For once, it wasn't difficult to pick out the top family films of the year; 2011 offered up a surprisingly decent number of worthier-than-usual animated and kid-friendly movies. As a rule, most of these are firmly in the family genre with PG or G ratings, with two notable (but necessary to include) exceptions. Here are our 11 favorite family movies of '11 that the entire family -- plus the young at heart -- can enjoy.
[Top photo: Disney | Warner Bros. | Disney]
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Gallery | Best Family Films of 2011
- 11. 'Dolphin Tale'
A pleasant reminder of why movies that feature non-talking animals are so much more entertaining than live-action/CGI hybrids starring talking pets, 'Dolphin Tale' is a sweet and unforgettable, um, tale that's based on the true story of Winter the dolphin. In the tradition of such animal-centered classics as 'The Black Stallion,' Winter's tale is a heartwarming story of the genuine friendship between two plucky (and adorable) kids and the dolphin they help save.
- 10. 'Kung Fu Panda 2'
Most sequels fail to live up to their predecessors, but this second installment about a kung-fu-fighting panda named Po is action-packed yet surprisingly profound. Po (voiced by Jack Black) is the perfect protagonist, and watching him search for his roots is tender and funny and cause some parents to shed a tear or two. Family and friendship -- and martial arts! -- what could be a better combination for a family flick?
- 9. 'Winnie the Pooh'
Disney's new Pooh tale offers old-fashioned animation and a short-and-simple formula: keep the jokes simple and the songs sweet, and families will thank you. There aren't any gimmicky numbers or over-the-top pop-culture references, just silly, funny jokes (even a modified for kiddos "Who's on First" routine!), cheery songs, and the occasional nod to grown-ups with gags that will make everyone from tots to grandparents laugh aloud.
- 8. 'Puss In Boots'
This spin-off of DreamWorks' hit 'Shrek' franchise is a delightful treat courtesy of its lead, Antonio Banderas. His pitch-"purr"-fect performance as the swashbuckling (and hilarious) titular cat makes the comedy one of the year's worthiest animated movies. With a stellar supporting cast featuring Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis, and heavily accented Amy Sedaris and Billy Bob Thornton, 'Puss' was entertaining enough to merit its own kitty-licious sequel.
- 7. 'The Adventures of Tintin'
The animation alone is worth a trip to the multiplex, thanks to the advances in motion-capture technology. Tweens -- especially boys and built-in fans of the iconic comics -- will adore this globe-trotting adventure following that wunderkind investigative reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his intrepid dog, Snowy. High-stakes action, pirate-ship brawls, and sunken treasures are all on dazzling display in this whirlwind adventure that's a must-see for the 9 & up set.
- 6. 'Arthur Christmas'
The sub-genre of Santa-based movies is full of either classics or duds, and this witty British comedy about Father Christmas' bumbling but sweet son Arthur (James McAvoy) is one of 2011's most underrated gems. The humor is definitely English (it is, after all, from Aardman studios, the team behind 'Wallace & Gromit' and 'Chicken Run'), but that's a good thing. We say skip 'The Santa Clause' this year and watch 'Arthur Christmas'!
- 5. 'War Horse'
It's PG-13 and includes some upsetting war sequences, but for mature double-digit-aged kids and teens, this is a gorgeously shot, beautifully acted family drama about a teenager (Jeremy Irvine in his impressive feature film debut) who raises an extraordinary horse and forms a bond so strong even the Great War couldn't keep them apart. With Spielberg at the helm and a fantastic English cast, this is a must-see pick for the Christmas holidays.
- 4. 'Rango'
Animated movies aren't usually sophisticated, but that's precisely the word for Gore Verbinski's sweeping adventure about an existential lizard (Johnny Depp). With references to the best elements of the western genre (including knowing nods to John Ford and Clint Eastwood), Rango is one white-hat hero even child-free adults will appreciate. Keep your ears perked for Timothy Olyphant's amazing Eastwood impression.
- 3. 'The Muppets'
If you don't love Jim Henson's classic creations, it's quite possible you're missing a heart. The return of Kermit, Miss. Piggy and the gang via the always adorable Jason Segel (who co-wrote the movie) and Amy Adams is impossible to resist. Chock full of memorable cameos, zippy musical numbers, and goofy gags, this is exactly the sort of crowd-pleasing comedy that you'll want to see again and again.
- 2. 'Hugo'
It's hard to believe, but the auteur responsible for 'Goodfellas' and 'The Departed' has crafted a spectacular adaptation of Brian Selznick's Caldecott-winning illustrated children's book. More a love letter to the magic of movie-making than anything else, this Oscar contender is as much for serious cineastes as for tweens familiar with the tale of orphaned Hugo (Asa Butterfield) and the eccentric toymaker (Ben Kingsley) who changes his life.
- 1. 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II'
The Boy Who Lived finally triumphs over Voldemort (as if there was ever any doubt), but that's not the sole reason David Yates' final 'Potter' installment is the year's most breathtaking family movie. After 10 years and 8 movies, audiences deserved an epic end to the saga, and Harry, Ron, Hermione, Snape all delivered. Unforgettable moments such as Ron and Hermione's long-awaited first kiss, Snape's tragic memories, and Harry's heartbreaking walk through the Forbidden Forest are all beautifully captured. All really is well.