Five children’s movies to stream now
By Dina Gachman
This month’s picks include an outer space road trip, a reimagining of “Peter Pan” and a nautical adventure based on a true story.
‘My Father’s Dragon’
Stream it on Netflix.
“My Father’s Dragon,” an adaptation of the 1948 children’s novel of the same name by Ruth Stiles Gannett, follows a young boy named Elmer (Jacob Tremblay, recently the voice of Flounder in “The Little Mermaid”) who is living a blissful life with his mother, Dela (Golshifteh Farahani). When Dela’s business shuts down, it forces her to move to a city tenement and scramble for work. A black cat (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) tells Elmer to journey to a place called Wild Island and free a dragon named Boris, who can, in turn, bring fame and fortune to Dela. Elmer finds Boris (Gaten Matarazzo of “Stranger Things”), and what ensues is a tender story of friendship, fear and bravery. Beautiful hand-drawn animation and wide-eyed characters are a signature of Cartoon Saloon, an Oscar-nominated Irish animation studio that produced this film along with Netflix and Mockingbird Pictures. And thanks to director Nora Twomey (“The Breadwinner”) and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (“Inside Out”), both Oscar nominees, this 2022 film’s sweet, important lessons — that it’s OK to be scared sometimes and that bonds between friends give us courage — are made digestible for young children.
Stream it on Amazon Prime.
Freeing fairy tales of their outdated I-just-want-to-feel-pretty heroes is par for the course these days, and this 2021 entry into the pantheon, co-produced by James Corden, stars pop princess Camila Cabello as the titular hero. Coming on the glass heels of modern-day Cinderellas such as Brandy, Drew Barrymore and Anne Hathaway, Cabello’s princess-to-be is a woman on a mission — and that mission does not involve marriage and homemaking. Her goal in life is to make it as a fashion designer, but her evil stepmother (Idina Menzel) doesn’t want her at balls where she could show off her designs. Even so, Cinderella will not be deterred. You can probably guess the rest of the plot from there (Cinderella and the Prince meet; she resists his love because she is a MODERN WOMAN; musical numbers abound). Not everyone loves this version, and its writer-director, Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect”), made some dialogue choices that might feel too juvenile for older kids and adults (“I have dreams that I have to chase!”). Still, the tunes and proven, though updated, storyline should entertain youngsters who love a good not-your-average-princess story. Billy Porter, in all his splendor, plays the Fabulous Godmother.
Stream it on Disney+.
New Jersey tween Prem (Manny Magnus) is following in the footsteps of his widowed mother, Priya (Punam Patel of “Special”), by training for a Mathlympics competition. Prem’s father, Suresh (Utkarsh Ambudkar, who co-wrote the screenplay), died of cancer when Prem was in elementary school, which Priya still struggles to discuss. That is, until she tells her son that his father was actually a hip-hop legend. This juicy and unexpected family secret inspires Prem to ditch calculus for freestyle rapping. Prem’s real-life middle school existence is interrupted by a series of fantasy sequences in which he and his father rap onstage, transforming this dramedy into a raucous hip-hop musical that might fall flat if you’re expecting A Tribe Called Quest-level skills. The lyrics are amateur, which makes sense since Prem is jumping from math prodigy to rap novice. His best friend, Jerome (Max Malas), provides some laughs, and his Mathlympics rival Claire (Piper Wallace) provides some light middle school villainy. It’s a high-energy romp from director Roshan Sethi (“7 Days”) that should appeal to music-loving school-age kids who love to see the underdog take the stage.
‘Avatar: Way of Water’
Stream it on Disney+ and Max.
Years after the events of the first “Avatar” movie, we pick up with human Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is now a Na’vi (you know, the blue creatures) and husband to Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña). They’re raising a bevy of children, three of their own along with the human orphan nicknamed Spider and Kiri, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dr. Grace Augustine, from the first film. The family’s idyllic life in the fictional realm of Pandora is disrupted when “sky people” (you know, the military) come back to avenge Jake for betraying his human self. He is torn between fighting the enemy and protecting his family, and the universe of the original film opens up as they travel to distant, extremely gorgeous landscapes. With a running time of just over three hours, this James Cameron film might not be in the cards for toddlers who can watch maybe 20 minutes of “Blippi” before imploding. For older kids with some viewing stamina, the dynamic flying scenes and eye-popping visuals should hold their attention. Maybe not for the whole time, but you can always hit pause and come back later.
‘A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting’
Stream it on Netflix.
This Halloween-night comedy is not quite “Adventures in Babysitting” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but it tries. It’s based on the popular book series of the same name by Joe Ballarini about a secret society of babysitters who protect the children they watch from monsters. Here, a timid, math-loving teen named Kelly (Tamara Smart from “The Worst Witch”) is taking care of little Jacob (Ian Ho), who can’t sleep because, like many kids, he’s afraid of the dark. Kelly harbors her own childhood memories of being terrorized by scary ghouls and goblins, which has caused her to lead a cautious teenage life, devoid of fun. When evil Grand Guignol (Tom Felton) tells his army of colorful CGI monsters to kidnap Jacob, Kelly discovers that her young charge is missing and, in true teen fashion, she freaks. She’s helped along when cyberpunkish teen Liz LeRue (Oona Laurence) pops by and tells her about a magical order of babysitters — to which she belongs — who can help Kelly find Jacob. It’s not exactly scary, but for witch- and monster-loving kids, it might be a fun way to escape the summer heat.