The 20 Best Kids Movies on Netflix Right Now (Summer 2021)

A great kids movie is a beautiful and rare thing. As a father of three, I’ve suffered through enough bad kids entertainment to be enormously thankful for filmmakers who take the same kind of care in crafting movies aimed at children as those geared toward a more discerning adult audience. Netflix’s catalog of Children & Family movies ranges from terrible to fantastic, and the following guide is meant to help you avoid the former. Some of these movies you’ve probably already seen even if your kids haven’t, ‘80s classics like The Karate Kid and Back to the Future. But we also tried to point out some less-obvious options, as well, including films from around the world. There are superheroes and, of course, plenty of cuddly anthropomorphic animals. We’ve included anything Netflix lists as “Children & Family.”

Here are the 20 Best Kids Movies on Netflix:

1. Back to the Future

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Year: 1985

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, Thomas F. Wilson, Claudia Wells

Genre: Comedy, Science-Fiction

Rating: PG

Runtime: 116 minutes

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Not until Matt Groening/David X. Cohen’s animated TV series Futurama would we again see the lighter side of the grave consequences inherent in time-travel paradoxes. Robert Zemeckis and Michael J. Fox each securely attached their names on the A-list with this sci-fi comedy that ensured Christopher Lloyd would be forever associated with the Crackpot Inventor archetype, and that any DeLorean on the road would eventually be ticketed for speeds in excess of 88 mph. —Scott Wold


2. ParaNorman

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Year: 2012

Director: Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Stars: Kodi Smt-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin

Genre: Animation, Fantasy

Rating: PG

Runtime: 96 minutes

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The beautifully crafted stop-motion film ParaNorman opens with two important pieces of information. First, we observe our young hero as he watches a B-zombie flick, complete with choppy edits and a boom mic that creeps its way into the frame. This lets us know that the filmmakers approach the upcoming story with tongues firmly planted in cheeks. Second, Norman carries on a conversation with his grandmother. This part of the scene is only significant once we learn that grandma is quite dead. The tale that follows is part Something Wicked This Way Comes, part The Goonies. The town of Blithe Hollow, once a colonial village, now a struggling tourist trap, has lived under the threat of a witch’s curse for 300 years—long enough for fear to transmogrify into camp. Norman can see and talk with ghosts, an ability that might make him quite popular with the dead set, but one that does little to improve his social standing with his living schoolmates… or his immediate family. At school, Norman is subject to bullying from students and teachers alike, and we quickly come to care for this small, tough, sweet boy as he patiently cleans the word “freak” from his locker. Another social outcast, the rotund Neil latches onto Norman, becoming his new best friend (whether Norman wants one or not). The arrival of Neil also indicates the arrival of the true heart of this endearing film, which is its humor. ParaNorman took two years to animate, and it shows in the exquisite craftsmanship of its design and execution. The artistic direction illustrates such a love for detail and texture that every bit of scenic design, from the town hall to a plastic bag caught in a fence, creates a perfect world for this story. Lead Animator Travis Knight and his sprawling team of animators, designers, and fabricators execute the vision with great flair. The result is a clear-headed and touching film about finding your own purpose, accepting others as they are and, most importantly, forgiveness. —Clay Steakley


3. Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro

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Year: 1979

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Stars: Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Goro Naya

Genre: Animation, Acton & Adventure

Rating: NR

Runtime: 100 minutes

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The nature of Miyazaki’s oeuvre is such that it brims with an embarrassment of riches, each film in its own part situated indelibly into the continuum that is the anime canon. His films garner so much acclaim for their visual storytelling and emotional virtuosity that even those few that could be considered his “worst” movies still rank leagues above those animators who only aspire to his status. Case in point: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. Miyazaki’s take on Kazuhiko Kato’s notorious master criminal is at once a rip-roaring heist film with heart and what might arguably be Miyazaki’s lesser films. Chalk it up to Miyazaki’s nascent efforts as a director; Castle of Cagliostro suffers from a plodding middle half and a disappointingly simplistic antagonist while still somehow managing to sparkle with his signature charm peeking through the baggage of a preexisting work. Fans of the series passionately criticized the film for relieving Lupin of his anarchic predilections and instead casting him in the mold of a true gentleman thief, stealing only when his nebulous sense of honor permits it. In any case, The Castle of Cagliostro remains an important and essential artifact of Miyazaki’s proto-Ghibli work. A flawed Miyazaki film is a triumph all the same. —Toussaint Egan


4. Hugo

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Year: 2011

Director: Martin Scorsese

Stars: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloë Grace Moretz

Genre: Mystery, Adventure

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 126 minutes

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With Hugo, director Martin Scorsese has created a dazzling, wondrous experience, an undeniable visual masterpiece. In his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Scorsese weaves together his many passions and concerns: for art, for film, for fathers and father-figures. He retells the story of a boy (Hugo Cabret, played by Asa Butterfield) in search of a way to complete his father’s work. Alongside Hugo’s tale is the true story of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), one of the world’s first filmmakers. By film’s end, Hugo makes a persuasive case that the art of film is as Méliès defines it—the invention of dreams. (And conversely, there’s a case to be made that, in our modern world, dreams are now the invention of film.) Regardless, as an ode to the history of movies, this film is a success. Indeed, it soars in visual achievement, which is what the moving pictures were originally about. Martin Scorsese has made a 3D film in an attempt to point to that lifelike quality in movies that has always existed—even before 3D. This quality is the very essence of film, and it is glorified—and rightly so—in Hugo, a cinematic tribute to the art of movies and to art itself. —Shannon M. Houston


5. Muppets Most Wanted

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Year: 2014

Director: James Bobin

Stars: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson

Genre: Comedy, Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 107 minutes

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The follow-up to 2011’s rebooted The Muppets pays specific tribute to Kermit, the beloved amphibian behind the Muppets’ longevity; the film shows us what the crew might look like without his guiding influence, and it’s a pretty anarchic picture. But unlike The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted doesn’t overtly pay homage to its subjects, and instead quite contently filters its bounty of heist caper tropes through a felt-tinted lens. By doing so, the film ends up being just as much of an ode to the Muppets’ brand of unbridled delight without having to wax sentimental; in the end, James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller cleverly get to have their cake and eat it, too. And so do we. —Andy Crump


6. Enola Holmes

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Year: 2020

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Stars: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Susie Wokoma, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar

Genre: Thriller, Adventure

Rating: PG-13

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Someone’s finally done right by Millie Bobby Brown and cast her as a fully fleshed out character. While her roles in ’80s nostalgia bonanza Stranger Things (kid cursed with psychokinetic abilities fighting extradimensional monsters) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (kid torn between divorced parents and surrounded rampaging colossi), neither role demands that she emote beyond forlorn gazes. In Enola Holmes, a mystery focused on Sherlock Holmes’ brilliant kid sister and her efforts to foil crime, Brown finally gets to do more than scream and frown. While the movie itself is heavy on plot and heavier on exposition, Brown’s performance makes the story gallop at a breezy clip regardless. She’s liberated, appropriate given that Enola Holmes is about the liberation Enola finds as she comes of age, stepping out of the curated world erected around her by her enigmatic mum, Eudoria (Helena Bonham-Carter). When her mother goes missing, Enola quickly deduces Eudoria has gone on the lam, and so she leaves Ferndell, the Holmes family’s estate, armed with pugilist skills and worldly knowledge passed down to her by her mother, intent on finding her and understanding why she left in the first place. With a wink here, a smile there and a stock-still but knowing glance at viewers, Brown is a dynamo, full of vigor, cheer and enough pathos to make the sub-theme of civil unrest and social change feel real and relevant to children on the cusp of teenhood and teens on the cusp of adulthood. Enola Holmes is about serious matters. Fortunately, it isn’t a serious film, which makes a nice change of pace from the Guy Ritchie movies and the BBC series, which never give in to the idea that tracking clues and apprehending villains could actually be fun. —Andy Crump


7. Mirai

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Year: 2018

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Stars: Haru Kuroki, Moka Kamishiraishi, Gen Hoshino

Genre: Anime

Rating: PG

Runtime: 98 minutes

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Most, if not all, of Mamoru Hosoda’s original films produced in the past decade function, to some degree or another, as exercises in autobiography. Summer War, apart from a premise more or less recycled from Hosoda’s 2000 directorial debut Digimon Adventure: Our War Game!, was the many-times-removed story of Hosoda meeting his wife’s family for the first time. 2012’s Wolf Children was inspired by the passing of Hosoda’s mother, animated in part by the anxieties and aspirations at the prospect of his own impending parenthood. 2015’s The Boy and the Beast was completed just after the birth of Hosoda’s first child, the product of his own questions as to what role a father should play in the life of his son. Mirai, the director’s seventh film, is not from Hosoda’s own experience, but filtered through the experiences of his first-born son meeting his baby sibling for the first time. Told care of the perspective of Kun (Moka Kamishiraishi), a toddler who feels displaced and insecure in the wake of his sister Mirai’s birth, Mirai is a beautiful adventure fantasy drama that whisks the viewer on a dazzling odyssey across Kun’s entire family tree, culminating in a poignant conclusion that emphasizes the beauty of what it means to love and to be loved. Mirai is Hosoda’s most accomplished film, the recipient of the first Academy Award nomination for an anime film not produced by Studio Ghibli, and an experience as edifying as it is a joy to behold. —Toussaint Egan


8. Lu Over the Wall

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Year: 2018

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Stars: Kanon Tani, Shota Shimoda, Christine Marie Cabanos, Michael Sinterniklaas, Stephanie Sheh

Genre: Animated, Comedy, Kids & Family, Fantasy

Rating: G

Runtime: 107 minutes

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Distributor GKids sells Lu Over the Wall as “family friendly,” which it is, an innocuous, offbeat alternative to the conventional computer animated joints typically found in modern multiplexes. But there’s “whimsical” and there’s “weird,” and Lu Over the Wall ventures well past the former and into the latter before director Masaaki Yuasa gets through the opening credits. Barely a moment goes by where we come close to touching base with reality: Even its most human beats, those precious hints of relatable qualities that encourage our empathy, are elongated, distorted, rendered nigh unrecognizable by exaggeration. Lu Over the Wall isn’t a movie that takes itself seriously, and for the average moviegoer, that’s very much a trait worth embracing. The plot is both simple and not: Teenager Kai (voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas in the English dub), recently relocated from Tokyo to the quiet fishing village of Hinashi, spends his days doing what most teenage boys do, sullenly hunkering down in his room and shutting out the world. As Kai struggles with his self-imposed isolation, he befriends Lu (Christine Marie Cabanos), a manic pixie dream mermaid wrought in miniature. What’s a solitary emo boy to do in a literal and figurative fish-out-of-water plot that’s buttressed by xenophobic overtones? Lu Over the Wall blends joy with political allegory with vibrant color palettes with storytelling magic, plus some actual magic, plus too many upbeat musical interludes to count. Describing the film merely as “creative” feels like an insult to its inspired madness. —Andy Crump


9. The Croods

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Year: 2013

Directors: Kirk De Micco, Chris Sanders

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 98 minutes

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The Croods is full of kinetic action sequences, a few laughs, and strong voice work. It’s a fairly straightforward tale about family. There’s Grug (Nicolas Cage), the overprotective father, and his rebellious daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), each trying to make the world in their own view, one cautious and the other curious. There’s the token sassy mother-in-law, the weary but loving mother and the rest of the family that’s imagined mostly in two dimensions, despite the 3D rendering. There’s even the strange outsider and a road trip narrative that lends itself to some familiar laughs. The joke that we’re supposed to be in on is that these aren’t clichés if they’re happening for the first time, chronologically. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel tired to any member of the audience old enough to drive. Grug is scared of everything new and governs his brood with this philosophy. “Never not be scared,” he instructs, and it’s almost as if the writers took his advice. Things kick up a notch or two, though, when a nomad named Guy (Ryan Reynolds) arrives, full of ideas—the biggest of which is that the world is ending and the family that was sequestered in a cave needs to get out and get moving, or end up as fossils. It’s through his eyes that The Croods really comes to life. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins consulted on some of the visuals, and it shows in scenes involving Eep’s discovery of fire and the enormity of the universe, as seen for the first time from the top of a forest. This is where the 3D really shines—not in gimmicky sequences with things flying out of the screen, but by adding a depth to the field of vision that is immersive and subtle. There is a fascinating underlying question here—what must it have been like to be the first to experience the wonders of the world? It isn’t asked often, but when it is, the results are poignant and beautiful. —Tyler Chase


10. John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch

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Year: 2019

Director: Rhys Thomas

Stars: John Mulaney, Alexander Bello, Tyler Bourke, Ava Briglia, Cordelia Comando

Genre: Comedy

Rating: TV-PG

Runtime: 70 minutes

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“You know who’s honest—drunks and children.” John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch opens with these immortal words by Erika Jayne of Real Housewives fame, which accurately sets up what you are about to watch: a kids show made by adults with kids present. But what Mulaney’s nostalgia-soaked special delivers is more honest than any children’s programming before it. How is it honest? Well, it’s mostly about death. Like, there is a lot of talking and singing about death, which seems odd for a children’s show until you remember every fairy tale you’ve ever seen Disney-ified. The bigger question coming into this special was how the pre-teen actors would fair sharing the screen with one of the decade’s best stand-up comedians. The Sack Lunch Bunch’s collective performance wholly encapsulates the special’s overall aesthetic of being professional yet playful, equally balancing between adults-only and all-ages humor. The kids clearly establish themselves as talented actors and singers while still reminding viewers that they are in fact kids who just happen to also act and not mini Daniel Day Lewises who spend their Saturdays self-taping for A24 films. It’s less Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls and more Amy Poehler as Dakota Fanning on SNL’s “The Dakota Fanning Show” sketch. They love Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette and recognize Fran Lebowitz on-site but their dancing is just amateur enough to not feel overly-produced while their hilariously frank confessions in a series of interviews in which they are asked about their biggest fears are authentic and endearing. They keep the mood light and fun, just like a children’s show should. A joyous mixture of silly humor and niche references makes John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch the most entertaining Netflix original of last year. —Olivia Cathcart


11. How To Train Your Dragon 2

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Year: 2014

Director: Dean DeBlois

Stars: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill

Genre: Animation, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 112 minutes

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How to Train Your Dragon was the definition of a pleasant surprise, so its sequel had big shoes to fill. It’s to the creative team’s credit then that, rather than rehash the themes of the first film all over again, they chose to instead expand the world out into new and interesting directions. It’s been five years since the events of the last film. Everyone in the Viking village of Berk now lives in harmony with the dragons and even participates in fun-filled games. Though our protagonist, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), has grown since we last saw him, he remains as lovably goofy and sarcastic as ever. Yet, not all is well in paradise. Hiccup’s father, Stoick (Gerard Butler), wants to start grooming his son to succeed him as village chieftain. It’s a position Hiccup feels woefully ill-equipped for, despite encouraging words from now-girlfriend Astrid (America Ferrera). Our hero’s personal squabbles, however, are interrupted when he and Astrid stumble upon a group of men attempting to capture dragons. They are led by dragon trapper Eret (Kit Harington), who claims to be on a mission from Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a ruthless conqueror hellbent on raising a dragon army and taking over the land. Whereas the first film benefited from a simpler, concise narrative involving the classic boy-and-his-dog/cat/dragon arc, this latest entry bites off a little more story than it can chew. But it has more than enough great moments to pick up the slack. From a technical standpoint, it’s a marvel to behold. As great as the flying sequences were in the original film, this entry effectively one-ups them. Also, the sheer detail of the animation is, at times, baffling. How to Train Your Dragon 2 may not be Toy Story 2 (or The Empire Strikes Back, for that matter), but it’s a more than worthy successor to the first film. Even when it falls short of its lofty ambitions, you can’t help but appreciate how thoroughly it commits to achieving them. —Mark Rozeman


12. The Lorax

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Year: 2012

Director: Chris Renaud

Stars: Danny DeVito, Ed Helms, Zac Efron, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, Jenny Slate, Betty White

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 87 minutes

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The creators of Despicable Me adapted the favorite tale of the beloved children’s author for the big screen, rendering his whimsical 2-D illustrations in shiny, computer-generated 3-D. The moral of the story, published more than 40 years ago, couldn’t be more topical: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot [about trees specifically or the environment generally], nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Unfortunately, in their bid to expand the good doctor’s rhymes to feature length, the filmmakers bookend the fable about the Lorax with a new storyline that distracts and detracts from the core message of the original book. The boy featured at the start and end of The Lorax now has a name: Ted, presumably in homage to his creator. Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) is smitten with Audrey, named after Geisel’s wife, whose greatest wish in life is to see a real, live tree. You see, Ted and Audrey (Taylor Swift) live in Thneed-Ville, an entirely plastic city with inflatable bushes, mechanical flowers and battery-operated trees sealed off from the outside world. As described in the film’s opening anthem, though, the people of Thneedville, all smooth surfaces and no sharp edges, are happy with the way things are, especially since O’Hare Air bottles and delivers fresh, clean O2 right to your door. In many ways, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax is a stunning visual achievement. Hair and fur have always proved a tremendous challenge for CGI artists, but here the Lorax’s feathery mustache, the critters’ fuzzy fur, and the trees’ wispy tufts have been so finely crafted that one can practically feel how soft they are to the touch. But for better or worse, Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax wears its heart on its sleeve. —Annlee Ellingson


13. The Neverending Story

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Year: 2018

Director: Wolfgang Petersen

Stars: Barret Oliver, Noah Hathaway, Tami Stronach

Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 92 minutes

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The pacing of The Neverending Story may stretch the attention span of Gen Z kids, but there’s a reason Gen X has such fond memories. When Bastian seeks refuge in the school attic to hide from the local bullies with only the book he swiped from an old bookstore, the journey into the world of a valiant hero and a noble empress begins. But Fantasia begins to seem more and more real the further he reads, and the threat of the Nothing becomes his problem to fix. Of course the real star of The Neverending Story is a giant flying dog named Falkor that will capture the heart of any kid—regardless of her generation. —Josh Jackson


14. Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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Year: 2014

Director: Rob Minkoff

Stars: Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, Ariel Winter, Patrick Warburton

Genre: Animation, Family, Adventure, Comedy

Rating: PG

Runtime: 92 minutes

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Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a reminder that Hollywood’s obsession with reboots/revivals/re-imaginings can be done right. The characters originated on the beloved ’60s cartoon series The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and the track record for bringing segments from that show to the big screen is pretty dreadful. Peabody director Rob Minkoff (The Lion King, Stuart Little) makes the wise choice of keeping the new film strictly animated, no live action needed. That decision both respects the original material and frees up the possibilities for a story that begins with a wacky premise—a dog, Mr. Peabody, who happens to be a certified genius adopts a human boy, Sherman, as his son—and gets crazier from there as the duo travel through time in Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine (that’s pronounced “way-back”). He’s a sort of doggie Doctor Who, although his travels are confined to Earth. The original Peabody shorts are known for their smart, pun-driven humor and amusing riffs on history and culture, all of which is retained here. —Geoff Berkshire


15. Puss in Boots

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Year: 2011

Director: Chris Miller

Stars: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis

Genre: Animation, Adventure

Rating: PG

Runtime: 90 minutes

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This swashbuckling kitty is both suave (since he’s voiced by Antonio Banderas) and impossibly cute. He can bend anyone to his will with his big kitten eyes and even out-cutes a trio of kittens in this Shrek spinoff that takes Puss up the beanstalk into the Land of Giants to get the Golden Goose. —Sharon Knolle


16. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling

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Year: 2019

Directors: Joe Murray, Cosmo Segurson

Stars: Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, Charlie Adler, Jill Talley

Genre: Animation, Comedy

Rating: TV-Y7

Runtime: 45 minutes

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It’s been 23 years since Rocko’s Modern Life went off the air. A progenitor of SpongeBob SquarePants, with much of the cast and creative team moving on from one show to the next, the satire was Nickelodeon’s in-house answer to its more troublesome The Ren & Stimpy Show. And it was sharp. Deranged. Relatable. Ripped from the daily lives of its writers and unlike any other cartoon airing on TV. So now, with the 45-minute special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling coming to Netflix, how does the original spirit of the show persist? Like any good revival, it makes a point of being familiar but different. Original creator Joe Murray is back on writing and directing duties, alongside all the voice actors (Carlos Alazraqui, Tom Kenny, and Mr. Lawrence) returning to play Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt. The companions, who would feel right at home in either Office Space or a zoo, have been canonically lost in space for two decades since the series finale and finally figure out a way back to Earth. These cartoonish Rips Van Winkle didn’t miss the American Revolution, but they certainly missed enough. With a meta plotline about the cancellation and subsequent rebooting of a beloved cartoon, Static Cling isn’t afraid to be self-effacing about the revival process—or poke a little fun at the fanatical cult audience that got it a second run at Netflix in the first place. Much of what made the show a fan-favorite is still here. Its color-packed, neo-Fleischer Brothers animation (with surreal, askew Chuck Jones backgrounds and images that are just funny enough not to be disturbing, like Rocko’s visible optic nerves when his eyes flying out of his head) and expansive vocabulary balance its fart gags and butt jokes. It’s warm and nostalgic, but only in the sense that its aesthetic maintains a dedication to strangeness. Static Cling is mostly Murray and his team building to their end. It’s them deciding that when Netflix gives you a pulpit, well dammit, you scream your lungs out about what matters. Then you tip your hat and thank everyone for their time. It’s a wish for the future—the special even redistributes the wealth by the finale—masquerading as a return to the past. And it, in the immortal words of Heffer, was a hoot. —Jacob Oller


17. Rango

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Year: 2011

Director: Gore Verbinski

Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Ned Beatty, Alfred Molina, Bill Nighy

Genre: Animated, Comedy

Rating: PG

Runtime: 105 minutes

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The most surprising thing about Rango is how much Johnny Depp disappears into the character of a nameless pet chameleon who creates his identity when his terrarium falls out of the back of a car into the desert frontier. Unlike a certain cartoon panda, who was basically an animated version of every Jack Black character ever, Rango is no Keith Richards with an eye-patch or crazy barber/milliner/chocolatier. He’s a cipher who becomes a fraud who becomes a hero. —Josh Jackson


18. The Karate Kid

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Year: 1984

Director: John G. Avildsen

Stars: Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, Elisabeth Shue, William Zabka

Genre: Drama, Action

Rating: PG

Runtime: 127 minutes

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Ralph Macchio’s crane-legged Karate Kid would become an icon of the ’80s, as would Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, the sensei who trains the bullied Daniel LaRusso in martial arts. Although many of the scenes can feel a little worn and trope-laden, that’s mostly due to how much the film has been copied in the years since its release. It was the sort of feature that defined karate to an entire generation of young kids and must have inspired countless dojo openings and yellow belt ceremonies. It also features one of the great villains of ’80s cinema in the merciless Cobra Kai coach, Sensei John Kreese: “Sweep the leg, Johnny.” —Josh Jackson


19. The Willoughbys

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Year: 2020

Director: Kris Pearn, co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier

Stars: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara, Terry Crews, Martin Short, Jane Krakowski, Seán Cullen, Ricky Gervais

Genre: Action, Comedy

Rating: PG

Runtime: 90 minutes

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Netflix’s oddball Lois Lowry adaptation from director Kris Pearn and co-directors Cory Evans and Rob Lodermeier, The Willoughbys delights in subverting expectations for your traditional family-based animated movie. A plot based around children looking to “orphan” themselves by sending their terrible, abusive, overly lovey-dovey (to each other) parents on a series of increasingly dangerous vacations certainly doesn’t have that slick Disney sheen. For those looking for something a little different, or those with kids a little darker and weirder than those obsessed with cleaned and pressed fairy tale fare, it’s hard to go wrong with the funny and often beautiful Willoughbys. Smart writing, with sharp jokes and intriguingly silly characters (voiced by emphatic all-stars like Will Forte and Maya Rudolph) give the rounded, yarny designs plenty of energy and unending entertainment value—even as the film meanders through detour after detour. A jazzy score from Mark Mothersbaugh pushes further pep, though all that sugar-rush energy would be wasted without its fun, original messaging and story beats. With a few heartwarmers woven in, the film maintains its A Series of Unfortunate Events-esque meanness with a deadpanned straight face all the way to its tonally apt ending.—Jacob Oller


20. A Whisker Away

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Year: 2020

Director: Junichi Sato, Tomotaka Shibayama

Stars: Mirai Shida, Natsuki Hanae, Hiroaki Ogi, Koichi Yamadera,Minako Kotobuki

Genre: Romance, Fantasy

Rating: TV-PG

Runtime: 104 minutes

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There have been creepier things done in movies than magically turning into a cat in order to get closer to your crush, but those are few and far between. It’s not exactly standing outside a window with a boombox. But in directors Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama’s A Whisker Away, even this bonkers premise yields beauty and touching romance. Mari Okada’s script deftly leaps the anime through some emotional loops, running it through crinkly toy tunnels, ultimately landing its silly premise—replete with a troupe of angsty, depressed middle schoolers—in emotional honesty. A dash of otherworldly magic from the canon of Miyazaki (a corpulent face-dealing cat and an entire invisible cat-world) mixes well with some honest dives into the mental health issues of its characters (not quite as deeply and darkly as Neon Genesis Evangelion, but with a similarly stylish flair). While the characters are a little annoying when you meet them—they’re middle schoolers, after all—the truth behind the writing manages to shine through, all the while impressing us with its realistic animal animation and stunning depictions of smaller-town Tokoname life.—Jacob Oller

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