8 Movies We Loved Watching During The 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival

A few days ago Riah and I got to attend and cover the 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival! Before attending, we posted a big list of all the movies and short films we were excited to see. But ya know, life!

With so many movies, and so little time, we only got to watch a handful of the movies and short films from our list! I’m a tad bit disappointed, but since this was a film festival for kids, we tried to enjoy it as much as possible, without turning it into a big ol’ work thing!

Riah and I both had our own lists of movies we wanted to see, with a few overlaps, but since we didn’t get to watch much on our individual lists, here’s a list of all the movies we both loved watching!

8 Movies Riah And I Loved Watching During The 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival

Legend of Hei

the legend of hei

With an inky black coat, adorable mewl, and eyes as big as saucers, Xiao Hei is the cutest feline around. But don’t let his good looks fool you, he’s more than just a cat.

When he meets up with a motley band of spirits—creatures and human-like beings with superhuman powers—Hei finds that he, too, is a spirit and shapeshifts from cat to kid form. His new friends train and challenge him in the warrior spirit arts, with the pressing goal of saving their beloved forest from developers destroying it in this lushly rendered tale.

Evoking Studio Ghibli’s ecological fables, The Legend of Hei is a winsome combination of heart, soul, fantasy, and an extraordinary adventure.

Riah’s Thoughts: “Why does that thing look like Appa?? He looks so much like Appa!” (If you’ve watched Avatar you know who she’s referring too when’s he says Appa, and as soon as you watch the Legend of Hei, you’ll see exactly who she meant. I thought it was so funny how she saw the connection between the two characters, they do look very similar.)

My Thoughts: So The Legend of Hei is a little slow at the beginning, but it definitely feels like an anime show I’d totally watch! It actually reminds me a lot of My Hero Academia, but with way less action. It did however get super interesting about 45-60 mins in though. And I totally noticed how two buildings seemed to fall very similar to the Twin Towers. But maybe that’s just because I’m from NYC and any two buildings falling will forever remind me of that day. However I loved the story and the twists, and the scoring was great!

Jackie & Oopjen

Jackie and Oopjen

Twelve-year-old Jackie has made Amsterdam’s world famous Rijksmuseum her second home since her mother is always busy at her job there.

As Jackie wanders the museum after hours, Oopjen Coppit, the woman depicted in Rembrandt’s famous 1634 painting, suddenly steps out of the canvas and into the middle of the gallery. Used to keeping her cool and problem solving, Jackie instantly decides to take Oopjen under her wing and help her search for her missing sister.

Oopjen, a woman from the Golden Age, finds the 21st century to be a big adventure while Jackie finally finds a true friend. 

Riah’s Thoughts: When I asked Riah if she liked it she screamed “WHAT DO YOU THINK?” … So I guess that’s a yes? She totally talked throughout the entire film, which is always a sign that she’s enjoying the film.

My thoughts: In some ways, this film feels like a real life Ariel (yes the little mermaid) story. When you watch it, you’ll get why! It also feels like something that would be on Disney Plus, it reminded me a lot of Godmothered. I absolutely loved the concept of a painting coming to life. The ending is sweet, and I don’t know why I expected something different but this was a great watch!



A grandfather and granddaughter bond over dragons, dance, and shared cultural traditions.

Riah’s Thoughts: I liked this one because it was inspired by dance!

My Thoughts: If only it were this simple to make kids eat their food! I loved this. Such an emotional film.



When Parisian Vanille is forced to spend the summer with her auntie in Guadeloupe, she discovers her Carribean roots and uncovers a big mystery.

Riah’s Thoughts: I loved it! (She laughed and screamed at the screen throughout the entire film.)

My Thoughts: This was one of my favorite short films throughout the entire 2021 New York International Children’s Film Festival! Not only is it great for representation, she has a gap, big beautiful hair, and Caribbean roots! There was a moment where it lost my attention but it picked up again at the end. The story felt very much like one of those tales generations pass down to their kids, and it was so cool to watch.

To: Gerald

To Gerald

You’ll be dazzled when the magic of kindness takes center stage in this new Oscar® shortlisted film from DreamWorks.

Riah’s Thoughts: I really liked it, it was magical!

My Thoughts: I loved this story! He gave his coin away despite loving it, and ended up inspiring her to become a great magician herself. It was such an awesome reminder of how we pass on traditions to kids, and how we can influence kids without even trying.

Dear Future Me 

dear future me

In 2014, 6th graders wrote letters to their future selves. Fast-forward to 2020 when the now-12th graders re-read them with alternately surprising, bittersweet, and hilarious results.

Riah’s Thoughts: I liked this.

My Thoughts: Dear Future Me was so freaking cute. This wasn’t originally on our list of films to watch but because it was packaged with the other short films we gave it a watch. Boy was I surprised when I found out how loving and cute this short film was. I’m familiar with the concept of writing to your future self, but seeing kids read their letters from years ago, and laughing at their younger selves was sweet. The student who looked back and realized that he had ADHD almost brought me to tears. Not to mention one of the kids wrote and asked if they had a girlfriend in the future, but turns out he actually had a boyfriend. There were so many little bits in this film that reminds us that so much can change in a few years! Things we don’t ever think of and it was great to watch!

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Raya and the Last Dragon travels to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived together long ago in harmony. But when an evil force threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity.

Now, 500 years later, that same evil has returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the legendary last dragon to restore the fractured land and its divided people. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than a dragon to save the world—it’s going to take trust and teamwork as well. 

Riah’s Thoughts: I love this! I want her outfit! Wait, where are the other kids?

My Thoughts: It was okay, I didn’t really feel an emotional connection to this. But there were elements that I loved, like the scoring, and the sword that turned into a dragons tail, the costumes, and the Asian culture pieces woven into the story. This felt like the live action Mulan movie despite it being animated.

And there you have it!

If you get a chance to check out these films, let us know what you thought of them!

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