Every year, right around the time the Academy Awards lands in the news, Plugged In rolls out its own nominees and winners. And while we don’t give winners golden statuettes or swag bags, we do like to give great films their due. After all, we spend quite a bit of our year telling you what might be wrong with a given movie. This time of year gives us a chance to tell you what’s right.
We rate these movies—considering both the movies’ core messages and their artistic merit—in four broad and, admittedly, often overlapping categories: best movies for kids, teens, adults and best Christian movies. And while COVID has definitely made the selection process more challenging, both traditional theaters and screening services still offered plenty of good, sometimes great movies for us to consider in 2021.
We begin with our Best Movies for Kids category, which felt particularly robust this year. Some heavy hitters got locked out of our list of five, and some of our selections may surprise you.
Obviously, the movies we nominate here still can have problems. No movie is perfect. So be sure to check out or full reviews before you and your family watch. But if you have watched, we invite you to participate in this little exercise, too! Vote for your pick on Facebook or Instagram, or in the comments section below. Let us know which of our nominees is your favorite—and which ones you feel we overlooked. When we announce our winners, we’ll announce yours, too!
And just when will we announce said winners? In our March 24 podcast, where we’ll fight over our selections and make our choices as you listen. (We’ll publish a blog announcing the winners the following day, too.)
So read on; take stock of what we’ve nominated; and participate with us, will you? We hope you enjoy participating in this year’s edition of the Plugged In Movie Awards as much as we do. (Movie summaries are written by Paul Asay, Emily Clark, Adam Holz, Bob Hoose and Kennedy Unthank.)
Back to the Outback:
It isn’t easy being blue … or fanged … or incredibly toxic. Maddie the Taipan snake thought her life was fairly happy until she realized that she and her friends were all part of a zoo’s reptile house, and that humans sorta thought they were monsters. But the truth is, Maddie and all her friends—a funnel-web spider named Frank, a funny little scorpion named Nigel and Zoe the devil lizard—are all very nice. Sure, they’re deadly, but deadly and sweet. If only there were a place where snakes and spiders and poisonous creatures could be loved, Maddie thinks That’s when a crocodile assures Maddie and her poisonous pals that there is indeed such a place. It’s a dangerous trip, but Maddie and her friends will need to escape the zoo and head to … the Outback. There’s some potty humor and animal mating season winks to endure along the way, but this rollicking pic packs in fun lessons about loving family and not judging a book by its cover.
The movie revolves around the magical Madrigal family. They live in an enchanted house, and as each family member comes of age, they’re given a magical gift to serve their secluded Colombian community. Except, well, for Mirabel. Poor Mirabel isn’t given a gift when the time comes. And she struggles, quietly, to figure out why—and what her contribution is going to be. But when the magic of the house starts to erode, Mirabel is the one who notices. And the gift of who she is will prove pivotal in helping her wonderful, magical family to face some hard truths about themselves. As you might have noticed, magic is at the core of the story here, and you’ll want to check out our full review to get the scoop on that. But this lighthearted musical also dives surprisingly deep into themes related to the secret struggles that can undermine a family’s unity.
You could call this a real fish-out-of-water story. After all, Luca resembles a fish in a lot of ways, given his scales and fins and the fact that he and his fam live in the briny deep. And while he’s been taught all his life to avoid the surface world (what with its nasty, gaseous oxygen and whatnot), his new friend Alberto can’t stop talking about how great the surface world is. When Luca and Alberto travel to a seaside Italian village together (conveniently turning into humans when they dry off), Luca discovers that Alberto is absolutely right! But it doesn’t stay right for long. Luca’s underwater parents are worried. A bully is making life difficult topside. And in the end, Luca realizes that maybe a life up top might ultimately feel a little … dry. Like many a children’s tale, Luca is about grappling with what it means to feel different—because most of us know what that’s like. But it’s also about being brave without being foolish, about showing grace and seeking justice. And while parents will have to navigate some willful disobedience from the film’s young heroes, it still swims comfortably in its PG pond.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines:
When Rick Mitchell decided to reconnect with his college-bound daughter by taking the whole family on a road trip, he probably wasn’t expecting a technological apocalypse to occur. But as it turns out, the Mitchells might be humanity’s best hope for survival. The Mitchells vs. The Machines has been controversial among Christian audiences, given a post-credits scene referencing daughter Katie’s same-gender sexual preferences. We haven’t forgotten, and we would advise families to consider and address this before watching (and perhaps think about turning the film off once those credits roll). But with its cautionary note about the dangers of screen time, how technology has taken over our lives and even the nod to the ethics of taking people’s data without their knowledge or permission, it’s perhaps the most Plugged In movie ever. Additionally, the film offers a sweet message about father-daughter relationships and the importance of familial bonds.
Sing 2 picks up shortly after the stunning success Buster Moon realized in the original Sing (which was nominated for a PIMA in 2017). Most of the original gang has stayed together to put on shows at Buster’s bustling theater. And with the success, money and compliments flowing in from the happy audience, Buster sets his eyes on a bigger prize: Redshore City, where small-town talents become international superstars. But not even Buster’s talent ensemble can impress the Mr. Crystal, the head of one of Redshore City’s biggest entertainment producers—that is, until Buster Moon tells Mr. Crystal about how famous retired rockstar Clay Calloway will be in the production. There’s just one problem—Buster doesn’t actually know Clay Calloway. Sing 2 brings families a reprised version of Sing’s plot—just with bigger stakes at hand. But in the midst of the movie, we watch as characters overcome their fears, learn to cope with disappointment and even work through the grieving process, providing families complex topics they can talk about with their children. A couple sexual lyrics are heard in some songs, and there is some animated violence and implied nudity at one point. There’s also a ghostly apparition of a deceased loved one. But Sing 2 reminds children that even when you’re at your lowest point, the only way to go is back up.
You can also vote in these categories: Best Movie for Teens, Best Movie for Adults, and Best Christian Movie. Voting ends March 11!
-My vote is for Encanto. I have never had a Disney movie hit me that hard since Frozen and that heart breaking scene when Anna lays down her life for Elsa. And Encanto hit even harder with Surface Pressure, and Dos Oruguitas, and the amazing to find that your gifts, (or lack of them,) don’t define you.
-My vote is for Sing 2. It was a well written story that expanded on a wonderful first movie. Sweet and silly.
-Ugh, this is so hard! I guess I choose Luca, though it’s a bit more problematic than most. I enjoyed Alberto’s character and Giulia was funny.
-My vote is for Encanto. It resonates with most of us, concering division in families, yet it also offers hope and joy when those issues are resolved. The songs are also of a high caliber, in my opinion.
-Encanto is one of the best Disney movies ever. In my opinion anyway. It gets my vote.
-I don’t know if they’re saving it for the teen awards but in my opinion Peter Rabbit and Boss Baby 2 were both excellent movies, big leaps forward from their already wonderful first movies with Peter Rabbit 2 Especially hitting me hard with all its literary references.
-Luca was one of my favorite Pixar movies! So fun, so wholesome!
-Encanto! Fantastic storyline, engaging music and animation, and just enough fun for all kids any age.
-The Mitchells vs the Machines. It’s the only movie I’ve seen on this list, but it was really well made so I wouldn’t be surprised if I still liked it above the others.
-Encanto. I love when Disney steps out and doesn’t focus on a romantic love, but here it’s about family. The songs are beautiful. And learning to check in with family members and see beyond the facade they show the world was wonderful. I willingly watch this one over and over again.
-Encanto for sure! This is a no brainer. The other movies don’t even come close to Encanto (except maybe Sing 2).
-I agree. Encanto is amazing, and Sing 2 was only a few points behind. I might’ve voted for it if there wasn’t such a scary scene.
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