From Ponyo (2008) to Toy Story (1995), here are some of the best movies for toddlers.
Let’s face it. It’s the year 2022 and that TV, laptop, smartphone screen isn’t going anywhere. To the contrary, it’s more ubiquitous now than ever. Even for our most precious young souls. We can cite the COVID-19 pandemic, or the fact that rapidly evolving technology is just too exciting for adults to pass up. (Will there someday be an iPhone 100? That’s triple digits!) Whichever the case, screen time for adults, and by extension their toddlers, is here to stay.
Which begs that responsible parental question – “What do we allow our kids to watch?” After all, experts generally agree that babies less than 18 months shouldn’t be given access to screens. Then, between 18 and 24 months, they may indulge with some valuable educational programming. And as for 2-3 year olds? They can be allowed limited screen time, so long as they are guided by parents who can help them make sense of it all.
However, too much screen time can be harmful for toddlers. Especially if it’s loud, scary, inappropriate content that can hamper their language acquisition skills and emotional development. Case in point – many kiddos love our prehistoric friends called “the dinos” (aka dinosaurs), but Steven Spielberg’s awesome Jurassic Park (1993) dino flick is still PG-13 rated. It’s strongly recommended that no one under age 13 views this film.
Now granted, toddlers aren’t going to actively remember the films they watch. Still, it’s important to create a strong base early on. It’s extremely beneficial to instil positive messages and role models at that phase in life.
So, to make your task easy, we’ve compiled a colourful list of the “best movies for toddlers.” Review and prep your kids for fun.
25. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland (1999)
Elmo is a sweet, red furry animal from the Muppet family, who lives in Sesame Street. In Garry Halvorson’s 1999 movie, Elmo goes in search of his beloved lost blanket. This means going on an adventurous trip to Grouchland which involves crossing the dangerous garbage dump that’s ruled by a tyrannical Queen.
Through the trip and the series of songs it sets off, Elmo learns the value of sharing and companionship. The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland offers unbridled, harmless fun for toddlers. Though the musical numbers aren’t very remarkable, kids will revel in the innocence and high spirits of Elmo.
24. Blue’s Big Musical Movie (2000)
Blue’s Big Musical Movie is a direct-to-video feature film, based on the popular animation series for preschoolers, Blue’s Clues. It offers a mix of live-action, live music, and simulated cut-out animation. The narrative moves around Blue, the blue puppy, and the affable human host Steve as they encourage toddlers to track down clues in order to solve a mystery.
Being a musical, there’s lots of catchy tunes. But more importantly, there’s an educational effort in trying to explore the key musical elements like tempo and rhythm. The energy level is pretty high and the colours are dynamic as kids learn their vital lessons in simple problem solving.
23. Miffy the Movie (2013)
Miffy is a white bunny which appeared in a series of picture books by Dutch artist Dick Bruna. The first Miffy book was published in 1955. Two television series were made on Miffy before the feature-length film in 2013. In the animated film, Miffy and her friends, Melanie and Grunty along with the dog Snuffy set out for a treasure hunt in a zoo.
Directed by Hans Perk, Miffy the Movie is a perfect treat for toddlers. It’s full of eye-popping colours, catchy songs, and few educational elements. The film deals with a story of how friends learn to work together and solve little problems. Despite the 70-minute runtime, toddlers will gobble it up undistracted.
22. The Gruffalo (2009)
The 27-minute short Gruffalo was based on the beloved children’s picture book of the same name by author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. It begins with a mother squirrel telling a story to her children about a mouse. The mouse keeps bumping into predators in the forest. To outwit them, it makes up stories about the mysterious and fearsome Gruffalo. Finally, the mouse runs into Gruffalo himself.
Max Lang and Jakob Schuh’s adaptation keeps up the wit and playfulness of the original story. The CG animation is very well done and earned the short an Oscar nomination. Overall, the kids and adults would embrace Gruffalo’s message about intellectual acuity and self-control.
21. Dumbo (1941)
Dumbo is one of the earliest Disney animated classics, featuring the adorable baby elephant with a large set of ears. Born to an enthusiastic circus elephant, Dumbo is bullied for being different. Eventually, the baby elephant proves himself to the world, while fighting against injustice and intolerance.
Dumbo has few tense moments that could mildly scare the 3-year olds. For instance, the whole sequence of Dumbo’s mother getting locked away can be very heart-breaking for kids. The emotional abuse the baby elephant goes through could also unsettle toddlers. Apart from that, the film reinforces values of friendship, resilience, and a positive mindset.
Related: 10 Films Spielberg Loves
20. The Jungle Book (1967)
The 2016 live-action adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s book has few scary moments for kids below 3 or 4. But the 1967 animated version provides inoffensive fun for kids and their family. Jungle Book was the last animated film Walt Disney was involved with before his death in 1966. As we all know, the timeless tale narrates the adventures of ‘man cub’ Mowgli.
Disney animated films are known for their catchy tunes and remarkable songs. Though the narrative here feels a little disjointed, the music and songs bestow undeniable energy to the proceedings. The music, lovable characters, and pacing would completely have your kids glued.
19. Thomas & Friends: The Adventure Begins (2015)
Thomas & Friends: The Adventure Begins is a special 45-minute direct-to-video film that commemorates the 70th anniversary of Railway Series books. The children’s book series features many anthropomorphic locomotives, including Thomas the Tank Engine. Thomas became a popular character after the children’s television series that aired between 1984 and 2021.
Adventure Begins is a prequel of sorts to the television series. We enjoy Thomas’ earliest adventures in the Island of Sodor as he gets settled in his new home and makes new friends. The endearing stories and unique characters in Thomas & Friends have undoubtedly enthralled millions of viewers.
18. A Bug’s Life (1998)
A Bug’s Life is set in the tiny world of ants, who gather food every year for the menacing grasshopper gang. When grasshoppers come early for their food, the ants are left helpless. But the eccentric ant, Flik, comes up with a unique plan to eliminate the grasshoppers. A Bug’s Life is mostly a story of underdogs freeing themselves from their bullies.
Some of the insects including the grasshoppers can be a bit scary for toddlers. The animated adventure, however, offers a wonderful view of the insect world. It teaches how each one of us are unique in our own way, and the importance of believing in ourselves.
17. Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
Shaun is a precocious and mischievous sheep who easily gets bored of the farm routine. The tedium pushes Shaun and his friends to lock up the farmer, and have a fun trip outside the farm. But Shaun’s action sets off a series of hilarious accidents. The characters including Shaun are based on popular British stop-motion television series.
The slapstick comedy withholds some violent elements which can startle toddlers or kids under five. Moreover, the scenes involving an animal control worker can be spooky for kids. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable flick about appreciating the ordinary and simple things.
16. The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Peanuts is the most popular and influential comic strip of all time. From 1963 to 2022, the characters in Peanuts continue to be adapted for animation movies. The 2015 movie was the latest feature-length film about major Peanuts characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown. The narrative largely revolves around Charlie’s hilarious romantic adventure involving a Little Red-Haired Girl who is new to the neighbourhood.
Charlie Brown might be a bit goofy, but he’s always kind, compassionate, and brave. Some of the silly slapstick violence might be too much for the 2-3 year olds. However, it’s generally a warm-hearted film that teaches kids about being honest and helpful.
Where to Watch: Disney+
15. Curious George (2006)
Curious George is an incredibly simple tale aimed at preschoolers. Its childlike spirit and vibrant colours instantly disarm you. The tale showcases how the charming and cheeky little monkey George ended up under the care of museum curator Ted. Initially, the mischief-maker George creates all sorts of trouble for Ted. Gradually, the monkey bestows upon the human some important life lessons.
The 2-d animation is pretty gentle, laidback, and thoroughly appealing. The story also flows effortlessly with many enthusiastic set-pieces. Curious George will charm both kids and the weary parents.
14. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
Masanori Hata’s Adventures of Milo and Otis is a cute, cuddly film about a cat and a dog. The adorable orange-coloured kitten Milo and the pug named Otis grow up together in a farm, and quickly become inseparable friends. One day, Milo and Otis venture beyond the farm and get into trouble. The friends go through several tough trials before finding their way back home.
The film was said to be shot over four years and the final version was edited out of 40 hours of footage. The American version was soulfully narrated by Dudley Moore. The adventures and antics of Milo and Otis would perfectly work for children for its visual warmth and heartfelt life lessons.
Related: 20 Best Dog Movies Of All Time
13. Lost and Found (2008)
Philip Hunt’s Lost and Found is a marvellous adaptation of the beloved picture book by Oliver Jeffers. It tells a deceptively simple tale of loneliness and friendship, perfectly anchored by actor Jim Broadbent’s soothing narration.
One day, a boy finds a penguin at his door. The lonely boy decides to help his newfound companion return home. Subsequently, the duo embarks on an exciting adventure in a tiny boat.
Lost and Found unfolds like a bedtime story and would deeply connect with children. At 24 minutes, the animated wonder is designed for toddlers’ short attention span and largely lacks perilous moments.
12. Winnie the Pooh (2011)
As parents, we’re always caught between what’s permissible and what’s not when it comes to our kids. But if there’s one film you can have your toddler watch without waffling over, it’s this simple yet charmingly executed tale. While there have been many renditions of the beloved bear character, the 2011 version is colourful, brief, and kinetic.
The 2011 movie also came close to capturing the magic of the original 1977 animated musical. As usual, what makes Winnie the Pooh special is his kindness, sincerity, and respect for friendship. The character radiates much affection for his friends. In fact, the whole film experience feels like one big, warm hug.
Where to Watch: Disney+
11. A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)
This one’s the first big-screen adaptation of Charles Schulz’s popular comic strip series Peanuts. The narrative unfolds in an episodic manner, following the various quests and misadventures of the adorable Charlie Brown. The wafer-thin plot focuses on Charlie trying to prove that he’s not a loser by entering into a spelling bee competition.
The musical interludes and sight gags would greatly appeal to toddlers. Charlie’s perseverance is hugely inspiring. The film teaches us to accept life’s hardships, while finding a silver lining in our failures and losses.
10. Cars (2006)
The popular Pixar animated feature is about an ambitious, young race car known as ‘Lightning’ McQueen. Circumstances bring the hotshot car to a sleepy little town. During his time in the town, the car learns valuable life lessons from unlikely sources. The racing sequences in Cars can be too fast and mildly upset the 3 year olds. One other potentially scary moment is McQueen getting chased by an enormous tractor with blades.
Nevertheless, it’s a wholesome film with gentle humour and down-to-earth messages about happiness and fame. Cars also deal with themes like family, competition, friendship, greed, and love. Eventually, it emphasises that life’s pleasure is in the journey, not at the destination.
9. The Snowman (1982)
The iconic and deeply affecting animated silent short film is based on popular children’s author Raymond Briggs’ 1978 picture book. It tells the tale of a lonely unnamed boy, who builds a snowman in his backyard one wintry morning. Subsequently, the snowman comes to life and takes the boy on a glorious adventure.
The watercolour-style animation brilliantly takes us through the joys and perils in the boy’s adventure. The Snowman provides a heartfelt commentary on innocence, companionship, and freedom. Bolstered by a soulful musical score, the short has the power to move audiences of all age groups.
8. Ponyo (2008)
Miyazaki has a way with weaving stories that particularly enchant kids, both for his themes and storytelling style. It’s also largely because Miyazaki tends to avoid projecting the adults’ perspective of the world. He has made somewhat darker anime like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away. But Ponyo alongside My Neighbour Totoro truly focuses on the emotions and reactions of little children.
The film is about a 5-year old kid named Sosuke. One day, he discovers a magical goldfish named Ponyo. The goldfish wishes to be a human and befriends Sosuke in the process. The film is loosely based on the tale of Little Mermaid. The visual wonder and the unbridled imagination works for audiences of all ages.
7. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)
English author A.A. Milne first published his tale about anthropomorphic teddy bears in the year 1926. Winnie the Pooh and all the other stuffed animal characters in the episodic children’s story are based on the toys of Milne’s own kid Christopher Robin. In the 1977 musical anthology, there are three simple and delightful stories. The naive red-shirted bear’s misadventures would make up for an excellent all-ages entertainment.
The playful opening song by the Sherman brothers is an utter delight and would comfortably ease the toddlers into the tale. Overall, Winnie the Pooh isn’t strictly for kids, but for anyone who keeps alive the inner-child in them.
6. Mary Poppins (1964)
Robert Stevenson’s Mary Poppins was based on P.L. Travers’ vibrant children’s book series. The Disney classic tells the tale of a spirited nanny who looks after the troublesome children of The Banks’ family, residing in a sophisticated London neighbourhood. The 1964 version offers great cinematic joys and masterfully blends live-action with animation. The phenomenal choreography and songs will appeal to children of all ages.
Julie Andrews’ career-defining performance in the titular role brings a lot of fun to the already fantastic set-pieces. Besides, Mary Poppins imparts a lot of wisdom and truths about parenting. Though the 139-minute runtime can be tad long for 3-year olds, the festive mood of the film will keep the whole family entertained.
5. Frozen (2013)
Frozen is one of Disney’s highest grossing animated films of all time. Though Disney Studios have been making Princess movies for a long time, Frozen’s family-themed message worked very well with little kids. The story revolves around two young princesses, Elsa and Anna, who live in the mythical kingdom of Arendelle.
Frozen has moments of peril and minor violence that could disturb 3-year olds and below. However, it’s largely an animated adventure musical which doesn’t have any scary witches. The sibling bond between Elsa and Anna is another highlight of the narrative. The film’s themes of self-sacrifice, courage, and love will strongly resonate with preschoolers.
Where to Watch: Disney+
4. Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar’s greatest hit Finding Nemo revolves around a clownfish named Marlin who overly protects his son, Nemo. But the dad is forced to go on a journey to save his son when he is captured by humans. Dory, a fish with a short-term memory loss, accompanies Marlin in his adventurous rescue mission. There are potentially scary moments in Finding Nemo. Cue, the scenes involving the shark and angler fish.
Another scene, where naval mines explode, too can startle kids. But at the same time, there are cute, adorable moments aplenty. The gorgeously animated shots of underwater life and related activities can be an interesting educational experience for toddlers.
3. The Red Balloon (1956)
Albert Lamorisse’s 35-minute classic short follows a little boy in Paris and his adventures with a red balloon. The director’s 6-year old son Pascal played the main character. The short begins with the boy discovering a red-colour helium balloon. The balloon seems to have a mind of its own, and follows the boy with unswerving devotion. The boy also feels immense joy and develops a friendship with it.
Lamorisse’s short is a timeless allegory on the power of love, imagination, and perseverance. At the same time, there’s enormous pleasure in just watching the film. The captivating cinematography and the gentle melody add to the film’s magical charm. Toddlers, parents, and educators shouldn’t miss this delightful short.
2. Toy Story (1995)
If there’s one 90s movie every kid should watch, it has to be Pixar’s most iconic Toy Story. The animated tale brings kids’ toys to life. The story focuses on 6-year old kid Andy’s favourite toy Woody the Sheriff. One day, Woody sees himself replaced by a brand new space toy named Buzz Lightyear. This leads to humorous clashes between the toys. Subsequently, the toys understand the importance of being a child’s object of affection.
There are a few moments of mild scares from our ‘bad kid’ Sid. For a toddler, such mild violent sequences may be unsuitable. Barring that, this is a marvellous tale with enriching life lessons for kids.
1. My Neighbour Totoro (1988)
Unlike the glitzy Disney movies, Studio Ghibli animations are adept at dealing with the true emotions of preschoolers. This film revolves around two young sisters as they move with their dad to rural Japan. There they encounter a genial and giant cuddly-bear-like spirit animal Totoro. While most Studio Ghibli movies can be watched by kids and adults alike, few like My Neighbour Totoro hold the power to totally capture the attention of toddlers. Can we categorise My Neighbour Totoro as “mesmerising” in all the best ways? Definitely.
My Neighbour Totoro is a simple yet mesmerising tale about childhood, nature, and imagination. Thoroughly enjoyable. Apart from one moment of peril toward the end, the film offers a very relaxing experience for kids.
There you go! These are some of the must-watch toddler-friendly movies. The catchy tunes could make the kids sing along. And the gentle stories might develop a healthy appetite in them for movies. If your toddler has had fun watching these movies and learnt their life lessons, here are more films you could introduce them to: The Land Before Time (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Daniel Tiger Movie: Won’t You Be Our Neighbour ? (2018), Meet the Small Potatoes (2013), Stellaluna (2012), The Little Bear Movie (2003), Curious George: Royal Monkey (2019), Maya the Bee Movie (2015).
Over to you! What are your toddlers’ most favorite movies? Let’s talk in the comments below.