What is the greatest kid’s movie ever made? It’s an ambitious question, as the genre have been an essential part of culture for nearly 80 years. And while we could’ve created a massive ranking system and judged all of the entries with a complex array of criteria, we thought that would be a waste. Why? Because the choice is just so subjective. Children’s movies are your favorite because you watched them and fell in love with them at the right time. They appealed to child-you in such a way that they just mean something to you. So instead, we asked a squad of Fatherly staffers to discuss their personal favorite, the one they hold in a higher regard than all the rest — and why they think you should share with your own kids.
The Sandlot (1993)
The Sandlot resonates as much with a new generation of kids as it does with a new generation of parents who saw it in theaters when they were kids. Why? Because summer, s’mores, hot dogs, the Fourth of July, big ol’ dogs, playing baseball until it gets dark, and snapping, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!” at your clueless buddy are timeless.
I was nine years old when my dad took me to see The Sandlot. I walked out of the theater believing that’s what every summer should be like. The boredom and stupid shit the gang gets into as a result. The grass stains and scraped knees. The ball-busting. Nothing I had seen before more perfectly portrayed what it was like to be a suburban kid.
This baseball classic has everything that makes a kids’ movie tolerable, enjoyable, and ultimately rewatchable: summertime coming-of-age hijinks, relatable characters and situations, quotable lines that you hear once and repeat “For-ev-er,” and jokes that parents can only hope fly over their kids’ heads as the writers intended, like a Benny “The Jet” homer soaring into Mr. Mertle’s yard. — Steve Schiff, Special Projects Editor
The Land Before Time (1988)
Combining a journey to The Great Valley, the death of a parent and paleontology, The Land Before Time is the most complex and timeless kid’s movie ever made. While most Disney movies of that era were transitioning in a more princess-oriented direction, this little dinosaur movie was one that my brother and I didn’t have to argue over. Unlike Bambi, we weren’t so traumatized by the dead mom to process the broader points of the movie. The death scene is heartbreaking, but it at least Little Foot gets to say goodbye. He’s taught to “let your heart guide you” and his dinosaur ghost mom helps with this throughout the movie.
Not only was “looking for tree stars” a great way to trick me into going outside as a kid, but the movie was a great way to trick me into sitting still after. Little Foot, Cera, Petrie, Spike, and Ducky—all different dinos with different personalities, yet the same goal—serve up timeless lessons on friendship in the 80-minute run time. Sure, Cera was kind of a jerk, but the movie taught me that context can help you empathize with people who are. Hell, after watching it one could argue that even Sharptooth was misunderstood. But that asshole still isn’t getting into The Great Valley. — Lauren Vinopal, Science Reporter
There are two words that sum up exactly why a child should watch Jim Henson’s incredible classic Labyrinth: David Bowie. As the Goblin King, Bowie applies his artful weirdness in ways that are equal parts frightening, funny and compelling. Even surrounded as he is by Henson’s wonderfully wild goblin muppets, he looks at home among them, moaning his way through the movie’s classic tunes like “Jump Magic Jump.”
Bowie’s performance aside, there is plenty more in Labyrinth to twist the minds of future fantasy nerds. That includes a slew of amazing optical illusions and a cast of awesome characters kids love, like a senile dog knight that rides another dog (yes!) and a massive friendly monster named Bluto. Combined, it more than overwhelms the fact that Jennifer Connelly’s main character Sarah is a truly terrible person who basically deserves all she gets in the 2000 follow-up film Requiem for a Dream. — Patrick Coleman, Parenting Editor
The Princess Bride (1987)
The Princess Bride is the perfect kid’s movie because it’s not a kids movie at all. As the film’s narrator, a lovable old fogey grandfather, says at the beginning of the story “it’s got everything” and truly feels like it’s for everyone. And as Grandpa tells you the epic tale that somehow seems both wonderfully original and like an amalgam of every story ever told, you’ll feel like you’re being let into a secret canon of great stories. And since the utterly quotable jokes (“anybody want a peanut?”) serve to undercut sappiness throughout, you can allow yourself to get swept up in the moments of genuine catharsis.
But the true magic of this film is, even if you see and love it for the first time as a child, you can return to it again and again throughout your life. Watching The Princess Bride as an adult is like eating a childhood comfort food that actually leaves you feeling nourished. If this film isn’t already one of your capital “F” Family Films, watch it together and see how many Princess Bride lines make their way into your family’s daily life. — Jessmine Molli, Editorial Video Producer
My Side of the Mountain (1969)
I first saw My Side of the Mountain when I was nine years old. It was the early ’80s, and I was an outdoorsy kid who loved camping and fishing and generally spending my summer days with friends wandering through the woods. I was blown away. The idea of a 12-year-old Thoreau going off the grid and living in the wilderness sounded like the adventure of a lifetime. He was surviving off the land. He was independent. He had a pet falcon! After seeing the movie, all I wanted to do was hollow out the biggest tree in my backyard and put my survival skills to the test. Not even the scene where he’s buried under the snow could scare me out of the idea.
By today’s standards, this dated Into the Wild with a happy ending is insanely hokey and hilariously unrealistic. There was no massive search and rescue operation. Nobody in town, not even the responsible librarian who he befriends, turned him in. I mean, he ends up hanging out with a folk-singing drifter in the middle of the woods for god sakes. Can you imagine that today? (The film was set in 1969, by the way, and is based on the classic book by Jean Craighead George). Still, that’s exactly why My Side of the Mountain is so great. It’s pure kid-as-an-adult fantasy. He sets off on an epic expedition ⏤ as so many kids do in their imaginations ⏤ and unlike the real world, there’s little getting in his way. Not only that but if it doesn’t inspire your kids to put down the video games and strap on a hiking pack, nothing will. — Dave Baldwin, Gear Editor
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
There are countless reasons why Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is the GOAT kid’s movie. The incredible songs. Oompa Loompas doing cartwheels. A river made out of chocolate. Veruca Fucking Salt. But what really makes this movie so endlessly rewatchable is the titular chocolatier himself. Gene Wilder is one of the great comedic talents of all time and he gives his best performance here as the eccentric, possibly psychotic genius who runs the most fantastical candy factory the world has ever known.
From the first moment he shows up on screen when he pretends to have a limp before transitioning into a magnificent somersault to wow the crowd, Wonka’s true self is not made clear. It’s a thrill to watch. At one moment, he seems genuinely excited to show the kids around the factory, the next he is spouting sarcastic quips as Augustus is being shot through a giant tube meant for chocolate. He’s warm, but also a little frightening. The families (and the viewers) never know what trick he has up his sleeve.
But most importantly, Wonka doesn’t pander to the kids or think less of them because of their age. He talks to them on his level. He calls them out when they’re being little twerps, enjoys them when they’re being decent human beings, and never acts like they’re an entirely different species. And in a kid’s movie, that’s all too rare. — Blake Harper, Staff Writer
When I was a kid, my dad decided to take me to see a movie called E.T. at our local theater. I had no idea who or what an “E.T.” was. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the film itself, except crying nonstop for the last half an hour. Looking back, I think one of the reasons E.T. was so impactful for me, especially at such a young age, was because, at its core, the film is about learning how to say goodbye.
It’s one of the most difficult things to learn as a kid and is not much easier as an adult. Letting go and moving on from things, places or people you love. Steven Spielberg had masterfully made you fall in love with this ugly as sin extraterrestrial and by the end of the movie you wanted him to stay. E.T. had become your friend and saying goodbye someone you know you would never see again is a powerful lesson for any child to learn. E.T. taught me, a seven-year-old kid about loss, death, grief, and the power of friendship. For that, E.T. is essential watching for any child or adult. — Brad Weekes, Editorial Intern
I was five and a half years old when I first watched Pinnochio. It was early morning and my parents were asleep. I snuck out of bed and stacked high a bunch of books so I could climb up and pop the gleaming tape into the VHS I wasn’t able to use. I watched the story of Jiminy Cricket, Geppetto, and the titular wooden boy alone. Then went into the kitchen and whipped up some french toast.
Now, this story is, as you could probably tell, a load of dookie. I don’t remember how old I was when I first watched Pinnochio. Nor do I remember anything about it other than I loved it too much and watched it at an age where I was able to understand that your decisions matter, that you shouldn’t be shitty and casually lie because maybe your nose will grow or you’ll break the heart of the kindly old man who wanted a child so much that he whittled you out of wood and wished upon a star and would venture into the belly of a whale to look for you when you go missing. That’s an important thing for a kid of a certain age to know — that there are people out there who wanted you so much that you owe it to them to be a decent person. The songs, the rollicking adventure, the exquisite hand drawn animation are all bonuses. — Matt Berical, Deputy Editor