by Kendra Ann Sherrill
Step into a world of fantasy and fairytale with this list of my top picks for fantasy family films! As I am getting geared up for the 18th Annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle, happening February 3-12, 2023, I find myself with fantasy films on the brain — after all, this year’s festival theme is fantasy and fairytale! While this genre includes hundreds of fantastical films, these few flicks have a little extra sparkle that puts them above the rest for me personally.
10. The Magic Flute (2022)
Now, this may be cheating a bit since this film has yet to come out (although you can catch a very special screening of it at CFFS on Feb 12!), but once you are able to see it, you will see why this film is on my list! Based on the 1791 opera of the same name, this German fantasy musical film has a little bit of everything: adventure, monsters, princesses, a school in a castle (very reminiscent of Hogwarts), and, above all, singing! (It is an opera after all.) The Magic Flute will take your family on a magical musical journey!
9. Labyrinth (1986)
Another musical fantasy film makes this list! This time, it’s the 1986 Jim Henson classic starring David Bowie that has always lovingly haunted my dreams! This film embraces the notion that childhood can be a scary and dangerous place as it takes us on a journey full of twists and turns (literally). Although a bit frightening at times, the film keeps up a playful weirdness that makes it charming and nostalgic for viewers. And, of course, the characters and set pieces in this weirdly wonderful world are truly puppetry at its finest!
8. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
A cute and cozy alternative to the typical fantasies that are full of villains, fight scenes, and monsters is the Hayao Miyazaki classic My Neighbor Totoro. Instead of having conflict or an antagonist, the film embraces exploration and curiosity as two sisters have adventures with neighboring forest spirits. This film is a good introduction to the Ghibli Studios universe of animated films!
7. Wizard of Oz (1939)
Ok, I might have a thing for musical films, but I’m sure most folks would agree with me that Wizard of Oz is essential viewing for all families at some point! From a filmmaking point of view, the film is stunning – vibrant technicolor brings to life the costumes and set pieces in a way that had never really been done before. It fills our imagination with ruby slippers, flying monkeys, and friendships that know no bounds.
6. Enchanted (2007)
I’ve always quite enjoyed this film and its modern twist on fairytale storytelling along with its catchy musical numbers. The film begins as a classic Disney animated film and quickly is thrown into the reality of a live-action world, all while keeping the rules and charms of a fantasy animation. It is a delightful musical comedy for families to enjoy!
5. Mary Poppins (1964)
Mary Poppins makes us believe that magic in our world is possible! This supernatural nanny has sung and danced her way into family movie nights for generations, and for good reason. The film expertly weaves together live-action and animation to tell the fantastical story of the Banks children and their cheerful nanny, showing us that trying your best can really make a positive impact in the world!
4. Paddington 2 (2018)
Ok, ok, this might not be a full-fledged fantasy film. But its story world does involve a talking bear living among society, so it counts! This movie will always be on my top list of family films of all time, so it had to make this list. This film is just so incredibly kind – it is like a big warm hug every time you watch it. Not only is the filmmaking spectacular, but the film as a whole is a cozy dose of positive escapism that we all need. It will inspire you to take care of each other and share a marmalade sandwich with your friends and family.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
This is another film that is not quite a fairytale, but it certainly has fantastical elements and mysterious lore. Pirates of the Caribbean has a very big place in my heart because it was the movie that made me want to be a filmmaker! I vividly remember being whisked away to the world of high sea adventures and found myself amazed by the costumes, sword fights, and grand set pieces. It’s a lot to take in, especially for younger viewers, so I’d say introduce this swashbuckling adventure to slightly older kiddos when they are ready to dive into the magical world of pirates!
2. Shrek (2001)
Shrek is the ultimate anti-fairytale fantasy film! By being overtly tongue and cheek and playful, it provides all the things we love about fairytales – a magical quest, romance, mythological creatures – and presents them in a charmingly crude and satirical package. Everyone will giggle their way through this magical journey about being true to yourself.
1. The Princess Bride (1987)
This film has cemented itself into pop culture history as one of the ultimate fairytale films. Enjoyed by younger viewers for the story’s spellbinding adventure and by adults for its clever humor, Princess Bride is on the top of my list! The film takes us through a daring adventure, warms our hearts with a love story, and makes us laugh at every twist and turn. I feel this film is essential viewing for all kiddos, especially since they are most likely to stumble up references to this film throughout their entire lifetime!