Movie Night: 9 Family Movies That Are Not Cartoons

It’s still January. And I love January because it’s my birthday month. But GAWD this month is dragging on.

Apparently people are still in New-Year’s-Resolution mode. Me? I’m less of a resolutions type, leaning more towards setting concrete goals, instead. And don’t even ask my kids. They’d probably say stuff like promising to be kinder to one another or making their beds every morning. Bahahaha!


That being said, I did resolve — at my husband’s suggestion, no less — to have at least a once-per-month game night with him. Just him, me and a big old Scrabble board between us. I also silently resolved to up the QT with my peeps. (Read: Yell less, hug more, make big batches of popcorn and snuggle on the couch.)

And then…this:

“Ooh! I want to watch My Little Pony.”

“No, How to Train Your Dragon!”

“Is Star Wars on Netflix?”

Meanwhile, the tween creeps upstairs to catch up on Once Upon a Time — for which I bear the responsibility of introducing to her and which now I am sorely behind on watching myself. Because Grey’s, people! (Yes, I am about 10 years behind to that party.)

And while Netflix has the handy I-know-what-you-watched-last-night suggestion box, sometimes I just don’t want to scroll through 80 different cartoon titles, fielding suggestions from the little people, just to find the ONE feel-good movie that maybe everyone will agree upon. Not to mention, sometimes Mom and Dad don’t want to watch yet-another animated film (as fabulously fun as many of them are).

If you find yourself in the same boat, allow me to take some of the guesswork out of your next family movie-selection experience with 9 family movies that are not cartoons. The trick is how to convince your kids that documentaries can be fun. Am I right?

For the Documentary Buff

We’ve managed to interest our kids in several documentary-style films in the past — with varying success — films like Chimpanzee, Island of Lemurs: Madagascar — “No, sweetie, not that Madagascar,” — March of the Penguins or basically anything narrated by Morgan Freeman. Netflix has some cool, kid-friendly options which offer kids a fascinating look into their world.

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsGENERATION EARTH

Join Dallas Campbell on a journey around the globe to discover how mankind has used technology, determination and ingenuity to transform our planet.

(2012, TV-G, 3 episodes)


From mountains to caves and from pole to pole, this series takes you to the ends of the earth, exploring its wonder and mystery.

(2006, TV-G, 11 episodes)

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsMISSION BLUE

A James Cameron film, and Netflix Original, this documentary follows oceanographer, Sylvia Earle, in her campaign to save the world’s oceans from man-induced threats.

(2014, TV-Y7, 1h 34min)

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsON THE WAY TO SCHOOL

This inspiring documentary follows four children from disparate environments around the globe and the challenges they face as they make their way to school.

(2013, TV-G, 1h 17 min)

For the Sports Fan

I’ll admit, I’m not a sports fan. So by extension, I’m not a big sports-movie fan, except for maybe A League of Their Own. But who doesn’t like a good underdog-makes-good story? Check out some of these inspiring films which will undoubtedly spark curiosity and conversation.

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsMCFARLAND

Teacher, Jim White, moves to a predominantly Latino community and finally connects with his students when he coaches its cross-country team to victory.

(2015, PG, 2h 9min)

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsSOUL SURFER

Hawaiian teen, Bethany Hamilton, bravely returns to competitive surfing after losing her left arm in a vicious shark attack.

(2011, PG, 1h 46 min)

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsTHE SHORT GAME

Some of the greatest golfers in the world are just 7 years old.

(2013, PG, 1h 40min)



For the Happy-Go-Lucky

And sometimes, you just want a warm-and-fuzzy movie, whether it’s an oldie-but-a-goodie with beloved Robin Williams, or one you’ve never seen before, featuring an artistic elephant.

9 Family Movies That Are Not Cartoons


Remember Patch? After spending time in a mental institution, a man decides to become a doctor, hypothesizing that humour will improve patients’ quality of life.

(1998, PG-13, 1h 55min)

9 Family Movies That Are Not CartoonsMY LUCKY ELEPHANT

An orphaned boy befriends an elephant named Lucky. When the pair learns about the Academy of Art, Lucky learns to paint and becomes a famous artist.

(2013, PG, 1h 31min)


So, tell me. Which is your go-to feel-good movie? As for New Year’s Resolutions? I say, let’s just work to make tomorrow better than today.

*In the interest of full disclosure: I would like to point out that I have been a hardcore Netflix fan — and written about it — since before it was considered cool. The only difference now is, as a member of Netflix Canada’s #StreamTeam, I receive some fun, free goodies in exchange for my candid monthly posts. Cool, eh?

About Erica

Erica writes with humour and heart about family, #fit40s and living life in the carpool lane. Part-time banker by day and Netflix-addicted-cake-decorator by night, Erica's in-between time is spent dreaming up ways to ruin her kids' lives. Obviously.
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