The Best Family Films of the Last 25 Years
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- Published on Wednesday, 06 February 2013 09:00
- Last Updated on 21 May 2020
- Jasmine Joynson
- 1 Comment
It’s winter which means it’s cold and frequently raining. This is the time of year when it is acceptable to grab a blanket and snuggle up on the sofa to watch a good film with the kids. It recently occurred to me that a lot of parents with children currently at primary school have not seen family films made in the 90s. Fear not, I have seen pretty much all of them and here is a list of the ones worth watching. I am aware that it’s pretty Disney and Pixar-heavy but that’s because they know how to make a brilliant kids’ film.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
A disdainful prince is transformed into a beast by an enchantress. The only way for him to become human again is to find someone to love him. Years later, Belle dreams of a life filled with adventure and romance but she lives in a sleepy provincial town. Can you guess what happens next? Well, I’m not going to tell you. This is the second Disney film in their second golden age (after The Little Mermaid which didn’t make the list, I’m afraid – feel free to leave an angry comment below). Beauty and the Beast won an Oscar for the song ‘Be Our Guest’ which is sung mainly by furniture. Wonderful.
Aladdin is a street urchin who dreams of wealth and power. Princess Jasmine finds her privileged life restrictive and boring. Everything is going well in this film until Robin Williams turns up as Genie and then it becomes great. I think it’s fair to say that it was this performance that started the trend for casting well-known actors in animation.
If you are a family of dog-lovers then you are probably already aware of this film. If you were not, then you’re welcome. In summation: family fall in love with puppy. Puppy grows into massive St Bernard. Chaos ensues. There are cute children, lots of animal stunts and plenty of ELO’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ in the soundtrack. The sequel, Beethoven’s Second, is also worth watching.
Mrs Doubtfire (1993)
Slightly useless actor Daniel Hillard takes on the role of his life when he disguises himself as the eponymous ‘English’ (we think he means Scottish) nanny, Mrs Doubtfire, in an attempt to spend more time with his children. Robin Williams turns up again and gives a strong performance and the children are pretty good too.
The Secret Garden (1993)
Mary Lennox is sent to live with her emotionally-withdrawn uncle after her neglectful parents die in an earthquake in India. In his house she befriends the gardener, Dickon, and together they discover a locked garden. Maggie Smith is the housekeeper. What more do you want, really?
The Lion King (1994)
Basically it’s Hamlet with lions. Jeremy Irons and Rowan Atkinson voice the two most amusing characters and the songs are fantastic. A warning for those with younger children: one of the major characters does die so you might want to be prepared for that.
A Little Princess (1995)
This is the second Frances Hodgson Burnett adaptation on the list and a truly beautiful film. Sara is forced to move from India to a boarding school in New York when her father is called up to fight in the First World War. There she encounters the strict headmistress, Miss Minchin. Alfonso Cuarón’s direction lifts A Little Princess to the status of modern classic.
A ship sets sail from England and lands in Virginia circa 1607. One of the sailors meets an American Indian princess and the rest is (fairly inaccurate, Disney-style) history. Oh, and there’s a talking tree called Grandmother Willow. What’s not to like?
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
This film has the same name as the Victor Hugo novel. The characters have the same names as those in the Victor Hugo novel. That is pretty much where the similarity ends. It’s a slightly darker Disney film but it’s one of my favourites. Gargoyles sing.
Fox must have seen all the great work Disney was doing and wanted to get in on the action. They did this in fantastic style with Anastasia. A girl who cannot remember her childhood searches for her family. Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Lansbury (who also featured in Beauty and the Beast), Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd and Hank Azaria star. You’ll find yourself humming some of these songs for days after watching it.
George of the Jungle (1997)
This film tells the story of George who survived when, as a baby, his plane crashed into an African jungle. Years later he meets another human and the encounter turns his life upside-down. There are jokes for parents and lots of Brendan Fraser running around in very little clothing (if that’s your kind of thing). Children will like the talking ape (voiced by John Cleese).
The Parent Trap (1998)
This remake of the 1961 film starring Hayley Mills has Lindsay Lohan in the lead roles. 12-year-old Lindsay is on good form here as both Hallie and Annie, the identical twins separated at birth. When they meet at camp they realise what has happened and hatch a plot to reunite their estranged parents (played by Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson). There are pranks, covert operations, an elaborate handshake and a lot of English stereotypes. Lots of fun.
If you haven’t yet encountered Shrek then I will have to assume you’ve been living in a cave somewhere very far away for the past 12 years. It did, of course, have to make the list. Non-stop jokes, a great soundtrack and an A-list cast. The sequels get progressively worse but are by no means bad films.
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Much like Shrek, I would be impressed if you have managed to avoid the boy wizard thus far. In all honesty the eight films that make up the Harry Potter series are patchy. The third (directed by A Little Princess’ Alfonso Cuarón) and seventh instalments stand out as being particularly good. I’m sure many people would disagree with me on that. Costumes, magic, huge sets and some of Britain’s best actors do all work together to make this cultural phenomenon worth sitting through.
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Monsters harness their energy from screams (just go with it) and so there is a massive industry built around scaring children in their rooms at night. The monsters are, in fact, terrified of kids. One day a little girl accidentally makes it into the scream factory when a monster’s door is left open. Billy Crystal, John Goodman and Steve Buscemi really make this film worth watching. The sequel is expected later this year so get up to date soon!
Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar’s extensive research really brings the ocean to life in this story of an anxious father searching for his son. A range of brilliantly-depicted supporting characters (including a hippie turtle, a shark ‘in recovery’ and a forgetful dory) makes Finding Nemo fun to watch again and again.
The Incredibles (2004)
This film follows a family of retired superheroes who are trying to live a normal, suburban life. Desperate for a taste of excitement, Mr Incredible follows up a mysterious summons to a top secret assignment. He soon realises that in order to save the world from complete annihilation, he will need the help of his wife and kids. Cue long debates with your children about which superpower would be the best one to have…
This Pixar film is based approximately 700 years in the future on Earth, which became overrun with rubbish and has since been abandoned. Wall-E has been left behind to tidy up the mess that humans made. Another robot, Eve, arrives to ascertain whether life is able to sustain itself on Earth’s surface once more. Wall-E is thrilled to have company but then one day Eve enters a deactivated state – can he save her? Touching and beautiful this film also carries an important environmental message.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Tiana dreams of opening a restaurant in New Orleans and has been working for years to raise the deposit. When a European prince turns up everything goes a bit wrong… Adults will enjoy the jazz-influenced songs and spotting the various New Orleans-related references.
This film received a lot of attention when it was released and, admittedly, adults seem to love it marginally more than children do. The first 20 minutes may well have you in tears. It’s the beautiful story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly man and a young scout. So much better than it sounds.
The fantastic cast, including Tina Fey, Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt, gets this film off to a great start. Supervillain, Megamind, is euphoric when he defeats his nemesis, Metro Man. He then realises that without an enemy his life lacks purpose.
Despicable Me (2010)
Steve Carrell voices Gru, a criminal mastermind who is in the final stages of planning his most audacious heist yet –stealing the moon. Yet Gru’s life changes when three orphans knock on his door one day. Everyone will love the adorable army of minions.
Disney’s back! And this time they take the Rapunzel fairytale and give it a make-over. There are plenty of funny moments, adorable animated animals and some beautiful scenes involving floating lanterns.
I’m sure I’ve missed out lots of people’s favourite family films. We’d love to know what your recommendations are!
Let us know below what your favourite family films of the last 25 Years are.
Editorial Assistant at London Mums. She loves travelling, food, literature and cinema.