Just in time for the school holidays, here are six Showmax series for kids that have all earned coveted 100% critics’ ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Whichever grown-up said “It’s just a kids’ show” clearly hadn’t sat down to watch these classics with their children.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC Age: FPB: A | Common Sense Media: 5+
After learning that she and her friends are the magical Elements of Harmony, studious unicorn Twilight Sparkle is sent by her mentor, Princess Celestia, to study the most powerful magic of all – the magic of friendship.
Friendship is Magic “isn’t just kids TV that won’t make parents want to kill themselves; it’s legitimately entertaining and lots of fun,” says The AV Club, praising its well-defined, great-looking characters and “nicely sly sense of humor.” They add, “What may be most remarkable about this series is that there isn’t an ounce of cynicism or calculation in it. In some respects, it may be a toy commercial, sure, but Faust and her team have taken something with cynical roots and made it the most joyful show on TV, a weekly half hour of bright colours, best friends, and rainbows galore.”
Note that the first two episodes of Season One are much scarier than the rest of the series, so start the little ones off later in the season and come back to these when they’re ready.
Accolades: 100% critics rating and 100% audience rating, Rotten Tomatoes
DUCKTALES Age: FPB: PG V | Common Sense Media: 6+
Huey, Dewey, Louie and their great-uncle Scrooge McDuck go on a series of crazy adventures in this reboot of the ‘80s classic cartoon show.
Season 2 sees Scrooge and his rival, Flintheart Glomgold, compete to see who’ll make the most money in a year, while Huey, Dewey and Louie’s mom, Della (Donald Duck’s twin sister), is determined to be reunited with her family after years in captivity on the Moon.
Entertainment Weekly says, “The new DuckTales is better than the original show. Funnier, more ambitious,” while IGN says, “There’s no denying the heart and adventurous spirit it gets from the original series.”
Scrooge McDuck is voiced by BAFTA winner David Tennant (Good Omens, Doctor Who, Broadchurch), Huey by Danny Pudi (a three-time Critics Choice nominee as Abed in Community), Dewey by Emmy winner Ben Schwartz (Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, and the voice of Leo in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Louis by Bobby Moynihan (the voice of Mel in Secret Life of Pets and Panda in We Bare Bears).
Accolades: 100% critics rating, Rotten Tomatoes; 8.2/10, IMDB; nominated for three Emmys (2018 & 2019)
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS Age: FPB: 7-9 PG | Common Sense Media: 6+
Listing SpongeBob at #22 on their list of the greatest American television series of all time, TV critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz said, “SpongeBob SquarePants is an absurdist masterpiece that Salvador Dalí and Groucho Marx would have watched together in their smoking jackets.”
That may seem like high praise for a kids’ TV show about the misadventures of a talking sea sponge who works at a fast food restaurant and lives in an underwater pineapple, but 20 years into its run, SpongeBob is still the most in-demand kids’ show in the US, according to Parrot Analytics’ June 2019 survey.
Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus calls it “an irresistible celebration of positivity” while The New York Times says, “It’s the most charming toon on television, and one of the weirdest… It’s also good, clean fun.”
The now-mega-franchise has spawned a comic book series, theme park rides, kiddy meals, two cinematic release movies (with a third on the way next year), and a Broadway stage musical with 12 Tony nominations. A prequel series, Kamp Koral, about a 10-year-old SpongeBob and his friends at summer camp in the kelp forest, is also in production.
Accolades: 100% critics rating and #6 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes; winner of five Annie Awards and four Emmys; nominated for a further 16 Emmys and three BAFTAs; has won the Kids’ Choice Award every year but one for the past 17 years
STAR VS THE FORCES OF EVIL Age: FPB: PG V | Common Sense Media: 7+
Whacky, wonderful and absurd, this animated Disney series introduces us to magical princess Star Butterfly, heiress to the royal throne of the Butterfly Kingdom. For her 14th birthday, Star is given the family heirloom: a magical wand… and promptly sets fire to the castle. In a bid to tame her recklessness, her parents send her to Earth as a foreign exchange student.
Here, she teams up with her roommate, Marco Diaz, who teaches her about being human, while she in turn passes on lessons in crazy fun and adventure. Using dimensional scissors that can open portals, Star and Marco travel to exotic dimensions while guarding Star’s wand from half-bird, half-man Mewni monster Ludo.
The show’s cast is led by Critics Choice winner Eden Sher (Sue Heck from The Middle), who voices Star Butterfly, with Emmy nominee Alan Tudyk (Firefly) as villain Ludo. Guest stars have included Golden Globe winner Michael C Hall, Emmy winner Keith David and Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch.
Accolades: Season 1 has a 100% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes and is rated 8.1/10 on IMDB. The series won an Emmy for Outstanding Individual in Animation (Michelle Park) and has been nominated for five Annie Awards
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER Age: FPB: 7-9 PG | Common Sense Media: 8+
In a war-torn world of elemental magic, Aang, a 12-year-old boy with the power to manipulate air, awakens from a hundred-year sleep to undertake a dangerous quest. As the Avatar, Aang’s destiny is to restore peace by ending the Fire Nation’s imperialistic war against the other nations and bring peace to the world.
This hyper-intelligent show’s animation style brings anime and shades of Miyazaki to an American cartoon that IGN described as “one of the greatest animated series of all time.”
The show spawned a comic book series, action figures, trading cards, a best-selling video game franchise, a live-action movie (directed by M. Night Shyamalan), and another animated series – The Legend of Korra – with a new live-action movie slated for 2020.
Before starring in almost every other show on this list (as well as Phineas and Ferb, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls), voice legend Dee Bradley Baker was Appa in Avatar: The Last Airbender. The series drew other big names to its voice cast, including Oscar nominee Mako as Uncle, Jason Isaacs as Commander Zhao, and cameos from George Takei, Daniel Dae Kim, Ron Perlman and Serena Williams.
Accolades: 100% critics rating for all three seasons, and #10 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes; #13 Top Rated TV Of All Time, IMDB, with a 9.2/10 rating; won an Emmy, six Annie Awards, and a Kids’ Choice Award
ADVENTURE TIME Age: FPB: 7-9 PG V | Common Sense Media: 10 +
Off-the-wall cartoon series Adventure Time has an almost cult following among kids, from preteens to teens, as well as adults. The series follows 12-year-old Finn and his adopted brother Jake – a wise dog with the power to change shape and size at will – on their adventures in the surreal, post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo, which they share with Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King, Marceline, BMO and the candy people.
The voice cast includes Spongebob himself – Emmy and Annie Award winner Tom Kenny – and top award-winning voice artists John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) and Hynden Walch (who also voices Starfire in Teen Titans Go!).
“Adventure Time makes me wish I were a kid again, just so I could grow up to be as awesome as the kids who are currently watching Adventure Time will be,” says Entertainment Weekly, while The A.V. Club says this is “basically what would happen if you asked a bunch of 12-year-olds to make a cartoon – only it’s the best possible version of that, like if all the 12-year-olds were super geniuses and some of them were Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and the Marx Brothers.”
Accolades: 100% critics rating and #19 Best Animated Series of All Time on Rotten Tomatoes and a five star rating on Common Sense Media; rated 8.6/10 and #169 Top Rated TV Of All Time, IMDB; winner of eight Emmys, a BAFTA, two Annie Awards and a Teen Choice Award
What: Six Showmax series for kids