affair

Disney and Pixar are both known for their collaboration of producing popular, animated family movies. But, sometimes Pixar shorts get overlooked as family flicks by moviegoers. If you have ever seen a Pixar short, you know that a lot of talent and create hardship went into making the film.

Pixar’s first short, The Adventures of Andre and Wall B. was made in 1984. The story involves two characters: one being a pesky bee and the other named Andre with a hat. The story was originally shown on the Disney Channel. The animation was done by Pixar co-founder John Lasseter for his son. The short encouraged the film industry’s interest in computer-generated animation.

Luxo Jr.

The next Pixar short, Luxo Jr., is truly the first film officially produced by Pixar, following the beginning of the independent film studio’s establishment. The two and a half minute short film introduces us to Pixar’s icon, the small hopping desk lamp. Luxo Jr. chases a small ball while Luxo (large lamp) reacts to Luxo Jr.’s escapade of chasing and balancing on the ball.

Future Computer Animators

As the story goes, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter departed from Industrial Light and Magic computer division with the goal to finish the short film for sIGGRApH, an annual computer technology exhibition attended by thousands of industry professionals. The future computer animators worked day and night. The dedication proved fruitful and despite the impossible Luxo Jr. was finished for SIGGRAPH. When it was shown at the computer technology exhibition, the audience had risen and was applauding before the short had finished. Animated films became a whole new fabric of the movie industry.

Red's Dream

Red’s Dream is the next short film produced by Pixar and directed by John Lasseter. It was released in 1987 and is the only short that is not attached to one of the studio’s family feature films. On the audio commentary, Lasseter talks how Ed Catmull thought the Pixar staff could make a film using the Pixar Image Computer and the rendering software Chapreyes. Lasseter and other staff began developing a tale about a circus clown who is outshined by his very own unicycle. Animators Eben Ostby and William Reeves began work on their own unique ideas. Ostby’s idea consisted of animating the bicycle, and Reeves started working on an animated city with a rainy night. Finally, the three artists pooled their creative ideas resulting in Red's Dream.

Fun to Watch

Pixar shorts can be seen on the DVD called Pixar Shorts Volume One, which is definitely fun to watch with the whole family.

3. Alvin and the Chipmunks

Alvin and Chipmunks were super popular in the late 1950s and then returned 2007 as computer-generated images, known as CGI. The three little rascals look more real than ever now. Like the movie poster says “Things are going to get messy.”

This time they arrive at the home of struggling songwriter David Seville. His most recent song is rejected by JETT Records executive Ian Hawke. Hawke is his former college roommate. To make the story even more interesting, Dave had at one time a relationship with Claire Wilson, his next door neighbor.

Favorite Scene

Then, Alvin and his two buddies sing "Only You (And You Alone)". Dave realizes he has discovered three diamonds in the rough. This is when the movie really takes off. The Chipmunks sing the songs he writes and he keeps them fed and sheltered. The singing and montages in the film are brilliant. Jason Lee does a fantastic job of playing off the little CGI animals.

One of my favorite scenes is when Theodore wakes up in the middle of the night scared from a nightmare. Dave helps him feel safe by letting him sleep in his bed. Very cute, any parent or child will relate to this scene, which is later referred to with Uncle Ian in a rather poignant scene.

Little Rascals

But the chipmunks, being little rascals, cause some major problems for Dave. But they are so adorable you can’t help but laugh, which really makes this a wonderful family movie. A really cute scene is when Alvin tries to create the mood for Dave’s reunion dinner with Claire. The dinner becomes very odd and strange. She bails on Dave after he confesses, "My life is being sabotaged by talking chipmunks."

Alvin and the Chipmunks want to make up the blunder, so they record a song and get a record deal with Ian Hawke. Now, Alvin and the Chipmunks are more famous than the Jonas Brothers. The little animals are working so hard to keep up with the demand. Dave worries about them and tries to get control over the situation. With miss opportunities and Hawke’s underhanded scheme to steal the chipmunks, Dave lets them go. Hawke tells the chipmunks to call him Uncle Ian. He just wants to make money off them without their well-being in mind. Clearly, the little guys are overworked. They miss Dave and Dave misses them.

Family Can Watch Together

Directed by Tim Hill, the movie is fun for anyone, but it’s one that the family can watch together without worries of parents getting bored or jokes going over the kids’ head. The talented cast and voice actors make the movie. Some of the cast members are Jane Lynch from “Glee”, Justin Long as Alvin, Matthew Gray Gubler as Simon, Jesse McCartney as Theodore, David Cross as Ian Hawke, of course, Jason Lee as Dave.


The Alvin and the Chipmunks comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette detailing how the chipmunks’ singing was created. It is well worth the look and you will discover the real singers of the movie.

4. VeggieTales Takes a Look at a Meaningful Life

The VeggieTales, in general, are great family movies because they are light a fluffy. The jokes are clean and the situations are hilarious. Sure, the tales bring in the Christian faith, so what. They are still fun and kids and parents have a good time watching the veggie characters interact with each other without legs or arms, yet they still move things around in the air as if they are extremities. They carry books and footballs. The veggies don’t really walk, they kind of bounce to and fro because they are vegetables.

One such VeggieTales movie that went directly to DVD is It's a Meaningful Life - A Lesson in Being Content. The story is somewhat like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The classic movie follows businessman who is despondent on how his life has turned out, and he wishes he never was born. An angel guides him to the right path by showing how important his life is. The movie boasts James Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, and Donna Reed.

Would Life Be Better?

The Veggie Tales Larry the Cucumber plays Stewart, that’s the characters name, who loves playing football and really wants to play in the Salad Bowl. He wants to be famous with all the fortune that goes with fame. But, he gets injured in a game, and his dream is ended. Many years later, silly-but-sweet Stewart truly cares for his family and friends. He loves his job at the toy train factory.

Still, he wonders “what if” he had never been injured and became a famous football star, making lots of money. Would life be better? He meets a stranger who is a train conductor. He changes back time to show Steward what it would have been like if it happened the way he wanted it to be. Interestingly, a moral is learned through Christian teachings and Stewart learns a lesson about life.

Multi-Grammy Winner - Steven Curtis Chapman

What is really cool about the movie is the song, “Meant to Be,” produced by Steven Curtis Chapman, a multi-Grammy winner as well as a Dove award winner. Of course, It’s a Meaningful Life has the traditional new silly song called “Goodnight Junior.”

You can even venture over to VeggieTales website and download some cool activities from the movie for the kids and parents to do together. The DVD comes with some cool family bonus features like sing-a-long song, interviews, audio commentary, and the Meaningful Family Life Guide.

5. Dolphin Tale

Dolphin Tale follows a teenage boy Sawyer, played by Nathan Gamble. The true story is about Sawyer meeting his best friend, a dolphin washed up on the Clearwater Beach in Florida. Dolphin is named Winter who loses her tale after being snagged in a crab trap.

Sawyer life changes when he takes on the task of helping Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The dolphin plays herself in the movie, which makes the movie even more special. The Blu-ray/DVD offers several points of view of the popular dolphin’s story. The featurettes are entertaining but educational at the same time.

Sawyer helps find a prosthetic expert to fit Winter with a prosthetic fin. An amazing and unbelievable feat – never been done before. I encourage families to watch this movie together because it is one of the best family movies I have ever seen. The movie will tug at your heartstrings with a talented cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Ashly Judd, and Harry Connick, Jr.

Family Moves are Rewarding

Watching a good movie with the family can be rewarding on many levels. The best family movies are upbeat, funny, and honorable. Whether you stream them on Netflix, Amazon, or cable, the stories are usually about families and share a positive message in a refreshing way.

© 2018 Kenna McHugh


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    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 6 weeks ago from Northern California


      Thank you for reading my article. I love sharing movies with others. Veggie Tales are so funny. Alvin and the Chipmunks are so cute to watch. With the latest technology, each chipmunk's personality is easier to differentiate.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 6 weeks ago from Ohio

      I love family movies. I love them so much I do not need my family around to watch them. As you say, they are generally upbeat with happy endings. That's what I like. I love Alvin and the Chipmunks and Veggie Tales. I havn't seen the Veggie Tale movie, so I'll have to find it. Thanks!

    • Kenna McHugh profile image

      Kenna McHugh 6 weeks ago from Northern California

      K S Lane,

      Thank you for reading my article. I agree about the chipmunks. I plan to add more family movies to the list. Do you have any favorites that are not on the list?

    • K S Lane profile image

      K S Lane 6 weeks ago from Melbourne, Australia

      I like that all your picks have a message behind them- that's the best kind of movie, in my opinion. I have to disagree with your choice of Alvin and the Chipmunks, though. The rest of my family love it, but I have to leave the room every time they put it on because I can't stand the chipmunks' voices!!