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 Netflix – is an important 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.
Anyway, here’s our pick of films and TV shows for your darling little genetic mutations.
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If you’re after the best new stuff on Netflix we’ve also got you covered with our New on Netflix UK feature, and if you want to get a bit more specific, try these:
If you’re landing on this page and you’re based in the United States, then you might want to check out out separate list of the Best movies and TV shows on Netflix USA.
PRE-SCHOOL (2-4): Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom
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?
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?
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Maths gets a hard time of it on kids TV. There’s no end of shows designed to teach little ‘uns to read English or speak Spanish or reassamble a 1958 Chevvy engine, but little in the way of number-based fun.
Hurrah for Team Umizoomi then, with its emphasis on sums, patterns, logic, shapes and all of the other mathematics-friendly disciplines. Importantly, the educational stuff is all hidden within nonsense stories about lost baby mice and whatnot, so your kids won’t actually realise they’re learning anything.
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JUNIORS (5-11): Toy Story trilogy
The best animated film series of all time? No contest. The Toy Story trilogy’s genius is in the way it takes a massively complex and universal subject – growing up – and presents it over three films spanning some dozen years in a way that’s both hugely entertaining for all ages and hugely affecting for anyone old enough to understand that they won’t always be young.
The original Toy Story is now 20 years old (yes… we know), but this tale about what toys get up to when you’re not looking still feels fresh. Cowboy Woody butts heads with sci-fi action-figure Buzz Lightyear, who doesn’t realise he’s a toy, and struggles with the pain of being rejected by his beloved owner Andy.
Despite the subject matter, Toy Story wisely avoids the saccharine, instead filling its 80-ish minutes with toy-based peril, great set pieces, and plenty of in-jokes for the many old people watching. It’s an all-time classic.
For the sequel, the producers wisely attempted to widen the series horizons and introduce new character, with mixed results. Don’t worry – it’s still brilliant – but it lacks some of the first film’s impact and struggles to escape from that movie’s shadow.
It’s a different matter with the third instalment, though, which is every bit as entertaining as the first while tugging at the heart strings in a way that few flicks ever manage, let alone animated ones about toys. It’s notably darker, as the toys grapple with Andy’s impending departure for college and the tyrannical rule of a really rather nasty teddy bear (just go with it), but it all ends so well that we’re going to pretend that the fourth Toy Story slated for 2018 doesn’t exist.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were Rabbit
What could be more English than a man and his dog trying to stop a mutant rabbit plaguing a small town before their annual vegetable competition.
The Curse Of The Were Rabbit is another superb bit of filmmaking by Aardman Animations, with plenty of sight gags for younger kids and a wacky plot which should keep the adults entertained too. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Aardman…
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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.
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One of Disney’s finest ever films is also one of its oldest – it was released in 1940, a time which may seem distant to us grown-ups but which so unimaginally ancient for the average six-year-old that it might as well be the time of the dinosaurs. Not that its age should have any bearing on the enjoyment your kids will get from it though; while the artwork and animation may be different from that in today’s CGI-based masterpieces, it’s every bit as brilliant.
The story is a stone-cold classic too, as the little wooden boy with the strangely telescopic nose gets led astray time and time again by various ne’er-do-wells, and pretty quickly has to learn the difference between right and wrong. Which, let’s face it, is probably a lesson all children could do with learning at some stage.
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The Blue Planet
It’s easy to forget that TV can be an amazing educational tool, what with all the distinctly non-educational thrills on offer, but Netflix is packed with brilliant BBC nature documentaries to entrance all ages.
The Blue Planet is one such series: there’s never been a better way to learn about what’s going on in the deep blue sea than by spending a few hours with David Attenborough as he soothingly explains the mating habits of crabs and the like. Once they’re hooked, try the similarly superb Life, The Life Of Mammals and Frozen Planet.
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Walking With Dinosaurs
If that all seems too much like learning for your kids, why not bed them in slowly by spending a few hours in the company of some CGI dinosaurs.
It’s a truly immersive experience, offering plenty of thrills alongside all the facts about the long-dead former rulers of our planet, and should keep them happy until they are finally ready for Jurassic Park.
This prequel to the brilliant Monsters Inc takes us back to Mike and Sully’s college days, which means it can explore all manner of coming-of-age schenanigans alongside the already established concept that there’s a parallel universe of monsters whose sole purpose is to scare human kids. So the pair, together with a motley crew of monster misfits, attend scaring classes, grapple with social acceptance and student hierarchies and attempt to win a campus-wide contest to prove their worth.
The plot is a little convoluted at times – so you may find yourself having to explain certain bits – but none of the monsters are really scary and it’s generally good fun, so all but the very youngest kids should enjoy it.
If you have a daughter between the ages of two and eight, you may already know this one. Or rather, you may already know EVERY SINGLE WORD OF EVERY SINGLE SONG, which character is singing them, what they’re wearing at the time, what happens next and what it means for Disney’s profit margin. You may also be able to pinpoint the exact moment at which your brain liquified at the sheer, relentless onslaught of it all.
That said, Frozen is a pretty great modern-day Disney film. It’s not horribly sexist, in that the lead characters are strong-willed, independent girls who don’t generally need saving, it looks great, the story is gripping and funny without being too cheesy, and there’s no denying the power of the songs.
So, definitely one to settle down with and watch together as a family – but just be aware that you will have those songs in your head for the next month.
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Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
Fresh off the back of battling ghouls in Ghostbusters 2, Rick Moranis takes centre-stage here as a nerdy, suburban inventor in this does-what-it-says-on-the-tin shrink ’em up. After accidentally reducing his kids and two of their friends to nano size, he concocts increasingly madcap ways to find them, while the kids’ life-threatening brushes with now oversized insects, raindrops and foodstuffs – rendered using charmingly ‘90s, pre-CGI special effects – threaten to make his search fruitless.
It’s like Alice In Wonderland for the Nintendo generation, basically – and there can be no higher praise than that.
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In the great ant film battle of 1998, DreamWorks released a much darker, more complex title than its rival Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. Although the premise is eerily similar (a radical ant falls for a princess then tries to save his colony), Antz also hits on themes of identity, totalitarian states and the futility of war.
Voiced by Woody Allen, Z is a bored worker who swaps roles with soldier Weaver (Sylvester Stallone) to catch the attention of Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). He then faces a terrifying termite battle and discovers an evil plot to erase the entire worker class.
Its excellence owes much to the top-notch script and animation, but as you might expect it’s Allen who steals the show in typical nerdy, neurotic, New York fashion. Truly a great way to introduce a whole new generation to his brilliance, but maybe hold off showing them Manhattan for a few more years.
If you’re ten minutes into Up and not crying, then chances are you’re dead inside, void of all human emotions. Admittedly this is a bit of an odd way to start a description of a kids’ film, but it’s a heart-warming introduction to a wonderful story, which sees a grumpy old man, lumbered with a lovable-but-clumsy boy, travel to faraway lands. Their vehicle of choice? A floating house, powered by hundreds of colourful tethered balloons.
It’s a great watch for adults and children alike, and should leave you all with warm fuzzy feelings – Squirrel! – inside.
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Monsters Vs Aliens
DreamWorks’ oddball superhero movie plays with the conventions of the genre by making the bad guys the good guys. Well, alright, they’re not really bad guys – but the heroes of this excellent animation aren’t your typical buff college kids, billionaire businessmen or even misunderstood loners. Instead, they’re monsters: one hideously mutated cockroach/scientist hybrid, one weird blob of blue goo, one lizard-thing, one giant moth creature and one all-American gal with a serious growth disorder.
The fact that you not only end up rooting for them but even identify with them – come on, who here hasn’t sometimes felt like there’s a giant moth creature inside you trying to get out? – is to the film’s credit, and is testament to a witty script, great voice acting from the likes of Hugh Laurie and Drew Barrymore and some absolutely sumptuous animation.
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OLDER KIDS (12+): Super 8
Channeling the spirit of classic Steven Spielberg films such as E.T. and The Goonies, JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is as good as teenage alien films get. A paean to youthful curiosity it’s also visually amazing and consistently exciting. It’s pretty gruesome at times though, so as its 12 rating makes clear, not one for younger kids.
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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Splitting the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy into two parts means this first instalment is a little quieter than the two previous films, but it’s also more interesting.
There’s no arena-based deathmatch here, but instead a full-on war emerging between the Capitol and Rebellion. But this is a modern war, which means much of it is fought in the media, and Katniss has to play the propaganda game despite her discomfort. But don’t worry, there’s still a fair bit of bow and arrow action in there for the thrill-seekers.
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The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
The final instalment of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy confirms the two things we already know about it: 1) it really would’ve been better as two films (or even one) and 2) it’s still thrilling enough that you’ll forgive Jackson his indulgences anyway.
The Battle Of The Five Armies fares better than the first two films in that it does have a proper ending, with all those things most people want from their action flicks, such as resolution and redemption. There’s plenty of clashing swords, a fair bit of woe and untold amounts of Heroic Deeds By Diminutive Fellows. So, everything you want from a Middle Earth saga, really.
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There’s a reason why this film is one of the highest grossing in history. Well, seven super-powered reasons, to be precise – Earth’s mightiest heroes and their Asgardian foe.
As Tom Hiddleston’s Loki leads a Chitauri invasion on the Big Apple, SHIELD’s heroes try to combine their powers, brains and witty banter to hold off the alien army. It’s filled to the brim with the escapism regularly found in the Marvel Universe, action, laughs and plenty of jealousy about the fact your hair will never match up to that of Chris Hemsworth. Family fun at its finest.
Additional words: Kyle Pittman, Tom Wiggins, Esat Dedezade, Robert Leedham, Emily May, Tom Parsons