Kids, eh? Tsk. But then again, sometimes it’s all Yay! Either way, knowing what’s hot and what’s not on TV (and by TV we mean streaming services like Netflix) is an essential part of parenting.
On those “Tsk” days, you can lock them in a dark room with a TV and remote and tell them to get on with it. And on those “Yay!” days you can cuddle up with them on the sofa and bond over a glowing rectangle filled with a minimum of 1920×1200 pixels.
Whatever the type of day, here’s our pick of the best Netflix kids films and TV shows for your darling little genetic mutations.
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom (S1)
The number of TV shows which will keep your little one happy while also entertaining you are few and far between – so let’s all give thanks for the wonder that is Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom.
On the face of it, Ben & Holly… isn’t much more than a cutesy cartoon about elves and fairies, but you’ll only need a few minutes with it to realise that it’s actually a razor-sharp social satire. Class war? It’s here. Politics? Ditto. The education system, the environment, the role of the Royal family in a rapidly modernising economy? Check, check and check again.
Your kids won’t get much of that of course, but while they giggle at the standard fairytale fare of witches and magic and gnomes with big appetites, you can enjoy the biting wit of Nanny Plum and content yourself that they’re absorbing it all subliminally. Or maybe we’re reading too much into it all?
RELATED › The best things to watch on Netflix UK
Dinosaur Train (S1)
All kids love dinosaurs, and there’s no shortage of them on children’s TV. So, you could leave them in hideously twee purple embrace of Barney, or you could terrify them brainless by sitting them down in front of Jurassic Park (disclaimer: don’t really do this to a two-year-old).
Far better though to watch Dinosaur Train with them. It’s fun, it’s educational, it’s packed with those all-important morals and it has a theme tune so catchy it should be a wicketkeeper. What more could you want?
Shaun the Sheep (S1)
The Wallace and Gromit co-star has his own spin-off, and it’s sure to delight children and grown-ups alike. While Netflix doesn’t have every one of the astonishing 170 episodes of Shaun the Sheep, there’s more than enough here to keep your sprogs enthralled for hours. Each of the short episodes is essentially its own silent comedy story about the adventures of Shaun and friends, all rendered in the incredibly charming stop-motion animation style that Aardman Animations has made its own.
RELATED › Why it’s time to get pumped about HDR TV
My Neighbor Totoro
Being wholesome and emotional without straying into sentimentality is a difficult trick to pull off. But Japan’s Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki have done it time and time again, with 1988’s My Neighbor Totoro being a perfect example.
This film, in which a pair of young sisters move into a new house and befriend a forest spirit, has something for everyone: an supreme sense of wonder; hand-painted pastoral beauty; a convincing depiction of family life; a soaring, playful score from the masterful Joe Hisaishi; and of course Totoro, a now-iconic Ghibli character representing… well, all sorts of things if you care to think about it.
Aardman’s first feature-length film is another plasticine triumph. Facing egg-producing drudgery and inevitable doom on a chicken farm, hen Ginger decides to get ‘organised’. Along with help from Mel Gibson’s rooster Rocky, the feathery flock endeavour to escape and defy physics by learning how to fly.
This heart-warming and often hilarious adventure features lots of knitting, a pair of wheeler-dealer rats and plenty of gravy explosions. Mrs Tweedy is also the best animal-hating villain since Cruella de Vil. Just be prepared for your kids’ inevitable vegetarian backlash.
RELATED › The best comedy movies on Netflix
Directed by Danny DeVito (who also co-stars alongside real-life wife Rhea Perlman), this beloved Roald Dahl adaptation concerns an inquisitive, intelligent and independent little girl who faces mistreatment at the hands of her greedy parents and a tyrannical teacher. Matilda is a fairly odd children’s film, and not a straight-up adaptation of the book (the British setting is transplanted to California, for starters), but it’s full of charm and mischief. We think Dahl would have approved, and despite its advancing years, we think your kids will too.
RELATED › Playlist: Our favourite YouTube channels
Whether you’re an ageing adult or a spritely sprog, this cinematic ode to everyone’s favourite marmalade fiend finds a way to pluck heartily on your heartstrings. It’s stuffed full of belly laughs, faultless voice acting from Ben Whishaw and a refreshingly affectionate take on immigration. Can an orphaned bear from darkest Peru outwit the dastardly Nicole Kidman and find a loving home for himself in London? You and your kids will have loads of fun finding out.
RELATED › New on Netflix UK this month
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone
While anyone who’s grown up with the boy wizard’s adventures is probably a bit sick of magical Hogwarts capers by now, kids still seem totally entranced by the Harry Potter series. Released in 2001, this is the very first of the movie adaptations, directed capably by Chris Columbus and positively brimming with warm vibes and nascent adventure. Sure, the child actors’ performances can be a bit ropey in these early films, and the plot isn’t much to write home about, but the film has a pleasingly festive, companionable charm that shines through, and a visual style that will appeal to children of all ages.
RELATED › The 20 best films on Now TV
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous (S1-5)
The perfect distraction for any dino-obsessed youngsters, Camp Cretaceous is the first TV spin-off for the Jurassic Park/World franchise. Very much in the mould of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it’s an animated series pitched at a younger audience and telling a story separate to the movies, but you’ll spot a few familiar faces (both human and reptile).
Grown-up fans of the movies may doubtless find the whole thing a touch lightweight, fluffy and lacking in the real menace occasionally conjured by the films, but hey: that’ll teach them for watching a kids’ show.
Pokémon Concierge (S1)
If real world events are getting a bit much, here’s a lovely mouth-cleansing sorbet – but for your eyes and ears. It’s a sweetly endearing Japanese stop-motion series about a lady who works at a holiday resort for Pokémon. That’s it… that’s the show.
But seriously, this is cosy even by the standards of a Pokémon series, largely eschewing the combat focus of the classic cartoon in favour of laid-back, relaxing adventures that you can enjoy with your kids. It’s just a shame there are only four episodes to enjoy.
Perhaps the perfect way to introduce your younglings to a raft of classic (and newish) pop tunes, Garth Jennings’ musical comedy about a singing competition in a city populated by anthropomorphic animals is a belting bit of lightweight fun. With a superb voice cast including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and Taron Egerton, a cute (if familiar) plot and a haul of great songs, Sing is all but guaranteed to get little ones’ toes tapping.
RELATED › The best TV box-sets on Netflix
In 19th-century Norway, a selfish and lazy trainee postman is tasked with delivering 6,000 letters in a year. In a bid to reach this goal, he teams up with a reluctant, reclusive woodsman named Klaus – who possesses both a large white beard and a talent for toymaking.
Netflix’s first original animated film is a cracker. Klaus is an alternative origin tale for Father Christmas with a unique art style. Using traditional animation with advanced modern lighting techniques gives it an incredibly clean look that also maintains a hand-crafted feel, and that works perfectly for the story.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (animated, S1-3)
Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series, in which denizens of an Asia-inspired fantasy realm can “bend” (i.e. magically control) one of the four elements – earth, air, fire and water – is soon to get a new live-action adaptation. It’ll have to be very special indeed to beat the original, mind you: over its three series, ATLA weaves together a gloriously involving, dramatic and oftentimes amusing tale of war, adventure and spirituality. It’s smartly written, tonally rich and packed with compelling characters, so you’ll likely enjoy it just as much as your offspring. Some critics consider it to be among the greatest animated shows ever created; we’re inclined to agree.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Based on Roald Dahl’s novel, Wes Anderson’s movie about a rural fox outwitting three villainous poultry farmers manages to marry the two artists’ styles far better than you might imagine.
The stop-motion animation and sets are gloriously charming, Anderson’s visual style works just as well with models as it does with people, and his script breathes new life and humour into Dahl’s book while keeping its essence largely intact. Oh, and George Clooney is fantastic in the lead role. All in all, it’s a film both kids and grown-ups will adore.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
If you’ve got kids, chances are they love the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this movie isn’t a part of it, and it’s all the better for that. Set in an alternative-universe New York very different to the one we know, it uses the multiverse theory to refresh and reframe Spider-Man’s well-worn origin story.
To reveal any more might spoil the joy of watching this all-new Spidey, a Brooklyn schoolboy named Miles Morales, embark on his own journey – one that cleverly parallels the Peter Parker arc we’ve already seen so many times. The fact that it’s all brought to life in an amazing (no pun intended) animation style is simply the icing on a tasty cinematic cake.
RELATED › The best horror films on Netflix
OLDER KIDS (12+):
Studio Ghibli’s Oscar-winner showcases Hayao Miyazaki’s filmmaking at its very best: magical, thought-provoking and utterly absorbing. While the average Hollywood animated film is considered sophisticated if it chucks in a couple of clever references for any adults that happen to be watching, Spirited Away is working on an entirely different plane.
This gorgeously animated story of a young girl unwittingly drawn into a bizarre land of spirits, witches and demons effortlessly touches on universal themes, making it an engrossing watch for viewers of any age. Timeless stuff.
Little Women (2019)
Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott is a film that almost all ages can enjoy. Rich in universal themes like romance, duty and family, it’s a sensitive and somewhat sentimental tale that’s easy to enjoy. It also takes the 19th-century book’s radical (for its time) portrayal of traditional gender norms and runs with it, delivering a powerful feminist screed that feels wonderfully modern despite the time and setting. The film, which includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Timothée Chalamet in its ensemble cast, received six Oscar nominations.
Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) navigates a new school, which comes with all the typical coming-of-age TV tropes – plus a good dose of supernatural shenanigans – in a series executive produced by Tim Burton. He also directs four of its eight episodes, and the whole thing has just the right balance of charm, humour and otherworldly menace to appeal to older kids dying to get their teeth into something a little meatier than your standard high school drama. Wednesday has won armfuls of awards and is one of Netflix’s most-watched original series ever, suggesting it’s pretty popular with grown-ups too.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
With his first animated film, the Mexican master of the macabre delivers something (slightly) less unsettling than his usual fare. It’s a musical adaptation of the classic fairy tale about a wooden boy, rendered in beautiful stop-motion animation. Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton and Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard are among the voice cast.
Reportedly a lifelong passion project for del Toro, the film provides an intriguing counterpoint to Disney’s recent (and wholly unnecessary) live-action remake of its own Pinocchio adaptation. It’s far superior too: kids will love the visual style, and there’s enough darkness here to keep things interesting for older children, not to mention their parents.