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For the fortunate among us not exhibiting coronavirus symptoms but sheltering in place to help flatten the curve, life is filled with odd new challenges — especially for parents trying to keep kids occupied between bursts of remote school — if they have it — and endless screen time.

Where I live, in Ohio, that’s meant a series of family movie nights (and afternoons), through which we’ve discovered that many of the nostalgic ’80s and ’90s films that had seemed fun to share with our kids are shockingly problematic by 2020 standards. (Flipping on “Encino Man,” which I remembered as innocent idiocy, resulted in a conversation with my kids about not normalizing rape culture.) Even contemporary movies geared toward young kids often lack strong relationships between female characters or focus on chasing Prince Charmings.

While it’s worthwhile to discuss cultural norms with kids, as is age-appropriate, there’s also so much going on right now that it helps to have a movie in your queue that you can just flip on, no follow-ups needed. The Venn diagram between kid-friendly movies and those that pass the Bechdel test’s bare minimum standards may feel slim, but there are options other than “Frozen,” which most of us have seen enough times by now to act out (at an appropriate social distance) for the neighbors.

Try these 11 films instead.


Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

The 1996 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book was co-written by two women screenwriters and snaps with everyday injustice — a girl whose parents stifle her potential through neglect, a beastly principal who hurls children around like shotputs — and does so in a way that is farcical enough that kids can laugh at the adults’ foibles and character flaws. In a reflection of the powerlessness that kids may be feeling right now, Matilda’s father at one point tells her, “I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.” But together with her teacher, Miss Honey, Matilda finds that “you should believe in whatever power you think you have inside of you.”


Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

The 2014 remake updates the musical’s standards with new arrangements — a version of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” that will make any kid want to fake-clean and dance — and substitutes the squeaky carrottop with Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis as the show’s eponymous lead. It’s a more diverse cast, featuring Jamie Foxx as a wealthy New York City mayoral candidate (Daddy Warbucks becomes a mobile phone company magnate), and Wallis’s Annie is a big-hearted foster kid who stays a few steps ahead of the adults in her life, including her boozy foster mom, Ms. Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). Like the original, it’s a story about finding family.


Watch on Disney Plus

Released in 2012, during the Disney Princess heyday, “Brave” tells the story of a princess named Merida who recoils from a contest with her hand in marriage as the prize. The story is largely centered on Merida’s conflict with her mother, Elinor, over marriage customs, and both grow as their relationship evolves. The movie’s resolution — with Merida and her suitors being allowed to choose their own spouses but, it seems, not duck out of marriage entirely — may not feel progressive a decade on, but it can spark thoughtful conversations about choice with younger kids.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase

Watch on HBO Now

Other than some stilted poor-little-mean-girl dialogue and an unnecessary makeover, 2019’s “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” delivers the expected plot twists and layered mystery that anyone who grew up reading the books will appreciate. Nancy is moral and brave, her friends smart and willing to help, and Nancy’s relationships with adult women healthy and multidimensional. While there’s a particular joy to be had envisioning having a crafty pal like Nancy to help ferret out an online troll, the film effectively interrogates whether it’s worth it to sink to a creep’s level.

‘Spirited Away’

Buy on Amazon Prime

It’s probably not a film for kids who are easily scared by the unknown or who have separation anxiety, but for those who love adventure and mystery, Hayao Miyazaki’s globally acclaimed “Spirited Away” (2001) is a beautiful journey through a resort for supernatural entities. Ten-year-old main character Chihiro (renamed Sen in the spirit realm) has been compared to Alice in her wonderland and Dorothy in Oz, and the story is about the courage required as we come of age. (It’s also worth looking to Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” and Kiki’s “Delivery Service.”)

‘Ramona and Beezus’

Watch on HBO Now

This is a cotton-candied version of Beverly Cleary’s books, more a set of snapshots of adorable messes rather than Ramona’s irascible emotional life. But, right now, being sunny and light greatly ups the watchability index of any movie. Ramona (Joey King) and her big sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) navigate their father’s job loss (and the plots from about eight books). The film drifts above some of the legitimate fear around financial hardship, but for this moment, that distance from hard reality seems a comfort worth offering kids living through a global pandemic.

‘Addams Family’

Rent or buy on Amazon Prime

This 2019 animated re-re- (how many times now?)-re-make focuses mostly on young Wednesday Addams’s impulse to draw away from her family’s norms in a planned suburb, called Assimilation, where adults and children are pressured to fit in. There’s a side plot, too, where little brother Pugsley preps for his mazurka (akin to a monster bar mitzvah). It’s just weird enough, and Wednesday centers the plot as she tries out gateway colors like pink, testing her family’s gothic traditions.


Watch on Netflix

The heart of this 2016 animated film is Félicie, a young orphan who runs off to Paris to fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer. While the underdog-winning-their-way-in-sport story line is formulaic, any kid besotted by ballet will probably love watching Félicie learn to master increasingly difficult skills. Her mentor and the source of her central conflict are both women, leading to lessons in work ethic from one and competition from the other.

‘Captain Marvel’

Watch on Disney Plus

Featuring important relationships between Carol Danvers and mentor Dr. Wendy Lawson, Danvers and her best friend Maria, and Maria and her daughter Monica Rambeau (who grows up to earn her own superheroine cred), “Captain Marvel” fittingly passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Plus, with its ’90s soundtrack and lead Brie Larson’s guarded humor, it’s highly rewatchable. A bonus? Arguably the central love story is that of best friends, even after time apart — a possible comfort to kids struggling with enforced distance from their friends.

‘Troop Zero’

Watch free on Amazon Prime

This 2019 film, set in 1977 rural Georgia, stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney and 13-year-old Mckenna Grace as the lead, Christmas Flint, who is hoping to be included on NASA’s Golden Record. To reach a competition to make it onto the record, Christmas must form a Birdie Scout troop, so she assembles a band of misfits who become “Troop Zero.” In the background is Christmas’s grief over losing her mother. It’s a sweet movie with a powerful, tidy ending, even if, as my 7-year-old notes, it has “so many swear words!”

‘Bend It Like Beckham’

Watch on STARZ

The film feels especially salient now, at a time when little girls who were learning to dribble during its 2002 release are now World Cup Champions fighting for wage equality. Falling for one’s coach (regardless of closeness in age) requires discussion, and the homophobia of one character prompted my 10-year-old to talk to me about allyship, so I was grateful this time for the conversation-starter. It’s at once a movie about passion and love of the game, but also about fitting in. As part of the Indian diaspora in Britain, the main character, Jess, balances respecting her family’s traditions and trying to fit into a predominantly white soccer world without compromising herself to either. She transcends by bending her own path.

Please share your favorites. We’re all in this together — even the bit where we help each other find something new to put on our kids’ screens.

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