When it comes to kids’ movies, some years are complete bombs, with nothing but sludge for caregivers to attempt to not snore through while their children gaze at lackluster screens. Discerning kids will even shake the arm of a bored parent and even ask to leave the theater. Luckily, 2016 wasn’t a snoozefest when it came to family movies. In fact, there were so many films to choose from that every member of the family is likely to have a favorite.
An ’80s throwback trend among media in 2016 did not escape the family film realm. In fact, some filmmakers took a page from scripts of yesteryear, opting to slow down and build tension rather than ensure that every scene was Action!Packed!, diverting from the modus operandi of most modern kids’ filmmakers. From ethics-teaching animals to just plain fun sing-a-longs, major productions from Dreamworks and Disney to a feature-length animated film released by Netflix, here are the 15 Best Kids Movies Of 2016.
15. The Angry Birds Movie
An all-star vocal ensemble, including Kate McKinnon, Maya Rudolph, Josh Gad, Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader, and Peter Dinklage, helped The Angry Birds Movie deliver laughs to kids in 2016. Between Red’s (Sudeikis) anger management classes to help prevent “premature hatching,” the over-the-top Mighty Eagle (Dinklage), and other humorous moments, audiences found the film to be an enjoyable one.
Although Angry Birds was nowhere near being the number one film of the year, it had a solid following. While Rotten Tomatoes scored it a mere 43%, Google viewers rated the film much more positively with an 82% approval rate. With profits grossing over $349 million and mixed reviews from critics, the film based on the popular video game was far from a box office bomb. Like many 2016 movies, it came out in 3D, which added to its appeal. The movie also featured a soundtrack packed with popular performers ranging from Imagine Dragons to Limp Bizkit.
14. Kung Fu Panda 3
While it didn’t deliver the plot or belly laughs that its two predecessors did, Kung Fu Panda 3 still managed to perform well, with an 87% Rotten Tomatoes score and the return of one of the franchise’s best characters, Grandmaster Oogway, voiced by Randall Duk Kim. In this installment, Po (voiced by Jack Black) meets his biological father, Li Shan (Bryan Cranston), and faces a foe from the spirit realm. The initial jealousy of Po’s adoptive father, Mr. Ping (James Hong), eventually changes into his co-supporting Po on his journey with Li Shan, giving the film some much-needed depth.
Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, and company proved to be humorous enough, but a lackluster villain (J.K. Simmons), overused fat panda jokes, and the bizarre presence of panda Mei Mei (Kate Hudson), who did nothing for the plot of the film, kept the movie from rising higher on this list.
Storks is based on the terrible old story that uncomfortable adults used to recite to curious kids who wanted to know where babies come from. The film literally wraps up the tale in modern packaging, working on the premise that delivery storks might opt to work in a business other than dumping parcels of humans door-to-door if that business paid better. When a baby gets mixed up in the new system, an injured stork and Tulip, a human who works for the company, make it their priority to get her delivered– neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night standing in their way. Neither frozen tundra or wolves, either.
With a 63% approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes and a much more impressive 89% average from Google users, Storks has grossed over $177.7 million worldwide, earning back more than twice its production budget. Andy Samberg’s ever-goofy portrayal of the film’s protagonist, the stork Junior, led the movie’s most humorous moments, but Canadian voice actress Katie Crown shone beside him as Tulip, resulting in a comedic pairing that audiences of all ages were able to appreciate.
12. The Secret Life Of Pets
“What does Scruffy do while I’m gone all day?” is the premise behind Illumination Entertainment’s The Secret Life of Pets. While the story itself isn’t all that original (think Toy Story with your pets), the film is a hilarious romp into a wild underground world of animal culture. There’s a pet liberation front run by a bunny with the Orwellian moniker Snowball. A predatory hawk is tamed by a clever yet vivacious Pomeranian pup named Gidget, who proves she’s much more than just a pretty face. Gidget, voiced by Jenny Slate, also rallies the rest of the neighborhood pets to save Max, the film’s protagonist/top dog, voiced by Louis CK.
Sure, the film isn’t without problems, but it’s got an overall approval rating of 75% due to its many laughs and stellar cast. Additional vocal talents included Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Lake Bell, and Albert Brooks. The Secret Life of Pets is up for a People’s Choice Award and has grossed over $400 million worldwide. It also broke Shrek Forever After‘s record as the most widely-released animated and PG-rated movie.
11. The BFG
Roald Dahl’s classic books pretty much beg to be made into movies. They almost always feature children outsmarting grownups, lots of magic, and larger-than-life characters. In The BFG, that description can be taken literally.
When young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is kidnapped by a benevolent aging giant (Mark Rylance), she believes she’s destined for the stew pot. Instead, she embarks upon an adventure fighting man-eating giants, playing among magical bottled dreams, and dining with the Queen of England, with whom she collaborates to stop aforementioned giants.
The BFG flowed rather slowly for a modern movie, but many viewers found it to be a breath of fresh air. While it wasn’t an enormous success at the box office, making just $178 million worldwide against its own budget of $140 million, it still received a 75% approval rating and pleased plenty of audiences who did give it a chance. Rylance’s performance has been widely praised, as has Barnhill’s portrayal of precocious young Sophie.
If Americans love anything, it’s a good song and dance number. Even better if it’s a karaoke party. Illumination Entertainment’s Sing went with the popular clothes-wearing, personified animals theme of 2016 and whisked in some American Idol to create a good-time movie. No, it’s not the most emotionally-moving movie of the year, and with a 69% approval rating, it may not win many awards (though it has been nominated for a Golden Globe, so it’s still possible), but it made going to the movies a blast for plenty of families during the holidays this year.
With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Tori Kelly, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, and Scarlett Johansson, Sing attempts to work in nuanced characters with their own stories and challenges, but most fail to become three-dimensional personalities, many existing as familiar tropes in a story that is a bit tried to many viewers. Even so, the movie has grossed $194.7 million and counting worldwide and continues to energize audiences into head-bobbing, toe-tapping, sing-a-longs across the country.
Perhaps the biggest upset out of this year’s children’s films is the DreamWorks Animation 3D computer-animated musical comedy, Trolls. Between its Smurf-like storyline (creatures trying to save their village from those who’d eat them, blah blah blah) to its hush-hush plot details up until the last minute before the movie’s release, audiences were not expecting much. The $329.5 million worldwide that the film has earned so far tells a different story.
First came the Justin Timberlake song. You know, the one where you can’t stop your arm from making wavy motions every time he sings, “I’ve got this feeling inside my bones. It goes electric-wavy when I turn it on.” Then came some eye-popping animation, and an adorable camaraderie between Anna Kendrick and Timberlake as the main trolls.
It turns out that the film was a solid comical production with plenty of music and humor to enjoy, with a 75% approval rating and several award nominations, including Annie Awards, Critic’s Choice Awards, and a Grammy. Additional voice talents in the film include Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, James Corden, and Gwen Stefani.
8. The Jungle Book
Walt Disney Pictures’ new penchant for remaking old animated movies into new live-action films has been met with mixed reviews, but 2016’s The Jungle Book has proven to become new beloved classic with positive reviews from viewers and critics alike. It has made more than quadruple its own budget worldwide with box office sales at $966.5 million. Most audiences agreed that the story stayed true to the animated classic, which was based on the work by Rudyard Kipling. The film also manages to incorporate additional Kipling works not included in the previous animated feature, enriching its plot in the process.
Viewers also enjoyed hearing beloved actors voice their favorite characters, from Bill Murray’s jovial Baloo to Ben Kingsley’s austere Bagheera. Idris Elba voiced the fearsome Shere Khan while Scarlett Johansson gave a spot-on perforance as Kaa the snake. Christopher Walken, Lupita Nyong’o, and Giancarlo Esposito also voiced characters, while newcomer Neel Sethi, who is already discussing his hopes for a sequel, portrayed the perfect Mowgli.
7. Finding Dory
Who can resist the adorable and hilarious Dory from Finding Nemo? Who can go through a difficult day without muttering, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming,” for that matter? The character, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, had a turn at her own movie this summer in Pixar Animation Studio’s Finding Dory. Making over $1 billion worldwide and scoring an approval rating of 94%, Finding Dory broke the record for the highest-grossing animated movie opening in North America, won two Teen Choice Awards, and is up for three People’s Choice Awards.
Finding Dory is the story of Dory’s struggle to find her own family, whom she lost at a young age. While perhaps not as funny or moving as the original Finding Nemo, the sequel still delivers both the funnies and the feels, taking audiences to unexpected places during the journey to locate Dory’s mother and father. Returning vocal talents like DeGeneres and Albert Brooks gave stellar performances, but Ed O’Neill’s angry octopus Hank nearly stole the show. Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, and Idris Elba also starred.
6. Pete’s Dragon
Millennials and Gen Xers enjoyed the nostalgic feeling of the 1980s in a big way this year, and Pete’s Dragon was a part of that wave of media comfort food. Not only did Pete’s Dragon take place in 1982, but it offered the same slower style of dramatic storytelling, building tension where modern movies simply insert action scenes.
Magical moments in the movie, from the reveal of Elliot the dragon to the magnificent final scene, were delivered with a deliberate, deft hand, drawing audiences in only to take their breath away. Writer and director David Lowery also worked diligently on creating a movie that is as realistic as possible in a real-world setting where there just happens to be a dragon.
With an 86% approval rating and $142 million made at the box office, the Pete’s Dragon reboot was not an enormous commercial success, but the families who consider it a new favorite film to be rewatched together regularly certainly don’t care much about that.
5. The Little Prince
After Paramount Pictures mysteriously dropped The Little Prince a week prior to its U.S. release, Netflix swooped in and saved the day, ensuring that fans of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic novel would be able to see its film adaptation. It’s a good thing, too, since the stop-motion animation film was definitely one of the best movies of the year.
The modern take on the film drives its central theme home as viewers witness a young girl coached to enter a prestigious school and driven to succeed in life by her well-meaning mother. The girl’s exhaustion, lack of free time and friends, and over-scheduled academic calendar connect her with so many families that have unfortunately experienced the same level of competition and overexertion.
Gorgeous visuals, a well-built story and Jeff Bridges’ authentic portrayal of The Aviator create a beloved movie that both children and adults will watch for years to come. Additional vocal talents in the film include Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, Marion Cotillard, James Franco, and Ricky Gervais.
4. Kubo And The Two Strings
Audiences have come to expect great things from LAIKA Productions over the years, and Kubo and the Two Strings did not disappoint. The 3D stop-motion fantasy action-adventure film was filled with vocal talents and the magical eye candy that LAIKA is known for, from origami creations that came to life to out-of-this-world creatures like a creepy Moon King, his chilly daughters, and monsters galore. LAIKA likes to mix things up and Kubo did just that, giving both heroes and villains an unexpected ending that gave audiences hope.
Some of the actors in Kubo included Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthew McConaughey. The $69 million worldwide box office results of the film did not do it justice, but LAIKA’s films rarely see the profits of a big box-office hit. The artists who toil at the studio do it for love of stop-motion, fantasy, and simply delivering new and beautiful things to the world– and it shows in their work.
3. Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
While some might argue that Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them isn’t really a children’s movie due to its darkness and violence, it does come from the same universe as the most popular children’s series of all time. Much like most superhero films, it’s also marketed toward children with various products, and given how many children, tweens, and teens rave about the film, it deserves a spot among the best movies of the year.
The fact that Fantastic Beasts is a magical, thrilling fantasy that furthers the Harry Potter world in ways that no one ever imagined may be an understatement, but its appeal also stems from the quirky main character, Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne. Scamander transforms the traditionally masculine hero into a kinder, less violent role; something that audiences of all ages noticed. Rather than threats, Newt used logic. When faced with a foe, he remained calm, even polite, as he dealt with adversity.
The plot of Moana never truly becomes clear until viewers are able to see the film, and it’s possibly Disney’s best “princess” movie yet. Moana makes it clear that she’s not just a princess; she is the future village chief, and a competent young woman poised to lead her people who struggles with strong wanderlust. Between an incredible adventure led by a strong, brave teen girl, a hilarious performance by Dwayne Johnson as the demigod Maui, and a goosebumps-inducing soundtrack written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, anyone?), the movie whisked audiences away onto a wondrous journey that prompted every child to request the DVD while the credits rolled.
As with any other film released this year, Moana still has some issues. Controversy surrounded both Maui’s portrayal as a one-dimensional god with a stereotypical look as well as the choice to employ a male demigod with so many female gods available in Polynesian culture. Accustomed to seeing adventure movies of this caliber normally led by male characters, many girls of all ages who saw this film felt thrilled to see a teen girl embark on such an exciting quest. The film’s 95% approval rating and $355 million profits and counting worldwide also point toward its success.
Not many films get near-perfect scores on Rotten Tomatoes, but the 3D computer-animated comedy-adventure film Zootopia isn’t your average film. It won the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Animated Feature for a reason, and made over $1 billion worldwide, earning it the #3 spot among movie sales for the year. Sure, it’s got the all-star cast (led by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman), the cool theme song (Shakira’s “Try Everything”), and the absorbing visuals everyone expects from a Disney movie. But Zootopia goes much further– not only taking on nearly every stereotype in society, but developing a rich, intricate world with so many tiny details that no matter regardless of rewatches, audiences will find something new every time.
From the plethora of characters to the exploration of different animal cultures, Disney created a masterful movie without forcing ideology down anyone’s gullet. There’s a nudist colony, a gay married couple, and commentary on everything from racism to sexism, transgender issues to disability awareness. Even the protagonist, Judy, who wants to “make the world a better place!” faces her own prejudices and learns from them.
The film didn’t just have the most teachable moments, carrying a message that may be more important today than ever before; it also offered just as much comedy as The Secret Life of Pets and Sing (if not much more) while going further to connect with people from all walks of life. Zootopia is a well-written, complex film that everyone can enjoy, making it the best kid’s movie of 2016.
What was your favorite children’s movie of the year? Let us know in the comments!