9 Movies For Kids With Subtle Jokes That Only Parents Will Understand
Stream one of these picks for your next family movie night, and we guarantee the kids won't be the only ones laughing.
Daniel Tiger may spout wise life lessons, and Dinosaur Train may help me improve my trivia game, but if I didn’t have kids, you can bet your My Little Pony I wouldn’t be watching any of those shows. Thankfully, for parents sick of Caillou and PAW Patrol, animated movies try harder to appeal to both kid and adult viewers these days. I imagine the writers and animators at Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks chuckling with naughty glee as they throw innuendos, commentary on the grown-up experience, and adult pop culture references into the adventures of adorable animal friends.
For your next movie night, watch one of these movies with subtle jokes for parents, and you might not spend the entire evening scrolling Instagram and itching for a fast-forward button.
Kids love Robin Williams’s larger-than-life genie character in Disney’s original Aladdin, but his famous impressions are completely lost on your average school-age kid. Honestly, many of them go over my head! From Ed Sullivan to Cab Calloway, Robin Williams pays tribute to the greats from the 1930s to the 1970s. Even his modern references back in the 1990s — like Arsenio Hall and Jack Nicholson — are pretty dated by today’s standards. Maybe that actually makes Aladdin the perfect movie for kids to watch with their grandparents?
Say “Lord Farquad” with your best fake British accent, and adults will get the joke that (we hope) the kids won’t. Shrek is full of these *nudge, nudge, wink, wink* moments between the writers and their adult audience. A talking “donkey,” Farquard’s castle as a parody of a Disney-esque theme park, repeated references to said castle as “compensating for something,” and a plot devoted to turning the typical fairytale on its head makes Shrek an entertaining option for parents...beyond all the gross-out moments (which are also hilarious).
3. Frozen II
I really enjoyed Frozen, so Frozen II had a lot to live up to. Luckily, the film was redeemed for me by two things that were clearly intended for parents. First and foremost is Kristoff’s ‘80s-inspired “Lost in the Woods” power ballad, which combines the electric earnestness of Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love” and the rock video staging of Queen and Journey into a hilarious — and unexpected — musical highlight of the movie.
The other is Olaf philosophizing through the movie, seriously delivering tongue-in-cheek sentiments to adults in the room, such as, “I’ll have all the answers when I’m older” and, “advancing technology will lead to our doom.” The shrill little snowman who annoyed parents during the first movie (maybe it was just me?) has switched to breaking the fourth wall for the grown-ups in the second, and it makes all the other plot oddities easier to swallow.
At its heart, Zootopia is a story about racism and diversity, so it’s bound to offer something to its adult viewers. But Zootopia is also peppered with jokes for grown-ups, starting with the sloths who run the DMV. The Godfather references are obvious, but look for the more subtle jokes, such as the Breaking Bad references in the secret serum lab, business names like Targoat and Lulu Lemmings, and Nick’s fear of getting found out by the animal equivalent of the IRS for tax fraud.
Wall-E is filled with Easter Eggs for adults — from the iconic original Mac bootup sound that plays when Wall-E is fully charged to the nostalgic toys (Rubik’s Cubes, Atari 2600s, the toys from Toy Story) the robot finds on his trash-collecting journeys around the planet. Kids will miss the spaceship as cruise ship reference. But adults who have cruised will give a knowing chuckle at the pool deck, overfed patrons, and nonstop PA announcements about daily activities.
It’s a good thing Pixar’s Cars has plenty of jokes for parents because their preschool sons will probably force them to watch it over, and over, and over again. My favorites are the race car sponsors, such as Rust-Eze Medicated Bumper Ointment (the car version of a hemorrhoid cream) and Leak Less (a company whose drip pans for oil links are reminiscent of adult diapers). Though I missed it — and hopefully your kids will too — the internet is all about the Top Down Truckstop, featuring a sign that touts “All Convertible Waitresses.” Ooh la la!
7. The Incredibles
From Mr. and Mrs. Incredibles’ saucy butt-pinching antics to a quickly flashed newspaper headline about an “X-Ray Vision Peeping Tom,” The Incredibles has laughs for parents that are completely missed by kids. Pay attention to supporting characters Edna Mode and Lucius Best. They’re the ones often delivering all the best lines.
8. Finding Nemo
The kids will sympathize with Nemo searching desperately for his dad, while adults will guffaw at a stoner surfer turtle and a shark who’s in a 12-step program for recovering fish eaters. Parents beware: The characters’ off-color asides are entertaining, but the themes of loss and missing children in this movie can be a little triggering for some.
9. Wreck-It Ralph
Calling all parents who lived their glory days in video game arcades! Wreck-It Ralph is an homage to classic video games, with plenty of cameos from your old-school favorites such as Pac-Man, Frogger, and Q*Bert … all combined with R-rated jokes and innuendos. Don’t miss the candy cops, who are — what else? — donuts, boasting the motto “to heat and serve,” and homeless ‘80s game characters, who are forced to seek handouts after their old arcade cabinets were unplugged.