What’s Streaming and In Theatres for Kids?

By Caitlin Armstrong  | 

When it comes to entertainment content, there’s arguably never been a better time to be a kid. From animated series to live-action children’s movies to countless hours of programming spanning both retro classics and fresh originals on nearly every streaming platform, the options abound. Case in point, kids’ and family content (Read: Paw Patrol, iCarly, SpongeBob SquarePants) was the largest growth and engagement driver for ViacomCBS in the third quarter of 2021. “I don’t think it’s any secret that kids drive a big amount of the minutes watched on streaming services,” said president Brian Robbins. Last year, kids’ channel Cocomelon on YouTube garnered nearly 100 million subscribers while the channel averaged 3.5 billion monthly views—more than any other YouTube channel or Netflix and Disney Plus combined. Such gains increased exponentially across most mediums as a result of the pandemic, which forced frazzled parents to rely on screens as primary sources for their children’s educational and entertainment offerings. Here’s a look at what little ones may be watching.

Smashing Sequels
The Addams Family 2 is the second animated film in what may become a larger series, following the first installment released in 2019 (and unrelated to a pair of live-action films that came out in the early 1990s). The highly stylized cartoon is true in style to Charles Addams’s original drawings from 1938, but the film’s storyline, dialogue and jokes are refreshingly modern. America’s favorite spooky family sets off on a road trip in their camper van to visit iconic sights including Death Valley and the Grand Canyon. Kooky hijinks ensue en route, including Wednesday dumping red paint, horror flick Carrie-style, on a group of contestants at a Little Miss Jalapeno Popper contest in Texas and Pugsley falling headfirst into Niagara Falls. Punchy pop references—like Gomez saying, “Tell that Billie Eilish she’s a little too sunny for my taste”—may delight big-kid viewers.

In other ghoulish news (but suited for a young audience), Hotel Transformania, the fourth installment in the Hotel Transylvania franchise that kicked off in 2012, will enjoy a worldwide Amazon Prime premiere on January 14. That’s months later than the originally scheduled October 1 theatrical release, which was postponed and tweaked in light of ongoing pandemic problems. Still, producers are hopeful this offering will be a success, based on the $520 million worldwide profits grossed by Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation in 2018. The plot finds Count Dracula and his monster buddies transformed to humans, while Johnny, their human friend, has become a monster.

Blasts from the Past
Gen X consumers may hold a fondly nostalgic place in their hearts for Hasboro’s My Little Pony toys created in the 1980s, which subsequently spawned a series of shows and films. Their aesthetics and storylines morphed over the decades, eventually leading to the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic craze circa 2010 that ushered in a new wave of diehard fans called “Bronies”—aka, adult men passionate about the magical horses. Now, My Little Pony: A New Generation is offering yet another reboot that honors past plots while presenting new twists. In the magical kingdom of Equestria, a filly and her friends are determined to reunite ponies, Pegasus and unicorns after centuries of animosity. Advanced CG animation plus timely references to bigotry and xenophobia make this a great tale for today.

For another blast from the even farther past, Netflix recently announced a deal to acquire the Roald Dahl Story Company (RDSC), expanding a previous 2018 pact that gave the streaming platform rights to adapt some of the British writer’s most beloved children stories. Dahl’s books—which include Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and Willy Wonka, among others—have sold over 300 million copies worldwide, been translated into 63 languages and made into movies and musicals. Netflix plans to spend roughly $1 billion on the production of live action films and television shows, games, immersive experiences, products and more, all based on Dahl’s creations. An adaptation of “Matilda the Musical” is already in the works. “These stories and their messages of the power and possibility of young people have never felt more pertinent,” said Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Office and Co-CEO at Netflix. “As we bring these timeless tales to more audiences in new formats, we’re committed to maintaining their unique spirit and their universal themes of surprise and kindness, while also sprinkling some fresh magic into the mix.”

Lights, Camera, Live Action
Clifford the Big Red Dog took advantage of the Veterans Day holiday weekend to premiere simultaneously in 3,407 North American theaters, and on Paramount Plus. It pulled in $2.3 million at the box office on its first day. Though ticket sales for kids under 12 have lagged in recent months due to coronavirus concerns, the FDA’s recent authorization of Covid-19 vaccines for children ages five to 11 has entertainment industry experts hoping those purchases will soon pick up again. In this Walt Becker-directed feature that reimagines the classic children’s books first published in 1963, a 12-year-old girl named Emily Elizabeth receives a red puppy as a present. One night she goes to sleep and wakes up to a shocking discovery: her tiny furry friend has grown into a giant 10-foot dog. That’s especially problematic, as Emily and her family live in a small New York City apartment.

On Netflix, the kids’ culinary show Waffles + Mochi was developed by Michelle Obama’s production company, Higher Ground. The former First Lady also hosts, while episodes feature guest cameos ranging from actors Jack Black and Rashida Jones to celebrity chefs Samin Nosrat (star of Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix) and Peruvian restaurateur Pia Leon. Waffles + Mochi follows the adventures of two eponymous puppets who work in a supermarket but spend their free time traveling the globe in a magical flying shopping cart, learning about novel ingredients and different cuisines. Hard-hitting topics like water scarcity or indigenous foodways are discussed in a calm, inclusive way, making them palatable for viewers of all ages.

Finally, in a bit of breaking news, young fans can look forward to a film adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s beloved classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go coming to the big screen. But they won’t be quite a bit older by then, given the target date of 2027. JJ Abrams has signed on as a producer, with Jon M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians fame directing. Happy viewing for the whole family!

Caitlin Armstrong
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