We all know that the magic of the movies is something best experienced together, and boy did 2016 deliver us some heart-on-the-sleeve, joyous family treats. In chronological order, we run down the greatest all-ages movie experiences of the year, ones that made us laugh, cry and, in some cases, get seriously nostalgic.
How on Earth do Disney do it? After 8 decades in the game, astonishingly they're still able to find ways to surprise us, and the year kicked off in fine style with this visually dazzling animal fable, about a young police bunny who arrives in the eponymous city only to uncover a sinister conspiracy. Resplendent in the wonder we expect from these animation geniuses, it also tucks in a sly and powerful message of acceptance and solidarity, sensibly masked under the usual veneer of wonderful characters and wide-eyed emotion.
The Jungle Book
When Iron Man director Jon Favreau announced he was taking on the classic 1967 animation, the world went into uproar (not surprisingly). Well in April of this year, we were all forced to eat our words and gasp in awe at the resplendently beautiful on-screen world he'd created, all fashioned from luscious and seamless CGI that never skips a beat. Staying true to both the songs and light touch of the Disney original and the darker undercurrents of Rudyard Kipling's source, it's an enchanting adventure that pulls off what many thought impossible: both honouring the original whilst emerging as a new family classic in its own right.
When Marnie Was There
Of course, Hollywood didn't have a stranglehold on family entertainment this year. Two years after its Japanese release, we finally got to see the new movie from legendary animators Studio Ghibli, responsible for such classics like Spirited Away. It turned out one of their most beautiful and heartrending creations, the story of a young girl who forms a relationship with another, more mysterious child living in a seemingly abandoned mansion. As the story progresses it becomes unashamedly emotional, introducing its young audience to the sort of mature themes that many other studios wouldn't dare approach.
The Secret Life of Pets
What do our beloved animal companions get up to behind our backs? That's the infectious premise of the latest animated blockbuster from the makers of Despicable Me and Minions, one throwing all manner of dogs, bird and cats at the screen as a whole host of fun-loving pets take centre stage. Really though, it's all about that terrific opening sequence set to Alexandre Desplat's snappy, jazzy score: let's face it, we've all felt like cat Chloe when faced with food in the fridge that we really ought to leave alone...
A sequel to Pixar's Oscar-winning masterpiece, and 13 years later at that? How would it surely work? The answer: by staying true to that utterly wondrous mixture of laughs, tears and vibrant animation that earmarked its predecessor as an instant classic. We were worried that scatterbrained, forgetful Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) might not be able to hold her own movie; how wrong we were, the film moving her comic relief character into genuinely emotional new channels as she sets out across the ocean to find her family. It's a genuinely beautiful experience and, in the form of septopus Hank, unleashes a brilliant new Pixar character upon us.
2016 marked the centenary of legendary children's author Roald Dahl, so expectations were giant-sized for Steven Spielberg's move adaptation to do him justice. And the esteemed Jurassic Park director didn't disappoint, forging a delightful on-screen partnership between a superb Mark Rylance (in motion-capture form) as the BFG and newcomer Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. Although it's not as dark as the book, it does make you believe completely in the relationship between a big friendly giant and his lonesome human friend.
Talk about the little film that could. In a year dotted with glitzy remakes, this Disney effort was probably the least heralded of them all, yet it trounced the competition with a superbly emotional, engrossing storyline, fantastic performances and genuinely magical effects. A rarity that actually improves on the (somewhat forgotten) 1977 live-action/animation hybrid, it benefits from director David Lowery's atmospheric touch behind the camera and a pleasingly mature approach to both scares and tears.
Kubo and the Two Strings
Another animation studio that gets better with each passing year is Laika, responsible for stop-motion masterpieces Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. Their latest, a sumptuous Far East extravaganza infused with a love of storytelling and eye-popping visuals, is almost certainly their most gorgeous yet, one that opens audiences' eyes to a genuinely magical universe. With Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron lending all-star vocal work, it's got strong appeal for young and old alike.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The nostalgia is strong with this one. J.K. Rowling's wizarding Harry Potter prequel, set 70 years before the boy wizard's adventures on the streets of 1920s New York, had a lot to live up to. Kudos then to the author, making her screenwriting debut, director David Yates and a note-perfect cast led by Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, for re-igniting the magic and getting us suitably hungry for a brand new franchise. Filled with enough beasts to populate five magical suitcases, there's no doubt it leaves many questions unanswered - but all the more reason to look forward to the next instalment, due in 2018.
What better way to end an epic year of movies than how it started: with a sweeping and imaginative Disney adventure. This Polynesian extravaganza shakes up the rulebook by introducing us to the eponymous, plucky heroine (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) who, in a refreshingly modern turn of events, isn't a princess and doesn't need a bloke to help with her adventures. Thankfully for us, she gets some comic relief in the form of Dwayne Johnson's demi-god Maui, the two forming one of the most charming Disney buddy partnerships in years.
What were your favourite family films of 2016? Tweet us your choices @Cineworld.