For everyone My Favourite Things: Calming movies for kids in lockdown

  • By Myke Bartlett
  • This article was published more than 3 years ago.
  • 10 Jun 2020

Kids cooped up during lockdown? We have unearthed a library of gentle but enthralling films that won’t leave young ones dizzy.


Flight of the Navigator (1986) is the perfect antidote to the fast-paced, apocalyptic, high-stakes exhaustathons of the Avengers and Star Wars franchises. David is a typical 12-year-old, until he falls down a ravine and wakes up to find he’s time-travelled eight years forward, meaning his annoying younger brother is now older than him. It turns out he’s been off travelling the universe with an intelligent spaceship (voiced by Pee Wee Herman), who now needs his help again to find his way home. Although there are some complex ideas, the story is remarkably simple, with echoes of E.T. but with far less sentimentality and emotional trauma.

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Hugo Clever and engaging adventure for a young orphan celebrating the early treasures of cinema.
Willow Slightly dark fantasy epic in which an aspiring sorcerer journeys to protect a baby from an evil queen. See also Krull.
The Princess Bride 80s classic pokes loving fun at classic tales of derring-do and love everlasting.
Honey I Shrunk The Kids Hailing from a lost age of physical effects, this small-scale quest sees shrunken kids attempt to make it alive across their backyard.

Classic tales

Alongside The Railway Children (1970) and The Secret Garden (1993), Swallows and Amazons (1974) offers a seductive portrait of a lost kind of childhood in which parents were to be rarely seen or heard. Four siblings are given permission to go off sailing on one of England’s most picturesque lakes, where they discover an island and make rivals of a pair of piratical sisters. Modern kids films often feel obliged to mimic the dramatic peaks of adult thrillers, but here the drama is perfectly child-sized. It’s a shame the recent remake didn’t trust in the appeal of simpler adventures, adding a superfluous subplot about Russian spies and a daft race along a moving train.

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Playing Beatie Bow Ruth Park’s timeslip adventure sees a young girl travel back to 1870s Sydney.
The Water Babies Offbeat mixture of live action and animation from the director of The Railway Children.
Swiss Family Robinson Old school desert island adventure in which a daring Alpine family defend themselves from pirates, tigers and sharks while building a deluxe treehouse.
Jason and the Argonauts A thrilling reworking of Greek mythology with stop-motion animation by wizard Ray Harryhausen.


Japan’s Studio Ghibli have mastered a particular brand of surreal fantasy. Spirited Away (2001) is probably the studio’s best known effort, but My Neighbour Totoro (1988) provides a more comforting port of entry to its twisted worlds. Two young sisters move with their father to a remote country cottage and discover the place – and the neighbouring wood – is infested with spirits. Unusually for a magical world, there is little peril, with the creatures such as the many-legged cat bus more cuddly than creepy.

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Ernest & Celestine A mouse and a bear embark on a life of crime in this charming tale of decency and unlikely friends.
Fantastic Mr Fox Wes Anderson’s stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s kids classic has an appealing homespun feel.
Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon Aardman’s silent ovine hero befriends an alien in a surprisingly funny and emotionally nuanced sequel.
Ratatouille Pixar’s eighth film sees an intelligent rat flout health and safety regulations by becoming a great chef.



Set in the ruins of post-war Paris, The Red Balloon (1956) is a short and near-silent French cinema classic, infused with humour, love and glimpses of the best and worst of humanity. Despite – or because of – its picture-book simple narrative, the climax certainly packs a punch of bittersweet emotion. An otherwise friendless young boy is befriended by the eponymous magical balloon. Nobody else seems to understand their friendship and, ultimately, the other boys in the neighbourhood become jealous.

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Storm Boy Another lonely boy befriends an Indigenous man and is given a pelican chick which becomes a feathered pal.
Kes Ken Loach classic about another lonely boy and a bird – this time a kestrel.
Danny: Champion of the World Danny and his father outsmart the local rich bully in this charming Roald Dahl adaptation.
The Secret of Roan Inish A young girl is sent away to live with her grandparents and discovers her family’s selkie history.


The production of The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) might now be tinged with controversy over accusations of animal cruelty, but there’s still a kind of magic to its story of an unlikely friendship between a kitten and a pug as they travel across the Japanese countryside. Narrated by comedian Dudley Moore and pieced together from four years’ worth of footage, their journey is part nature-documentary, part comedy-drama. Remarkably for a film starring animals, both protagonists survive (though the four-legged actors may not have been so lucky).

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The Fox and the Child A 10-year-old girl befriends a fox but learns wild things can’t always be tamed in this enchanting French film, narrated by Kate Winslet.
Babe A pig retrains as a sheepdog after learning his true purpose on the farm. Sure to put young viewers off their ham sandwiches.
Fly Away Home Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin star in this vaguely true tale about a groundbreaking attempt to lead Canadian geese on a successful migration.
Black Beauty Some top-notch British talent prop up the 1994 adaptation of Anna Sewell’s classic equine novel.


Earworms from The Jungle Book (1967) and Mary Poppins (1964) continue to infect new generations of young viewers, despite recent underwhelming remakes. Singin In The Rain (1952) is aimed at an older audience, but its joyful air makes it perfect family viewing. Frequently name-checked as the “greatest musical of all-time”, the satirical comedy tells the story of Hollywood making the jump from silent movies to talkies, with a bit of screwball romance thrown in.

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Umbrellas of Cherbourg Starring Catherine Deneuve as a teenage shopgirl, this colourful French new wave classic was a big influence on recent Oscar winner La La Land.
Wizard of Oz Still one of the most magical introductions to the wonder and possibilities of cinema, as Dorothy leaves behind a monochrome existence for Technicolor adventure.
Grease The sexual politics might be questionable, but this pastiche of 50s pop culture remains terrific fun.
That Thing You Do Gentle and nostalgic tale of a one-hit wonder band from the 60s, with music by the late Adam Schlesinger.


A silent movie from 1936 might not be an obvious choice for young children, but Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is packed full of laughs, pathos and quite breathtaking stunts – the rollerskating scene, in which a blindfolded Chaplin appears to skate towards and around the edge of a precipice, will glue viewers of any age to the edge of their seats. Adults might appreciate the social commentary, but kids will enjoy the superbly choreographed slapstick (the most timeless and pure form of comedy).

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The Pink Panther Strikes Again Probably the most relentlessly amusing of the Clouseau films, with Peter Sellers proving himself a fitting heir to Chaplin’s legacy of slapstick.
The Titfield Thunderbolt This warm-hearted Ealing Comedy sees a cast of misfits from a small English village try to save their branch line from closure.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Matthew Broderick fulfils teenage fantasies of independence and misadventure.
The Parent Trap Reunited at summer camp, two estranged twins attempt to get their parents back together. The 1999 remake updates some of the dated gender roles.

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