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Best Kids and Family Movies from 2011

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In 2011, 3D continued to dominate at the box office in the category of kids and family movies. We saw some wonders of animation and some heart-felt films based on true stories, as well as some great comedies, amazing films based on classic books, and even an entertaining documentary or two. Here are some of our picks for best kids/family films from 2011.

1. Overall Best Movie for Families and Kids of All Ages

Hang Gliding in Rio
Photo © 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios
RIO: With colorful characters, vibrant animation and a lively beat, Rio is a film the whole family can enjoy -- and I mean the whole family; it's rated G! Full of life and energy, Rio conveys a fairly meaningful message about living life to the fullest. But, Rio's true brilliance comes from the film's exotic locale. The spice and flavor of the Marvelous City, Rio de Janeiro, enhances this festive flick and adds a rich cultural backdrop that will grab the interest of moviegoers of all ages and can even be educational. Download our Rio Movie Scavenger Hunt to help kids focus in on the cultural and geographical elements of the movie. They will have fun learning while they watch!

2. Best Film for Preschoolers

Winnie the Pooh and Friends
Photo © Disney. All rights reserved.
WINNIE THE POOH: draws upon the classic tales by A.A. Milne to create a story full of innocent fun that is sure to tickle little ones' funny bones. Like Disney's Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, originally released in 1977, the new story features all the familiar Hundred Acre Wood characters in a timeless story that includes even more from the narrator and a greater emphasis on and interaction with the text of the story. Thus, kids can easily understand that the movie is an adaption of a storybook, and they will be excited to read the stories to find out more about the enchanting adventures of Pooh and his pals. (Rated G).

3. Best Film Based on a Book

Hugo
Photo © Paramount Pictures
HUGO:I love reading a book with my kids in anticipation of watching the movie, so this is my favorite category, and we had several great movies based on books this year. But, the winner is Hugo. Based on the unique historical fiction novel by Brian Selznick, the movie is rich in cinematic beauty and transports audiences to another era. In addition to historical significance the movie mystery about a young orphan coming of age during a time when the film industry was up and coming conveys some thought-provoking themes that make for great family discussions.

Runner up for this category is, of course, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, for older kids. Also of note, the thrilladellic and fun adventure Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer (great for kids about ages 5 and up), and the sweeping historical fiction drama War Horse (based on a childrens/young adult novel but more geared toward teens and adults).

4. Best Animation

Tintin & Snowy
Photo © Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: Performance capture animation has improved with virtually every fully animated film made using the technique (I say virtually, because of this years' Mars Needs Moms, which was a bit of a fail). Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, however, not only brought motion capture to an entirely new level, it knocked it out of the park with one of the most impressively animated films ever. Not only does the animation look stunning and realistic with a color palette that perfectly compliments the story and books the story was based on, but the animators also used animation tricks to add an air of whimsy to the movie, which gives it a comic book feel that would make the stories' original author Herge proud.

Other fantastic animated movies from 2011 are the pristinely animated and Easter egg-filled Cars 2 and the highly detailed Kung Fu Panda 2. Also of note, Aardman and Sony brought us the very uniquely animated holiday comedy Arthur Christmas, which is reminiscent of the clay animation Aardman is famous for. And, the animated experience of the Wild West town of Dirt in Rango has more character than you can shake a stick at (although, it should have been presented in 3D to make the experience complete).

5. Best Movie Based on a True Story

Dolphin Tale
Photo © Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros.
DOLPHIN TALE:We had two inspiring true story movies this year, but calling a tie is a wimpy way to go, so the winner is Dolphin Tale, based on the true story of a young dolphin who beats the odds and survives without a tail. Kids and dolphin lovers of all ages can really relate to this movie, and although a lot of thematic elements have been added (that were not in the real life story), all of the characters represent real people or an amalgamation of real people who have influenced or been influenced by Winter the dolphin (who plays herself in the movie!).

The true story runner up, Soul Surfer, has a lot in common with Dolphin Tale; both are inspirational stories about overcoming disability, both have to do with the ocean or ocean creatures, and both are great summer flicks that are geared toward kids and families.

6. Best Soundtrack

Blu and Jewel in Rio
Photo © Blue Sky Studios/20th Century Fox
RIO: Not just the best kids and family movie, Rio also wins hands down for best soundtrack. The festive booty-shakin' music (as my 3-year-old terms it) exudes fun and flavor. Funky Latin American beats meld with R&B, and the soundtrack features music from the likes of Brazilian music legend Sergio Mendes and talented percussionist Carlinhos Brown, along with hot music stars such as Jamie Foxx, will.i.am and Taio Cruz. This soundtrack has something for everyone, including some updated Brazilian hits as well as all new music.

Other great soundtracks from kids/family movies 2011: Cars 2, Winnie the Pooh, Reel Steel.

7. Funniest Kids/Family Movies

The Muppets Movie Photo
Photo © Disney
THE MUPPETS: Most movies geared at kids try to be funny. But, a family movie that can transcend the potty jokes and physical slapstick comedy and provide a more unique, clever sort of humor deserves accolades for sure. This year, The Muppets movie fits that bill. Adults and kids alike will be tickled by the clever cameo appearances, and old school Muppets charm doesn't seem to have gone out of style. Most of the classic Muppets humor is derived from the huge personalities of the different characters and the way they interact with each other. Of course, for this Muppets movie the comedy started long before the movie came out, with the numerous trailer parodies, TV ads and magazine specials that found the Muppets taking over some of the biggest films of the year and making them into a Muppets publicity masterpiece. Hopefully, all of the parody trailers and other Muppets appearances will be included in the bonus features on the Blu-ray.

8. Most Eccentric Kids and Family Movie of the Year

Elton John as a Gnome
Photo © Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Gnomeo & Juliet: Every year, there seems to be one or two kids' movies that are, well, different. A little out there. I personally appreciate the effort of filmmakers who try to break away from the mold and the string of sequels to create a unique movie with a new storyline. Sometimes it works, and other times not so much. 2011's Gnomeo & Juliet features garden gnomes as main characters, an all Elton John soundtrack and a story based on a famous Shakespearean tragedy. All together, that makes for an eccentric film, and this time, it worked. The movie is funny, fun and interesting, and the soundtrack manages to be nostalgic while still engaging the youngest of audiences. My children enjoyed the movie, and I enjoyed relating to them a kid-friendly version of the real story, explaining who Shakespeare was, and pointing out all the references to Shakespearean works in the movie.

A couple of other movies that fit the "eccentric" description this year are Arthur Christmas, a wonderful holiday film with some unexpected humor and quirky animation that is modeled after claymation; and Rango, a Wild West adventure with some seriously unique characters and a funky Chameleon as a main star.

9. Best Documentary

Born to be Wild
Photo credit: Warner Bros./Drew Fellman
Born to Be Wild 3D: Warner and IMAX team up once again to bring us a 3D nature experience like no other. We loved Under the Sea 3D, which transported audiences to an underwater world full of fascinating creatures. Born to Be Wild provides the same 3D immersive experience, this time taking viewers to the lush rainforests of Borneo with world-renowned primatologist Dr. Birute Galdikas, and across the rugged Kenyan savannah with elephant authority Dame Daphne Sheldrick. These experts and their teams work to rescue orphaned orangutans and elephants with the hope of raising them and returning them to the wild. The movie informs and educates, but is still a joy to watch.

Of course, we can't let this category go by without mentioning African Cats, the Disneynature Earth Day film that presents the real life stories of a lion cub named Mara, a cheetah named Sita, and Fang, a proud leader of the pride. Kids generally have a natural fascination with the large cat family, and the movie keeps a fast enough pace for both kids and adults to enjoy. Highly informative, graphic and real, African Cats is another in a growing line of Disneynature documentaries that are amazing and empowering. The movie would have been even better in 3D and at and IMAX theater, though. Both of these movies offer educational materials for teachers and parents to help kids learn more, and also, filmmakers for both films sought to inspire people to do more to help and protect the animals and nature.

10. Best Movie for Tweens

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Photo © Warner Brothers. All rights reserved.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 2: As tweens cross over from childhood to teenagerdom, they become interested more adult themed movies. A movie that can interest adults and grab as much of the youth as possible as well does better in theaters, so we've seen a recent explosion in "family" PG-13 films. These films are generally of the action/adventure genre, and they often keep things like profanity, blood and gore, and sexual scenes to a minimum while providing a more edgy adventure.

This year, quite a few worthy movies in this genre were released, but Harry Potter holds more magic than any other. The movie is thrilling for those who love the books and can now see them come to life on the big screen. Of course, the Harry Potter movies are based on books, and a couple of other movies based on books for tweens and teens also came out this year, like I Am Number Four and Beastly.

11. Best Movie for Teens

The Help
Photo © DreamWorks II Distribution Co., LLC. All Rights Reserved.
THE HELP: Thought-provoking, emotional and downrigh hilarious, The Help transports audiences to another time and offers a heart-felt look at life through the eyes of black maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. So many worthy themes have been woven into this movie, the educational elements insighfully compliment the film's artistic merit and entertainment value. Rated PG-13, The Help contains a few scenes that are tough to watch, but nothing that should be too disturbing for teens. And, even the film's detractors bring up points that would make for excellent discussions with teenage kids -- issues like have a white heroin who "saves" the day, or the fact that the film seems very sugar coated and does not truthfully represent the hardships inflicted on black women in that time period. The film's got so much meat in it, family dinner table discussions could last for hours. Just don't have chocolate pie for dessert.

Also of note in this category is the Steven Spielberg movie War Horse. Also based on a wonderful book, and also very educational, this movie has a lot of war violence, making it unsuitable for young children, but for teens (especially those learning about WWI), this movie is also thought-provoking, educational and beautifully filmed.

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