Engaging films for SEN audiences

Life of Pi
Life of Pi

Running a film club can provide an inclusive, safe and fun learning environment for young people with learning disabilities. It also offers a regular social experience that can prove invaluable for young people. This page showcases a selection of films that Into Film recommend as good for engaging pupils with varied special educational needs (SEN). These films have either been screened successfully by existing SEN Film Club leaders or, featured in an Into Film project funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation in which we researched titles most suited to the needs of children on the autistic spectrum, children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and children with mild to severe learning difficulties. For each film we have provided information on why we felt they would be effective for this audience and guidance on any difficult moments that occur during the film. There are also linked resources and articles detailing ways in which to make these screenings more tailored, interactive and fun for young audiences with learning disabilities.

Une Vie De Chat (A Cat in Paris)

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration62 mins

Une Vie De Chat (A Cat in Paris)(2011)

Enchanting and thrilling animation about a Parisian cat with a double-life.

Good for SEN members as the narrative has obvious high and low points that are easy to understand and a main character who is elective mute throughout the majority of the film. The film can be screened dubbed or with subtitles depending on ability.

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Duck Soup

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration65 mins

Duck Soup(1933)

Hilarious and accessible Marx Brothers comedy which also works as a political satire. The perfect choice for your club's first black-and-white film.

A great classic black and white film to introduce to your members. The renowned Marx Brothers style of strong visual comedy is easy to understand and appeals to a broad range of levels, in particular members with early developmental stages of language acquisition.

Read more
Life of Pi

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration121 mins

Life of Pi(2012)

The extraordinary story of Pi who, cast adrift on a lifeboat with only a tiger for company, must find his inner strength and courage to survive.

A thoughtful fantasy drama that has proven successful with many SEN audiences due to the clear narrative that follows one protagonist who is easy to like and unambiguously good. Please note there are some alarming moments involving the tiger that more sensitive members may find distressing. There are bright colours used throughout this film.

Read more
Hairspray

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration88 mins

Hairspray (1988)

Outrageous yet genial comedy, about Tracy, a "pleasantly plump" teen who wont let the prejudices of others stand in the way of her fun.

A tribute to 1950s music and fashions with a contemporary take (c.1988) on issues of conformity and race equality, featuring many vibrant musical numbers that will easily engage. The film does explore difficult topics such as racism and sexism but as a whole offers a strong alternative to mainstream musicals to more adventurous audiences.

Read more
Singin' in the Rain

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration98 mins

Singin' in the Rain(1952)

Widely considered the best musical ever made, this tribute to Hollywood is about an actress who can't sing trying to move into sound films.

A great introduction to musicals this classic romantic comedy set in 1920s Hollywood is popular with SEN audiences due to its narrative with a strong through line, likeable protagonists and numerous visually engaging set musical numbers. Suitable for all levels but please note there are some flashes, bangs and rapid transitions in the film.

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All Stars

CertU

Age group7–14

Duration106 mins

All Stars(2013)

Two plucky kids attempt to save their beloved youth club by staging an exciting and energetic street dance show!

Feel-good British musical set around a street dance show this is popular with young audiences due to its fun and energetic musical numbers and clear storyline featuring likeable child lead characters with diverse family backgrounds.

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Fantasia

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration120 mins

Fantasia(1940)

A Disney classic like no other, Fantasia is a magical journey through sound and vision.

A colourful Disney classic that consists of eight pieces of classical music, each set to its own animation sequence that can be watched as a whole or broken into sections. Featuring very little dialogue, its marriage of sound and image exploring different moods, musical tones and movement make it a vibrant yet easy watch for SEN audiences.

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Shaun The Sheep Movie

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration82 mins

Shaun The Sheep Movie(2015)

The much loved farmyard creature from Aardman animation finally gets a big screen adventure of his own.

Colourful and packed with wonderful visual comedy it is a fun, easy watch and a great introduction to stop-motion animation. With no dialogue throughout and a clear storyline with likeable, unambiguous characters and a positive message around teamwork the film is perfect all audiences, and particularly appealing to younger members.

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Laurel and Hardy - Our Relations

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration69 mins

Laurel and Hardy - Our Relations(1936)

The classic comedy duo here have help getting into trouble from their long-lost sailor twins, who arrive on shore leave.

Classic black and white slapstick comedy about mistaken identity which is silly yet simple to follow. Full of physical humour that is not reliant on understanding the dialogue, the soundtrack also cleverly supports this by featuring different songs to signal the different twins on screen. Please note the slapstick comedy may encourage imitation.

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Bean - The Ultimate Disaster Movie

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration90 mins

Bean - The Ultimate Disaster Movie(1997)

The calamitous Mr Bean is tasked with transporting a priceless piece of art to America. Classic British humour reminiscent of the silent era.

A constant hit with SEN audiences over the years, this modern comedy adventure features classic slapstick-driven humour. Despite the terrible things that happen there is general sense of optimism about the film that prevents it from being cruel and the physical humour means the plot is not reliant on understanding the dialogue.

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WALL-E

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration98 mins

WALL-E(2008)

A small, rather hopeless looking robot is left alone on Earth to clean up the mess left by humans, in this wonderful Pixar animation.

Pixar films are very popular with SEN audiences due to their ability to deal with complex, emotional ideas with simple stories, humour, colourful animation and likeable characters. Due to its extended dialogue free sections and highly visual narrative focused on two very simple and engaging characters, Wall E is particularly good for members that find language hard to follow.

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A Bug's Life

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration93 mins

A Bug's Life(1998)

Exciting Pixar animation that follows Flik - a brave young ant who has to find a way to protect his colony from the brutal grasshoppers.

Another example of a Pixar film that is colourful, visually engaging with an entertaining story full of lots of memorable and amusing characters that makes it accessible to all levels. The theme of not fitting into a rigid community should be of interest to members as will the importance of younger ‘ants’ playing their part in saving the day.

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Atlantis

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration75 mins

Atlantis(1991)

Beautifully shot nature documentary, filming life under the sea across the globe.

A visually striking and utterly enveloping undersea documentary. The rhythmic images, distinct soundtrack and lack of narration make it a simple and engaging watch for all levels. It can also be easily broken into shorter sections if necessary.

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Peter and the Wolf

CertU

Age group5–16

Duration32 mins

Peter and the Wolf(2006)

Oscar-winning animated version of the timeless folk tale, set to Sergei Prokofiev's classic orchestral composition.

A compelling short musical film that sets a well-known tale to a powerful piece of classical music. With a strong clear narrative and no dialogue the music expresses the emotion and action. A short, engaging watch for all audiences it has proved very good for members with little or no verbal language.

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Lost and Found

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration24 mins

Lost and Found(2008)

Charming animated tale about a young boy who finds a lost penguin on his doorstep and decides to row him home to the South Pole.

A short (24 mins) British animation touching on themes of adventure and the comfort of friendship. The gentle narration by Jim Broadbent, simple storytelling and colourful palette makes this a lovely, easy watch for younger members.

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The Wizard of Oz

CertU

Age group7+

Duration98 mins

The Wizard of Oz(1939)

This timeless family musical, one of cinema's much loved productions, sees young Dorothy escape Kansas for the Technicolor land of Oz.

With its visually stimulating bright colours, simple language, obvious good versus evil storyline and lead characters with identifiable emotional characteristics, this classic children’s fantasy film is an absorbing watch.

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Mr Popper's Penguins

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration90 mins

Mr Popper's Penguins(2011)

Jim Carrey returns to family-friendly movies in this fun tale based on a beloved 1938 children’s book.

Fun family film with lots of slapstick, simple dialogue and a message of caring for animals and the importance of family this is good for a wide range of members. Please note the issue of divorce and separation of father and children is discussed but is dealt with positively by the end of the film.

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How To Train Your Dragon

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration93 mins

How To Train Your Dragon(2010)

Sweet and funny computer animated adventure in which a young viking befriends a dragon.

An animated comedy adventure about an unlikely friendship the film features lots of humour and a simple plot. It is great for some SEN audiences due to its strong visual flow throughout and use of language that is not too complex. Please note the film does include fantasy violence between Vikings and dragons.

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The Jungle Book

CertU

Age group5–14

Duration78 mins

The Jungle Book(1967)

The all-singing, all-dancing animated adaptation of the popular children's novel, packed with lovable characters and infectious songs.

The Jungle Book is just one example of many Disney films, from the classics to Frozen, that have often proven very popular with SEN audiences due to their vibrant story-telling, positive messaging around family and friendships, likable characters, straight through narratives and expressive use of music and catchy tunes.

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Finding Nemo

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration96 mins

Finding Nemo(2003)

The colourful world of the tropical sea is captured in all its glory in this moving and funny story of a lost fish.

In true Pixar style, the colourful and detailed world of the tropical sea is vibrant and fun to look at while the funny yet lesson-filled life-affirming story of friendship and family is easy to understand with simple dialogue. Nemo’s stunted fin and Dory’s forgetfulness also offer interesting angles on disability that members may relate to.

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Bridge To Terabithia

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration93 mins

Bridge To Terabithia(2007)

Charming family fantasy film following the adventures of two ten-year-old misfits, based on the popular novel.

This film is about three children who use the power of their imaginations to create an escape from their everyday realities. The heroes of the film suffer bullying and the film is unusual in that it takes a sympathetic attitude to both the bullied and the bully, suggesting reasons for the behaviour of the bully and tactics for the bullied to cope.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration92 mins

Diary of a Wimpy Kid(2010)

Funny and painful by turns, Diary of A Wimpy Kid is a clever take on pre-teen angst.

Based on a popular series of books about a young boy navigating his way through school, devising endless schemes to beat the bullies and shake off his nerdy reputation. With a straightforward plot, simple language and themes of being an outsider and bullying that some may relate to, this is an easy and enjoyable watch.

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The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films

CertU

Age group7+

Duration700 mins

The Complete Buster Keaton Short Films(1917)

Essential introduction to silent comedy giant Buster Keaton, full of unbelievable stunts and endless slapstick.

This package is made up of eight shorts films from the renowned American silent film star known for his deadpan expression and physical comedy. The films include lots of easy to follow stories of a man who comes up against a series of mishaps all cleverly communicated through exaggerated physical performances, expressive music and slapstick humour.

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Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration95 mins

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory(1971)

Visually brilliant 1971 Roald Dahl adaptation about a little boy who wins a tour of the maddest sweet factory in the world!

Colourful set pieces, musical interludes, familiar plot, and very distinct depictions of all the characters make this a fun, accessible watch.

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Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration52 mins

Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 1(2007)

Fantastic, humorous collection of 13 shorts from Pixar, the US animation studio which revolutionised computer animation techniques.

With the trademark Pixar vivid colours, off-beat humour, simple yet clever and meaningful stories and some recognizable characters, this collection of 13 short animations is great for members with shorter attention spans. They can be watched as one or broken up and watched in segments.

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Duck Soup

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration65 mins

Duck Soup(1933)

Hilarious and accessible Marx Brothers comedy which also works as a political satire. The perfect choice for your club's first black-and-white film.

A great classic black and white film to introduce to your members. The renowned Marx Brothers style of strong visual comedy is easy to understand and appeals to a broad range of levels, in particular members with early developmental stages of language acquisition.

Read more
Life of Pi

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration121 mins

Life of Pi(2012)

The extraordinary story of Pi who, cast adrift on a lifeboat with only a tiger for company, must find his inner strength and courage to survive.

A thoughtful fantasy drama that has proven successful with many SEN audiences due to the clear narrative that follows one protagonist who is easy to like and unambiguously good. Please note there are some alarming moments involving the tiger that more sensitive members may find distressing. There are bright colours used throughout this film.

Read more
Hairspray

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration88 mins

Hairspray (1988)

Outrageous yet genial comedy, about Tracy, a "pleasantly plump" teen who wont let the prejudices of others stand in the way of her fun.

A tribute to 1950s music and fashions with a contemporary take (c.1988) on issues of conformity and race equality, featuring many vibrant musical numbers that will easily engage. The film does explore difficult topics such as racism and sexism but as a whole offers a strong alternative to mainstream musicals to more adventurous audiences.

Read more
Singin' in the Rain

CertU

Age groupAll ages

Duration98 mins

Singin' in the Rain(1952)

Widely considered the best musical ever made, this tribute to Hollywood is about an actress who can't sing trying to move into sound films.

A great introduction to musicals this classic romantic comedy set in 1920s Hollywood is popular with SEN audiences due to its narrative with a strong through line, likeable protagonists and numerous visually engaging set musical numbers. Suitable for all levels but please note there are some flashes, bangs and rapid transitions in the film.

Read more
Laurel and Hardy - Our Relations

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration69 mins

Laurel and Hardy - Our Relations(1936)

The classic comedy duo here have help getting into trouble from their long-lost sailor twins, who arrive on shore leave.

Classic black and white slapstick comedy about mistaken identity which is silly yet simple to follow. Full of physical humour that is not reliant on understanding the dialogue, the soundtrack also cleverly supports this by featuring different songs to signal the different twins on screen. Please note the slapstick comedy may encourage imitation.

Read more
Atlantis

CertU

Age group5–11

Duration75 mins

Atlantis(1991)

Beautifully shot nature documentary, filming life under the sea across the globe.

A visually striking and utterly enveloping undersea documentary. The rhythmic images, distinct soundtrack and lack of narration make it a simple and engaging watch for all levels. It can also be easily broken into shorter sections if necessary.

Read more
Street Dance

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration94 mins

Street Dance(2010)

Feel-good British dance movie featuring Britain's Got Talent winners, Diversity.

Music and dance fuelled British teen drama featuring the 2009 Britain’s Got Talent winners, Diversity. Featuring a simple plot with clearly signposted narrative highs and lows and lots of energetic music and dance segments this could be a fun, easy watch for teenage SEN members.

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Arachnophobia

CertPG

Age group11–16

Duration103 mins

Arachnophobia(1990)

Horror, with a lot of laughs as well, about some lethal spiders which arrive in a small US town from South America and start killing off locals.

A great one for students who claim only to be interested horror this is a horror-comedy with more laughs than terror and lots of thrillingly silly over the top moments as the characters fight off a lethal breeding spider. A very light plot, simple script and obvious action makes this a fun, easy watch for older audiences that enjoy a jump or two.

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Africa United

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration87 mins

Africa United(2010)

Against the backdrop of the World Cup in South Africa, this film celebrates the resilience of children in adversity.

A colourful, funny film that introduces audiences to African history, landscape and culture that is totally appropriate to its audience. Featuring an engaging, linear narrative although there are some difficult themes unearthed the film’s infectiously uplifting soundtrack and comedic moments alleviate the emotion and offer an inspirational message.

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Micmacs

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration100 mins

Micmacs(2010)

Brilliantly inventive French comedy about a man stuck walking about with a bullet in his skull, who devises an elaborate plan to get his life back.

If you think your students may enjoy trying a foreign language film, this fast-paced, visually fascinating adventure is the place to start. The film’s weird and wonderful set design and eccentric characters offers a charming world of quirkiness that revels in being silly and ridiculous.

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Fantastic Mr Fox

CertPG

Age group7+

Duration85 mins

Fantastic Mr Fox(2009)

Stop-motion animation version of Roald Dahl's woodland tale that combines a beautiful old-fashioned aesthetic with Wes Anderson's trademark dialogue.

This animation uniquely brings to life a well-known Roald Dahl story in a way that appeals across ages and levels. Easy to follow for audiences familiar with the tale but also because of its obvious depiction of heroes and villains. The detailed, colourful images, great soundtrack and witty script holds the audience’s attention.

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Cast Away

Cert12

Age group11–16

Duration138 mins

Cast Away(2000)

A plane crash leaves a man stranded on a desert island with only a volleyball for company.

Much like Life of Pi, Cast Away has proven a successful film for many SEN audiences due to its strong, clear narrative that follows one protagonist who is easy to like and unambiguously good.

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Holes

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration112 mins

Holes(2003)

Offbeat film about a kid who's sent to a sinister correctional facility in the desert to dig holes after being falsely accused of theft.

A quirky teen comedy featuring a young boy dealing with unconventional punishment at a young offender’s facility. Offering a light-touch approach to themes of behavior, dealing with the past and eccentric families and should resonate with teenage members experiencing similar issues.

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Night at the Museum

CertPG

Age group7–14

Duration104 mins

Night at the Museum(2006)

Adventure about a night watchman at the Museum of Natural History, where all the exhibits spring to life when it gets dark.

Adventure comedies are big hits for many SEN audiences and this is a great example due to the numerous characters and animals that are brought to life on Ben Stiller’s hunt through the museum. A great setting with lots of comedic performances, exciting chase scenes, silly action and slapstick violence make this a fun and engaging watch throughout.

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Sounds Like Teen Spirit

CertPG

Age group7–16

Duration93 mins

Sounds Like Teen Spirit(2009)

One of the most entertaining documentaries in years, this follows the 10-15 year-old contestants in the Junior version of the Eurovision Song Contest.

An entertaining documentary for young people that taps into the recognizable world of TV singing contests. With music and singing at the heart, the film presents likeable young characters from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds that have goals and ambitions that are clear and easy to understand.

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Mary and Max

Cert12

Age group11+

Duration88 mins

Mary and Max(2009)

A witty and touching Australian claymation about two unlikely pen pals with a unique connection.

A unique animation that charts the friendship between a lonely girl and a man with aspergers. Using humour to explore the experience of socially isolated characters, anxiety and obsessive compulsive behaviors this should offer relatable characteristics to some members and is a great starting point for discussions around challenging behaviors.

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Addams Family Values

CertPG

Age group7+

Duration90 mins

Addams Family Values(1993)

Great gothic comedy following an extraordinary family adapted from the much-loved television series.

Great gothic comedy following an extraordinary family who despite their unsettling appearances are a loving, big-hearted bunch. With a strong, clear narrative and a cast of eccentric characters that are easily identifiable due to their distinct appearances and emotional characteristics this is fun, easy watch for teen audiences.

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Baraka

CertPG

Age group11+

Duration92 mins

Baraka(1992)

A film told through extended shots of various worldwide events, settings, and creatures, creating a dreamy, universal resonance.

Consisting of images of extraordinary moments from around the world set to beautiful world music this is a relaxed rhythmic watch and a great window into the similarities and differences between cultures. Dialogue free, the film can be easily broken up into shorter sections.

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