Do your kids love animated musicals like Frozen, Beauty and the Beast and Anastasia? If so, then they might be interested in watching live-action musical films.
Musicals were incredibly popular in Hollywood and across the country from the 1920s through the early 1960s. They have enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years, though they haven’t achieved the zenith that they once occupied.
Still, those splashy old Hollywood musicals have plenty to offer modern audiences, even audiences consisting of young children. That’s because many of these films are wholesome and full of humor and heart.
Exposing kids to musical theater and films at a young age may provide them with a critical creative and emotional outlet. Just as jamming out on deskbells or playing through a songbook has excellent cognitive development advantages, so too does involvement in the world of musicals.
What Do Kids Love About Musicals?
Children understand fantasy in a way that adults have long forgotten. They have no trouble fully entering into a story, even one that’s punctuated by exuberant singing and dancing. Not only do they get hooked by the plot but also the pure joy of the music.
Musicals are a colorful and tune-filled manner in which to introduce all sorts of potentially difficult subject matter as well. Some of them are set during the Great Depression or take place in other actual historical settings that can make for fascinating conversation and learning even at a young age.
The musical films that are discussed below were chosen with younger children in mind. With frothy plots, plenty of tunes and lots of splash and color, they certainly present musical films in their best light.
Keep in mind that musicals can grow with your kids too. Grittier choices like Rent, Chicago and Into the Woods introduce more mature subject matter that your kids may begin to encounter as they grow older.
If your child adores movie musicals, then give some consideration to finding local theater troupes for kids or for community productions that need child actors. These can be fun learning experiences that build a child’s confidence, self-esteem and sense of responsibility. Many kids also are able to overcome a fear of public speaking or performance through the magic of the theater.
Top 10 Musicals to Watch with Younger Kids
Directed in 1954 by one of the foremost screen musical directors of all time, Stanley Donen, Seven Brides is filled with rousing songs and exciting dance sequences. While it is not the most politically correct plotline by today’s standards, the story is nothing but wholesome and family-friendly. Fine vocal performances by Jane Powell and Howard Keel make this one a memorable choice.
With soaring vocals and stunning natural backdrops, The Sound of Music is memorable on many counts. Julie Andrews stars in this 1965 classic as a novice nun who is sent to the mansion of the widowed Captain Von Trapp to be the governess to his seven children. As would-be nun Maria, Andrews is radiant and loveable, bringing light and laughter into an austere home.
Filled with light, happy music that your kids will be humming for months, Bye Bye Birdie is a lovely confection. Star-studded with the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, the plot centers on a plan by a small-town songwriter to get a big-time rock ‘n roll singer to record one of his songs. Kids will definitely appreciate the teenage perspectives that permeate the plot.
Starring Shirley Jones and Robert Preston, this is another selection that will appeal to energetic kids who like colorful and imaginative dance sequences. Transferred from the Broadway stage to the big screen in 1962, The Music Man is funny, warm and colorful. Kids will find plenty of folks their age on the screen, all of them singing, dancing and having a wonderful time. This film also serves as a heartwarming look at life in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century.
One of the only modern film musicals to make this list, Enchanted features the engaging Amy Adams as a fairy-tale princess who gets transported to real-world Manhattan. Witty, fast-paced and filled with fun and memorable music, Enchanted shouldn’t be overlooked by fans of movie musicals and their little ones.
6. Mary Poppins
Our family had a lot of fun with this one on Halloween!
It’s virtually impossible to top this 1964 classic starring Julie Andrews. When Ms. Andrews’s stunning vocals are paired with the unstoppable imaginations of the Disney Imagineers, it’s not surprising that magic is the result. A multiple Oscar award winner, the original Mary Poppins charmingly and inventively combines live-action with animation to craft a story that no one can forget.
Here’s another chance for kids to see people their own age singing and dancing on the screen. The main character is played by Judy Garland, who is the third oldest child in a family of five children. One of the other main characters is played by Margaret O’Brien, a very famous child actress in 1944 when this film was made. The storyline takes place in 1904 in St. Louis, centering on a year in the life of a typical family named Smith as they anticipate the opening of the World’s Fair. Full of fun, frolic and music, this is a musical movie that kids can adore.
There may not be kids appearing on the screen in this one, but this classic MGM musical is a crowd-pleaser for all ages. If your kids are particularly interested in how movies are made, especially back in the early years of the business, then they’ll be fascinated by this film, which is widely regarded as the best movie musical ever made.
Leading man Gene Kelly stars as a silent-film era celebrity who is one half of the greatest leading couple in movies. Hollywood is ready to enter the “talkie” era, but Kelly’s partner has a squeaky voice that could derail both of their careers. Hilarity that the whole family can appreciate ensues.
9. Top Hat
What better way to introduce kids to the unbeatable song and dance pair of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers than with their best movie? This flawless film is fun for everyone, featuring glamorous sets and costumes as well as dreamlike dance sequences. With a score by Irving Berlin, there are plenty of toe-tapping and memorable songs to enjoy. Plus, kids will love the laughs provided by legendary screen comic Edward Everett Horton.
10. The Wizard of Oz
If your kids haven’t seen The Wizard of Oz, now is a great time to introduce them. The plotline is based on L. Frank Baum’s literary classic, giving you a chance to introduce the book and its adaptation to celluloid. Although some small kids may find the Wicked Witch of the West scary, most will be charmed by the adventures of Dorothy and her dog, Toto.
Along their journey through Oz, Dorothy and Toto encounter timeless, endearing characters like the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion. Dorothy learns some important lessons along the way, and so do many of the other characters. It’s a wholesome and magical entertainment that has delighted kids of all ages for decades.
Some of our Favorite Broadway Shows
When your little ones are ready for a professional or semi-professional theatrical experience, consider trying one of these family-friendly musicals:
The tale of the Great Depression-era orphan is full of fun and heart. Kids love having the chance to cheer on a plucky heroine who’s so close to their age.
Your kids have probably already seen the animated movie, and the Broadway musical version is even more impressive. Combining puppetry, singers and dancers, the production is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
With a cast that consists mainly of kids and a bunch of catchy songs, this is a show that adults and little ones can enjoy together. It’s got plenty of laughs and manages to be sophisticated enough for parents while delighting children.
4. Peter Pan
Barrie’s timeless literary classic comes to the stage with Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and many other unforgettable characters. Kid-friendly from beginning to end, adults also will love the songs and jokes.
If your kids are delighted by stage and movie musicals, then perhaps it’s time for them to explore the world of singing and playing instruments. At Musical Prodigies, we make music education accessible to everyone. No matter how young your little ones are, we have a program that will have them swaying to the music, tapping their toes and even composing their own tunes in no time.