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10 Family Movies that Celebrate Characters with Disabilities

These stories of resilience and perseverance will inspire and entertain the whole family.

Nicole Kear

Kids Movies With Adult Jokes

Disney

Looking for some incredible, inspiring, uplifting movies to watch together as a family? March is National Developmental Disability Awareness Month, making it a great time (not that there's a bad time) to stream these family-friendly flicks that shine a welcome spotlight on stories of people living — and thriving — with physical and learning differences. Watch one together and let it spark a conversation!

Finding Nemo

In this Academy Award winning blockbuster hit from Pixar, the adorable clownfish Nemo and his father, Marlin, travel the underwater world to find each other after being separated. Nemo has one fin that’s significantly smaller than the other, the result of a barracuda attack that killed his mother and sister. Despite his father’s worrying, Nemo doesn’t let his fin difference limit or define him — in fact he calls it his “lucky fin” and proves his strength and resourcefulness against countless adversaries. The heartwarming message of the film, “just keep swimming,” is reinforced by supporting character Dory, who lives with short-term memory loss. Stream this hilarious story about perseverance, resilience and the power of friendship on Disney+! (Best for ages 8-10)

Dolphin Tale

Inspired by the true story of Winter, an injured bottlenose dolphin who was rescued off the Florida coast, Dolphin Tale follows Sawyer, an 11-year-old boy who discovers a dolphin tangled in a crab trap on the beach. When Winter’s tail is amputated, Sawyer fears she’ll never swim again, but the dolphin adapts to her circumstances by developing a new method of side-to-side swimming. With the help of an all-star marine biologist, played by Harry Connick Jr., and pioneering prosthetic designer, played by Morgan Freeman, Winter’s friends give her the tools and support she needs to not just survive, but thrive — and the humans learn about the transformative power of persistence. Stream now on HBO Max. (Best for ages 8-10)

Wonder

Based on the juggernaut bestseller, Wonder follows Auggie Pullman, a 10-year-old boy born with facial differences, as he transitions from homeschool to a private Manhattan school. Auggie contends with bullying, isolation, judgement and betrayal as he navigates the turbulent waters of middle school, where difference can feel like a major liability. In the end, it’s not only Auggie who transforms in his first year at school, but the friends, family and teachers whose lives he touches. The tagline of the film is a powerful one for young viewers: “You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” Watch now with a Hulu or Sling subscription. (Ages 10-12)

On the Way to School

Four children. Four countries. Four very long walks to school. On the Way to School is a documentary that follows students in Kenya, Morocco, India and Argentina as they dodge elephants, climb mountains, and ride horses over rough terrain  — all before starting their school day. One of the children followed, Samuel, is an 11-year-old boy from the Bay of Bengal, who has a physical disability — his journey to school involves being pushed in a rickety wheelchair by his brothers for two miles. Young viewers will never think of their carpool quite the same way again. Stream on Prime video or Sling with subscription. (Best for ages 10-12)

Soul Surfer

Bethany Hamilton is a 13-year-old surfing superstar when a shark attack costs her nearly all of her left arm. In the weeks following the attack, Hamilton must learn how to do absolutely everything differently — including getting back on a surfboard. Based on Hamilton’s true story, the film drives home the message that with faith, support and adaptability, no ambition is too big. Watch Soul Surfer now on Prime Video with subscription. (Best for ages 10-12)

Hearing Is Believing

Rachel Flowers is a nationally-recognized, award-winning music phenom, who has played music for Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock. A prodigy on piano, classically trained on the flute, she’s never met an instrument she can’t play, from guitar to saxophone to Chapman Stick. Flowers is also blind — and has been since just after she was born fifteen weeks premature. The documentary Hearing is Believing tells the story of Flowers’ development as a musician, from learning to play “Twinkle Twinkle” on the piano at age 2, to her incredible success today. Stream now on Roku or IMDB(Best for ages 12-14)

Right Footed

“I can’t” are two words that Jennifer Cox has eliminated from her vocabulary — and the results are amazing. Born with no arms, Cox is an airplane pilot, an accomplished martial artist, a college graduate, and a speaker who has inspired audiences across the world. Cox has spent her life defying people’s expectations, re-framing conversations about disability and motivating young people to achieve dreams that might seem impossible at first glance. Stream this unforgettable documentary on Peacock. (Best for ages 12-14)

CODA

The CODA in the title refers to Ruby, the film’s protagonist, who is a child of deaf adults. Though Ruby doesn’t have a disability herself, everyone in her immediate family is deaf, and she often serves as a bridge between the deaf and hearing communities, belonging to both and sometimes, to neither. Ruby is a gifted singer, and there are several moving scenes in which she tries to give her family access to music, one of her great passions.  Stream now with an Apple TV+ subscription. (Best for teens)

The Peanut Butter Falcon

The movie begins with Zak, a 22-year-old man with Down Syndrome, running away from the state-run care facility where he lives in order to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. He soon meets Tyler, an outlaw, and together they travel to the home of Zak’s wrestling hero, Salt Water Redneck. The film marks the on-screen debut of Zach Gottsagen, an actor with Down Syndrome who brings the character of Zak to life, and whose masterful performance helped win the film critical acclaim. Stream now with on Amazon Prime. (Best for teens) 

The King’s Speech

David Seidler, the writer of The King’s Speech, stuttered in his youth, which is part of why he was fascinated by the true story of King George VI, who struggled to overcome a pronounced stutter as he rose to power. The focus of the film is on the life-changing relationship between the King, played by Colin Firth, and his unorthodox speech therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush. Set in Britain on the eve of World War II, the film looks at a common disability through a historical lens, and packs in plenty of period drama to boot. Rent on Amazon Prime or Apple TV(Best for teens)