Family content is always a tricky balancing act when it comes to film, creating an experience that can be safe for children to watch while also keeping adults engaged. The task becomes even more complicated when considering films that delve into other genres, such as sci-fi, adventure, and rom-com, while still being acceptable to the entire family. This constant balance towards appealing to the family-centric audience and the critics expecting stellar material creates a number of films that form a rift between the two groups.
While general audiences are more often than not more forgiving of family films compared to harsh opinions from critics., there are the rare and intriguing cases where the opposite is the case. Family films that are more nuanced and appeal to the critical lens tend to be much more intriguing, especially when they somehow fail to succeed in their primary audiences’ eyes but succeed in others.
15 ‘Sky High’ (2005)
Critics Score: 73%, Audience Score: 57%
Sky High shows a strange alternate world where superheroes and their battles with supervillains are commonplace and accepted in society. Despite his parents being the two most popular superheroes in the world, young Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) has no powers to call his own. Despite this, his parents are still enrolling him in a special high school for teenagers with superheroes, making him the only one with no powers to call his own.
Despite the derivative plot and standard coming-of-age themes, the undeniable charm and entertainment helped make Sky High a hit among critics. Critics especially loved the number of great quirky side characters from iconic actors such as Kurt Russell and Bruce Campbell. Audiences, however, couldn’t get into the absurdity and poorly aged special effects of the film, with the clichés and generic archetypes of the film simply being too much.
14 ‘Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book’ (1994)
Critics Score: 80%, Audience Score: 55%
Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is a live-action adaptation of the classic novel, most commonly known for its animated counterpart. It follows the story of Mowgli (Jason Scott Lee), a young man who was raised by animals in the jungle and is soon forced to go face-to-face with the unknowns of human civilization. He finds himself falling in love and battling the corrupt Captain Boone, who plans to use Mowgli to find the hidden treasures of the jungle.
This rarely-forgotten live-action adaptation is one of the first to be made under the Disney umbrella, and they would eventually remake it again with Jon Favreau. This film follows Rudyard Kipling‘s original novel much more closely than the classic animated film, making for a completely different cinematic viewing experience. While critics were able to find entertainment in this different take, audiences couldn’t get behind a film that was so completely different from the animated classic.
13 ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ (2019)
Critics Score: 90%, Audiences Score: 55%
The Kid Who Would Be King is a modern-day interpretation and retelling of the classic tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The film follows young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who miraculously stumbles upon the magical sword of Excalibur and is forced into a battle against the forces of evil from returning and conquering the world.
Critics fell in love with The Kid Who Would Be King‘s retelling and adaptation of the timeless themes and messages of classic Arthurian tales in a modern contemporary setting. Audiences, however, found the movie a complete bore and couldn’t get over the mix of hit-or-miss comedy and a two-hour runtime that drags in the final act.
12 ‘Zathura’ (2005)
Critics Score: 76%, Audience Score: 51%
Zathura follows two young boys who, after their father leaves them alone with their older sister for the day, find an old mysterious space-themed board game known as Zathura. The board game is more than meets the eye, however, and when they begin playing the game, they find that their entire house has been shot into space, with everything in the game being real. With the help of their older sister and a mysterious astronaut, the boys attempt to finish the game to return home.
While it’s hard not to compare the film and Jumanji, Zathura wowed critics with its engaging special effects for the time and its effective story beats and action sequences. Audiences, however, couldn’t help but feel disappointed in the film in comparison to all the great aspects and dynamics of Jumanji, especially with the characters having significantly less charm.
11 ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Kids’ (1989)
Critics Score: 78%, Audience Score: 54%
The classic ’80s family movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids follows a scientist (Rick Moranis) who accidentally uses his newly invented shrink ray and shrinks down his children and their friends to the size of ants. The kids find themselves fighting for survival against the many minuscule dangers of the world while the father attempts to find these children to bring them back to normal size.
There’s a reason that Honey, I Shrunk The Kids is still a household name when it comes to iconic family films, and it’s partly thanks to the positive reception from critics. The special effects and creativity present still hold up over 30 years later, making for an experience that critics considered to be highly charming and full of family spirit. Audiences, however, found the film to be too basic, failing to make an emotional connection to the characters and simply not aging well compared to other family films of the era.
10 ‘Muppets Most Wanted’ (2014)
Critics Score: 80%, Audience Score: 59%
The sequel to 2011’s highly popular The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted follows The Muppets as they find themselves intertwined into a jewel-heist plot while on a new tour in Europe. Things get even worse when a criminal that looks like Kermit the Frog switches places with the real Kermit, running the show and stealing jewels across Europe while Kermit is arrested and sent to the Gulag.
The initial Muppets film was already a smash hit for critics, so it makes sense that the sequel would continue to please critics fond of the charm, clever jokes, and songs still present in the film. Audiences, however, didn’t find the film anywhere near as enjoyable as the previous one, feeling that the sequel jumped the shark and didn’t understand what made the original film so great.
9 ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (2005)
Critics Score: 83%, Audience Score: 51%
A remake of the classic fantasy comedy film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory follows a poor young boy who wins a tour of the most famous chocolate factory in the world. Young Charlie finds himself mystified and enthralled by the unreal and magical world inside the chocolate factory’s walls, run and led by the equally strange Willy Wonka (played by Johnny Depp).
It’s always difficult to have a remake of a film be comparable to the original, yet director Tim Burton does his best to create a visually enthralling and notably dark experience, according to critics. The film also takes much more inspiration from the original Roald Dahl novel, which was appreciated by a number of critics, yet also resulted in disappointment and confusion from audiences. These changes, on top of a number of others, such as the worse musical numbers and overall lack of charm, made the film a disappointment to audiences compared to the original.
8 ‘Madeline’ (1998)
Critics Score: 65%, Audience Score: 43%
Madeline follows the story of a group of young, innocent girls who attend and live at a Catholic boarding school in Paris. As they continue to live their lives and create harmless mischief for their instructor and neighbors, the life the know is suddenly put at risk when the owner expresses a desire to sell the school. It soon becomes up to the rebellious Madeline (Hatty Jones) to do all that she can to save the school from this fate.
While critics didn’t see the entire value of the film for older audiences, they couldn’t deny the amount of charm, wit, and clever characters that helped make Madeline a fulfilling viewing experience. Audiences were much less kind to the film, expressing that the film felt boring and unengaging to watch, as well as being completely different from the books the film was based on.
7 ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (2009)
Critics Score: 73%, Audience Score: 57%
Based on the beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of a young child named Max (Max Records), who imagines running away and going to a magical far-off land of talking beasts. The beasts known crown Max as their king, and they spend their days playing rumpus, building forts, and discovering secret hideaways in their adventures in the far-off land.
Director Spike Jonze took what was originally a classic children’s book and wove a beautiful tale of childhood innocence and escapism in the face of hardships. Critics loved this change and adaptation of the material in a modern cinematic lens, although many audiences pushed back, stating that the film and its themes were too adult for children.
6 ‘Stuart Little 2’ (2002)
Critics Score: 81%, Audience Score: 41%
The sequel to the original Stuart Little film, Stuart Little 2 follows Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and the Little family as they continue their lives on the east side of Central Park. As Stuart’s size continues to get in the way of his relationship with his step-brother, he begins fostering a new friendship with a bird named Margalo (Melanie Griffith). When Margalo gets in trouble with an evil falcon, it’s up to Stuart and the rest of the Little family to help her and save the day.
Critics considered Stuart Little 2 an improvement over the original film in just about every way, thanks to the much more visually impressive special effects and the more effective themes present. Audiences, however, did not take to the Stuart Little films in the first place, with the strange antics of a mouse wanting to be a boy being too outlandish for audiences to connect to. This sequel shares an exact audience score with the original film at 41%.
5 ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ (2023)
Critics Score: 61%, Audience Score: 11%
Disney’s recent live-action adaptation of their animated classic, Peter Pan & Wendy tells the story of young Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) and her first encounters with the mythical Peter Pan (Alexander Molony). Alongside Wendy’s brothers and Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), the duo travel to the magical world of Neverland and do battle with the evil pirate captain, Captain Hook (Jude Law).
Critics were impressed by the overall direction of Peter Pan & Wendy provided by David Lowery, who gives the film a distinct tone and voice that distinguishes it from its animated counterpart. Audiences, however, did not take to this new approach to the story, taking issue with the darker visuals and the overall lack of magic that the original was able to provide.
4 ‘Freaky Friday’ (2003)
Critics Score: 88%, Audience Score: 57%
Freaky Friday sees a bickering mom and daughter combo (played by Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis) who are constantly at odds with one another and how they operate. They each get a taste of their own medicine; however, when a magical fortune cookie switches their personalities, they are forced to live in each other’s bodies and see how each other lives.
There’s an undeniable charm in both Curtis and Lohan’s performances, and it helped critics connect with the film and its highly comedic moments. Audiences, however, were quick to compare this film to the 1976 original, feeling that the film doesn’t feel nearly as timeless as it, more often than naught, gets caught up in early 2000s antics.
3 ‘Spy Kids’ (2001)
Critics Score: 93%, Audience Score: 47%
Spy Kids tells the story of ordinary kids Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega), who live their lives and think that their parents are boring. Little do they know that their parents used to be two of the best secret agents from their respective countries but gave up their careers to start a family. Their careers are soon brought into the limelight when a group of evildoers forces them out of hiding, with Carmen and Juni soon having to become spies themselves to save their parents.
Robert Rodriguez‘s direction and story in Spy Kids is filled with energy, making for a highly engaging thrill ride filled with equal parts action and heart that critics loved. The energy may have been just too much for audiences, who couldn’t take the story and characters seriously in the film, on top of special effects not particularly aging well after 20 years.
2 ‘Sneakerella’ (2022)
Critics Score: 92%, Audience Score: 48%
Sneakerella is a modern-day gender swap of the classic Cinderella story, following an aspiring sneaker designer from Queens named El (Chosen Jacobs) who falls for Kira King (Lexi Underwood), the daughter of a basketball superstar. When El gets some help from a fairy godfather-esque figure, he finds the courage to create the best pair of sneakers possible to prove himself and pursue his dream of becoming a ‘legit’ designer.
The story of Cinderella is a timeless classic for a reason, and critics could easily latch on to Sneakerella‘s seamless yet effective adaptation of the material in a completely original way. Audiences, however, quickly got bored by the film’s massive increase in focus on shoes, which many felt took away the wrong message of what made the original story so special.
1 ‘Kim Possible’ (2019)
Critics Score: 100%, Audience Score: 28%
A live-action adaptation of the classic Disney Channel cartoon series, Kim Possible sees the titular teenage superspy (Sadie Stanley) and her best friend Ron Stoppable (Sean Giambrone) entering their first year of high school. While they’ve always been great at stopping supervillains, they have a hard time adjusting to the social hierarchies of high school. Things start to get worse when supervillains Drakken (Todd Stashwick) and Shego (Taylor Ortega) lurk in the shadows and plot their next plan to take over the world.
Critics were positive towards the live-action Kim Possible, especially giving note to the lead performance given by Sadie Stanley, who does a great job filling the role of the iconic characters. However, audiences and fans of the original cartoon series were quick to rip apart the live-action adaptation for its massive changes compared to the original series. The film didn’t do justice to the writing and characters that fans still find enjoyment in from the cartoon series to this day, making the film feel like a disgrace to die-hard fans.
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