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The Best Family Movies Of 2021

As 2021 draws to a close, there's no better time to look back on all the incredible movies released in the past year. And if you're looking for a film that is suitable for the whole family, there are plenty of excellent options to choose from.

This year saw the release of a number of previously delayed films, and the rise of straight-to-streaming titles as the film world adapted to all the changes brought on by the pandemic. Movies — as they so often do — have continued to provide the perfect escapism, and whatever your age might be, watching something wholesome and family-friendly has been particularly comforting in a time of ongoing uncertainty.

You may have watched in the comfort of your own home, or ventured back into theatres, but either way there have been plenty of family films to satisfy all your needs. Whether it is returning favorites, new heroes, reimagined villains, or animated musicals, we've got you covered with the best family movies of 2021.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Everybody's favorite pineapple-dwelling sponge may have received a bit of a make-over for this all-CGI animated movie, but all the elements of the original show — and its subsequent spin-off movies — are still right where you left them.

Fans of SpongeBob Squarepants will be impressed by the slick new stylized animation and delighted by all the zany and goofy humor that you know and love. "Sponge on the Run" really is the film that has it all, from Keanu Reeves as a wise tumbleweed (yes, you did read that correctly) to a song-and-dance number involving "flesh-eating cowboy pirate zombies."

If that description didn't already send you there, then the rest of the film will make you feel like you're in some kind of fever-dream — but in the best possible way. The plot involves SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) heading off in search of SpongeBob's pet snail Gary, who has been snatched by the vain and villainous Poseidon (Matt Berry).

There's so much packed into this film that it is one you'll want to watch again and again. Kids will love the wacky adventure and silliness, while there's plenty of sight gags — and some surprisingly adult references — to keep older audiences entertained. While director Tim Hill was disappointed with the film's release, it still did well with critics, with Kristy Puchko at IGN calling it "a winsomely wacky good time, alive with laughs and light-hearted lunacy."

Raya and the Last Dragon

There's been a huge evolution in Disney princesses over the years, from the more passive ones who needed to be saved by the handsome prince to the headstrong and independent ones who've proved they're more than capable of saving themselves. Raya definitely falls into the second category, and her story is completely devoid of any romantic subplot. Set in the fictional land of Kumandra, Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is tasked with finding the last dragon, in order to unite the warring factions and defeat the evil spirits known as the Druun.

In many ways, "Raya and the Last Dragon" was groundbreaking as a Disney movie, with an almost entirely Asian cast and a creative team largely made up of women. Producer Osnat Shurer said of the film's production staff, "The more people of different genders, backgrounds, and ethnicities are in the room, the more of ourselves we'll see on the screen, which is incredibly exciting."

"Raya" was also notable for being the first Disney movie made at home, as the pandemic forced filmmakers to find new ways of working, which included the voice actors building makeshift recording booths in their homes, closets, or wherever they could find. This unique set of circumstances around the production and release of "Raya" makes the message of the film, about the importance of unity and togetherness, even more potent. The film itself is exquisitely animated, funny, heart-warming, and easily one of the best family films of 2021.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines

After the success of "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," Sony Animation managed to strike gold again with the wacky "The Mitchells vs. The Machines," a timely film about a family trying to connect while a global robot uprising threatens the very existence of humanity.

The film focuses on eldest daughter Katie (Abbi Jacobson), who is on the verge of moving to California to go to film school. Her father Rick (Danny McBride) decides that the Mitchells need one last bonding experience, so he plans to drive Katie there with the rest of the clan on a family road trip. Meanwhile, tech billionaire Mark Bowman (Eric André) is unveiling his new home help robots to replace the obsolete AI known as PAL (Olivia Colman). PAL, outraged at this decision, orders the robots to capture the humans and launch them into space.

This quirky comedy is packed with fun movie references and nods in the form of Katie's unique films, and offers lots of gags and touching family moments that everyone will love. The animation style is energetic and features some truly memorable scenes, including one with a giant Furby that will ensure you never look at the toy in the same way again. The film has been highly praised, particularly in the way it handles LGBTQ+ representation, with Michelle Yang for NBC News saying, "The movie embraces queer representation beyond anything Disney has ever been willing to do in its animated movies."


Continuing Disney's trend of live-action reboots, this slick re-imagining of the fur-loving villain from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" presented us with a punky, anarchic version of the one and only Cruella de Vil. Played by Emma Stone, we meet the future dog-napper when she is an aspiring fashion designer in 1970s London, known as Estella.

Estella's talents soon bring her to the attention of Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), a legendary haute couture designer who offers the young Estella a job that eventually leads to a bitter rivalry. While you could argue whether we needed an origin story for Cruella, there is no denying that the film is a huge amount of fun. Both Emma Stone and Emma Thompson competitively chew the scenery at every opportunity, and the lavish costumes ensure it is always gorgeous to look at.

"Cruella" struck a chord with critics and audiences, with many praising it as one of the best Disney live-action adaptations to date. Critic Ben Travis praised the film in Empire, calling it an "unexpectedly cinematic crime-and-couture romp." Originally scheduled for release in December 2020, "Cruella" was pushed back to 2021, and was one of the films Disney+ offered through its Premier Access service. The film did also have a theatrical release, making over $233 million worldwide. "Cruella" was so well-received that a sequel has been green-lit with Emma Stone, director Craig Gillespie, and writer Tony McNamara all expected to return.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

After the success of 2018's "Peter Rabbit," it was inevitable that the mischievous bunny would be back — but the pandemic made us wait a little longer than we would have liked. Initially set to arrive in February 2020, "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway" faced a number of delays before finally being released in June 2021.

The film sees the return of Peter (James Corden) and pals as the naughty bunny heads to the big city for a new adventure. For kids, the animal antics will provide endless entertainment, and for the adults, there is a surprisingly meta self-awareness to the film that is definitely more aimed at the parents — particularly those who perhaps weren't so keen on the first film.

Despite the silliness and slapstick, there is a good heart to the film, as we see Peter going on a journey to become a much better-behaved bunny. This redemptive arc was somewhat missing from the first film, and its inclusion in "The Runaway" was something that critics appreciated, including Courtney Howard for Variety, who called it a "superior sequel."

The power of the bunny is not to be underestimated, as it was one of the key films on the calendar that theaters were relying upon to bring back the crowds. While it didn't perform as well as the first film, it still made around $152 million, impressive enough to ensure that this probably won't be the last we see of Peter.


Along with "Soul," Pixar's previous offering, "Luca" was one of the films that went straight to Disney+ and bypassed even Premier Access, as the studio experimented with new ways of releasing titles post-lockdown. It was a decision that angered many staff members as they felt it devalued their hard work. It remains to be seen whether this is something that Disney will continue with if theaters stay open, but however audiences saw "Luca," it doesn't take away from the fact that it is another strong offering from Pixar.

Pixar has been delighting — and emotionally devastating – audiences for more than 25 years, consistently providing something for everyone with their wholesome family classics. "Luca" isn't going to rip your heart out in the way some Pixar movies have done, but it is undeniably sweet with a heartwarming central story about friendship and acceptance that is impossible not to be charmed by.

The film focuses on the friendship between Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who on the surface appear to be two ordinary young boys but beneath the water, are sea monsters. Set in the gorgeous sun-soaked Italian riviera, "Luca" has a transportive effect, with the beautiful landscapes making you long for your summer holidays. Despite the connections that some fans made with "Call Me By Your Name," "Luca" remains a family-friendly offering that is not only one of the year's best family films, but one of 2021's best films.

Jungle Cruise

Joining the likes of "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Haunted Mansion," Disney delivered its latest theme-park-to-movie adaptation with the rip-roaring action-adventure film "Jungle Cruise." Based on the popular ride of the same name, the film sees scientist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) embark on a river voyage with her brother (Jack Whitehall) and boat skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) as they try to find the Tree of Life.

"Jungle Cruise" is a fun throwback adventure movie that is evidently inspired by classics such as "The African Queen," "Romancing the Stone," and the "Indiana Jones" franchise. With the inclusion of stars such as Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, it feels fresh and exciting for modern audiences. One of the most admirable things about the film is how well it translates the references and tone of the original ride into the film, with the puns and one-liners very much present -– something that will no doubt please the fans.

Delayed to summer 2021, the film had a simultaneous theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access release, making it the last Disney film to do so. The film performed well at the box office, making just over $219 million and ensuring a sequel got the green light. Some of the reviews may have been mixed, but audiences loved it, with the film currently boasting a 92% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Packed with action, quips, and tons of bad puns, "Jungle Cruise" has everything you need for a fun family film.


No one has had a busier year than Lin-Manuel Miranda, who released his directorial debut, "tick, tick... BOOM!," oversaw the release of the screen adaptation of "In The Heights," and provided the songs for animated adventures including Disney's "Encanto" and "Vivo." If his schedule wasn't already full enough, in "Vivo" he also provides the voice of the titular character, a kinkajou with a passion for music.

The story begins in Havana, Cuba, where Vivo and his owner Andrés Hernández (Juan de Marcos González) perform their music on the streets. When Andrés receives a letter from his lost-love Marta (Gloria Estefan), Vivo, accompanied by wild child Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), travels to Miami to find Marta and deliver the love song that Andrés wrote for her. Incorporating the Latin and Cuban music style of its setting, the film has a bounce and energy with catchy songs and an undeniably sweet message about love and the power of music.

Parents be warned, "My Own Drum" is an absolute ear-worm and you'll be hearing a lot of it after watching the film. But like the rest of the songs, it is vibrant, fun, and memorable so you'll probably love it as much as kids do. With a certified fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, "Vivo" proved to be a hit, with Reel Views critic James Berardinelli saying, "This is one of the best, if not the best, animated films to have gone directly to Netflix."

Petite Maman

With her latest offering, Céline Sciamma has not only given us one of the best films of the year, but a film that may just provide the perfect entry point to get young viewers into world cinema, away from the many animated offerings. "Petite Maman" has a compact running time of around 72 minutes and tells the story of a young girl called Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) who, after recently losing her grandmother, befriends Marion (Gabrielle Sanz), whom she meets playing in the woods.

This exquisite film offers a child-friendly exploration of grief in a way that few other films do, told with a lens full of wonder and imagination. While grounded in very real themes, there is a fantastical atmosphere to the picture as well, meaning it will easily enrapture audiences of any age. In finding inspiration for her film, Sciamma turned to the legendary Studio Ghibli director Hayao Miyazaki, telling Empire magazine, "I used him as a compass. He takes children seriously, he takes female characters seriously. He has a serious connection to nature. Sometimes to solve a question on set I would ask, 'What would Miyazaki do?'"

After its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in March 2021, "Petite Maman" has continued to receive positive reviews. Mark Kermode, film critic for The Guardian, also highlighted the Miyazaki connections, saying that "you can feel the timeless energy of Studio Ghibli's finest features” in the film and calling it a "heartbreakingly hopeful fairytale for all ages."


2021 can now be added to the list of rare years that have seen two Walt Disney Animation Studios releases, with "Raya and The Last Dragon" and now "Encanto" arriving in the same year. "Encanto" marks the 60th film for the studio and introduces us to the Madrigal family, their superhuman powers, and their extraordinary house.

At the center of the film is Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is faced with the difficulty of being the only person in her family who doesn't have powers. The film is all about family, and while it proudly wears its Colombian identity, there is something identifiable and universal in the dynamics depicted on screen. The animation of "Encanto" is dizzyingly imaginative, with Disney seemingly on an unstoppable mission to one-up themselves with every new release. The magical "Casa" which is home to the Madrigal family is a Pandora's box of imagination and wonder that is a testament to the team of talented animators tasked with bringing it to life.

The hardest working man in showbiz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, provides the songs for "Encanto," continuing his journey with Disney after previously working on "Moana." As well as the memorable songs, the film has all the elements you know and love about Disney films, all while feeling like a continuous step in the right direction in terms of representation and diversity. Mark Kennedy, writing for the Associated Press, calls "Encanto," "a triumph in every category."

A Boy Called Christmas

Based on the book of the same name by best-selling author Matt Haig, "A Boy Called Christmas" is a late entry into the year's best family films, offering up a delightful festive fairytale with a powerful message of spreading kindness, joy, and hope — a sentiment for all seasons, not just Christmas.

With a starry cast that includes Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Sally Hawkins, and young newcomer Henry Lawfull, the film offers an alternative origin story of Father Christmas filled with talking critters, lavish costumes, and snowy scenes. Matt Haig's books often openly talk about mental health and while this is more subtly woven into "A Boy Called Christmas," it is still very much present. Haig described it in an interview with The Big Issue as "a story about grief and loss, and how you find hope after those things."

The film has a wonderful sense of curiosity to it as it explores the complicated emotions associated with loss, and while older children and adults may find something to grapple with regarding those themes, there's still plenty for younger kids to enjoy, with the cutest talking mouse outside of a Disney movie and plenty of adventure.

Widely available to stream, "A Boy Called Christmas" is a festive treat that everyone can enjoy, and it has so far received favorable critic reviews. Nell Minow, writing for RogerEbert.com, called it "a resplendent Santa Claus origin story." It currently has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Even before you dive into "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," it is already positioned as the perfect family film. The original "Ghostbusters" came out in 1984, and there's a distinct possibility that those who loved that film when they were kids may now have kids of their own who will see this version with them. The making of the movie itself is also a family affair, with Jason Reitman directing the film — following in the footsteps of his father Ivan, who directed the original "Ghostbusters" and its sequel.

Despite feeling the pressure to continue his father's legacy, Jason Reitman has acknowledged how deeply personal this film was for him, saying in an interview with Insider, "I made this movie for my dad. I made this movie for my daughter. I think it mirrors the ways that we want to be connected to each other."

Much like the connection between Jason Reitman and his father, the story of "Afterlife" revolves around this idea of familial legacy, focusing on the estranged daughter and grandchildren of original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). The film manages to strike the perfect balance of the new and the nostalgic, offering plenty of nods to the original film as well as ushering in the new blood in the form of Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor Spengler (Finn Wolfhard). In the same way that the original movie offered something for everybody, "Afterlife" manages to tick all the boxes for a family-friendly outing, offering laughs, thrills, and scares in equal measure.