At PetFirst Pet Insurance, we love our animals. AND, we also really love our animal movies. We know we’re not the only ones, so we’ve compiled a fun mix of our favorite top-rated animal movies for kids. And because there’s a kid in all of us, we’ve broken down our list into three categories: The Classics, The 90s, and New Films.
The Classics (Pre-90s)
They might have some age on them, but these movies will never go out of style! These cinematic standards are guaranteed to let relive your childhood so you can share all your favorite memories with your children and four-legged friends alike. Here are some of our favorite animal-centric classics:
- 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Talk about a classic! Who isn’t familiar with the premise of this Disney masterpiece, featuring its titular cast of pups in peril, always eluding the clutches of Cruella de Vil? The interplay between the dogs is endlessly charming, but for many, it’s the over-the-top Cruella who steals the show, so much so that she has become synonymous with the sheer idea of villainy in film. The film’s popularity has proven so endearing that it has undergone four cinematic reissues throughout the decades—one in 1969, one in 1979, one in 1985, and one in 1991—plus a live action remake that is just as popular in its own right. But it all started here, well over 50 years ago!
- The Jungle Book (1967)
This animated musical comedy was inspired by the Rudyard Kipling book of the same name and is so popular that it just received a live-action reboot in 2016. After Mowgli is lost in the jungle as a baby, Bagheera the Panther and Baloo the Bear have a difficult time trying to keep him safe from the tiger Shere Khan, while they convince him to rejoin civilization.
- The Rescuers (1977)
When a message in a bottle makes its way to the Rescue Aid Society, a mouse organization dedicated to the rescue and well-being of anyone in need, it is up to the brave mouse Miss Bianca and the shy janitor Bernard to rescue the little girl Penny from her kidnappers an evil pawn shop owner Madame Medusa and her companion Mr. Snoops. This movie really drives home the message and lesson of helping others even when you don’t know them.
- Milo and Otis (1986)
The quintessential story of friendship: Milo, the cat, and Otis, the dog, grow up together on the same farm as great friends One day they are separated from each other when Milo is playing inside a box floating in the river and accidentally drifts downstream. This is the story of their harrowing trek across mountains, plains, and snow-covered hills to find each other again.
- The Land Before Time (1988)
A sad, but ultimately uplifting story of overcoming tragedy, The Land Before Time has truly stood the test of time. In this movie, Littlefoot, an orphaned brontosaurus, sets off to find the Great Valley. A paradise where the dinosaurs can live in peace. Along the way he meets four other young dinosaurs who have been separated from their families. The group encounters many obstacles along the way as they learn to work together in order to make it to the Great Valley.
Maybe it’s just the collective nostalgia of the millennial generation as they come into adulthood, but the 90s sure did seem like a prolific period for kids’ films—especially ones starring charismatic animals in lead or supporting roles. Even without the classic VHS cases, it’s always fun to relive these late twentieth century gems!
- The Lion King (1994)
Not only is this widely considered one of the best Disney films of the 90s, it’s also widely revered as one of the best films ever produced! So much from this animated landmark has become synonymous with everyday pop culture. Just think of how names like Simba and Mufasa are now familiar to everyone from hardcore Disney fanatics to the most jaded movie haters. While on the surface, the film is about a diverse, colorful collection of African animals, but the depth and complexity of the story and its characters is relatable on a very human level. No wonder it’s such a classic.
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Though not quite as iconic as The Lion King, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey still conjures up many a fond memory for children of the 90s. A group of pets with distinctive (and often clashing) personalities become lost and begin their long journey back to their owners, learning invaluable lessons about companionship and family along the way. The concept is instantly relatable to children, who are often so attached to their four-legged companions, and the film contains just the right amount of peril to be engaging and exciting without becoming frightening.
- Babe (1995)
This widely-acclaimed comedy-drama concentrated on the exploits of Babe, the titular pig with dreams of being a Border Collie so he can help herd sheep with his canine friends on the rural farm he calls home. Featuring impressive animal animatronics carried out by Muppets creator Jim Henson’s renowned Creature Shop, Babe was an unlikely contender at the 68th Academy Awards, where it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director and won Best Visual Effects.
- Air Bud (1997)
This film, starring the real-life Buddy the Wonder Dog, offers plenty of high-flying Disney entertainment while also addressing some weighty issues in a surprisingly mature and poignant manner. After the passing of his father, Josh has a hard time adapting to life in his new town and has trouble making friends with the other children in his class. That all changes when he meets the stray Buddy, a golden retriever with a very particular talent: Playing basketball! What ensues is one of the most emotionally charged and beloved “boy-and-his-dog” films ever created, a movie that expertly balances kinetic, crowd-pleasing entertainment with an impressive level of emotional nuance that eventually created a hugely successful franchise containing over 10 sequels.
- Dr. Dolittle (1998)
Despite a lukewarm reception from critics at the time of its release, this lively fantasy/comedy starring Eddie Murphy was loved by the public and became a huge hit at the box office. It has also gained widespread acceptance over the years as one of the prolific comedian’s most beloved film roles. This remake modernized the 60s musical Doctor Dolittle with a host of familiar celebrity voices who added layers of personality to the animals that the doctor miraculously gains the ability to understand. Throughout the film, Dr. Dolittle becomes closer to his new family of uproarious animal friends as well as his actual family, all the while learning all the hallmark life lessons essential to any family film along.
New Films (2000 – Present)
Classics from the 90s and before really have a lot going for them—they’re classics, after all! But there are a also a ton of fantastic family movies that have been made in the last 20 years, especially ones that utilized the beautiful CG animation that has now become the industry standard. Fortunately, for many of these, you don’t have to wait for the Disney vault to open up again to add them to your collection!
- Finding Nemo (2003)
One of the most iconic children’s movies of the decade, Finding Nemo is about Marlin, a clownfish, and his son, Nemo, who live in the Great Barrier Reef. After Nemo travels into the open sea he is caught by a scuba diver and and sent to live in a dentist’s office (P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney). Marlin must leave the reef where he feels safe to find Nemo and bring him home. On his travels he befriends Dory, a blue tang suffering from short-term memory loss, and encounters many dangerous sea creatures such as sharks, anglerfish and jellyfish in his quest to get Nemo home safely.
- Madagascar (2005)
This movie is hilarious—it starts out like a joke and the laughs just keep coming. A lion, a zebra, a giraffe, and a hippo are best friends at New York’s Central Park Zoo. When one of them goes missing the other three break free to look for him, only to find themselves reunited on a ship heading to Africa.
- Happy Feet (2006)
Parents, take note: you will cry during this movie. If you are not a parent but are over the age of 15, also take note: you will cry during this movie. It will literally give you all the feels! This Australian-American fantasy film is beautifully animated and has life lessons throughout. It focuses on the life of Mumble, an emperor penguin who cannot sing, but can tap dance better than Fred Astaire could ever dream! Every emperor penguin sings a unique ‘heartsong’ to find a mate. If two penguins have matching songs, that means they’re meant to be together. But Mumble can’t sing! In addition to these issues, Mumble and his penguin friends must face a lean fishing season and ever-increasing human encroachment. Bottom line: children are going to love Mumble and the boisterous music featured in the film; big kids are going to pick up on and relate to the powerful underlying message; and grownups are just going to cry. In the best way possible, though.
- The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Who hasn’t dreamed of kissing a frog and turning him into a prince? Loosely based on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Frog Prince,” this rip-roaring adventure follows Tiana, Prince Naveen, and their ragtag group of misfits as Tiana works to build a life her father would be proud of. The film pays homage to New Orleans and its rich history, religion, and, most prominently of all, its music. The film is also notable for being Disney’s first traditionally animated film in over a decade, and the only non computer animated film in the New Films section!
- Zootopia (2016)
Zootopia is the story of Judy Hopps of Bunnyburrow who fulfills her childhood dream of becoming the first rabbit police officer in Zootopia. Despite all her achievements in police academy, Judy is relegated to parking duty. That is, until she meets an unlikely friend, a fox by the name of Nick Wilde. They have to team up to save Zootopia from an illness that is making all its citizens turn into wild animals again. It’s a play on the old saying, “Never judge a book by it’s cover.”