‘Monitoring’ what the kids watch? Here are 5 family-friendly shows you’ll like as much as (or more than) they do.
Recently, after interpreting my viewing habits, Netflix “helpfully” suggested that I could make a Kid account. I don’t have kids. And stop judging me, Netflix! I enjoy watching animated television, and as more of my friends are having kids, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Family-friendly shows aimed at children. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have lots of entertainment geared toward kids. And with Disney working toward its own streaming service, there will be more and more. In that vast amount of content, not much can truly entertain the family as a whole. But here are five noteworthy family-friendly shows that are actually fun for kids and adults alike.
For most people, just seeing the name Guillermo del Toro means you’re in for an enjoyable adventure fantasy. With credits like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Blade II and this year’s highly acclaimed The Shape of Water, just to name a few, he has a solid reputation for delivering gripping entertainment. But family-friendly?
Enter Trollhunters, which tells the story of a secret civilization of trolls and a magical amulet that, for the first time, selects a human to protect them. Jim takes up the mantle, and with the help of his friends Claire and Toby — and his troll instructors Blinky and AAARRRGGHH!!! — endeavors to protect trolls and humans alike from the evil army’s plans. Can they defeat the enemy and balance their secret roles with their normal lives at school and home?
There’s plenty of action, but the story has lots of heart as well, showing the love in both traditional and nontraditional families, the power of friendship, second chances and learning not to judge people based on what they look like.
Trollhunters won six of the nine Daytime Emmy Awards it was nominated for and boasts the voice talents of Kelsey Grammer, Jonathan Hyde, Ron Perlman, Steven Yeun, Clancy Brown, Tom Hiddleston, James Purefoy, Mark Hamill, Lena Headey, Tom Kenny and the late Anton Yelchin.
2. Niko and the Sword of Light
Niko and the Sword of Light may not even be on most people’s radar, but it’s slightly reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender and is one of my favorites. In a magical world very different from our own, the royal family is imprisoned by an evil sorcerer who infects the creatures of the various lands with dark spirits. In an effort to overthrow the wicked magician, the royal family keeps creating a warrior to champion them — however, throughout time each attempt has failed, and this is their last chance to save their world. But an accident occurs, and Niko is released too soon — this time not being a fully formed adult but instead a little boy.
You’ll find a good deal of humor here — some from the usual goofy animal sidekick often found in family-friendly shows, but a good deal from the two main characters. With Niko, who was supposed to be fully grown, and Princess Lyra, who’s lived for centuries magically trapped as a child, the comedy comes from little kids speaking like adults.
Even though there are battles, Niko and the Sword of Light is safe enough for younger children. Niko uses his sword of light not to kill or maim but to drive out the darkness. It’s an epic quest with lessons about friendship, bravery, honor, compassion, empathy, teamwork and finding the good inside.
3. Skylanders Academy
I’ve never been a huge fan of cartoons based on video games (really, Pac-Man?), but Skylanders Academy is great fun, with a number of valuable lessons. And you don’t need to be a fan of the video game series to enjoy the show.
The academy trains students to become protectors of the world of Skylands, and there’s a good deal of mystery involved as to the history of some of the characters — as well as a gloomy past for Skylands itself. Even with this, it’s a pretty light show with plenty of humor.
The impressive cast includes Justin Long, Ashley Tisdale, Jonathan Banks, Bobcat Goldthwait, Norm MacDonald, Harland Williams and Felicia Day — and supporting characters voiced by Catherine O’Hara, Parker Posey, Susan Sarandon and Billy West. But the real strength of the show is in its characters. Our heroes each possess a unique skill, as well as some inner problem. They find that success comes from working together, and they learn how to overcome their own shortcomings, often turning liabilities into assets.
4. The Deep
I almost didn’t watch this one because I made the assumption that, like a lot of family-friendly shows about science and animals, it was an educational cartoon about the sea. I’m glad I tried it, though, because The Deep is more Star Trek than Captain Planet.
The series, based on a comic book, is about a family and their underwater explorations. The Nektons live on a submarine and travel to the unknown or unexplored reaches of Earth’s oceans, solving mysteries they find as they search for the lost city of Lemuria. With technology just beyond anything we currently have, especially in their submarine home, it appears to be set in the not-too-distant future as they trace an ancient past.
The family is multiracial, but just as a series wouldn’t spend time discussing the race of a white family, race is never a topic here, successfully being inclusive instead of othering. They’ve also managed to avoid the usual family tropes with the father, mother, son and daughter — although there’s a fun competitive streak between the two siblings.
Even though it’s not an animal education program, the series does teach respect for both the sea and all the creatures in it, as well as discussing topics like personal responsibility, trying your best, heroism/sacrifice and caring for one another. Before you get too worried, it’s also a ton of fun as the family searches for the lost city — especially because they’re not the only ones looking for it. Plus, the mixture of hard science fiction and mystical mythology makes it relatively unique.
5. Dragons: Race to the Edge
You probably won’t have to do much prodding to get kids to watch anything in the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, but Dragons: Race to the Edge is better than anything that came after the first movie.
The mysterious Dragon Eye sets our heroes off on a quest to explore other regions in search of new dragons. Their adventures place them in unfamiliar lands among unfamiliar people — some with better relationships with the dragons and some with worse — and pits them against foes that capture the creatures and enslave them for sale.
There’s the usual goofiness, and the relationships among the main characters manage to be familiar while maturing over the seasons. Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, Christopher Mintz-Please, T.J. Miller and the rest, including notables David Tennant, Stephen Root, David Faustino and Mark Hamill, all bring the comedic timing and subtle pathos we’ve learned to expect from the series of films. While the first and second films explored misunderstandings that can lead to violence, as well as overcoming a disability, the show explores dealing with the family we have and the family we choose, working together, pride and forgiveness.
Give Them a Try
So if you’re looking for family-friendly shows you can watch with your kids without pulling your hair out or banging your head against the table, give these a try. After all, these shows are not just about letting the “electronic babysitter” take over, or learning things like numbers and the alphabet, which you’ve likely already mastered. The great thing about these shows is that they’re not only entertaining enough for kids and adults alike, but they teach life lessons and open up the chance for meaningful dialogue with your family.
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