When it comes to movie recommendations here at TechRadar, we often like to focus on the adult stuff – the dramatic thrillers, gruesome crime sagas and decidedly not-safe-for-kids documentaries (we’re looking at you, Netflix).
But, among all the new horror movies and Oscar-nominated pictures in 2022, there are plenty of family-focused features available to watch on streaming services – and Disney Plus, in particular, boasts the best of the lot.
This weekend, then, we’re dialling down the violence and turning up the sense of adventure. Below, you’ll find our pick of the best Disney Plus movies to enjoy with all the family (and don’t worry – all of the films we’ve chosen are available to watch wherever you are in the world).
Let’s kick off with Turning Red, the latest (and 25th!) animated picture from perennial magic-maker Pixar Studios. Directed by Domee Shi (best known for helming the Oscar-winning Pixar short Bao), the movie tells the story of a young Toronto-dwelling girl, Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang), who transforms into a giant red panda whenever her emotions come to the boil.
To say much more about Turning Red’s plot, though, risks spoiling the film's most powerful moments. It makes some brave storytelling choices about adolescence and family responsibility, which director Shi and producer Lindsey Collins spoke with us about in March. However, viewers should know that they can expect a beautifully-rendered melting pot of anime influences, 90s culture and typical Pixar charm with something to offer all ages.
A making-of special, Embrace the Panda, is also available to stream on Disney Plus for those interested in seeing how this furry creation came to be (oh, and you’ll be adding 4*TOWN’s Nobody Like U track to your Spotify playlist immediately after watching).
Ever been to Disneyland? If so, you’re probably familiar with the Jungle Cruise, a riverboat ride that sends punters down a stream full of animatronic animals and lost explorers. Well, Disney decided to turn that ride into a feature film – as it did with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – and the result is the not-so-imaginatively-named Jungle Cruise.
Starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, the movie follows a doctor and boat captain on their search for an ancient tree with healing powers. If that doesn’t sound like the most original premise, that’s because it isn’t – but a great cast and high production values mean Jungle Cruise is still a mighty fun adventure (think of it as an expensive mix of The Mummy, Uncharted and Journey to the Center of the Earth).
As with Black Widow before it, Jungle Cruise initially came to Disney Plus via the streamer’s Premier Access service, but the movie has since been unshackled from its former paywall and is now streaming for free.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in 2022, you’ll have already heard Encanto’s record-breaking earworm, We Don’t Talk About Bruno. In all likelihood, you’ll probably know some of the lyrics, too – but to help you out, the kind folks over at Disney have now added a sing-along version of the movie to Disney Plus.
After struggling to make waves in theaters against the might of Spider-Man: No Way Home in November last year, Encanto came to Disney’s streamer a month later and became a near-instant hit. It tells the tale of the Madrigals, an extraordinary family who live in a magic-imbued house known as the Casita. Each child in the family has been blessed with a magical gift, except for Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), who is called into action when the Casita is threatened by a mysterious force.
Its catchy song book notwithstanding, Encanto is a top-tier Disney animation in its own right, combining color and culture – in a fashion similar to Pixar’s Coco – to mesmerizing effect. For our money, Ratatouille is still the best of Disney Plus’ modern animations, but Encanto is certainly among the most beautiful.
West Side Story
Although not one for the youngest family members, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story provides a rare excuse for you and yours to wallow on the couch for nearly three hours this weekend.
A big-budget re-telling of the 1957 stage musical of the same name (and the second movie adaptation after the 1961 classic), this fresh-faced version of Arthur Laurent’s iconic story stars Ansel Elgot as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria, whose forbidden romance is stifled by warring (and singing, and dancing…) gangs in 1950s New York City.
Spielberg’s latest picture performed poorly at the global box office upon release last year, but excellent reviews and a handful of Oscar nominations made West Side Story an instant Disney Plus recommendation when it popped up on the streamer’s library in March.
Emma Stone stars as the titular villain in this origin tale of Cruella de Vil, the infamous dog-napper who first terrorized the spotted pooches of 101 Dalmatians back in 1961.
Rather than painting Cruella as the frightening fashionista audiences came to know, though, director Craig Gillespie’s movie puts a refreshing anti-hero spin on proceedings (rather like 2019’s Joker – though that’s certainly not a family film). Set in London at the height of the 1970s punk rock movement, this story finds a young Cruella – or Estella, to start – thieving her way through the city before landing a dream job designing dresses for an established fashion house. However, it doesn’t take long for Cruella to realize that she should be the one running the show.
In our review of the movie, we said Cruella is “truly notable as a ‘premake’ that does a notorious Disney villain justice, coming packed with fresh and outlandish ideas to prevent it feeling like a box-ticking origin story.” Beyond those reasons, though, Cruella’s Oscar-winning costumes make it one of the most visually-dazzling films in recent memory.