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The Best Kids' Movies Of 2021

We're all slowly beginning to shake off 2020, but one thing remains just as true this year as last: We all need quality entertainment, and that includes the little ones. Many of us — heck, most of us — have been deprived of the theater experience for quite some time now, but fortunately there isn't any shortage of awesome feature offerings for kids, as the streamers of the world have stepped up to bring first-run flicks right into our homes.

2021 has already brought us some truly excellent kids' movies, most of which have been dropped directly to subscription-based streamers. Of course, if you have children, you probably have very little in the way of time to seek out the hot new releases, but we're here to help. We've curated a handy list of the best new family flicks that 2021 has to offer, including a new adventure for a beloved old gang, a lovingly-animated feature starring a certain endlessly cheerful sponge, a pair of exciting live-action future classics, and one instant classic from the venerable House of Mouse. Let's take a look at the very best kids' movies of 2021 so far.

Scooby-Doo! The Sword and the Scoob

Warner Bros. Animation keeps cranking out new Scooby-Doo movies at an impressive pace, and they keep being just as fun and endearing as Scooby-Doo has ever been. The latest outing for Scooby and the gang is no different: Scooby-Doo! The Sword and the Scoob finds Scooby, Shaggy, Daphne, Velma, and Fred transported back in time by an evil sorceress to the time of the legendary King Arthur, where Shaggy gums up the works by pulling Excalibur out of the stone (so he can slice a block of cheese, of course), which throws into question just who in the heck the rightful ruler of England is. The gang must use their mystery-solving skills to help Arthur escape the clutches of the sorceress Morgan Le Fay while also attempting to find their way back to the present day.

Scooby-Doo! The Sword and the Scoob is a great time for kids and their parents (most of whom will have fond memories of kicking back with a bowl of cereal to watch the old Scooby-Doo! Where Are You? series every Saturday morning). The flick's excellent voice cast includes Nick Frost (3Below: Taes of Arcadia) as Merlin, Jason Isaacs (Castlevania) as King Arthur, and Grey Griffin (Bless the Harts) as Morgan Le Fay — not to mention the great Fred Welker (who has voiced Fred since the '60s), the hilarious Kate Micucci (who takes her first crack at voicing Velma), and Matthew Lillard (who has owned the role of Shaggy in both live-action and animation for a couple decades now). Tessa Smith of Mama's Geeky heaped praise on the movie in her review, writing, "This movie does a great job of channeling the original show with the look, the humor, and the story. I love having new Scooby-Doo content that feels like classic Scooby-Doo content. This is one that we will watch as a family time and time again."

Scooby-Doo! The Sword and the Scoob is available on your favorite digital rental platforms.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Kids can never get enough of SpongeBob Squarepants (and honestly, neither can a fair number of parents), and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, the third feature based on the classic Nickelodeon series, is just as much fun as fans have come to expect. As the first SpongeBob flick to be 3-D computer animated, it might look a little different — but all of the good-natured, goofy humor we've come to love is still intact, and alongside the classic voice cast, sharp-eared viewers will notice some pretty big names turning in supporting performances.

While much of the world has already gotten a peek at the movie in theaters, plans for a theatrical release were scrapped in the United States. Instead, the flick is available for those enjoying the newly-relaunched Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access), which boasted The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run as one of its launch titles. The plot involves SpongeBob and Patrick setting off on an adventure to rescue the former's sea snail, Gary, who has been kidnapped for his precious slime by King Poseidon and— well, as with most SpongeBob stories, it's really best to just let the zaniness wash over you. That supporting voice cast includes the likes of Keanu Reeves, Awkwafina, Danny Trejo, Tiffany Haddish, and the one and only Snoop Dogg — but even they must take a backseat to everyone's favorite lovable sponge. Wrote the Austin Chronicle's Richard Whittaker in his review, "There are good reasons why SpongeBob has been top of the reef for two decades, and the third film in the series keeps that boisterous streak alive. ... Sweet, silly, with that profoundly bizarre world view ... [it's] SpongeBob as we love him, and that's all the fun you could need."

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is available to stream on Paramount+.

Flora & Ulysses

Based on the childrens' novel by Kate DiCamillo, Flora & Ulysses sports the kind of premise that is just too silly to not be a totally good time: cynical young comic book fan Flora Buckman (Matilda Lawler, in only her second feature film), down in the dumps due to her parents' separation, rescues a squirrel who has been sucked into a vacuum cleaner. Somehow, the experience changes the little guy: It grants him sentience, the ability to bang out simple messages on Flora's mother's typewriter, and powers that include super-strength and flight. When Flora shares her secret with her father, George (Ben Schwartz, Sonic the Hedgehog), the trio run afoul of an animal control officer (Danny Pudi, Community) with a serious vendetta against squirrels. With the help of her friend William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, The Haunting of Bly Manor), Flora must protect her little buddy while helping her parents reconcile.

Flora & Ulysses was released directly to Disney+, winning over audiences with its strongly drawn characters and offbeat humor. Sophomore director Lena Khan does an admirable job translating the quirky material to live-action, with the help of a sterling supporting cast that also includes Alyson Hannigan, Janeane Garofalo, Bobby Moynihan, and Kate Micucci. In her review for RogerEbert.com, critic Nell Minow wrote, "The film makes time for us to get to know the characters and for them to get to know each other. ... Every role is performed with verve and humor. ... The real find is Lawler, who shows us that Flora may act like a cynic who enjoys expecting the worst, but she is thrilled to discover how to be open to the magic around her."

Flora & Ulysses is available to stream on Disney+.

Finding 'Ohana

The Netflix original Finding 'Ohana is the feature debut of television director Jude Weng, who has turned in episodes of such venerable series as The Good PlaceUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The flick sees young geocache enthusiast Pili (newcomer Kea Peahu) uprooted from her New York City home to take care of her ailing grandfather in the O'ahu countryside. The situation takes a turn for the exciting when Pili discovers a centuries-old book that may contain clues to buried treasure hidden around the island. Putting her geocaching skills to good use, Pili enlists her older brother Ioane (Alex Aiono) and her new friends Owen (Owen Vaccaro) and Hana (Lindsay Watson) to help her hunt for the treasure — an adventure which opens Pili's eyes to the depth and beauty of Hawaiian culture.

The movie plays a bit like a less-weird version of the classic 1985 flick The Goonies, but its emphasis on Pili's discovery of her native culture and the importance of family makes Finding 'Ohana a film to, well, treasure. In her review for Variety, Courtney Howard praised every aspect of the movie, from its young cast to its well-thought-out action sequences to its inspirational message. "On the whole, the narrative's themes are rooted in Hawaiian cultural heritage with nuanced statements on food, family and friendship," she wrote. "The big action set-pieces engage the brain and propel the character-driven dramatics forward. The Drunk History style, anachronistic historical re-imaginings recited from the journal entries (starring Chris Parnell, Marc Evan Jackson and Ricky Garcia as those who hid the treasure) provide an influx of hilarity. ... The adventure these filmmakers and performers take us on feels like a warm tropical breeze."

Finding 'Ohana is available to stream on Netflix.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon is a classic Disney tale, a lushly animated fantasy with an all-star voice cast that, during a normal year, might very well have pulled a Frozen by raking in over a billion dollars at the box office. While it still (all things considered) performed admirably with moviegoers, the flick simultaneously premiered, like 2020's Mulan, on Disney+ Premier Access. Until it becomes available for all subscribers on June 4, you'll have to pony up an additional fee on top of your Disney+ subscription to catch it — but this is well worth it, because the film is fantastic.

It tells the story of Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a warrior princess from the "Heart Land" of the fictional kingdom of Kumandra who is the steward of a mystical orb created in ages past by the land's dragons. The orb's purpose: to protect the citizens of the kingdom from the Druun, evil spirits that absorb their victim's life force, turning them to stone. When Kumandra's five kingdoms clash over the orb, it's shattered into five pieces that are stolen by the Druun. Raya must track down the legendary Sisu, the last of the dragons, if she hopes to reassemble the orb and protect her people.

The flick's stellar cast also includes Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Alan Tudyk, and Awkwafina as Sisu. It has garnered near-universal critical acclaim; Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com called it "a wonderful adventure," praising it as "an ambitious family film that will work for all ages, and one that never talks down to its audience while presenting them with an entertaining, thought-provoking story." Raya and the Last Dragon is another great Disney picture for the vault — and it's hands-down the best family film of the year so far.

Raya and the Last Dragon is available to stream on Disney+ Premier Access for a fee of $29.99.