Joyful family having fun together, relaxing on sofa at home

A family watching a movie together (© Prostock-studio - stock.adobe.com)

It’s always fun rounding up the kids for a family movie night. Picking out a cheerful children’s movie always warms the soul before heading to bed. However, there are thousands upon thousands of kids’ movies to choose from. Which ones are the best? That’s where StudyFinds has stepped in. We compiled a list of the best children’s movies that are great for families or anyone who wants to stroll down memory lane.

Many children’s movies are of the “feel-good” variety, and those types of films draw lots of appeal. A recent study reveals which factors make feel-good movies so appealing. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics asked a group of participants which movies are prototypical examples of a feel-good film and which factors ultimately make them so uplifting. Results show the classic happy ending is a telltale sign of a feel-good movie and an element of humor. There are also usually recurring plots and themes like the quest for love or overcoming adversity.

It’s always good for caregivers to make sure they know what children are watching. A 2022 study shows that toddlers who watch violent television shows do worse in school when they become teenagers. Scientists from the University of Montreal say toddlers exposed to violence on screen are less engaged and motivated in the classroom and get worse grades — even a decade later at the age of 12. They also end up being more emotionally distressed. Fortunately, the movies on this list are far from violent and will only leave your kids with that spark of magic that many children’s movies embody.

Are you ready to pick out a children’s movie to watch? StudyFinds has come up with the top five best children’s movies of all time that were most recommended across 10 expert reviews. Did we miss one of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!

Family watching a movie
A family watching a movie (© JenkoAtaman – stock.adobe.com)

The List: 5 Nostalgic Films That Unleash Your Inner Child

 

1. “Toy Story” (1995)

“To infinity and beyond!” Topping the list is Disney’s “Toy Story,” which changed the game when it comes to computer animated movies. “The film that announced Pixar to the world as a force to be reckoned with, and computer animation as a serious storytelling device,” writes Empire. “Toy Story was the first ever entirely computer-generated film, but that’s almost the least notable of its achievements: it took the well-honed Disney fairy tale template and placed it into a recognizably realistic modern world, complete with a fierce wit and a bulging heart. This is no mere child’s plaything.”

"Toy Story" Four Movie Collection
“Toy Story” Four-Movie Collection

If you grew up in the 2000s, you probably are familiar with the adventures of Woody and friends. This “Pixar classic is one of the best kids’ movies of all time,” says Common Sense Media.

The movie stars Tom Hanks as Woody and Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear. “This is the Pixar movie that started it all!” notes Good Housekeeping. “Not only is this a fun movie to revisit, and see how Andy’s toys started off their relationship, it’s interesting to watch now to see how far Pixar has come in terns of the sophistication of its animation.”

2. “How to Train Your Dragon” (2010)

The first of a trilogy, “How to Train Your Dragon” comes in second on the all-time children’s movie list. “Hiccup, Astrid, Snoutlout and chums occupy a sweet spot between dragony lore, zippy aerial adventure and affecting school-age tensions, albeit of the Viking variety,” writes The Guardian. “All three films are a super entertaining tribute to the power of overcoming mental – and physical – obstacles.”

"How to Train Your Dragon" Three-Movie Collection
“How to Train Your Dragon” Three-Movie Collection

Although this movie takes you through exciting action sequences and acts of bravery, there are also themes of love, creativity, and identity. “Hiccup isn’t like the rest of the Viking clan. He aspires to be like his dragon-hunting father, but when he befriends the Night Fury dragon, he learns a thing or two about this feared creature,” notes Time Out. “And surprisingly, there’s a bigger issue at hand for vikings and dragons alike.”

The PG-rated movie is perfect for family movie night. “This is the first in a trilogy of fantasy adventures that offer brilliantly kinetic entertainment,” says Vogue. “I confess that I liked these movies even more than my kids did—but they were agreeably swept away. The aerial sequences are breathtaking and the story is genuinely affecting, encompassing themes of friendship, overcoming disability, and old-fashioned heroism.”

3. “Mary Poppins” (1965)

The second Disney classic on the list, “Mary Poppins” — which stars Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and David Tomlinson — debuted in 1964. “Though the backstory of why Mary Poppins exists on the big screen is more fraught than even Saving Mr. Banks can depict, the truth is, what ended up on screen became a childhood staple,” writes Entertainment Weekly. “It’s a classic charmer that belongs to every generation, and it’s practically perfect in every way—from its sing-along qualities (you know you need your children to latch on to a non-Frozen song at some point) to the relatability of being a kid just trying to get the attention of too-busy parents. Julie Andrews will inevitably play a major role in your child’s first decade of life, and they may even be intrigued by this whole ‘fly a kite’ concept by the end.”

"Mary Poppins" (1965)
“Mary Poppins” (1965)

This movie is full of inspiring warmth for both parents and children. “A magical nanny uses her unique brand of lifestyle to bring a family back together. If your munchkins loved Sound of Music, this one is a must-add to their movie list,” notes Tinybeans.

Over 50 years later, a “Mary Poppins” sequel graced the silver screen. “Six decades on, the original Mary Poppins remains a total delight – Julie Andrews giving sweet-but-stringent discipline as the magical nanny blown in on the wind, and Dick Van Dyke cock-er-neying it up a storm as Bert. It’s packed with heart-soaring song-and-dance numbers, peppered with gorgeously playful animated sequences too, and all delivered in a most delightful way,” says Empire. “And if the first film goes down like a spoonful of sugar, Disney’s more recent sequel – with Emily Blunt as the returning Poppins, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Bert-a-like lamplighter Jack, and Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the grown-up Banks children – is beautifully-crafted too, reverently delivered in the style of the original but with all-new catchy songs. Can you imagine that?”

4. “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

One of the greatest fantasy films of all-time, “The Wizard of Oz” gave us the iconic Judy Garland as Dorothy. “An absolute masterpiece whose groundbreaking visuals and deft storytelling are still every bit as resonant, The Wizard of Oz is a must-see film for young and old,” says Rotten Tomatoes.

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939)
“The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

This film is filled with beautiful songs, universal lessons, and magical scenery. “More than eight decades later, the Wicked Witch of the West is still one of the scariest villains in all of children’s entertainment — but she’s no match for Dorothy’s down-home sweetness,” notes Good Housekeeping. “From ruby slippers to ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’ this movie is the source of so many things we still associate with childhood today.”

Despite coming out in 1939, “The Wizard of Oz” is still a staple today. “This technicolor fantasy has been alternately thrilling and frightening audiences of all ages for fast-approaching a century. What’s the secret to its agelessness? The eye-popping color palette? The catchy songs? The munchkins? The flying monkeys? It’s probably all those things. (Probably not the monkeys, but they’re still pretty terrifying.),” writes Time Out. “But at the core of its lasting appeal is a message anyone from any era can relate to: no matter where you go and what you do in life, there’s truly no place like home, wherever that happens to be.”

5. “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

No list would be complete without Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” “In comparison to the director’s previous work, E.T. is intimate and personal,” writes Fatherly. “But thanks in large part to John Williams’ sweeping score, cinematographer Allen Daviau’s picturesque shot composition and lighting, screenwriter Melissa Mathison’s ability to perfectly tap into the emotions and vernacular of suburban youth — ‘It was nothing like that, penis breath!’ — and of course, Spielberg’s direction, which is simultaneously bold and careful, the movie manages to feel like a big summer blockbuster, despite its relative quietness. As for the titular extra-terrestrial, Carlo Rambaldi and his team brilliantly created an alien that is simultaneously off-putting to look at, at least initially, while also being undeniably cute and impossible to look away from. When you add in the brilliant performances by the cast and the breathtaking effects work by Industrial Light & Magic, you have a true cinematic masterpiece for children of all ages.”

"E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)
“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (1982)

“E.T. phone home!” Many immediately think of the classic line when this film comes to mind. “E.T. will likely be every child’s first close encounter with Steven Spielberg and John Williams, two artists who define the look and sound of the movies that fill imaginations throughout adolescence,” says Entertainment Weekly. “Think of the Spielberg Face and the swelling Williams score that will take them over the moon again and again. Spielberg’s classic, which tells the story of an unexpected friendship between a lonely child of divorce and a frightened left-behind alien, is simple and universal. Sprinkled with references to The Wizard of Oz, E.T. became an all-time classic in its own right. Special effects have come a long way since 1982, but when Elliott’s bike wheels leave the ground for the first time, that little gasp you hear from your wide-eyed child will remind you why movies were invented.”

Good Housekeeping says children will learn empathy by watching “E.T.” “Director Steven Spielberg is a master at capturing childhood without overly romanticizing it, all while still tugging on those heartstrings.”

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations. This article may contain affiliate links in which we receive a commission if you make a purchase.

About Matt Higgins

Matt Higgins worked in national and local news for 15 years. He started out as an overnight production assistant at Fox News Radio in 2007 and ended in 2021 as the Digital Managing Editor at CBS Philadelphia. Following his news career, he spent one year in the automotive industry as a Digital Platforms Content Specialist contractor with Subaru of America and is currently a freelance writer and editor for StudyFinds. Matt believes in facts, science and Philadelphia sports teams crushing his soul.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Whitson says:

    The Last Mimzy is the most original child/adult film in decades !!!