Defining “family friendly” can be somewhat of a moving target. In my own household, as our kids get older, our definition has shifted. Compare our parameters for “family friendly” to those of our neighbors, and by comparison, we will be labeled overly strict at times and hedonistic libertines at other times. For the sake of this article, I’ve drawn the parameters of “family friendly” tightly—no cussing, no sexuality, no non-comical violence, etc. Also, for the sake of winnowing the list down, I haven’t included animated films or films that meet my semi-arbitrary standards but were not produced with children in mind (think The Sound of Music—a great movie, but not one that was produced with kids as its primary market). Keeping in mind this article’s definition of “family friendly,” let me know if the movies listed below make your list of the best family-friendly movies of all time.
7. The Parent Trap
This should go without saying, but I’m talking about the original, Hayley Mills’ The Parent Trap, not the Lindsay Lohan version. I recently re-watched the original movie and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The implausible yet comical situations that the quirky, varied characters find themselves in are fun for the entire family. Plus, and very importantly, The Parent Trap celebrates the traditional family unit.
6. Old Yeller
Beloved by parents and kids alike for generations, Old Yeller is a classic tale of the bond between a boy and his dog. Filled with heartwarming tales and adventures, Old Yeller concludes with one of the most iconic tear-jerker endings of all time.
5. The Apple Dumpling Gang
The comedic team of Tim Conway and Don Knotts may be unparalleled in comedic brilliance. Set the duo of Conway and Knotts into a story about a group of orphans who discover gold, setting into motion the entire town’s desire to adopt the kids, and Disney created a massive hit in the ’70s. Families are still enjoying this family-friendly movie masterpiece.
4. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Like the first offering on this list, I mean the original. While I enjoyed (somewhat) the Johnny Depp remake, the 2005 movie pales in comparison to the Gene Wilder classic. It’s rare that movies capture the magic and wonder of the book (setting aside the fact that Roald Dahl rejected the movie because of some of the changes), but Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is as delightfully captivating and fun as the book. Not to mention that Wilder’s Willy Wonka is as close to perfect as a screen performance can get.
Leading up to the mega-hit Frozen, Disney discovered through focus testing that kids love movies about orphans (as a parent, I don’t really want to know the reason why). I’m not sure if previous generations of Disney executives did similar focus testing, but some of their biggest hits featured orphans. The delightful Pollyanna about a precocious orphan who turns her town upside down is one of the most beloved family-friendly movies of all time.
2. The Wizard of Oz
The decision to switch from black and white to color once Dorothy entered the magical land of Oz was brilliant! Granted, the movie as a whole is brilliant. But adding color to Oz as a way of contrasting with the drabness of “real life” taps directly into the imagination of children. No kid cares that adults argue over whether or not the book was written as a political allegory. They only care that Dorothy, a child, enters a magical world and goes on an epic journey with colorful characters.
1. Mary Poppins
Mary Poppins isn’t just a great family-friendly movie, it’s simply a great movie. The original trailer declares that Mary Poppins is “the story of the world’s most delightful heroine whose Magical and Wonderful ways transform each member of the family with whom she comes to reside.” I would add that “each member of the family” not only refers to the family onscreen but the members of the families that watch this wonderful movie.