When it comes to picking animated family movies, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options. Check out some of our favorite picks so you can settle in for the perfect family movie night!
Disney’s Old-School Animated Family Movies
Disney was no doubt the pioneer of animated movies. These are some of the company’s first movies that continue to entertain many generations of kids.
Fantasia will always hold a special place in my heart. Its masterful combination of classical music with stunning visuals is a testament to the brilliance of Walt Disney’s vision. While some elements may seem a bit culturally outdated, it’s still a brilliant way to introduce kids to the beauty of non-lyrical music as a storytelling device. My grandmother would always cut the movie off before the final sequence, known as “Night on Bald Mountain.” The arrangement features a figure assumed to be the devil collecting souls and demons to take down to the underworld, so take that into consideration when choosing whether it’s appropriate for your kids.
If you ever plan on taking your kids to Disney World, this is an animated classic to showcase Disney’s history and beginnings. While Pinocchio, a magical marionette, and Geppetto, his creator, and father, are the two main characters, the real Disney nostalgia is in Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy. These two characters ushered in the age of Disney magic with the whimsical song, “When You Wish Upon a Star.” Keep in mind this movie has some themes that may be disturbing for young kids, specifically the “Pleasure Island” sequence, so use your discretion.
When the Darlings’ parents insist that they start acting more “grown-up,” a flying boy comes to the children’s window to take them to a world of fantasy and magical adventures where no one ages. Who doesn’t love the action-packed sequences with Peter Pan battling Captain Hook? This film’s whimsy, magic, and nostalgia make it a family movie night hit. This movie also introduces one of Disney’s most famous icons– the sassy fairy, Tinkerbell. However, it also has some culturally outdated depictions of Native Americans, so be ready to potentially have a conversation with your kids.
The Lion King
Not many movies have had the nearly cultural impact of this film. In my opinion, what really makes this movie a cinematic masterpiece is the music–created by power-duo Elton John and Hans Zimmer. It also introduces kids to (an albeit watered-down version of) the sounds, traditions, and animals of Sub-saharan African cultures. Simba, the lion heir apparent to the throne, goes into exile after he’s wrongfully blamed for his father’s death. This journey helps him realize the strength of his true identity, which eventually draws him back home to claim his throne and lead his pride. The entire family will love this excellent film, and it’ll likely become a movie the kids will ask to watch again and again.
Phil Collins put his everything into this film score, and it’s one of Disney’s best scores. I will die on that hill. It’s a great story about two very different worlds that collide to create an unexpected family. Most of us know the story of Tarzan. Still, the skillful blending of stunning jungle visuals and a stellar musical score make this animated movie an excellent choice for family movie night.
This original story was revolutionary in the world of animated movies. It was the first feature-length computer-generated film Disney ever produced. Aside from that, what I really liked about Toy Story was its shift away from romantic plot lines. The plot focuses on themes like growing up, making friends who are different from you, and doing what’s right. Toy Story 2, 3, and 4 similarly focus on these themes and are equally excellent movies.
Animated Family Movies for the Animal-lovers
Who doesn’t love a good movie about talking animals?
Disney’s live-action villain origin story, Cruella, recently brought me back to this Disney animated classic. An evil fashion mogul wants to steal a litter of Dalmatian puppies to use their fur for her latest designs. The dogs of the community come together to save the pups from their sordid fate with Cruella DeVil. The pups in peril turn out to be a much larger group of victims than anyone expected–101 pups, to be exact! While Cruella always made me shake in my boots as a young kid, in my opinion, it’s nothing a child can’t handle.
Ooh-de-lally! This re-telling of the swashbuckling folk tale of Robin Hood casts the fictional hero as a fox in the world of woodland creatures of Nottingham who mirror real-life historical figures like Prince John (the King of England from 1177-1216). Robin Hood, the hero, works hard to bring justice to the suffering poor and imprisoned citizens of Nottingham. It’s a fun-filled adventure and action movie with great, folksy music and one of my all-time favorites.
This movie had me contemplating eating my vegetables as a kid. Remy, the main character, decides to change the course of his fate as a garbage-scavenging rat and pursues the highly-competitive world of culinary art with the help of a dishwasher. It’s a story all about overcoming society’s expectations and pursuing the thing you love–no matter what people think.
This is another one of Pixar and Disney’s groundbreaking animated films, as animated technology had recently seen huge breakthroughs. Finding Nemo tells the story of a single-parent clownfish, Marlon, who tries to find the right balance between protecting his son from the world and letting go. Everyone will fall in love with the ditsy Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres), who befriends Marlon when he sets out to find his lost son, Nemo.
Animated Family Movies: Classic Disney Princess Edition
You can’t go wrong with one of these classics that started the cultural phenomenon of the Disney Princess and changed the course of not only family cinema but culture itself.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
This is Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, so it’s a huge part of animated movie history. It truly ushered in an era of modern cinema for families. While it set a precedent for a Disney Princess era, I would argue that this movie’s deeper, underlying message is more concentrated on kindness, fairness, and generosity as a measure of beauty rather than external appearances. Snow White is truly the “classic” animated film that started it all.
The Little Mermaid
This light-hearted adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s dark folk tale brings to life a whole new world for Disney Animation– a world of magic and wonder that lies “under da’ sea.” Ariel, a young mermaid princess, longs for and defiantly explores the world she can’t have–an unknown realm that lies above the waves. Ariel eventually learns the power and importance of her voice in relationships and that her father’s protective boundaries were rooted in love. With a score from brilliant composer Alan Menken, everyone will be singing award-winning classics, “Under the Sea” and “Part of Your World.”
This film brings the mystical enchantment of (a fictional and fantasized) Arabian culture to the big screen. But mainly, it showcases the talent and undeniable brilliance of late comedian Robin Williams as the “Genie.” The main character, Aladdin, learns that wealth and power are not the actual values of character but rather honesty, generosity, and self-sacrifice. Kids and adults alike will be humming along to hit songs like “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”
Beauty and the Beast
It’s a tale as old as time. Belle, a fiercely independent village girl and bibliophile who just can’t seem to fit in, decides to take her father’s place as a prisoner in a castle owned by a cursed prince in beast form. Eventually, both of their changed hearts save the castle and its inhabitants from the curse. Before you watch the latest live-action version, be sure to watch this one. Classic songs like “Be Our Guest,” “Belle,” and “Gaston” will have everyone dancing in their seat.
Fantasy and Adventure Animated Family Movies
These are movies full of action, adventure, history, and mystical lands!
The Emperor’s New Groove
This has always been one of my favorites. Young Emperor Kuzco has his life turned upside-down when he is overthrown by his advisor and accidentally transformed into a llama. It explores moral questions about selfishness, greed, self-sacrifice, and friendship set in the ancient backdrop of the Incan Empire. And the star-studded cast includes David Spade, John Goodman, and legendary Eartha Kitt. In my opinion, it’s one of the funniest Disney films, and that’s no shock considering the cast.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
This was when Disney was trying new things, especially in the realm of fantasy. This action-packed adventure movie has the talent of Michael J. Fox voicing the main character of Milo, a rebel who’s searching for the mystical lost city of Atlantis. It’s an interesting commentary on the preservation and exploitation of culture and tradition, even if the city of Atlantis is entirely fictional (or is it?).
Lilo and Stitch
Everyone will fall in love with Stitch, the adorably goofy alien who accidentally gets left behind on Earth. The story centers around what it truly means to be a family, even if it looks different from everyone else’s. And it was one of the first Disney movies to feature a native Hawaiian protagonist, Lilo. Hopefully, your kids won’t ask for an alien as a pet after this one.
When Shrek, the grumpy Ogre, sets out to get his land back, he finds himself tangled up with lots of fairytale characters and unlikely oddballs. Dreamworks Animation (not Disney) brought us this cultural phenomenon that’s lovingly been the punchline of millennials’ jokes for years. I’m not entirely sure why. But the star-studded cast full of comedians and talent like Mike Myers (Shrek), Eddie Murphy (Donkey), Cameron Diaz (Princess Fiona), and John Lithgow (Lord Farquad) makes this comedy filled with witty dialogue, gags, and double entendre that the parents will enjoy just as much as the kids.
The Modern Era of Animated Family Movies With Princesses
Animated movies entered a new era around 2008 when companies like Disney began to see much higher commercial success, and for a good reason. They’re incredible family films with original stories and fantastic female leads.
In my opinion, this animated adventure was a game-changer in the realm of Disney princesses. While Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) still ends up falling in love with a rugged outlaw with a changed heart, it’s ultimately her own agency that sets her free from the bondage of her evil mother (who is actually her kidnapper). Tangled is filled with light-hearted fun, music, and magic.
If you have not heard the song “Let it Go” yet, you may just be living under a rock. I was working in daycare when this movie came out, so I’ve spent my fair share of time singing the hit song dressed in costume. My favorite part of this movie is that it questions the precedent previously set by Disney princesses who married men seemingly days after meeting them. Frozen has proven its cultural legacy not only in box office revenue but in the overwhelming popularity of its female characters, who are strong, brave, intelligent, beautiful, powerful, and adventurous.
In this exciting animated musical set in the Polynesian islands, a young girl named Moana longs for a life of adventure past the shores of the mystical ocean–and finds it. Dwayne Johnson “a.k.a. the Rock” voices the demigod of Polynesian tradition–Maui, and sings the up-beat hit “You’re Welcome.” What really stands out in Moana is its expertly-crafted musical score–composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame.
Crowd-Pleaser Animated Family Movies
These animated movies proved that cartoons don’t have to be just for kids, but for the whole family.
The Lego Movie
Not many movies are equally loved by kids and adults alike, but the Lego Movie masterfully crafted a story that achieved that status. Chris Pratt voices a generic Lego man who finds out his fate isn’t as generic as he’d thought. Kids and adults alike will be laughing out loud at this tongue-in-cheek adventure comedy that blends nostalgia with pop culture references.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
This wild and wacky movie is based on a book with the same name. I used to read Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs when I was in elementary school! The kiddos will be thoroughly entertained by the high-action antics of a man trying to save his town from gargantuan food falling from the sky.
This adorable feature film explores a realm that animated movies never ventured before–the human psyche. Viewers get a front-row seat to the “emotions” of the title character, Riley. These emotions are characterized by adorably ethereal beings who try to help Riley navigate the trials of moving to a new city. Inside Out is a great animated flick for all ages and helps parents continue a conversation with their kids about regulating emotions.
Animated Family Movies: Which One Will You Choose?
Now that you have lots of great ideas for the perfect at-home family movie night grab the popcorn and settle in on the couch with the people you love! If you’re looking for other movies for family movie night, check out some of Josie Ortega’s top picks for Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter movies that everyone will love!