5 best Netflix family movies for both kids and adults

(L to R) Kitty Soft Paws (voiced by Salma Hayek), Perro the dog (Harvey Guillén) and Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

As any harried parent could attest, watching Netflix with kids can be a risky prospect for adults. Make the wrong programming choice, and you might end up with endless viewings of something inane and irritating, yet perfectly designed to captivate the young and impressionable. But there’s plenty of kid-friendly Netflix programming that’s just as entertaining for adults, with the added benefit of providing children with better examples of what to watch when they make their own choices in the future. 

The best family entertainment truly offers something for the whole family, no matter what age. You don’t need little ones around to enjoy these five smart, funny, well-crafted kids movies, which are just as satisfying for adults as they are for their presumed target audience.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Who would have expected a decade-later sequel to a Shrek spinoff to deal directly with the prospect of facing one’s own mortality? That heavy subject weighs on the swashbuckling feline title character, once again voiced by Antonio Banderas, who is pursued by the embodiment of death as a mysterious hooded wolf figure after he comes down to the last of his nine lives.

Even with that grim running theme, The Last Wish is still a lot of fun, with a plot that reunites Puss with his former lover Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) against the demented Jack Horner (John Mulaney) to retrieve a wishing star. The animation is colorful and creative, breaking out of the monotony of mainstream computer-animated films, and the twists on fairy-tale characters are clever and amusing. Kids probably won’t pick up on the existential dread.

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Pee-wee’s Big Holiday

Pee-wee Herman, Alia Shawkat, Stephanie Beatriz, Jessica Pohly in Pee-wee's Big Holiday

(Image credit: Alamy)

From his beginnings on stage in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, Paul Reubens’ Pee-wee Herman was always a distorted adult reflection of a children’s TV host, and that continued even as Pee-wee became an actual star on children’s TV with Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, which marked Reubens’ long-awaited return to the character, maintains that approach, with kid-friendly wacky adventures alongside adult-friendly absurdist comedy.

Big Holiday is another Pee-wee road trip similar to the 1985 classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, once again taking the childlike Pee-wee out of his hometown comfort zone on a cross-country quest. Here, he’s headed to New York City for the birthday party of his new friend, actor Joe Manganiello (playing himself). There are plenty of ridiculous detours along the way, all presented with Reubens’ gently subversive humor.

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Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

(L-R) Gepetto (voiced by David Bradley) and Pinocchio in Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio

(Image credit: Netflix)

Although Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio has been adapted many different times, the Disney animated version looms so large that it often overshadows any other interpretations. Director Guillermo del Toro, known for dark genre films like The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth, easily shakes off those comparisons with his Oscar-winning film, a gorgeous, complex stop-motion animated take on Collodi’s story, co-directed with Mark Gustafson.

Del Toro shifts the story to World War II-era Italy, offering a political allegory about the rise of fascism as he tells the tale of the puppet Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) who longs to be a real boy. Ewan McGregor brings depth to the role of Pinocchio’s protector Sebastian J. Cricket, and the result is a melancholy story about the fleeting nature of life, within the structure of a sweet animated fable.

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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

A scene from Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

(Image credit: Alamy)

The signature creations of stop-motion studio Aardman Animations, hapless inventor Wallace and his endlessly patient dog Gromit carry on a slapstick tradition that goes back to silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. This Oscar-winning feature film expands on the world of the Wallace and Gromit shorts, as the pair are tasked with eliminating pesky rabbit infestations from local vegetable gardens.

As usual, Wallace’s outlandish inventions cause more problems than they solve, resulting in a giant rabbit creature that wreaks havoc. The plot is simple and goofy enough for kids to appreciate, while also filled with witty puns and cinematic references. The elaborate set pieces are so ingeniously constructed that it’s hard not to marvel at every intricate detail, but they’re also funny and exciting on a pure entertainment level, for viewers of any age.

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Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical

Alisha Weir as Matilda in Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical

(Image credit: Dan Smith/Netflix)

Author Roald Dahl takes a bracingly cynical approach to children’s literature, and this adaptation of one of his most popular novels retains that delightful mean streak, while also delivering a crowd-pleasing musical. The movie brings the successful stage musical to the screen, capturing all the appeal of the West End and Broadway hit without feeling stage-bound or overbearing. The songs by Tim Minchin are catchy and energetic, and director Matthew Warchus stages dynamic musical numbers with a fluid visual style.

Musical theater fans will appreciate young Alisha Weir’s star-making performance as the title character, a precocious young girl with telekinetic powers who takes down the evil headmistress of her draconian school. Emma Thompson and Lashana Lynch highlight the adult cast as the monstrous Miss Trunchbull and the serene Miss Honey, in the kind of lavish movie musical that rarely gets made anymore.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is a freelance writer and movie/TV critic based in Las Vegas. He's the former film editor of Las Vegas Weekly and has written about movies and TV for Vulture, Inverse, CBR, Crooked Marquee and more. With comedian Jason Harris, he co-hosts the podcast Awesome Movie Year.