Sure, you could divide kids' films into the two categories of animated versus live action. But the real divisions are the movies the kids beg to see versus the ones parents actually encourage them to select.
Thankfully, 2011's movie schedule has some of each, and a few actually cross boundaries and should please both adults and kids. Here's a look at the year ahead in family-friendly films.
Rev up your engines for 'Cars 2' (June 24)
Kids who weren't even born when 2006's "Cars" came out have the whole movie memorized, thanks to home DVDs running on endless play. This summer, Pixar is bringing back Lightning McQueen, Mater and the whole wheeled gang from Radiator Springs for another go in "Cars 2." This time, the stage isn’t the Piston Cup, but a worldwide race that sees McQueen and Mater taking the show to Europe and Asia. Expect cultural clashes galore, tinged with humor. In the trailer, a sleek British Aston Martin introduces himself to Mater by saying, "Finn McMissile, British Intelligence." To which the beat-up tow truck responds, "Mater, average intelligence."
Between McQueen's racing acumen and Mater's comic potential as a supposed international spy, "Cars 2" should be another hit from Pixar. The marketing folks will make a killing as well. Look for a lot of new "Cars" cars out there for parents to buy. Not to mention bedsheets, and bath toys, and tie-in books and ...
'Puss in Boots' leaves 'Shrek' behind (Nov. 4)
If you and the youngsters liked the "Shrek" films but are getting a little sick of the big green ogre, fall's "Puss in Boots" offers the best of both worlds. The focus is on Shrek's feline pal, the swashbuckling Antonio Banderas-voiced cat and the life he led before meeting his other fairy-tale friends. Parents can look forward to hearing Zach Galifianakis, who voices Humpty-Dumpty, the villain of the piece.
'Kung Fu Panda' is back (May 26)
Jack Black returns, once again voicing the bumbling bear whose martial-arts moves make him a mammal not to be trifled with. This time, the entire art of kung fu is threatened by an evil peacock (voiced by Gary Oldman), and it's a safe bet that both hilarity and cool animated chops and flips will ensue.
'Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2' (March 25)
The first one was such a hit that the wimp is back. Greg's older brother Rodrick rules in this one, and if you have a boy in elementary school, there is a 100 percent chance you'll be seeing this.
'Smurfs' (Aug. 3)
Scheduled to be released in 3-D, which will be interesting on the big screen considering the little blue friends are supposed to be just three apples high. Will it appeal to modern kids as well as their children of the 1980s parents, who likely still have Smurf figurines somewhere buried in their parents' attic?
'Spy Kids 4' (Aug. 19)
Because three 'Spy Kids' just weren’t enough.
'Winnie the Pooh (July 15)'
The film features five previously unadapted stories from the original books, rather than using the Disney Channel series as the template. That means no Darby character, which will likely please most adults who grew up with the original Hundred Acre Wood denizens, but might not be great for tots who know the characters only through the TV show.
'Happy Feet 2' (Nov. 18)
The penguins are back, with Pink taking over the role of Gloria, played in the original by the late Brittany Murphy.
'The Muppets' (Nov. 23)
The beloved creations of the late Jim Henson return for a new generation. In this, their seventh feature film, an evil oilman (voice of Chris Cooper) wants to drill under the Muppet studio.
'Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked' (Dec. 16)
The Chipmunks and Chipettes gets shipwrecked in Hawaii, which doesn't seem all that scary but probably plays better on film. Like "Smurfs," it's in 3-D. Hey, as long as they don't sing.
'Gnomeo and Juliet' (Feb. 11)
The first animated film to be released under the Touchstone label since "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 1993. Based extremely loosely on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" (better hope the ending is different, or you might let the toddlers skip this one), the film may have the kids clamoring for gnome action figures for weeks afterwards. But with voices provided by everyone from youngsters such as Emily Blunt to Patrick Stewart to Ozzy Osbourne, it has the potential to be hilarious.
'Rango' (March 4)
This is Industrial Light & Magic’s first full-length animated feature (the visual-effects outfit is making the film for Paramount). With Johnny Depp playing a chameleon who moves from the terrarium to the real world to find himself, this should be a film that adults will be able to appreciate as much or more so than kids.
'Africa Cats: Kingdom of Courage' (April 22)
A good old-fashioned nature documentary, where lions teach their cubs how to survive in the wild. A great film for the grandparents to take the kids to so they can then reminisce about the days when “Wild Kingdom" was the only show they'd let their own kids watch.
'Mars Needs Moms' (March 11)
Based on the book by "Bloom County" cartoonist Berkeley Breathed and starring Seth Green as the main character, this Disney offering is another film that adults will appreciate.
'Hop' (April 1)
Basically takes a time-honored Christmas fable that worked so well in the "Santa Clause" movies (someone does something to Santa requiring a holiday stand-in) and transports it to Easter. James Marsden plays Fred O’Hare, who runs over the Easter Bunny (voiced by Russell Brand) and has to help save Easter.
'Rio' (April 15)
Birds in Paradise, literally. A rare macaw living in a Minnesota bookstore is sent to Rio to mate with Anne Hathaway (or at least the bird voiced by her) and save the species from extinction. Also stars George Lopez, Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am.
'Mr. Popper’s Penguins' (Aug. 12)
Jim Carrey inherits six penguins and is the better for it. Wouldn’t we all be?
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington.