No playdates, no daycare, no playgrounds, no school, no sports—it’s hard being a parent during this time, because kids have nothing but themselves and their family members to occupy them. And while we know that most parents are probably dreading the amount of screen time their kids are consuming right now, sometimes the screen is the only outlet to guarantee a few hours of peace and quiet during the day.
But that doesn’t mean you want your kid watching just anything these days. Perhaps you were planning a vacation, which you had to put on pause for the time being, and want your kids to watch something that’ll scratch a bit of their travel itch? Or perhaps you want to have a family travel movie night as a bit of a distraction? Well, considering that many family movies are pretty bad movies, and considering that lots of travel entertainment is pure fluff, we’ve put together the following list of seven family friendly movies (and one choice for kids a bit older) that’ll help the whole family daydream about travel. They’re no substitute for the real thing, but these movies should be a fun way of keeping yourself and your kids engaged with the wider world in ways that aren’t completely mind-numbing.
What movies can inspire my kids about travel?
The Endless Summer
This movie from 1966 is a bit of a deep cut, but it’s a great documentary that should be nostalgic for parents and entertaining for kids, especially kids who skateboard or who have always wanted to surf. The Endless Summer follows two surfers, Mike Hynson and Robert August, as they head on a trip around the world to continue surfing the “endless summer,” always reaching a new country when the weather is perfect for being out on the water. The movie follows them to Australia, New Zealand, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tahiti, and Hawaii, so it covers a lot of travel ground and contains gorgeous, sun-kissed footage of beaches. Hynson, August, and the other surfers profiled are goofy surfer dudes and the movie is scored to surf rock by The Sandals, so the entire movie has an easy-going, friendly vibe that’s appropriate for the whole family.
This animated classic from Pixar about a clown fish searching for his lost son with the help of a fish with short-term memory loss is about as good an advertisement for the Great Barrier Reef and Australia as you can get. To be fair, the characters are fish and it’s all computer animated, but the movie showcases the beauty of Australia’s underwater world and even picturesque Sydney Harbour. Sure, you could watch a live action movie like Crocodile Dundee and cringe through all the sexist jokes (and worry that it’s not kid appropriate), or suffer through the dreck of The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, but Finding Nemo is the kind of family movie that celebrates another part of the world that parents may enjoy even more than kids. Because as vibrant as the animation is and as funny as the jokes are, Finding Nemo is ultimately about the difficulties of being a parent, which is something that only parents can truly comprehend.
The Lion King
I mean the 1994 original, hand-drawn version, not the 2019 CGI shot-for-shot remake. The Lion King is one of the all-time animated classics and a surefire way to get your children obsessed with the animals that live across the African savanna. It’s an engrossing story about a lion reclaiming his throne from his treacherous uncle, but the real joy is watching the gorgeous animation of lions, warthogs, meerkats, hornbills, hyenas, elephants, giraffes, and all the other fascinating animals of East Africa. You may not be able to see these animals in person right now, but when you’re watching The Lion King, you may not care.
March of the Penguins
This Oscar-winning documentary from 2005 was a huge hit at the box office due to its incredible nature cinematography of emperor penguins in Antarctica. The movie explores the mating rituals of emperor penguins and the intense lengths they’ll go to to protect and feed their young, which includes enduring brutal snowstorms and marching for hundreds of miles to the ocean to get food (as referenced by the title). Kids will love the images of the penguins, while parents will appreciate that the movie lets their kids get up close to penguins and take a virtual trip to the South Pole that doesn’t cost tens of thousands of dollars.
My Neighbor Totoro
My Neighbor Totoro, from Japan’s master of animation Hayao Miyazaki, is just about the perfect family movie. It follows two sisters who move to the countryside with their father in 1950s Japan and their gentle encounters with a benevolent forest spirit called Totoro. The movie has no conventional plot, no villains, no crass humour, and is utterly transporting. Miyazaki and the other animators at Studio Ghibli turn rural Japan into a magical wonderland that’ll enchant your children and have you seriously considering a family trip to Japan when this is all over.
The Sound of Music
This musical classic is the quintessential movie about Austria and one of the all-time family movies. If your kids have an interest in music, they’ll be sure to appreciate the movie’s classic tunes, including “Edelweiss,” “My Favorite Things,” and “Do-Re-Mi”—just be sure you are ready for them to sing these songs on repeat after watching the movie. As well, the movie’s scenery is hard to match. The iconic opening with Julie Andrews singing the title song against the backdrop of the Alps should be enough to have you dreaming about a journey through the mountains of Austria. The Sound of Music may not be about travel per se, but it celebrates a specific destination like few other movies.
Another movie by Pixar, which shouldn’t be surprising, as they’re among the best at crafting enjoyable family movies. This animated adventure follows a cantankerous old man who escapes the modern world and travels to his dream destination of “Paradise Falls” (presumably somewhere in South America) by attaching thousands of helium balloons to his home and flying up, up and away. The opening 10 minutes of the movie about the man’s life with his deceased wife is a tearjerker, for sure, but the following 80 minutes are a great encapsulation of the adventure of travel, especially to magnificent landscapes like you’ll find in South America, where anything can seem possible.
What can I watch with older kids?
Catch Me If You Can
Steven Spielberg’s comedic drama about legendary con man Frank Abagnale Jr. (played to perfection by Leonardo DiCaprio) may not be what you’d typically consider a family-friendly movie, but I remember watching it in my adolescence and being absolutely obsessed with Frank’s cons, which had him posing as a flight attendant, doctor, and lawyer in order to trick people out of money around the world. The movie captures the incredible style of the 1960s, when the Pan Am jet set was something of a lifestyle aspiration for millions of people. It makes you want to go globetrotting, even if you’d never pretend to be a pilot in a million years. It’s the kind of exciting, virtuoso filmmaking that you’d expect of Steven Spielberg and is perfectly appropriate viewing for families with older kids. Few movies are better at making you want to get out there and see the world.