Top-rated kids’ shows for the holidays
These 100% mega-brilliant kids’ shows are great for grown-ups too. Parents and critics agree: these are perfect holiday binge fare.
Just in time for the school holidays, here are six Showmax series that have all earned coveted 100% critics’ ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Whichever grown-up said, “It’s just a kids’ show” clearly hadn’t sat down to watch these classics with their children.
Age: FPB: A | Common Sense Media: 5+
“It’s legitimately entertaining and lots of fun.”The AV Club
From the enchanted land of Equestria to Ponyville! After learning that she and her friends are the magical Elements of Harmony, studious unicorn Twilight Sparkle is sent by her mentor, Princess Celestia, to study the most powerful magic of all – the magic of friendship.
Considered the very best thing to come out of the My Little Pony global pop culture phenomenon, Friendship is Magic is “smarter and sassier and more aesthetically sophisticated” than its predecessors, says the Los Angeles Times, while L.A. Weekly says it’s “absolutely genuine in its messages about friendship but never takes itself too seriously.”
Friendship is Magic “isn’t just kids’ TV that won’t make parents want to kill themselves; it’s legitimately entertaining and lots of fun,” says The AV Club, praising its well-defined, great-looking characters and “nicely sly sense of humour.” They add, “What may be most remarkable about this series is that there isn’t an ounce of cynicism or calculation in it. In some respects, it may be a toy commercial, sure, but Faust and her team have taken something with cynical roots and made it the most joyful show on TV, a weekly half-hour of bright colours, best friends, and rainbows galore.”
Wired praised it as one of the few “girl-focused shows that a geeky dad can appreciate with his daughter,” and IndieWire says, “Watch just a little bit, and you’ll agree: friendship really is magic.”
Note that the first two episodes of Season 1 are much scarier than the rest of the series, so start the little ones off later in the season and come back to these when they’re ready.
Accolades: 100% critics rating and 100% audience rating, Rotten Tomatoes.
Age: FPB: PG V | Common Sense Media: 6+
“There’s no denying the heart and adventurous spirit it gets from the original series.”IGN
Huey, Dewey, Louie and their great-uncle Scrooge McDuck go on a series of crazy adventures in this reboot of the 80s classic cartoon show.
Season 2 sees Scrooge and his rival, Flintheart Glomgold, compete to see who’ll make the most money in a year, while Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mom, Della (Donald Duck’s twin sister), is determined to be reunited with her family after years in captivity on the Moon.
Although it may be aimed at modern audiences, IGN says, “There’s no denying the heart and adventurous spirit it gets from the original series.” Entertainment Weekly goes even further, saying “The new DuckTales is better than the original show. Funnier, more ambitious,” while IndieWire praises its “irreverent and somewhat self-aware tone.”
Scrooge McDuck is voiced by BAFTA winner David Tennant (Good Omens, Doctor Who, Broadchurch), Huey by Danny Pudi (a three-time Critics Choice nominee as Abed in Community), Dewey by Emmy winner Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, and the voice of Leo in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Louis by Bobby Moynihan (the voice of Mel in Secret Life of Pets and Panda in We Bare Bears).
The show also features Donald Duck himself (played by Tony Anselmo, who has voiced the character for over 30 years), and Paget Brewster (Emily Prentiss in Criminal Minds and the voice of Poison Ivy in Batman and Harley Quinn) as Della. Listen out for supporting and guest performances from Oscar winner Allison Janney and Oscar nominees Lin-Manuel Miranda and Don Cheadle.
Accolades: 100% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes; 8.2/10, IMDb; nominated for three Emmys (2018 & 2019).
Age: FPB: 7-9 PG | Common Sense Media: 6+
“Smart enough for adults, weird enough for kids.”The Guardian
Listing SpongeBob at #22 on their list of the greatest American television series of all time, TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz said, “SpongeBob SquarePants is an absurdist masterpiece that Salvador Dalí and Groucho Marx would have watched together in their smoking jackets.”
That may seem like high praise for a kids’ TV show about the misadventures of a talking sea sponge who works at a fast-food restaurant and lives in an underwater pineapple, but 20 years into its run, SpongeBob is still the most in-demand kids’ show in the US, according to Parrot Analytics’ June 2019 survey.
“SpongeBob SquarePants is an irresistible celebration of positivity that pops off the screen with its absurd sensibility and vivid characterizations,” is the critics’ consensus over at Rotten Tomatoes.
The Guardian says it’s “smart enough for adults, weird enough for kids,” adding that, “SpongeBob is TV perfection… a show that transcends cultural and generational differences.”
Time Magazine calls SpongeBob himself “the anti-Bart Simpson … conscientious, optimistic and blind to the faults in the world and those around him,” while The New York Times says, “It’s the most charming toon on television, and one of the weirdest … It’s also good, clean fun.”
Accolades: 100% critics rating and #6 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes; winner of five Annie Awards and four Emmys; nominated for a further 16 Emmys and three BAFTAs; has won the Kids’ Choice Award every year but one for the past 17 years.
Age: FPB: PG V | Common Sense Media: 7+
“It’s a show that leans slightly more towards absurdity and wackiness, with quick, snappy action and energetic performances, playing against the bubbly aesthetics of ‘princess’ tropes.”The AV Club
Wacky, wonderful and absurd, this animated Disney series introduces us to magical princess Star Butterfly, heiress to the royal throne of the Butterfly Kingdom. For her 14th birthday, Star is given the family heirloom: a magical wand… and promptly sets fire to the castle. In a bid to tame her recklessness, her parents send her to Earth as a foreign exchange student.
Here, she teams up with her roommate, Marco Diaz, who teaches her about being human, while she in turn passes on lessons in crazy fun and adventure. Using “dimensional scissors” that can open portals, Star and Marco travel to exotic dimensions while guarding Star’s wand from half-bird, half-man Mewni monster Ludo.
The show’s cast is led by Critics Choice winner Eden Sher (Sue Heck from The Middle), who voices Star Butterfly, with Emmy nominee Alan Tudyk (Firefly) as villain Ludo. Guest stars have included Golden Globe winner Michael C Hall, Emmy winner Keith David and Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch.
Accolades: Season 1 has a 100% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes and is rated 8.1/10 on IMDb. The series won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual in Animation (Michelle Park) and been nominated for five Annie Awards.
Age: FPB: 7-9 PG | Common Sense Media: 8+
“The Last Airbender teaches without trying-and is a shining example of what it means to show unconditional devotion to a greater cause.”Vanity Fair
In a war-torn world of elemental magic, Aang, a 12-year-old boy with the power to manipulate air, awakens from a hundred-year sleep to undertake a dangerous quest. As the Avatar, Aang’s destiny is to restore peace by ending the Fire Nation’s imperialistic war against the other nations and bring peace to the world.
This hyper-intelligent show’s animation style brings anime and shades of Miyazaki to an American cartoon that IGN described as “one of the greatest animated series of all time.”
Its complex themes, humour, elements of East Asian art and mythology, and beloved characters gave it a massive following with both kids and adults. In fact, the series was so huge that it spawned a comic book series, action figures, trading cards, a best-selling video game franchise, a live-action movie (directed by M. Night Shyamalan), and another animated series – The Legend of Korra – with a new live-action movie slated for 2020.
Before starring in almost every other show on this list (as well as Phineas and Ferb, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls), voice legend Dee Bradley Baker was Appa in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series drew other big names to its voice cast, including Oscar nominee Mako as Uncle, Jason Isaacs as Commander Zhao, and cameos from George Takei, Daniel Dae Kim, Ron Perlman and Serena Williams.
Accolades: 100% critics rating for all three seasons, and #10 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes; #13 Top Rated TV Of All Time, IMDb, with a 9.2/10 rating; won an Emmy, six Annie Awards, and a Kids’ Choice Award.
Age: FPB: 7-9 PG V | Common Sense Media: 10 +
“The first cartoon in a long time that is pure imagination.”Den of Geek
Off-the-wall cartoon series Adventure Time has an almost cult following among kids, from preteens to teens, as well as adults. The series follows 12-year-old Finn and his adopted brother Jake – a wise dog with the power to change shape and size at will – on their adventures in the surreal, post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, which they share with Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King, Marceline, BMO and the candy people.
The voice cast includes SpongeBob himself – Emmy and Annie Award winner Tom Kenny – and top award-winning voice artists John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) and Hynden Walch (who also voices Starfire in Teen Titans Go!). Guest stars have included Kristen Schaal (Mabel from Gravity Falls), Oscar nominee Kumail Nanjiani, Golden Globe nominees Neil Patrick Harris and Matthew Broderick, BAFTA winner Mark Hamill, Emmy nominee Anne Heche, Felicia Day and singer Chris Isaak.
“Adventure Time makes me wish I were a kid again, just so I could grow up to be as awesome as the kids who are currently watching Adventure Time will be,” says Entertainment Weekly, while Den of Geek calls it “the first cartoon in a long time that is pure imagination.”
The A.V. Club says this “terrific show fits beautifully in that grey area between kid and adult entertainment in a way that manages to satisfy both a desire for sophisticated (i.e. weird) writing and plain old silliness,” summing it up as “basically what would happen if you asked a bunch of 12-year-olds to make a cartoon – only it’s the best possible version of that, like if all the 12-year-olds were super geniuses and some of them were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the Marx Brothers.”
Accolades: 100% critics rating and #19 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes and a five star rating on Common Sense Media; rated 8.6/10 and #169 Top Rated TV Of All Time, IMDb; winner of eight Emmys, a BAFTA, two Annie Awards and a Teen Choice Award.