Thanksgiving Movies for Kids, With All the Trimmings

From a nostalgic, black-and-white 1947 classic to a romp about animated, time-traveling turkeys, plenty of options abound when it comes to picking a Thanksgiving movie to watch with your kids during the holiday. Our writers picked their favorite Thanksgiving themed movies and specials that are currently streaming. Expect singing mice, dogs in chef’s hats and goth girls burning down a Thanksgiving pageant. The stories span the last 76 years, but as the decades roll by, each one still feels timeless.

‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (1947)

How to watch: Stream it on Disney+; rent or buy it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

For those who enjoy watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade broadcast, this classic matches up nicely: It begins at that very event, where “Kris Kringle” (Edmund Gwenn) shames a sloppy-drunk Santa and is hired on the spot as his replacement. (It would take more than a half century for a sloppy-drunk Santa to find proper onscreen representation in the form of Billy Bob Thornton as “Bad Santa.”) The premise of “Miracle” — that a department store Santa is actually the real thing — was so juicy that the film was remade twice, but neither recaptured the charm and magic of this initial offering. It’s a film that truly earns its classic status, continuing to enchant viewers young and old. — JASON BAILEY

‘Free Birds’ (2013)

How to watch: Stream it on Netflix.

Critics didn’t exactly gobble up this computer-animated film about two turkeys (voiced by Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson) who take a time machine back to the first Thanksgiving in a history-altering quest to prevent turkey from becoming the traditional holiday dish. (“Is Hollywood scheming to turn your little ones into strident vegetarians?” panicked The New York Post.) The movie, directed by Jimmy Hayward, also got mixed reviews for its marketing partnership with Chuck E. Cheese’s and its questionable treatment of Native American characters.

Despite the criticism, this PETA-approved film has a soft spot in the hearts of parents who opt for a meat-free Thanksgiving, and who won’t mind a bedtime chat about where meat comes from. Like a movie about a killer Santa Claus, “Free Birds” scores points for a “Babe”-like rebellious message — who needs turkey for Thanksgiving? — that calls out a hallowed holiday tradition with kid-friendly sass. It’s a misfit film that’s a great pick for families — carnivores and vegans alike — who would enjoy, as one critic put it, “one of the strangest and most unlikely family entertainments in a long, long time.” — ERIK PIEPENBURG

‘Addams Family Values’ (1993)

How to watch: Rent or buy it on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

Christina Ricci as Wednesday in “Addams Family Values” (1993), a Thanksgiving treat for the right audience.Credit…Paramount Pictures

If you find yourself sharing the couch with the family’s disaffected emo youth, introduce them to the O.G. (Original Goth): Wednesday Addams, brought to uproarious life by Christina Ricci in two early ’90s big screen adaptations by the director Barry Sonnenfeld. This second chapter, released in 1993, is not only a rare example of a sequel that’s more than equal to the original. It is also holiday appropriate, as little Wednesday takes over the re-enactment of the first Thanksgiving pageant at summer camp and quite literally burns it to the ground. Keep an eye out for Christine Baranski as one of the cheery (and thus suspect) proprietors of “Camp Chippewa.” (Also available for rental: “Edward Scissorhands,” a seasonal favorite from the goth godfather Tim Burton.) — JASON BAILEY

‘An American Tail’ (1986)

How to watch: Stream it on Starz or Spectrum; or rent on Vudu, Google Play or YouTube.

Fievel in a scene from “An American Tail.”Credit…Universal Pictures

The traditional Thanksgiving children’s play fell out of favor around the time Wednesday Addams vowed to scalp those pesky pilgrims in “Addams Family Values.” No loss. That simplistic history lesson had already been bested by Don Bluth’s “An American Tail,” the most unsentimental cartoon to ever star a singing mouse. Make that a family of mice — the Russian-Jewish Mousekewitzes — who flee the feline persecution of their homeland for 1880s New York, where they’ve been promised mouse holes in every wall, bread crumbs on every floor, and most importantly, no cats. This, of course, is a lie. Young Fievel Mousekewitz is disillusioned to discover that his new country is a predatory land of rat-owned sweatshops and cat-run gangs. Upon the movie’s release, critics like Roger Ebert were taken aback to see a kiddie flick with a “bleak view of a cold and heartless universe.” But wisecracking cockroaches aside, it’s a true vision of the American dream that idealistic newcomers like Fievel struggled to attain — then and now — to make the Statue of Liberty live up to her sales pitch. — AMY NICHOLSON

‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ (1973)

How to watch: Stream it on AppleTV+

A scene from “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.”Credit…United Feature Syndicate

Long before Friendsgiving was a thing, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang bucked tradition, ditched the parents and created a Thanksgiving feast with their crew. This Emmy-winning special first aired on CBS fifty years ago this month. It’s a fun throwback that starts with Lucy coaxing Charlie to fulfill an age-old (sort of) Thanksgiving tradition and kick a football. When she pulls the ball away before gullible Charlie can make contact, Lucy laments that some traditions just don’t last.

Like most Peanuts specials, this one is a little melancholy, but there are enough pranks and pratfalls to entertain children who are used to faster-paced fare like “Spy Kids” and “Elemental.” When Charlie tries to host his friends, Peppermint Patty is scandalized that her plate is full of popcorn, toast and candy instead of turkey and pumpkin pie. All is resolved when Charlie’s grandmother invites the gang for a traditional holiday meal. It’s about friendship, teamwork and making your own traditions. The soundtrack by the jazz composer and keyboardist Vince Guaraldi is a classic. — DINA GACHMAN

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