Updated guide to kids' movies

By Dan Dunkle | Apr 21, 2014

It's Friday night or a lazy Saturday afternoon. You decide you're too lazy to rake the lawn or get started on spring cleaning. The kids are bored, starting to wrestle around and make unnecessary noise. Probably a good time to head out to the movies or hit Redbox for a rental appropriate for the whole family.

The questions is, how do you pick the right movie?

This is my life. I'm pretty sure I have seen every single computer-animated kids' movie since "Toy Story," most at least a dozen times. I'm not going to sugarcoat this for you: 75 percent of the animated children's movies you will sit through will either bore you to sleep or actively annoy you. Worse, sometimes you're going to have to bite the bullet and take that wide-eyed sweet child of yours to something you hate because they desperately want to see it. But there are a few tips I can offer to steer you to the best possible choice.

1. Pick Pixar

Pixar was the pioneer company when it came to computer-animated movies. It started strong with "Toy Story" back in the 1990s and it remains top shelf. Oh sure, it had its clinical depression phase with post-apocalypse, dialogue-free "Wall-E," followed by the slit-your-wrists rumination on mortality "Up." I didn't really like "Cars" but your five-year-old sure will. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

2. Disney's not bad either

The last couple animated Disney movies, "Tangled" and "Frozen" have been really good, so good they give Pixar a run for its money. I also really liked "Wreck-It Ralph." I expect good things from this company in the next decade.

3. Avoid sequels

Back when I was a kid, everyone knew that a sequel was a little worse than the original and would only keep getting worse with every follow-up film. "Police Academy 5" anybody? Then came the era of making the first movie as part of a series with the sequels already in mind. Films like "Lord of the Rings" called that policy into question. However, with kids' movies, the old rule is still the best. For example, the first "Ice Age" was pretty good. Each new one since has been a little worse (except for the Scrat bits. I love that little guy). The same could be said of "Monsters University.," "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Shrek 3," and the new "Rio 2" is just awful. Notable exceptions to this rule: "Toy Story 3" and the new Muppets movie.

4. Make informed choices when it comes to Muppets

Muppet movies are easy to pick. If a Muppet movie is telling a time-worn story, such as "The Wizard of Oz," or "A Christmas Carol," it may be fine for the kids, but you will be asleep on the couch before the opening credits are through. Also, don't go for the ones that focus on a specific character. We don't need to know that Gonzo is really an alien. The last two big box office Muppet movies featuring music from Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" have been really good. It's also a good sign if the celebrity guests are from this time period, like Tina Fey.

5. DreamWorks stinks half the time

I like "How to Train your Dragon" and "The Croods," but this is the company that also has put out "Turbo," "Antz," and "Over the Hedge." I feel like this company is a cash-over-quality machine. They realize that anything with big colorful animation will likely hook a child, and the parents are a captive audience. I would say it's not a safe bet.

6. What's wrong with live action?

Usually, when I see The Rock, or Vin Diesel, on the cover of a movie with a baby, that advertising doesn't appeal to me. But live action family movies tend to be pretty watchable, if a touch corny and trite. I really liked "Journey to the Center of the Earth" with Brendan Fraser and the follow-up "Mysterious Island" with Dwayne Johnson. "Spy Kids" are good.

7. Animal comedies are the worst!

Anything with talking puppies is a no go for this guy. There's a point where adorable becomes aggravating. I'm also not a fan of talking baby movies. Someone must be because they make them, but my advice is avoid at all costs.

8. Go for the classic flavor

Many old movies are more suitable for both children and adults because they don't have as much crude language and what have you. Any of the old Ray Harryhausen creature features are fine for kids. Old Godzilla movies can be campy fun if you're into that kind of thing (and I am), and watching "Planet of the Apes" as a kid didn't hurt me.

What's your favorite family movie?

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