The 2020 movie season was unlike any we’ve ever experienced. Superhero and sci-fi tentpoles were as scarce as snake fur. Blockbusters were nonexistent. Disney released heavyweights such as Soul and Mulan straight to its streaming platform (Disney+), and some movie companies wondered whether the industry might be changing for good—shifting away from theaters and onto our TVs (and phone screens). Why, Plugged In might’ve published more movie reviews than ever before in 2020—but we rarely left our computers to see them.
But for all the uncertainty surrounding movies last year, we could still rely on a basic truth: Whether they showed up in theaters or on TV, the films we saw varied wildly in quality and content. Some earned a big heave-ho, others scored a qualified no … and a few encouraged us to stand up and cheer.
Our annual Plugged In Movie Awards give us the opportunity to applaud movies that did things right—that told compelling stories with resonant messages and without a lot of unnecessary sex or violence or cursing. And we begin that process today, by announcing our nominees for Best Movies for Kids.
The movies we nominate may not be perfect—no movie is—so be sure to check out our full reviews before you decide to watch. But if you have watched, we invite you to participate, too! Vote for your pick on Facebook or Instagram, or in the comments section below. Let us know which of these movies struck a chord with you.
Then, while we’re counting your votes, Plugged In will be doing its own awards deliberations—right on our very own Plugged In Show! You can listen to us argue over the nominees, and announce our own winners, on March 19.
(Movie summaries below were written by Paul Asay, Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose and Kristin Smith.)
Black Beauty (TV-PG): Ever since author Anna Sewell created the coal-colored horse back in 1877, Black Beauty has been galloping through our collective imaginations. Her life has been a staple of the screen both big and small since 1917, but this Disney+ version moves the tale from England to the States. She starts life as a wild mustang before being whisked away to a struggling horse sanctuary and deemed impossible to ride. There she bonds with Jo, an equally troubled teen, and the two begin the difficult process of healing one another. But that’s not the end of the story for the big, black horse. Beauty’s life is filled with hardship and danger, and sensitive kids may be a little too bothered by her story. But it’s also a marvelous illustration of just how close a girl and a horse can be—and how love and kindness can triumph over pain and anger any day.
The Croods: A New Age (PG): This animal skin-wearing animated sequel reintroduces us to a cave-dwelling family we first met back in 2013. The Croods have crawled, scratching and grunting, out of their cave and set off toward someplace safer to live. There’s adventure, peril and difficulties at every turn for this fam. I mean, hey, it’s hard enough to even feed a clan this size on a few berries and an occasional spider or lizard. But they soon run into something very strange: a wall protecting a lush paradise. They think they’ve found a hoped-for new home. Until, that is, they discover that a much more evolved family known as the Bettermans already lives there. The Croods and the Bettermans don’t really care much for each other at first. But they’ll have to set their differences aside if they hope to face a coming crisis. The Croods: A New Age includes some lightly perilous moments and a bit of toilet humor. But it also delivers some terrific messages about family, finding common ground with those who are different and learning to work together for the common good.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (PG): Jeronicus Jangle was once considered the greatest inventor in the world. His shop, Jangles and Things, was a world of wishes and wonder, where customers could purchase all sorts of gadgets and gizmos. But after he loses it all to a jealous apprentice and a sentient toy determined to be one of a kind, it falls to his granddaughter, Journey, to teach Jeronicus how to believe in himself again. Jingle Jangle is a musical that comes with a veritable sledful of positive messages. It encourages kids to believe in themselves and not worry what others think of them. It also reminds us older folk that what makes us special isn’t something that can ever be forgotten or lost. There is a bit of “magic” that runs through Jeronicus’ family line. Still, it’s depicted here less as a supernatural gift and more as a unique ability to understand complex math and science. That small caveat aside, this film’s strong storytelling, talented cast and uplifting songs make it a tale the whole family can enjoy.
Onward (PG): Pixar’s Onward introduces us to a once-magical realm that’s been overtaken by technology. Because, well, magic is hard. Unpredictable. Dangerous. Still, remnants of magical power remain, as an elf named Ian Lightfoot discovers on his 16th birthday. His deceased father has left him a powerful staff with a magical stone affixed to it. And, it’s said, the staff has the power to bring someone back from the dead for 24 hours. Like, say, his dad—whom he never met. Ian gives it his best shot but ends up conjuring just his father’s oft-dancing legs before the crystal explodes. Still, he and his older brother, Barley, learn that there’s another magical crystal that could finish the job—if only they can locate it. Onward delivers poignant messages about family, brotherhood and dealing with grief. Some mild violence and peril turns up, as does a line of dialogue alluding to a secondary character’s same-sex relationship. And obviously families that embark on Onward’s magical journey will need to discuss the story’s representation of magic and reincarnation as well.
Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves (PG): A long time ago, there lived a group of seven famous princes who fought evil to keep the world safe. One day, they attacked a fairy whom they mistook as a witch. The fairy cursed them, turning them all into little, green dwarfs. The only way to break the spell was to find the “most beautiful woman in the world” and kiss her. Now, these dwarves hide away waiting for a true beauty. Enter a woman named Red Shoes. She’s secretly Snow White. But she’s hiding from her evil stepmother. And while the dwarves are all about outward beauty, Red Shoes only cares about inward beauty and saving the day. A bit of name calling, violence and sexual innuendo make their way across this screen, but this film is really about that inward beauty that Red Shoes values so much.