Your Inner Child on the Big Screen
Great movies for kids come in a huge variety of genres and production types. While most kids’ movies work for children of all ages, there are some general rules you can follow when you want to tailor the kind of movie to different age groups. Here are some typical characteristics of the different kinds of children’s movies.
Before we get into movie genres, consider how the movie is produced. Just like any movies, children’s movies are usually produced as a live-action film (meaning it stars actual humans), animation, or a combination of the two. Some of these might be more attention-grabbing for children.
Think of live-action movies as something that is a little more old-school with minimal to no Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI). The focus is on people, places and objects that exist in real life. If CGI is used, it is to replicate actual settings or conditions.
Related: How Much Does CGI in Movies Cost Per Minute?
What Kids Will Love — Seeing actual places that exist may make kids curious about exploring. Some live-action films may feature characters that they know from television or other media, so they go into the film with some familiarity, which can be comforting.
What Ages Are Most Appropriate — In the case of live-action movies, that probably depends on the subject. If the settings and characters are vibrant and colorful enough, any age child can get engaged in what’s happening on the screen.
What To Avoid—For really young children, try to avoid live-action movies that have scary, dark settings. Ask yourself if the realism could be something that is too frightening. Remember, if it depicts a real situation, you want the children watching to be okay with knowing such situations exist.
What Kids Will Love — Animated movies can include anything from old-school, hand-drawn animations to computer animation, or stop-motion graphics. The primary reason that animations are so popular as a medium for children is that anything is possible. Bright colors, imaginary locations and characters, and fantastical action can cater to the wonder and creativity that engage children of all ages.
What Ages Are Most Appropriate — Animated films are popular with children of all ages. Their wide range of story-telling opportunities means that each animated movie can be tailored to different age ranges.
Animated movies make great first movies for toddler-aged children because the bright colors and voices used for cartoons can attract and keep their attention. Many animated movies find ways to entertain all age groups with inside jokes or other Easter eggs.
What To Avoid—Animation is not just for kids anymore! There are many recent examples of television shows and feature films that feature very adult content. When in doubt, do a quick online search of the animated film’s information to make sure it is rated as appropriate for children.
What Kids Will Love—Although combining live-action and animation in movies is nothing new, the advances in CGI have brought this medium forward by leaps and bounds. As with animated movies, don’t assume that the presence of cartoon features makes it appropriate for children.
What Ages Are Most Appropriate—For this hybrid production medium, it’s more important to consider the movie’s subject and rating to determine what choices to make for your children.
What To Avoid—There may be an ongoing debate about the presence of CGI in movies. If you can’t tell that it’s animation, does it count as live-action? In the fantasy genre, CGI may be used to make the unreal seem real.
If you’re picking the best movie for your kids, worrying about the combination of live-action to animation won’t matter as much as subject matter and age appropriateness.
Realism as a movie genre might not seem like it would work for younger children, but this is not necessarily true. There are plenty of realistic stories that have wholesome elements, humor, and action that will appeal to even the youngest moviegoers. Realistic movies about dogs or other pets, or secret places to be found, can make for very engaging children’s entertainment.
Fantasy is the complete opposite of realism, incorporating elements that come from the imagination of filmmakers. Today’s audiences may be a little spoiled because, if it can be imagined, chances are that a film production company could bring it to the screen. This is a tremendous bonus for children’s movies, allowing the most colorful and imaginative ideas to become a movie.
With any story-telling medium, the trick in the fantasy genre is to make sure that the subject is age appropriate for your audience. Children can come up with their own fantasy storylines, so the focus should be on exploring those in a positive way and not providing fantasy content that troubles them or is too frightening.
Adventure films are great for kids! If successful movies give the audience a way to escape the every day, then what better way to do that than by taking them on an adventure? Most children haven’t experienced their own adventures, so movies give them a way to explore the world and their interests in a safe way.
Adventure movies can also be a great equalizer. For the price of a movie ticket, any child can visit exotic locales and see places that might be less accessible. Plus, they can experience all of this while enjoying an exciting story about adventurers on a quest.
ANY film from any genre can be a musical! With great music and lyrics, children love musical elements that enhance an adventure, fantasy, comedy, or realistic film. There is a reason that so many children’s television shows are enhanced with music.
Many children sing before they speak, and some studies have shown that music and singing can assist with speech development. The only downside for parents is the risk of hearing those catchy songs repeatedly for hours on end. Just keep telling yourself that singing is a beneficial thing.
There is nothing better than hearing children laughing. To appreciate the simple and silly things that kids love, watching a comedy with them is a great way to spend your time. Some key elements in comedies for children would include slapstick, silly voices, improbable situations that result in overexaggerated endings, and funny characters.
For really young children, if the humor seems really simple and ridiculous to you, it will probably delight younger children. As long as you screen out comedies with jokes or situations that go over their heads, or include inappropriate humor, you can’t go wrong with adding comedies to your children’s movie list.
Parents who want to encourage children to explore books, one way to do that is by choosing movies that are adaptions of children’s literary works. Literary adaptations encourage kids who love a movie to explore the original material.
Many of these literary adaptions are done in serial form, so if they see movie #1, they may decide to read other books in the series to see what happens next.
Reading is a great way to spur a child’s imagination and watch them develop their own interpretation of the visuals of a story that they’ve read.
You can maintain the enthusiasm for a literary work by viewing a film based on that work. No matter how old the child, if they can read the story, they can also probably have an interesting conversation with you after the movie.
Ask them if the movie lived up to their imagined version of the story while they read it. How did it match their imagination? What would they have done differently? By seeing the same story told through different mediums, they may find themes or meanings that they missed the first time they encountered the story.
There are a variety of documentaries that also make great films for children, and they showcase different subjects, so chances are there is something out there for every child’s interest. In addition to nature and travel documentaries, there are also an increasing number of movies about how things work—something that satisfies the most curious kids.
Nature documentaries can often tell a story about a region or community of animals in an entertaining way that will keep kids marveling at the beauty of the natural world. They usually feature gorgeous and innovative cinematography. Have you ever wondered what it’s like to soar with an eagle, or to see the inside of a meerkat’s den?
Nature documentary features can bring children to places they may never be able to experience any other way. They can also learn about animal behaviors and gain an understanding and appreciation of the natural world. For younger children, consider whether or not there are graphic scenes of animals being hunted or killed.
The younger the audience, the more an underlying storyline will help keep their attention.
Travel documentaries can also open a window to new experiences. Some families make traveling to different (sometimes exotic) places a priority, so they look to travel films as a way to investigate new destinations.
For families that can only travel via movies, travel documentaries can introduce them to new cultures and traditions, making the world seem much smaller.
Travel documentaries can teach children tolerance and an appreciation for being open-minded. You may even plant a seed of passion for travel when they grow up. Like nature documentaries, younger children will be drawn in more if there is a storyline to follow as a part of a show about travel.
One of the newest and most exciting kinds of documentaries are what I would classify as “How Things Work”. What started as short videos on YouTube that gathered thousands and thousands of views, have blossomed into a new genre of documentary. Watching films about how things work would seem custom-made for children.
They can satisfy their curiosity about everything from factory operations to construction. If they have hobbies that already interest them, how-to documentaries can teach them new techniques.
It’s easy to assume that these videos are primarily for older children, but more and more, younger children (even toddlers) are finding topics they are passionate about. As long as how-to movies don’t contain scary content, they are probably appropriate for all ages.
Like documentaries, historical movies can tell true stories and teach children about previous events of importance. Unlike documentaries, historical movies may take some liberties with actual events to make them more entertaining or fit into the length of a studio film.
Don’t let the fact that some of the events, characters, or facts have been fictionalized prevent you from considering a historical movie as an option for your kids. Keep in mind that looking into these events through film can be a starting point for learning about the actual events and discussing why they may have been changed for a feature film.
For example, sometimes there are many characters who might influence a story and when making a movie about that story it may be too time-consuming (or expensive) to have all of those characters present. It is not uncommon for writers to include a character that is not based on a single person, but is rather a compilation of a number of people who were a part of the story.
This allows them to consolidate the information and influence that those people had on events but stay within the parameters of their production.
The best way to determine the age appropriateness for historical movies is to consider at what age these events are being taught (or would be taught) in schools. This can be an opportunity to discuss historical events with your children and provide additional context for both history lessons and the movie that they will watch.
Look at each movie’s ratings to determine if there are language or violence issues for younger children, and save the more complex stories for older children. When in doubt, discuss historical movie topics with your children. If they are interested, it might be worth it to let them view the movie and discuss the true-life events with them afterward.
Finally, we should mention horror or thriller movies. It is unlikely that you will find movies in this genre for really small children, but there is more and more movie content that caters to older kids with all kinds of interests.
If you have a child who loves Halloween for all of its scary fun, it is also likely that they love a movie that makes them jump as a result of a little fun fear factor.
Another thing to consider is that some children’s books are scary. When they are turned into films you may have one of two things happen. Either the movie will faithfully follow the book and make for a great experience for its fans, or seeing the words on the page come to life will make the film more visually scary.
If you’re unsure, discuss going to the movie with your young book fan to see if they’re prepared to see any monsters portrayed on the big screen or the story’s villains made of flesh and bone.
Related: 21 Movies Like The Conjuring