Movies to See Before Your Kids Turn 12

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From classic musicals, princess tales, and animated animals to superhero adventures and holiday favorites, these must-see movies will appeal to the whole family. These all-time favorites are not only hugely entertaining, but they’re packed with positive messages and role models, giving them the potential for significant impact on kids and families. Some are cultural touchstones. Others give kids a look at other worlds — both real and imaginary. Many will bring on gales of laughter, and some might lead to a few tears. But all are worthy of a comfy couch, a bowl of fresh popcorn, and some family togetherness. Read on for the list from Common Sense Media.

01land_before_time

The Land Before Time
Age: 4+

Parents need to know that the youngest viewers may be disturbed seeing the childlike dinosaurs torn from their parents by an earthquake and pursued by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Littlefoot’s mother fights the T-rex, is badly injured, and dies. Littlefoot finds his grandparents in the end, though, and his friends are reunited with their families, too.

02Toystory

Toy Story
Age: 4

Parents need to know that there is separation in the movie — toys are separated from one another and from their owner (but if your kid made it to preschool without an issue, this should be fine). All of the dynamics behind sibling rivalry are here as well, so if your kids are going through that, this is a perfect movie to have them watch together. Kids may be scared by Andy’s next-door neighbor Sid, who has a mean laugh and mutilates toys for fun — but he does get a mild comeuppance. Really young kids may be confused by the toys being “real” here, especially when Buzz really thinks he’s a star commander. Note: The 3-D version of the movie includes a couple of brief scenes that might spook the youngest viewers, like dinosaur Rex roaring, but otherwise the digital effects are played for laughs (or, as the green squeeze-toy aliens would say, “Oooh … aaah”).

03beauty-and-the-beast

Beauty and The Beast
Age: 5

Parents need to know that Beast’s initial ferocity might scare younger viewers. And once kids have seen his gentle side, they may find scenes of him being hunted and stabbed by Gaston emotionally upsetting. The sequence in which a mob comes after Beast is also quite intense, and there’s a fair bit of cleavage on display during the bar-set “Gaston” number. But kids mature enough for feature-length stories will find this one of the best Disney movies they could spend time with in terms of intelligence, quality, and originality — not to mention having one of Disney’s smartest, most independent heroines. Note: The movie’s 2012 3D theatrical rerelease intensifies the musical numbers like “Be Our Guest” and the waltz scene in “Beauty and the Beast,” but it doesn’t make Beast’s roars or the mob scenes too much scarier than they are in 2D.

04charlottes-web

Charlotte’s Web
Age: 5

Parents need to know Charlotte’s Web is unusually respectful of its much-loved source (E.B. White’s classic novel) and its young audience. While the movie does refer to the farmer’s plan to kill Wilbur for Christmas dinner, the pivotal (and most potentially upsetting) moment is the death of a central character, which is followed by appropriate mourning and recovery by her barnyard friends. Some of the animal characters are initially unfriendly to a new arrival, and Templeton the rat scavenges objects and talks about being selfish and sneaky. Crows attack him, with their point-of-view shots suggesting the danger he’s in. There’s also some name-calling. Loyalty, acceptance, and faith in your friends are important themes of this emotionally-powerful movie.

05finding_nemo

Finding Nemo
Age: 5

Parents need to know that even though there are no traditional bad guys in Finding Nemo, there are still some very scary moments, including large creatures with zillions of sharp teeth, the apparent death of a major character, and many tense scenes with characters in peril. And at the very beginning of the movie, Marlin’s wife and all but one of their eggs are eaten by a predator — a scene that could very well upset little kids. Expect a little potty humor amid the movie’s messages of teamwork, determination, loyalty, and a father’s never-ending love for his son. The issue of Nemo’s stunted fin is handled exceptionally well — matter-of-factly but frankly.

06frozen

Frozen
Age: 5

Parents need to know that Frozen is a Disney animated musical that’s likely to appeal to families with children of all ages. As in many Disney movies, the parents die, here leaving orphaned princesses who must find a way to survive. There are a few other violent scenes that involve men with weapons, snarling wolves, a scary snow monster, a severe storm, and a character who nearly freezes to death. A character falls in love — twice — and ends up sharing two kisses at the end of the story. Messages include unconditional love between sisters after a long estrangement, being true to yourself, recognizing your gifts, and not being afraid of your power.

07lilo_and_stitch

Lilo and Stitch
Age: 5

Parents need to know that some elements of this movie’s cartoon action (including laser battles, gunfire, characters being captured and held hostage, and explosions) — as well as the more bizarre-looking monsters — could be scary for young children and justify the PG rating. Stitch, a small but powerful intergalactic creature, is destructive and angry; he bares his sharp teeth and angry attitude frequently throughout, causing chaos and mayhem wherever he goes. As in many Disney stories, Lilo and her sister Nani are orphans, though the circumstance of their parents’ death is referenced only once. In a break from Disney tradition, there are no unredeemable villains; everyone ultimately learns important life lessons, including the heroes, who are far from perfect when the movie begins.

08mulan

Mulan
Age: 5

Parents need to know that kids under 5 may find some of the scenes in this lush Disney adventure frightening. Mulan becomes a hero and helps her people — but she does so by rebelling against authority. She also learns to fight with weapons. The Huns destroy Chinese villages and kill people (not shown), and some battle scenes are scary and intense.

09totoro

My Neighbor Totoro
Age: 5

Parents need to know that this movie is a fine pick for the entire family. Although there are slightly creepy “dust sprites” that appear in the house at first, they eventually disappear. Totoro himself might look and sound a bit odd, but he’s quite sweet and gentle. The protagonist girls have an ill mother with an unnamed disease, but the moments in the hospital aren’t sad or depressing. Some parents may not feel comfortable with the amount of freedom the girls (as is the case with children in all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films) have to wander off alone, either around their neighborhood, the surrounding forest, or on a long walk to visit their mother. Overall, this is a family film in the truest sense — it appeals to moviegoers young and old alike.

10wall_e

WALL-E
Age: 5

Parents need to know that although this winning Pixar adventure is thoroughly charming and, yes, romantic, the youngest viewers may get a little restless during the atmospheric, virtually dialogue-free first half-hour. They’ll still enjoy it, but — unlike older kids and grown-ups — they won’t be that impressed by how much is said with so few words. But the action (which includes some robot fights, weapons being fired, explosions, and chase scenes) picks up soon enough. Underlying the whole thing are strong environmental messages: Reduce, reuse, recycle, and think about what you’re doing to the planet (and yourself).

What movie is in your Top 10? To read the entire list of movies to see before your kids turn 12, visit Common Sense Media by clicking here.

Common Sense Media is a leading independent nonprofit organization offering the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for everything kids want to watch, play, read, and learn. The ratings, reviews, and information are unbiased and provided for free to help families and educators make great media and technology choices.