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.
‘The Monkey King’
This Netflix original is based on “Journey to the West,” a famous 16th-century Chinese novel written during the Ming dynasty. The story follows a magical monkey named Sun Wukong — voiced here by Jimmy O. Yang and referred to only as Monkey King — who is born from a rock and cast out by the other monkeys in the forest. Growing up, he longs to be one of the all-powerful Immortals. He goes on a quest to hell and back to defeat 100 demons, the requirement to fulfill his dream.
The tale has been adapted for TV and games, and there’s an anime version, but this latest telling adds a character named Lin (Jolie Hoang-Rappaport), a scrappy village girl who becomes the monkey’s traveling companion. They encounter Buddha (BD Wong) and demons such as the frenetic, fearsome Dragon King (Bowen Yang, from “Saturday Night Live”), who occasionally breaks into song. The main character goes from a lovable, pitiful little simian to a self-centered trickster who steals a glowing magical staff (which looks and sounds a lot like a “Star Wars” light saber). He’s not exactly endearing (my son loved him, though), but the propulsive energy of his quest will entertain smaller kids who aren’t scared of characters who have gleaming red eyes and sharp teeth. Ron J. Friedman, Steve Bencich and Rita Hsiao wrote the script, and Anthony Stacchi (“The Boxtrolls,” “Open Season”) directed. Watch it on Netflix.
‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’
My son calls this movie “The Brothers Mario,” which sounds like another type of film entirely. This splashy big screen version of the beloved 1980s Nintendo franchise might not wow longtime fans of the game, but youngsters who will one day think the 1980s are ancient times should be wildly entertained.
There was a 1993 live-action movie starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi, two Brooklyn brothers who work as plumbers and have to save the city from monsters. This time, the brothers inhabit a colorful animated world where Luigi (Charlie Day) becomes the prisoner of the evil Bowser (Jack Black), a dastardly villain who wants to wage war on Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her kingdom, and then marry her. With Luigi held captive, Mario (Chris Pratt) teams up with the princess, Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen) to free Luigi and keep the princess safe.
Yes, it’s a lot, but children who have no clue the games exist will still be able to follow the plot. When I asked my son why he loved the movie so much, his reply was simply, “I like the fighting.” So there you have it. Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic directed. Watch it on Peacock.
‘Lego Disney Princess: The Castle Quest’
If a smorgasbord of Disney princesses is what your kid needs, this 49-minute girl-power adventure — starring Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson), Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Snow White (Katie Von Till) — should do the trick. An ominous storm brews, and the princesses are sent to a mysterious castle, where the dastardly Gaston (Richard White) holds King Triton (Jim Cummings) captive. Gaston plans to take over the kingdom of each princess, unless the five of them can complete a series of challenges, like getting Aladdin’s flying carpet and finding the Sundrop Flower in the Dark Forest. With their little claw-like Lego hands, the princesses follow Ariel’s cry of, “Let’s go slay all day, ladies!” — and set off on adventures across oceans and into the Dark Forest.
There are plenty of fun references to the princess movies that came before (Gaston sings, “Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat!”) and a feisty Snow White reminds everyone, “I kept a house of seven bachelors orderly and on task!” Director Michael Black made several Lego shorts before taking this project on, and the screenplay by Jenny Lee and Rachel Vine leans into themes such as the power of female friendship and the fact that girls — even those made of Legos — can slay. Watch it on Disney+.
Imagine a planet where pro wrestlers are gigantic monsters instead of mere humans, and you have “Rumble,” a movie about an uncoordinated, out-of-shape underdog named Steve (voiced by Will Arnett) who takes on the sports world. The story is inspired by Rob Harrell’s graphic novel “Monster on the Hill,” which depicts a realm where each town is represented by a mighty monster, save for one town, where the not-so-menacing Steve lives.
In this computer-animated film, a girl named Winnie (Geraldine Viswanathan) decides to coach Steve and turn him into a fearsome competitor who can restore glory to their town. Her dad used to coach monsters, so Winnie is trying to honor him by following in his footsteps. Hamish Grieve, who worked in the animation department on films such as “Monsters vs. Aliens,” directs. There are fun training montages, shout-outs to movies including “Dirty Dancing,” and — most important for kids — humongous beasts wrestling each other. Steve and Winnie’s friendship also gives you two heroes to cheer. Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
‘The Slumber Party’
It starts with three teenage girls speeding through the streets of their quiet little town aboard a giant motorized hedgehog, and it only gets nuttier from there. Based on the book “The Sleepover,” by Jen Malone, this family-friendly riff on the “Hangover” franchise is about a sleepover birthday party that devolves into chaos when the girls wake up and realize their bestie Anna Maria (Valentina Herrera) is missing — and they don’t remember a thing. Of course booze, drugs and gambling are not to blame for the blackout. Instead, the girls had surprised Anna Maria with a magician called Mesmer (Tituss Burgess) who had hypnotized them all. And when they wake up, Megan (Darby Camp from “Big Little Lies”) discovers she has a shaved eyebrow and is wearing a hoodie that belongs to the hottest guy in school, Jake (Ramon Jose Rodriguez). The action kicks up when the girls embark on a quest to find Anna Maria (you’ll have to watch the movie to find out how they wind up on that hedgehog).
There are plenty of comic moments courtesy of Camp’s Megan and her sleepover pals, Veronica (Alex Cooper Cohen) and Paige (Emmy Liu-Wang), and the writer Eydie Faye (“Fuller House”) and the director Veronica Rodriguez succeed in capturing the sweetness and absurdity of growing up. Watch it on Disney+.