Skip main navigation

What makes a great children’s film?

What are the qualities of a truly great 'children's film'? In this article, SF Said tries to pin down what makes a children's film great.
Two minion toys dancing
© University of York

What makes a really successful children’s film? And who gets to decide?

What the professionals think

In this newspaper article from The Telegraph, the journalist SF Said asks the artistic directors of the first London Children’s Film Festival in 2005 how they chose films for its programme, considering the compilation of a list of ‘must see’ children’s films by prominent arts organisations, and reflects on their own childhood experience.

Here’s what they said:

  • “I think of it in terms of all great cinema, really,” says Catharine Des Forges of the Independent Cinema Office. “The great children’s films are the ones that adults love too, that everybody loves. It’s something that really engages you – makes you laugh, makes you cry, takes you into its world and you come out thinking differently.”
  • “Most of the films which are available for children in the UK are Hollywood productions,” says Robert Rider, another of the festival’s artistic directors. “Our dream is very much an international children’s festival, to give audiences an opportunity to see films from around the world that they would never have the chance to see before.”
  • “If you think about the lives children lead,” says Des Forges, “they’re influenced by a lot of the same things adults are, like bereavement and loss, loneliness and violence. I think the best children’s films deal with that in a way that’s comprehensible even to quite young audiences.”
  • Said says “all great children’s films have dynamic narratives, unforgettable characters, and an emotional power that puts most mainstream cinema to shame. Often, they deal with dark subject matter – especially separation, and the anxieties it entails. In many of these films, a young character is dramatically parted from an older, stronger protector – a wrenching scene that leaves audiences in tears”.

Here’s the article in full:

‘What makes a children’s film great?’

© University of York
This article is from the free online

Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education