With another school year on the horizon, many families are racing to enjoy vacation time. Considering the heat wave in some areas, it might look more like a “staycation” for some of us ... and, if so, we’ve got you covered.
Meaningful time together doesn’t have to end after a day of activities. These five films and TV shows — currently on the top streaming service — can spark laughter, tears, and dialogue about important themes. Nearly all work well for elementary age and up, though, parents and caregivers should note the ratings and links provided to research appropriateness for your family.
Vivo (rated PG, 95 minutes, on Netflix)
Lin-Manuel Miranda is having a moment. Since last summer’s release of Hamilton — which boosted Disney+ beyond families with young kids and Star Wars fans — the playwright and songwriter has been riding high. Thanks to COVID-related delays, suddenly Miranda has four musicals out this year, each celebrating aspects of Latino culture.
A colorful and family-affirming musical, Vivo offers a kid-friendly take on the Miranda formula. It follows a curious singing monkey (Miranda) and 10-year-old aspiring drummer girl (Ynairaly Simo) from Havana to Miami, exploring forest jungles and city streets along the way.
Count on some standout singable melodies ala Moana, and—borrowing from In the Heights—a message on appreciating elders who sacrificed for us. Animated Miranda might be the best version.
The Mysterious Benedict Society (rated TV-PG, eight 50-min. episodes, on Disney+)
Disney’s franchise-driven plan to dominate family entertainment has continued apace, with recent entries Marvel’s Loki, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and Monsters at Work. Proving they can do something aside from Disney-brand extensions, The Mysterious Benedict Society offers a mystery-adventure akin to Spy Kids as four children must solve a far-reaching dilemma.
Faithfully adapted from Trenton Lee Stewart’s beloved novel, show creators bring it to life with sharp pacing and visual energy. It unfolds with a split ensemble, as the four kids go undercover in an elite school—intercut with their benefactor Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale) and parental figures resourcing them from afar. It’s an introspective drama you wouldn’t expect from the Mouse.
The Best of Enemies (rated PG-13, 133 minutes, on Netflix)
After co-leading a 12-hour community meeting in summer 1971, the KKK leader and Black activist leave the school gymnasium hot and bothered. But the subject of faith comes up.
“Yeah, I go to church and have a Bible,” says Klansman C.P. Ellis, portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Black mother Ann Atwater (award-winning Taraji P. Henson) replies: “Oh yeah — Do you read it?”
Historically grounded drama The Best of Enemies explores how professing Christians were often on opposing sides of civil rights struggles (note some mature language and peril).
Bill Riddick instigated the citywide dialogue on race and justice issues; at age 80, he consulted on the film. “I grew up in the church and never lost the faith that I had in Jesus Christ,” he said in an interview.
In a time when race-related conflicts remain contentious, true stories like this one provide a compelling example of reconciliation.
Vindication (rated TV-PG, ten 30-min. episodes, on Pure Flix & RedeemTV)
A faith-based crime drama that actually works? Merging aspects of The Andy Griffith Show with police procedurals like Bones, Vindication depicts the personal and professional life of Detective Travis (Todd Terry of Breaking Bad fame), along with police-force partner Kris, his wife Becky, and an ensemble cast of characters connected to the fictional East Bank, Texas, police precinct.
Produced independent of Hollywood, season one of Vindication gets better as it progresses. There’s plenty of crime-solving, often touching on current issues like sexting, as well as Travis struggling with questions of faith.
Chasing Mavericks (rated PG, 116 minutes, on HBO Max)
Having survived a surfing accident at age eight, Jay Moriarty was driven to become one of central California’s best young surfers despite his mother’s misgivings.
He connects with a mentor, Frosty Hesson (award-winner Gerard Butler), to conquer the biggest waves of all—Santa Cruz’s towering mavericks—in this true story with only minor content concerns.
Even eight years ago, Hollywood produced many more mid-budget inspirational family films like Chasing Mavericks. (Having acquired 20th Century Studios, Disney now owns distribution rights for this and other biopics so families can look forward to future Disney+ library additions.)
As summer closes out, there’s hardly a better journey to take than this one into the surf.
Images: Netflix/Sony, Disney/20th Century Studios, STX/Astute Films
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.