The 12 best movies to stream with your kids while the whole family is stuck at home
These films are aimed at the younger set, but adults will enjoy them just as much—and that goes double when you all enjoy them together.
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
With schools closed and parents stuck at home, there’s never been a great need for family entertainment at home. The typical kid won’t be interested in binging This Is Us, and I’m guessing the average mom and dad would prefer to choke on an ice cube than watch more Frozen. That’s where TechHive comes in. Here’s our guide to 12 genuinely funny, unquestionably amazing movies that children and grown-ups will both enjoy—even if you’ve already seen them once before.
We could have provided even more recommendations, but we decided to stick to the streaming services most people already have, instead of pointing you to titles that would rack up online rental fees. That said, ovies like The Iron Giant are currently only available via rental, and the wonderful Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli movies are only available for purchase (at $20 each).
So, sit back and enjoy 24 hours’ worth of fine entertainment.
Babe and Babe: Pig in the City (HBO Go)
From the same man who brought you the four Mad Max movies, Babe (1995) is an unabashedly great family movie, with seamless visual effects, a sense of humor, and a story with triumph and tears, as a pig learns how to avoid the dinner table by herding sheep. It was a huge hit and earned seven Oscar nominations. The even better sequel, Babe: Pig in the City (1998), did not fare so well. Even though critics praised its intricate, astonishing visual design and its weird, delightful flow, it was immediately condemned as “too dark.” In it, Babe (voiced by Elizabeth Daily) goes to the city with Mrs. Hoggett (Magda Szubanski) to try to find some income after Mr. Hoggett (James Cromwell) meets with an accident. They meet all kinds of trouble and Babe winds up staying at an incredible pet-friendly hotel, where the pig’s kindness turns him into a kind of leader against the evils of humankind. Chris Noonan directed the first, while George Miller co-wrote and co-produced; Miller directed the second.
While many of Chaplin’s great movies have their moments of bittersweet pathos, The Gold Rush (1925) is perhaps his best “pure” comedy. He plays a gold prospector in Alaska who gets lost in a storm and wanders into a cabin occupied by the nasty Black Larsen (Tom Murray). Big Jim (Mack Swain), who has found a big gold deposit, also wanders in and the trio must ride out the storm together. After, there’s intrigue, memory loss, romance—Chaplin falls for dance-hall girl Georgia (Georgia Hale)—and many memorable sequences such as the cabin teetering on the cliff, the rifle, the chicken, and the dinner rolls. In 1942, Chaplin released a new version that tightened up the comedy, took out the intertitles and added his own new narration and music; this version is perfect for kids who can’t quite read fast enough to keep up with the silent version. The Criterion Channel offers both, but Kanopy only has the 1925 version.
In Martin Scorsese’s great film Hugo (2011), based on the illustrated book by Brian Selznick (see also Wonderstruck), Asa Butterfield stars as Hugo Cabret, an orphan who lives in the upper regions of a Paris train station, dutifully winding its clocks and trying not to be caught by the station’s persnickety inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). His fate intertwines with an old man, Georges (Ben Kingsley), who runs a magic shop, and the man’s pretty daughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). There’s an automaton that holds a great mystery, and when it is revealed, it opens an incredible path through film history, illuminating the magic and discovery and the power of movies. One of the great film buffs, and an activist in saving and restoring old movies, Scorsese was the perfect man for this job, but the man behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull brings a surprisingly gentle touch to it, creating a wondrous awe that might have been more in line with Spielberg. Hugo received 11 Oscar nominations and won five awards.
Picking one Pixar movie is a tough task, but our choice would surely be Inside Out (2015), directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc. and Up). Many Pixar films offer a sure-fire combination of laughter and heartstring-tugging, but this one seems the most profound, dealing with the emotions in a rather brilliantly direct way. When 11 year-old Riley moves to a new city, her emotions seem to go haywire; inside her brain, in an elaborate, colorful factory, Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith), Fear (voiced by Bill Hader), Anger (voiced by Lewis Black), and Disgust (voiced by Mindy Kaling), must set things right again. But after their suspenseful, exhilarating journey across the brainscape, what finally transpires is far from an “everything’s-back-to-normal” ending; it has more to do with the bittersweet nature of growing up. For fun, watch it with its original accompanying theatrical short, Lava.
The Little Prince (Netflix)
Based on one of the most popular books of all time (Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s 1943 novella), Mark Osborne’s movie version of The Little Prince (2016) is a wonderfully creative, soul-soothing work. We meet “the aviator” as an old man (voiced by Jeff Bridges), who once encountered the Little Prince and now tells his story to a modern-day little girl (voiced by Mackenzie Foy). The girl’s mother (voiced by Rachel McAdams) only wishes for her to get into a good school; things like friends, stories, and imagination are unworthy of her time. Eventually she goes on her own journey. This storyline is computer-animated, while the classic “Little Prince” material is stop-motion animated. The focus is more on storytelling and joyous images than it is on noise and flash, and it’s a standout for families as well as movie buffs. The voice cast in this English-dubbed version also features Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, Benicio Del Toro, Ricky Gervais, Bud Cort, Paul Giamatti, and Albert Brooks.
Based on a 1905 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the whimsical, imaginative A Little Princess (1995) tells the story of Sara Crewe (Liesel Matthews), raised in India, and feasting on romantic fairy tales that she imagines with vivid colors. When the war breaks out, her widowed father (Liam Cunningham) decides to put Sara in a boarding house in New York while he goes off to fight. The nasty headmistress Miss Minchin (Eleanor Bron) embodies the stuff of children’s nightmares, but things get worse when Sara’s father is presumed dead, and she is moved to a wretched space in the attic and forced to work. Fortunately, her imagination and spirit help save the day. Displaying a generous, emotional exploration of space and color, the great Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón went on to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity, and Roma. He has said this is his personal favorite of all his films, and that he enjoys watching it with his own kids.
The Muppet Movie (Disney+)
The first feature film based on the hit TV show (1976-1981), The Muppet Movie (1979) includes several “how did they do that?” moments, including Kermit the Frog riding a bicycle. Geared for both kids and grown-ups, and a clever meta-movie full of in-jokes, it even begins in a screening room with the Muppets about to watch a movie. Then we meet Kermit (voiced by Jim Henson) in his swamp, deciding to hit the road to Hollywood, and along the way, picking up Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy (both voiced by Frank Oz), the Great Gonzo (voiced by Dave Goelz), and others. Meanwhile, the evil Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) wants Kermit to help promote his chain of frog-leg restaurants. Younger audiences won’t recognize the many impressive human cameos, including Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Mel Brooks, and Orson Welles. But even so, the movie still manages to beautifully mix smart humor with lovable characters and great songs: “The Rainbow Connection,” “Movin’ Right Along,” “Can You Picture That?” etc.
Aardman Animations specializes in superb stop-motion animation and brought us Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, and Shaun the Sheep; but the underrated The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012) rises to the top as a hilarious romp that’s entertaining for both kids and grown-ups. Hugh Grant voices the Pirate Captain, who wishes to be Pirate of the Year. He’s beloved by his crew for his well-kempt beard and for “Ham Night” on board his ship; unfortunately, his booty-plundering skills are not strong. He finds his answer when he discovers that his parrot, Polly, is actually the last of the Dodo birds. In addition to the seamlessly swift, swashbuckling animation, the cracking screenwriting keeps the story twisting and turning. The villains in this one are Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) and Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton), and the silly jokes shoot rapid-fire. Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, Anton Yelchin, Brendan Gleeson, and Ashley Jensen provide other voices.
The Princess and the Frog (Disney+)
The hand-drawn The Princess and the Frog (2009) is arguably one of Disney’s most underrated films, and one of its best. Set in New Orleans, it focuses on Tania (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), the daughter of a struggling cook, who dreams of opening her own restaurant. The evil Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) turns an arrogant prince (voiced by Bruno Campos) into a frog, and when the prince convinces Tiana to kiss him, she turns into a frog too! So, they must travel across the swamp, accompanied by a jazz-trumpet-playing alligator (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley) and a Creole firefly (voiced by Jim Cummings, a.k.a. Winnie the Pooh) to find magical Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis). The glorious animation includes some dark, spooky stuff, recalling moments from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it also packs in a set of hot, jumpin’ songs, two of which—”Almost There” and “Down in New Orleans”—received Oscar nominations.
Most animated feature films feature cuddly, cute, or appealing characters. But the characters in Rango (2011) are deliberately lopsided, odd, and creepy—and yet they’re still cuddly and appealing. Johnny Depp provides the voice of the main character, a chameleon who fancies himself an actor. Arriving in a dusty little town called “Dirt,” he pretends to be a gunslinger named Rango. He is quickly nominated to be the town’s savior, which is running dangerously low on water. A genuinely weird Western, Rango has a uniquely warm feel that can be chalked up to director Gore Verbinski’s method of filming his actors, recording their dialog together on a big sound stage, like performing a play, to create an organic camaraderie. It helps that their line—credited to John Logan—are among the funniest and most musical this side of the Pecos. All this combined make Rango one of the best animated movies ever made. It was an Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Disney+)
This groundbreaking movie is one of the greatest entertainments in Hollywood history, a jaw-dropping combination of hand-drawn animation and live-action that is as startlingly fresh as when it first appeared. Even after the initial astonishment, it becomes apparent that Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is brilliantly funny, not only in its clever line readings and perfect slapstick, but also in its appreciation for the art of comedy, as well as in its tribute to classic crime films and in its scathing satire of modern civilization. It’s set in a 1940s-style Hollywood, where cartoon characters are actors that walk around amongst the humans. Roger (voiced by Charles Fleischer) has been accused of murder out of jealousy for his shapely wife Jessica (voiced by Kathleen Turner), and he turns to burned-out, drunken private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) for help. Meanwhile, the monstrous villain Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) has a sinister plan for ToonTown. Lots of classic cartoon characters appear in cameos. Robert Zemeckis directed, briskly and with lunatic energy.
Wonderstruck (Amazon Prime)
Todd Haynes’ underrated Wonderstruck (2017) is, like the director’s best work (Safe, Far from Heaven, I’m Not There, etc.), an involving story and, simultaneously, a thoughtful commentary on that story. Based on a book by Brian Selznick (see also Hugo), it takes place in two time periods. In the 1920s, a deaf girl, Rose (Millicent Simmonds, also in A Quiet Place) searches for a connection with her mother (Julianne Moore), an actress in silent films. Fittingly, this segment is presented as a black-and-white silent film. Then, in the 1970s, Ben (Oakes Fegley) is struck by lightning and loses his hearing. His mother (Michelle Williams) refuses to tell him anything about his real father, so when he discovers a book with a clue in it, he hits the road to New York. As Haynes switches back and forth between sequences with brilliantly intuitive visual and aural rhyming, a kind of passionate magic emerges, involving history, books, movies, cities, and changing times.