How to Choose the Right New Kids' Movies for Your Family

Tips for finding the perfect new and recently-released family films

family movie night
Choosing the right new kids' movies for your family is easy with some simple but important tips. Robert Daly/Getty Images

How do you choose which new and recently-released kids' movies to see, either in the theaters or for viewing at home? Gone are the days when seeing a family film meant choosing between Snow White and Bambi. Today, there are more new kids' movies choices than ever before, and many of these releases are more visually sophisticated, complex, witty, and lyrical enough to be entertaining for grown-ups (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and the Toy Story series, to name just a few).

And because kids' movies can rake in big bucks, they're a big business. Whether you and your kids love action, adventure, or comedy, you’re sure to find lots of new and recently-released family movies in theaters and out on DVD (or for downloading at home) on any given month.

With so many choices, though, the challenge becomes how to choose what is appropriate for your child, not to mention worth seeing (just because a film is rated "G," it doesn't automatically mean it's a good movie that's worth your child's time -- and yours). Then there is the fact that ratings simply do not provide enough information. Some "G" rated films may contain violence while a "PG" film might be fine for a grade-school age child.

If you are a parent seeking information about the content of new kids' films, here are some great strategies that can help you make an educated decision.

Tips for Finding the Best New Kids' Movies for Your Family:

  1. Read the Reviews
    One way to sort through all the available new movies for kids is by reading reviews before hitting the movie theater or renting a film. Reviews can help you identify which kids' movies are, say, rated PG for some violence, language and mild sensuality and which are PG-13, which may not be appropriate for many grade-school age children.

    Another great source for reviews of new kids' movies is Nell Minow, also known as Movie Mom. Minow offers the specific details parents need to make an informed decision about a family film -- such as mentioning that a movie depicts characters smoking, for instance -- alongside intelligent and informative insights into a movie, served up in a conversational, lively tone. It's like getting the scoop on the latest and greatest kid flicks from a smart and cool mom friend.
  1. Check out the Previews
    Another site I find myself turning to all the time for the lowdown on kid's films is Common Sense Media. When your grade-schooler pleads to be allowed to see the latest heavily-promoted action flick, you can check out the detailed descriptions of coming attractions. The site offers details on what parents need to know about a new kids' movie (and books and music too) in order to know whether or not it's right for their kids. For example, they may say of an upcoming new kids' movie, "Expect some insults and potty humor." They also feature reviews from real kids and parents, who weigh in on what age they think a movie is or is not appropriate for.
  1. Preview the Movie Yourself
    Here's one strategy I've found to be invaluable: Whenever possible, I preview a movie myself by fast-forwarding through the scenes. By choosing the "scene selection" option on your DVD (or scrolling forward when you instant-stream or rent through your cable TV provider), you can get an idea of what the movie is about, and see whether there are any problematic scenes in the film. Then, you can decide whether the entire movie is not appropriate yet for your child, or whether you can simply skip over some scenes and let your child still see the movie.

    I used this technique to preview Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke for my 10-year-old, and was able to skip over the particularly violent and frightening scenes when I played the movie for him.
  2. Talk to Other Parents
    As with so many things, other parents are a great source for information about new kids' movies. You can talk to other moms and dads about which family movies are on their allowed lists and which ones they have nixed and why, or get their reviews about particular new kids' movies they’ve seen.

    It's a given that not everyone will agree. What one parent finds inappropriate for her grade-schooler may be perfectly acceptable to another. But talking to other parents can give you a sense of what people think about a new movie so that you can decide what's right for your own kids.
  1. Go with Your Gut
    But in the end, what parents decide is best for their children is often what their gut tells them is or isn’t right for their family. If your child is the kind of kid who tends to get very upset when he sees menacing or emotionally-wrenching scenes, then "some violence" may be something you want to preview yourself before you take your child to the theater or rent the DVD. If you don't want your child to see a movie in which any adult is shown smoking, then find out whether or not that may be featured in a new kids' movie you're considering.

    After gathering all the information, you can then make a decision about new kids' movies on a movie-by-movie basis. The more you know about what to expect from a family movie going in, the more you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show with your kids.

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