27 Movies For Kids That Aren't Cartoons, Because You've Had Enough
Why is it that all cartoons seem to be louder and higher-pitched than any other programming? Are they designed that way, sort of like dog whistles, to appeal to children's immature hearing? For those of you plagued by Daniel Tiger tunes and the theme song to Octonauts, fear not. Having young children in the house does not condemn you to a life of juvenile jingles. There are, as you'll recall, a wealth of kid movies with real live human actors. And some of your own favorite childhood films still hold up. Here's a refresher of 27 kids' movies that aren't cartoons.
Some of these film classics go back to the early 1970s and some are recent adaptations of beloved children's books, but what they all have in common are kid-friendly storylines that are cartoon-free. Well, actually, I take that back. I did include one film that blends live action and cartoons, but I think you'll forgive me, given the 1990s basketball star. Otherwise, these choices are gloriously devoid of all illustrations. As it turns out, you don't need cartoons for a movie to be something your kid will want to sit through. All you need are compelling characters, an entertaining plot, and maybe an animal or two. Read on for the full list of recommendations.
1. "Air Bud"
A basketball-playing dog with a heart of gold. Yes, that is in fact the premise of this 1997 American-Canadian sports classic. I rolled my eyes too when my son independently selected this recently, but when I saw the joy on his face as Buddy the pup leads the team onto an implausible championship victory.
2. "Free Willy"
Remember 1993? Bill Clinton became president, Whitney Houston ruled the airwaves with torch song "I Will Always Love You," and Orca named Willy wormed his way into our hearts. Revisit how a down on his luck kid became best friends with a whale in this '90s classic.
3. "Space Jam"
Want to really blow your kids' minds? Show them a movie that combines real-life actors and cartoons. Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan at peak Bulls fame, will mesmerize any youngster with hoop dreams. There's even a cameo by Bill Murray for good measure.
Not since Charlotte's Web has a cast of farm animals been so universally adored. Babe, for those who missed its 1995 release, is a charming tale about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog. Note: As adorable as the characters are, be aware that the opening scene has a shockingly disturbing look at factory farming perhaps not appropriate for young viewers.
5. "Because of Winn Dixie"
Based on two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo's book of the same name, Because of Winn Dixie isn't just elementary school required reading, it's a lovely little film. When in doubt, go for a pet movie.
6. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
One of beloved British author Roald Dahl's most well-known books, the film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released in 1971 and introduced kids the world over to the greatness that was Gene Wilder (RIP). Watch as your kid's eyes get wide at the idea of a golden ticket nestled inside a chocolate bar.
7. "Harry Potter"
Parenting pro tip: Start reading your child Harry Potter as soon as they can sit still for a chapter book. Then, as they finish each, let them watch the movie series. I just finished reading my 4-year-old Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone and getting to see the film version was like the ultimate ending to a super satisfying book.
8. "The NeverEnding Story"
NeverEnding Story is the ultimate 1980s children's fantasy film. A young boy, looking to avoid bullies, runs into a book store and picks up a book called Neverending Story. Ringing a bell? Something tells us your kid will like it as much as you did as a kid.
9. "Mighty Ducks"
I've never played ice hockey in my life but I watched Mighty Ducks (1994) at least once a week in middle school. Why? The hilarious one-liners? The sassy characters. The will to win? A little bit of all three I think. Come for a young Emilio Estevez, stay for the moment when the team quacks in unison.
Nothing holds up like The Sandlot. This hilarious look at a pack of boys addicted to baseball is like a roadmap to the mid-90s kid zeitgeist. My sister and I still quote lines from this movie to each other 27 years after its release.
11. "Mary Poppins"
I love Emily Blunt, but she can't top Julie Andrews in the original Mary Poppins. Filled with ear worm songs and a jolly chimney sweep (prepare to explain to your child what a chimney sweep is), this Disney classic is still darling.
When Hook came out in 1991 it didn't receive glowing reviews. The New York Times wrote, "How did such a dream project on paper turn out so wrong." Which just goes to show that adults shouldn't review children's movies because ask any kid of the '90s and they'll tell you it's a great movie.
13. "The Parent Trap"
Not only is 1998's The Parent Trap, starring a young Lindsay Lohan, super cute. It has a killer soundtrack to boot . And if your kids are super into, consider revisiting Hayley Mills 1961 original.
14. "Bedknobs and Broomsticks"
There was a period between 1993 and 1995 when, I swear, my little sister watched Bedknobs and Broomsticks every afternoon after school. Three years older and much cooler, I couldn't figure out her obsession. BUT after a recent viewing of the 1971 movie starring Angela Lansbury as a WWII-era wannabe witch, I totally get it. This movie is chock-full of fun fantasy.
15. "The Goonies"
1980s kids on the hunt for lost treasure on the coast of Oregon? What's not to love. The Goonies is a cult classic and should be required viewing for every kid. Of course, consider their age first as some scenes can be a little bit scary.
16. "Freaky Friday"
Another young Lindsay Lohan classic, in this Disney film Lohan and her mother Jamie Lee Curtis (who don't get along) wake up to find they've switched bodies. Will walking around each other's shoes open their minds about each other? Let your kids be the judge.
Thanks to my drama teacher mother, I grew up on a steady diet of musical comedies. Naturally Annie was one of them. Based on the hit broadway musical, the 1982 film follows the plucky orphan Annie as she navigates the evil Ms. Hannigan's orphanage before being adopted by Daddy Warbucks. Fair warning, viewing Annie can induce loud, large family sing-a-longs.
Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning movie about a little alien that shows up in a boy named Elliot's backyard is as heartwarming as it is timeless. Even the special effects have aged well, no easy feat in today's CGI-laden Marvel Universe. Plus, did we mention Drew Barrymore is at peak cuteness in this 1983 movie? There's that too.
19. "Stuart Little"
Stuart Little is an incredible mouse. How incredible? Find out when the Little family — of humans! — adopts Stuart and he has to acclimate to a new home with a new big brother and a less-than-friendly cat named Snowball.
20. "Princess Diaries"
The ultimate Cinderella story, Anne Hathaway plays an ugly duckling who is thrown entirely for a loop when she's told she's actually a princess! Enter Julie Andrews as her grandmother Queen Clarisse Renaldi and you have a modern day fairytale.
21. "Night at the Museum"
On paper it's a simple concept: What if at night everything in a museum came to life. But with actors like Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, and Ben Stiller, it's a laugh riot that comes complete with an opportunity for you to provide your kid with a little history lesson. (Bone up on your Teddy Roosevelt and Attila the Hun now.)
22. "Spy Kids"
Spy Kids is like Inspector Gadget meets James Bond but with tweens. When the spy parents of two kids become kidnapped by an evil mastermind, it's up to them to save them. Plenty of shenanigans ensue.
Another Roald Dahl big screen hit, Matilda is all about a young girl with supernatural powers. When she's picked on by her own parents and her school's evil headmistress, Ms. Trunchbull, she realizes she can use telekinesis to defend herself and her friends.
24. "Anne of Green Gables"
Anne of Green Gables has been earning fans since it was first released as a book by Lucy Maud Montgomery in 1908. All about a plucky ginger 11-year-old orphan who is sent to live with a couple on Prince Edward Island in Canada, the made for TV drama that released in 1985 took the story's cult-following to new heights. The 19th century novel and its accompanying film series is still beloved today.
25. "The Secret Garden"
The best children's movies are often based on the best children's books and The Secret Garden is no different. There's a new version starring Colin Firth slated to come out this year, but until then you can watch the 1993 adaptation (starring Maggie Smith) which depicts a lonely orphan girl who finds friendship in a garden.
26. "The Princess Bride"
The Princess Bride is a classic fairytale as told to a modern-day (OK, make that 1980s) boy home sick from school. When he begrudgingly lets his grandfather read him a story, he discovers there's magic and mystery in the book.
27. "Charlotte's Web"
You know a book is really good when it gets multiple film adaptations. That's the case with Charlotte's Web, the story of a little pig who is saved from slaughter by a savvy spider. In 2006 it got the live action treatment that keeps the sweetness of the original cartoon while spinning a fresh interpretation for new viewers.