Parenting

16 under-the-radar animated movies your kids will love

Give "Frozen" a break.

Two kids watching TV Credit: Getty Images / nazar_ab

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"Moana" had her moment, "Cars" is a constant, and "Frozen" is probably never going to go away, but after hearing the same story and soundtrack on a loop for, let’s face it, MONTHS on end, it’s probably time to shake things up in the family movie department. We are here to help you breathe new life into movie night. Tell your kids it's time to "let it go" and watch something new.

Here are 16 movies under-the-radar films that the whole family will enjoy.

1. "Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants"

Rated NR
Best for: Ages 2 and up
When a colony of ants happens upon an abandoned picnic, they make a culinary discovery that will change their lives forever: a box of sugar cubes. Adventure ensues, and an unlikely hero in the form of a plucky ladybug finds herself in the middle of a war between the black ants who found the treasure and the fire ants who want to steal it. There is no talking in this movie, just chirps, buzzes, crackles, smashes, and boings to tell the story, which makes it fun even for little ones who aren’t great with dialog.

2. "Shaun the Sheep"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 2 and up
This one was tough. How to pick the best movie from Aardman Animation, the makers of "Wallace and Gromit," "Chicken Run," and "Early Man"? In the end, I let my 6-year-old pick. When he watches "Shaun the Sheep," he can hardly contain his excitement. This is a truly hilarious story of a fast-thinking flock of sheep who find themselves lost in the Big City as they try to save their farmer from his new life as hipster hair stylist.

The movie mostly focuses on the point of view of the sheep, so there is very little dialogue, making it a perfect choice for a family movie night with even the littlest family members. If your family likes this one, there’s a sequel and even a TV show for kids to enjoy.

3. "My Neighbor Totoro"

Rated G
Best for: Ages 3 and up
If you’re not yet familiar with Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, "My Neighbor Totoro" is possibly his most iconic movie and the perfect gateway to become acquainted. The story follows two sisters (voiced by preschool-aged Dakota and Elle Fanning) who find that their new country home is part of a mystical forest inhabited by a menagerie of magical creatures called Totoros. Like most films released by Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, this family-oriented feature has a powerful ecological theme combined with a message of hope and optimism explored through fantasy in times of hardship.

4. "Ernest & Celestine"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 4 and up
This is the sweetest story of a little mouse and a “big bad bear” whom she befriends. Celestine is the kind of heroine reminiscent of the Madeline storybooks: unabashed and unafraid. Animated in a gorgeous hand-drawn story-book style that looks like it was drawn from watercolors, you’ll find yourself lulled into the character’s beautiful world as you learn about loving someone for what is on the inside instead of the outside.

5. "The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 4 and up
This movie is laugh-out-loud funny thanks to witty dialogue, farcical plots involving some farm and woodland animals, and good-natured fun. Kids will love the slapstick humor and adults will enjoy the inside jokes, intended for the over-13 set. This movie is set as a stage play where the animals act out three short stories, which is perfect for kids with short attention spans.

6. "Nocturna"

Rated NR
Best for: Ages 5 and up
Every night, young Tim looks to the stars as he drifts asleep. One night he has a nightmare that his favorite star has disappeared, and it's up to him to save the world from total darkness. On his quest he enters the secret world of Nocturna, where curious creatures control the night.

Visually stunning and wildly inventive, this film explores the night and the mystery it holds for children in a sweeping tale of adventure that is filled with Lewis Carroll-esque characters and moody landscapes inspired by our dreams.

7. "Igor"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 5 and up
In a world filled with mad scientists and evil inventions, one hunch-backed lab assistant named Igor has big dreams of winning the annual Evil Science Fair. While Igor may look like all the other hunchbacks, he develops a desire to do good in a land of evil. This one has an all-star cast of voices, with Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, John Cusack, and Eddie Izzard.

Watch on YouTube for free with ads

8. "Eleanor’s Secret"

Rated NR
Best for: Ages 5 and up
Seven-year-old Nathaniel is ruthlessly teased by his older sister for not being able to read, but a whole new world opens for him when he is given a key to his Aunt Eleanor’s enormous library, which is filled with fairy tale characters that have come to life. Nathaniel must travel through their magical world, and learn how to read to save the characters from disappearing forever.

There are some weird choices made with the voice actors, including a sister with a cockney accent while the rest of the family has an American one, but the lovely story and the beautiful and soaring musical score will help you forget that minor transgression.

9. "Song of the Sea"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 6 and up
This is a movie about loss, so if your child has dealt with a loss recently, it might not be the best pick. But if your family loves spectacular animation and otherworldly folk music, they will love this movie. By the Academy Award-nominated director of "The Secret of Kells," "Song of the Sea" is another gorgeous and enchanting Irish folktale. Ben, a young Irish boy, and his little sister Saoirse, a mythical “selkie” girl who can turn into a seal, embark on an adventure to save both Saoirse and the spirit world. Like most animated movies, "Song of the Sea" has a moral to its story, one of embracing the magic in the world and being true to one’s emotions.

10. "The Book of Life"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 6 and up
If you’re tired of sitting through "Coco" for the 100th time, try introducing your kids to "The Book of Life," produced by Guillermo del Toro, to change things up a bit. The two movies are similar enough that the internet went nuts when "Coco" came out, with claims that the storyline was stolen. Yet the depth of story, hero, and heroine are unique enough to allow equal love for both movies, no matter what the similarities.

Designers use a vivid palette and gorgeous marionette-inspired character design to tell the legend of Manolo, a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical, and wondrous worlds within the afterlife in order to rescue his one true love and defend his village.

11. "The Secret of NIMH"

Rated G
Best for: Ages 6 and up
If you were a child of the '80s, you've likely heard of this iconic movie, but in the decades since, it may have fallen off your radar. Right now it’s streaming on Tubi and YouTube for free, making it accessible to everyone. If it’s been a while since you’ve last watched this, don’t forget that there are tense scenes about the animal laboratory—and Nicodemous, as kind and wise as he was, is as creepy-looking as you probably remember—but the suspenseful adventure and magical conclusion are still as spellbinding for kids.

12. "Rise of the Guardians"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 6 and up
A sort of "Avengers" for the early-elementary set, "Rise of the Guardians" is a magical adventure story about what happens when legendary holiday guardians join together to fight evil. Jack Frost, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy battle against the boogeyman (played with sinister smarminess by Jude Law), also known as Pitch Black. The fate of the hopes and dreams of all children is in the hands of the beloved holiday heroes as they face-off against the forces of darkness.

13. "Meet the Robinsons"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 6 and up
Lewis is an orphan with a dream of belonging. His life takes an unexpected turn when this brilliant young inventor meets another boy named Wilber. The two set off on a time-traveling quest to save the future and find the family Lewis never knew. This is a story of moving away from your past and believing in yourself no matter the odds.

Watch on Disney+

14. "Kubo and the Two Strings"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 7 and up
From the studio that made "Coraline," "ParaNorman," and "The Boxtrolls," this film is about a young boy who accidentally summons the vengeful spirit of his angry uncle when he stays out past dark. Now on the run from the spirit who wants to destroy him, he joins forces with a monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and a beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey). Together the three embark on a journey to find three crucial items to help him win the battle against the spirit that is hunting him.

15. "Tales of the Night"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 7 and up
"Tales of the Night" is one of those rare films that is completely unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. Animated in shadow silhouette against vibrant backgrounds that burst with color and detail, this novel approach to animation leaves the details to the imagination of the viewer. Throughout this story, six fairy tales unfold across the world, taking the viewer from Tibet, to medieval Europe, to an Aztec kingdom, to the African plains, and even to the Land of the Dead.

16. "Wonder Park"

Rated PG
Best for: Ages 7 and up
When June's mother falls ill, she is sent to math camp. On the way, she stumbles upon an amusement park she has seen in her dreams, but which has fallen into disarray. June must band together with the animal creatures that run the amusement park to save it. Warning: June’s mom gets very sick early on in the movie, so if your little ones are sensitive to that sort of thing, maybe wait a bit before showing this one to them.

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