It’s been a great year for film, and that’s especially true when you consider the wide variety of movies you can enjoy with your family. Looking back at a few of my favorites from 2017, here are some recommendations you can watch (or re-watch) with viewers of various ages. Enjoy, and here’s to a great 2018!
Rating: PG, for mild rude humor throughout.
I was so surprised by how fun this movie was – and I’m familiar with the wildly popular Dav Pilkey book series that inspired it. (My 8-year-old son is a huge fan.) But whether or not you or your kids have read a single page of George and Harold’s adventures, you’ll have a complete blast here. The animation is colorful and lively, the writing is consistently clever and the energy is brisk – so much so that you may have to watch Captain Underpants again to catch some of the gags you missed. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch provide the voices of best friends who accidentally transform their mean elementary-school principal (Ed Helms) into the comic-book superhero of their dreams: The goofy, tighty-whitey wearing Captain Underpants. There’s quite a bit of potty humor here, but it’s amusingly self-aware. And there are valuable themes about being kind to people who are friendless or who’ve been bullied. A great choice for all ages. Tra-la-laaa!
Rating: PG, for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language.
This was also a pleasant surprise, given that it looks painfully mawkish. Instead, Stephen Chbosky’s film (based on the R.J. Palacio Young Adult novel) is inspiring but restrained, with strong performances from an excellent cast and a worthwhile message about being openhearted and decent to others. Room star Jacob Tremblay continues to impress as a bright, sweet 10-year-old named Auggie who was born with a genetic abnormality that’s required multiple facial surgeries and treatments to fix. He’s been homeschooled all his life, but his mom and dad (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) eventually decide to send him to a Brooklyn middle school so he’ll know how the outside world works. Kids are initially cruel or dismissive of him, but he eventually makes friends. Along his journey, we also learn the truth about what life has been like for others in Auggie’s orbit. My son whispered to me at the start of the film that he thought Auggie’s appearance was weird; when it was over, he exclaimed, “I loved it!” A great choice for all ages.
Rating: PG-13, for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
This is in theaters now, so you may already have seen it. If not, go find it as a family before school resumes for 2018. It has big laughs, high-energy action sequences, and lively interactions from its strong cast. The kinda-sorta sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams adventure comedy finds four disparate high school students being sucked into an old video game set in the jungle. There, they find themselves in the bodies of characters that are completely different from who they are in real life. So the nerd ends up with the hulking muscles of Dwayne Johnson, while the beautiful mean girl winds up with the ample, bearded (and male) frame of Jack Black. (Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan also star.) Some of the set pieces involving ferocious animals might be too intense for younger kids, and there’s some body (and potty) humor that might seem a little grown-up. There’s also a bit of language scattered throughout. But I laughed the whole time, and I suspect you will, too. Jumanji consistently reinforces the importance of teamwork. And if your kids are into gaming, they’ll enjoy how aware the characters are of the video game setting and strategies. Suitable for viewers around 8 and older.
Rating: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, thematic elements, and some disturbing images.
This is on my top-10 list of the year’s best films; it’s also my favorite blockbuster of 2017. Director Matt Reeves’ final movie in the most recent Planet of the Apes trilogy features a dazzling mix of powerful action sequences and resonant emotion, with a mesmerizing motion-capture performance from the great Andy Serkis as the ape leader Caesar. But even though the film features apes on horseback – many of whom can talk, and some of whom are funny – it definitely isn’t for the entire family. As the title suggests, the apes are at war with humans over control of the planet. That means massive battle scenes, which are rendered through incredible special effects. Woody Harrelson is chilling as the humans’ leader, the cruel (and probably crazy) Colonel, making quiet, intimate moments just as startling as the louder, larger ones. Apes are held prisoner and whipped, beaten, and forced into hard labor. And the bold, percussive score from master composer Michael Giacchino contributes greatly to the general sensation of dread and suspense. But for more mature kids – around 11 and older – it’s a spectacular, thrilling time.
Rating: R, for language, sexual content, brief graphic nudity and teen partying.
Yes, it’s rated R, but just hear me out on this. Lady Bird is an excellent choice for the teenagers in your house – especially teen girls – and maybe even viewers around 12 if they’re ready for material that’s a little more mature. It’s definitely one of the year’s best films, and it may even end up winning the Academy Award for best picture in a couple of months. Writer and actress Greta Gerwig makes her smart and insightful directing debut with this semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age story. Two-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan does some of her best work yet as a high-school senior named Christine who insists that everyone call her Lady Bird. She can’t wait to fly far away from the mundane trappings of suburban Sacramento, California, for the bright lights and intellectual heights of New York City. But first, she must find out who she is and what kind of place she hopes to occupy in the world. There’s frank talk about sex, and we see Lady Bird awkwardly lose her virginity. There’s also teen partying – drinking and smoking – as well as language throughout. But Lady Bird is so funny, sweet and true, I can’t recommend it enough for the young people in your life who are struggling to navigate their own adolescent angst.