I’ve had a rollercoaster ride with Disney over my lifetime. There are things about their old movies that make me cringe, but there are also some wonderful memories that I love to revisit (singing Mulan at the top of my lungs, like, yesterday).
One of the things I’ve loved to see is how much Disney is evolving over time. With Moana, we got the first Disney heroine who didn’t have any kind of romantic attachment. The movie was not only super feminist, but it had some amazing songs to go with it. I think I watched it about four times the weekend it came to streaming services.
But Disney movies also cover a lot of different age ranges. It can feel impossible to wade through all of that content in order to figure out what should be the new family favorite. For that, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a list of some of the best movies on Disney+ by age group so you know what would feel good for Friday family movie night.
We’re breaking down these movies on Disney Plus by what age has what attention span and what kinds of stories they would be able to process. See below for some of our favorites broken down by age.
Disney+ Movies for Kids Age 3 & Under
Kids under three don’t tend to have long attention spans and are also still learning to follow storylines. In order to help with those issues, the picks we made are good for short attentions spans (many have segments you can pause and pick up on later), and they’re very straightforward in terms of storylines.
If you’re unfamiliar, Winnie the Pooh is a beloved bear who’s living in the woods and eating honey and spending time with his pals. Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, and others come along with him through all of his adventures. And of course, joining him is his human friend, Christopher Robin. Great for all ages, really! Gentle characters with gentle stories.
Back in the Hundred Acre Woods with the gang, this story follows Roo after he’s left behind on an expedition to find the scary Heffalump. As the youngest in the bunch, he’s determined to prove himself and ventures out on his own, meeting a friendly (and not-at-all scary) Heffalump named Lumpy. American singer-songwriter Carly Simon wrote five new songs exclusively for the film—and moms may shed a tear listening to the ballad “Little Mr. Roo” sung by his mother in the film, Kanga.
This is one of my favorite Disney movies of all time. The Banks’ conjure the care of Mary Poppins, the nanny sent to deal with difficult children, through their many antics. When she arrives, she turns their worlds upside down with the help of sugar and magic. The songs are so fun—the animation linked with the live action was revolutionary for its time. This remains a family favorite, though little ones may not have the attention span to watch it all in one sitting.
Disney+ Movies for Preschool-Aged Kids
By this age, they’re following stories a little better and are certainly picking up on songs and dance moves. They’re also able to emotionally invest in the stories better since they understand better. These movies tend to be fun and musical.
When Nemo, his son, goes missing, Marlin has to step out off of the reef into the big scary ocean where he lost his wife. On his journey, Marlin meets Dory, who wants to help him and also knows the sea better than Marlin. The only problem is that she has a short-term memory problem and sometimes repeats herself into oblivion. The characters will have you laughing every time you think you might get a little too scared or sad, so there’s always an antidote. It’s overall a family favorite, and the sequel, Finding Dory, is available on Disney+ too.
We’re 700 years in the future, and WALL-E has been left behind by the robots in power to clean up what the humans have done to the Earth. Its existence is very lonely, until one day, Eve shows up. They learn to work together, and all of a sudden, the possibilities become endless. This is such an adorable movie, great for younger kids, too, as it’s mostly silent, and the story is told primarily through the visual storytelling.
Of the modern Disney Princesses, there may be none more popular than Anna and Elsa. Anna and Elsa are sisters who have grown up side-by-side after the tragic death of their parents. But Elsa has a secret that she’s terrified for anyone to find out. She shuts everyone out, including Anna, thinking she can protect them from her secret. But when danger comes knocking on their door, it’s only Elsa who can save them. Almost universally beloved by all children, it’s sure to be a repeat favorite. (Good news, if your kids become Frozen fanatics, Disney+ also has all the shorts and sequels like Frozen 2, Frozen Fever, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, and more).
Disney+ Movies for Early Elementary-Aged Kids
These kids can usually handle a little more tragedy and a lot more humor. You still need to be mindful of difficult topics coming up, but you can navigate conversations with the kids after watching so much more easily. You’ll see there are a lot more recommendations here, as this is Disney’s sweet spot.
Coming to Disney+ on June 18, 2021, Disney Pixar’s latest film Luca is a coming of age story set in the Italian Riviera. Until any of us can visit again, we can enjoy the colorful animated seaside town as we follow Luca and his friend Alberto on their summer adventures. The plot twist is that the friends are actually sea monsters secretly spending the summer looking like humans on land.
This is one of my absolute favorite Disney movies. It’s about a female heroine on a journey to save her people. When the coconuts start turning up with ash inside them and the fishers can’t find any fish anymore, Moana realizes she must step in. Her father wants to stay on the island, but she knows that she must return the heart to Tefiti and restore balance to the earth again, and that lays beyond the reef. The music is so catchy and empowering.
This has been my niece’s favorite her whole life. When we went to Walt Disney World, she was the most excited to meet Princess Merida and couldn’t stop grinning afterwards. It’s a lovely story about a daughter and mother who don’t quite understand one another. Merida wants to be free to do whatever she wants, and her mom wants her to do as she is expected to: get married and settle down. Rather than romance, the relationship between mothers and daughters are at the heart of this story. And when Merida accidentally gets in over her head, she wonders if she if she could ever change her fate.
The original is one of my favorite movies of all time. While it’s not entirely faithful to the original story and certainly isn’t the most accurate of tales, it still celebrates the life of Mulan and the sacrifice she made for her family and her people. When the emperor calls for one male from each household across the land to combat the approaching Huns, Mulan steps in for her ailing father. Once she runs away, they cannot expose her for fear of getting her arrested. Will she make it through the war without exposing herself? Will she stop the Huns from their violent campaign?
This movie surprised me so much. I thought I knew what I was getting into, and then it turned out to be so much more. I thought it would be a movie about a creature, but it turned out to be a movie about family. Lilo is a lonely little girl, looking for friendship wherever she can find it. Because of a mix up at the shelter, Lilo picks out Stitch to be her new ‘dog.’ Her sister gives in because she’s trying to raise her alone after their parents died. But as time goes on, her sister struggles more and more and is ready to give up. Lilo and Stitch have to step up and help save the family.
OK, this one will require some handholding and maybe some tissue providing. Coco, if you’re unfamiliar, is about a little boy who really wants to be a guitar player, but his family hates music and refuses to talk about why. On the Day of the Dead, main character Miguel accidentally crosses over the bridge to the world of the dead. Now he needs to find an ancestor to provide him a blessing so he can get back to being human, but none of the ancestors want to bless his interest in music. He sets off to find a famous singer that he’s certain is his ancestor, racing against the clock to make his way home.
The first time I watched this movie, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe a movie could share such a powerful message without coming across hokey. It’s such an important lesson for our current generation, and it has stayed with me through the years. Judy Hopps, the first bunny officer in Zootopia, is determined to make her mark when she realizes no one takes her seriously. She crosses paths with fox Nick Wilde and, after he makes a fool out of her, she’s determined to make him help her solve a missing mammal case, only to find out it’s a bigger case than anyone realized, and she isn’t sure if she can do it.
Disney+ Movies for Older Elementary-Aged Kids
These are selected with the sophistication of this age group in mind. These kids can handle nuanced jokes as well as nuanced topics. They may have already lived through some loss and trauma and already have accepted that the world isn’t always perfect. These movies honor that wisdom, though younger siblings may still love watching alongside their big brothers and sisters.
One of the most recent Disney movies, this one follows a young woman trying to save her people by finding the last dragon and bringing peace to her homelands. This follows in the footsteps of the recent Disney trend about not worrying about falling in love but recognizing that your people mean everything. It focuses on Southeast Asian cultures, which is also a demographic that you unfortunately never get to see as the star of their own stories.
This was a cute, quirky movie about a young woman who has always wanted to be a godmother. As the godmothering training program is on the verge of collapse, she escapes to the real world to give one last little girl a godmother. But the girl she finds isn’t quite a girl so much as a woman. It’s a sweet movie, and the humor is tongue in cheek. The message of finding magic in our real world provides us with some much needed magic of our own.
When we were younger, Disney tended to invest in these smaller movies, making them full production value but not necessarily having huge theatrical releases (Freaky Friday anyone?) Stargirl follows in those same footsteps. Also, it’s based on a novel written by one of my favorite YA authors, Jeffrey Spinelli. Leo is a quiet kid in school who has worked really hard to not be noticed after suffering from bullies at a young age. But when Stargirl comes to school, people can’t help but notice. Their relationship helps each of them change in ways they never thought possible.
Joe Gardner, a Black middle school band teacher (played by Jamie Foxx), has long been waiting for his big break. But right as he gets his big break, he falls through a manhole cover, his body dies, and his soul is being sent back. He sneaks into where new souls are being sent to Earth and finds a soul that has refused to live and tries to teach her what is so great about being human. But his hijinks end up putting soul number 22 (played by Tina Fey), back into his body.
Unfortunately, Disney has a history of not letting Black people be people in their own movies (i.e., The Princess and the Frog), so I felt a little uncomfortable about a Black man being taken over by a white woman for so much of the film. That being said, it still has an incredible Black lead in Jamie Foxx, and the messaging is so important and beautiful. The movie ends up being a delight and well worth everyone’s time. For older kids, parents may want to have a conversation around the elephant in the room after watching.