Pizza night blockbusters (and Meg’s recipe)
10 great movies and shows to watch with the whole family (plus, guides for finding things to watch + Meg’s dough recipe)
Our favorite family ritual is pizza night. Every Friday night, my wife Meghan makes four pies (scroll to the bottom for her dough recipe!) and we plop down on the couch and watch a movie. It’s the best. We look forward to it every week, and it’s extra exciting this week because Christmas Eve falls on pizza night!
My boys are 9 and 6, so it can be challenging to find a movie that we all enjoy that won’t scare the 6-year-old. Whether you have kids or not, you might have family gatherings coming up, so I thought it might be fun to collect our favorites.
Here are 10 movies and TV shows we all loved this year:
1. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
I was not expecting this Studio Ghibili classic to be such a hit. The boys had seen My Neighbor Totoro and liked it all right, but we all agreed that Kiki was the best thing we’ve seen this year. [Available on Blu-ray and streaming on HBO Max.]
2. Paddington 2 (2017)
Look, this movie is a masterpiece. No joke. I went in cold, having not seen the first movie and without knowing a single thing about it. It’s fantastic. The ending is more action-packed and satisfying than most movies, let alone kids’ movies. [Available on Blu-ray]
3. Bluey (2018—)
Bluey is an Australian TV show that is magic and charming and is the closest I’ve ever seen a show get to what it’s actually like playing with kids. Some suggest that it’s the best kids’ show of our time, and I have no argument with them. We like to blast the soundtrack on the way to and from school. [Streaming on Disney+]
4. The Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
This list could’ve just been all the Aardman Animation movies — other highlights were Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Chicken Run, and Robin Robin — but The Shaun the Sheep Movie was the real crowd-pleaser. The new Christmas special is also good. [Available on Blu-Ray and streaming on Hulu]
5. Tiny World (2020)
Incredible footage of tiny animals doing their thing in the world. Especially cool if you have a decent 4K TV. Don’t miss the behind-the-scenes videos: One cameraperson flew a drone through a forest while wearing VR goggles. Another cameraperson wore a special diving kit that caught his exhaled gas in a tank so he didn’t blow bubbles and scare fish. [Streaming on Apple TV+]
6. The LEGO Movie (2014)
On the one hand, this is a feature-length advertisement for Lego, on the other hand, it’s snappy and funny (see: Lord & Miller) and visually amazing, and there are lots of explosions, which, especially for the 9-year-old, is a big bonus. (I might prefer The LEGO Batman Movie, which was also a hit.) My kids were inspired to make their own stop-motion movies with Lego after watching. [Available on Blu-ray.]
7. The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021)
Somehow, this one wasn’t too intense for the 6-year-old. In fact, he loves flipping through The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, a handsome book of behind-the-scenes drawings and artwork. [Streaming on Netflix]
8. City of Ghosts (2021)
A sweet, chill series in which a group of friends investigate ghosts (and history) in neighborhoods all around the city of Los Angeles. [Streaming on Netflix]
9. Toy Story (1995)
10. Penguin Town (2021)
Look, kids love penguins, what can you say? Even Mr. Popper’s Penguins with Jim Carrey was a big hit. (As was the book.) But the kids loved the cheeky (word we learned from Wallace and Gromit!) tone of Penguin Town, which follows a gang of penguins in a snow-free South African tourist town. [Streaming on Netflix]
Guides to finding things to watch
A few resources for finding solid, all-ages watches:
Common Sense Media - I originally started using this site to look up stuff for the kids, but now I use it to look up stuff for Meg and I, to get a sense of how graphic or upsetting certain movies and shows might be.
Tinybop’s “Loves” Index - The app maker has great taste, and includes suggested ages for their choices.
Ty Burr’s The Best Old Movies for Families - I love watching old movies with the kids. One of my favorite memories is taking our oldest to see Singin’ in the Rain at the Paramount Theater when he was four. We’ve also watched the Disney Robin Hood several times. Meg got me this book for Christmas a few years back, and it’s quite good.
Meg’s pizza dough recipe
Meghan has generously offered to share her pizza dough recipe!
She says: “I'm not sure where I originally copied this recipe from, but I've been using it for at least a decade now. It's easy to make a day or two or three ahead, but it also works just fine if you make the dough in the morning to bake that evening.”
You will need:
3 cups bread flour (for best results, use King Arthur bread flour, an organic bread flour, or a locally milled high-quality bread flour)
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/3 cup cool water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
For mixing the dough, you can use a stand mixer or do it by hand, but for me the food processor has been easiest and most consistent. In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, and yeast until combined. Then, with the processor running, add the water and mix until well combined. It will form a soft ball that's a little sticky but smooth. Now let the dough sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes (this doesn't need to be precise, it can be 15 or 20, but it's important to let it sit) add the salt and mix thoroughly again until you have a soft and smooth ball of pizza dough.
Generously coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil (I usually use around a tablespoon or so). Dump the ball of dough into the greased bowl and knead the dough once or twice in order to coat the outside of the dough ball with some of the oil. Pull the dough into a ball shape and place in the center of the bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap (or a reusable tightly fitting lid) and place in the fridge for at least a few hours, and up to 2 days.
ON PIZZA NIGHT: 2 hours before baking, pull your dough out of the fridge and divide the dough into two balls. Place these on a piece of parchment paper on your counter, and cover the top with your plastic wrap. You want to give the dough time to warm up and rise, don't rush this step!
1 hour before baking, crank your oven as high as it'll go — at least 500 degrees. I use a baking steel to cook pizza indoors, placed about 2/3 of the way up in the oven. True pizza chefs use a pizza peel to effortlessly slide their pizzas in and out of the oven, but I rely on parchment paper for a disaster-free transfer. When you're ready to bake, put a fresh piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet with no lip on it (or if your cookie sheet has a lip, flip it upside down) or on a pizza peel. If the dough is sticky, sprinkle a bit of flour or olive oil on your hands and the dough before you begin working with it. Stretch the first piece of dough on the parchment on top of the cookie sheet, and then add your toppings. Then, in one confident motion, slide the parchment (with the uncooked pizza still on it) off the cookie sheet and onto the hot baking steel in your oven. Cook for 5 mins or so, (keep an eye on your pizza through the oven window!) until it is bubbling and the crust is the color you desire.
Happy watching! Happy eating! If you’d like to support this newsletter, forward it to somebody who’d enjoy it and/or consider becoming a paid subscriber: