Black Panther is clearly going to be the primary draw at the cinema this weekend — and with that in mind, Christy offers a take on how kid-friendly the Marvel movie is. However, the clearer choice for families is Early Man, the latest offering from stop-motion treat from Aardman Animations, and if that’s your bag, Christy also has three other lovely recommendations. Read on for the full list.
Rating: PG-13, for prolonged sequences of action violence and brief rude gesture.
Believe the hype: Black Panther is a game-changer. Beautifully crafted and powerfully acted, director Ryan Coogler’s film thrillingly combines blockbuster visuals with indie character sensibilities. It’s a breath of fresh air and a much-needed moment of representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it’s also quite intense and violent, which might make it unsuitable for some younger viewers. The great Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, heir to the throne of the fictional African country of Wakanda following the death of his father, the king (which we saw in Captain America: Civil War). But when he dons his high-tech suit, he becomes the powerful warrior Black Panther. And he’ll need to fight to protect both his position and his nation when another possible heir emerges in the driven and muscular Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, star of Coogler’s Fruitvale Station and Creed). There’s a ton of action here: fight scenes that are both intimate and massive. T’Challa must withstand a series of challenges to his authority: brutal and bloody sequences of hand-to-hand combat. There are also giant battle scenes featuring armies fighting with spears and swords, as well as a couple of elaborate car chases. But Black Panther is notable not only for its cast of strong actors of color, but also for the prominence of its female characters, including T’Challa’s brilliant scientist sister (Letitia Wright) and Wakanda’s fearless general (Danai Gurira). My 8-year-old son didn’t find anything disturbing – he actually turned to me halfway through the screening and whispered, “I love it!” – but he’s also seen pretty much every Marvel movie. Black Panther is indeed great, but it might be too much to handle on the big screen for kids younger than about 7.
Rating: PG, for rude humor and some action.
It’s not a peak offering from the prolific Aardman Animation, but it’s consistently entertaining fun. The latest stop-motion comedy from Wallace & Gromit creator Nick Park traces not only the evolution of man but also the origins of soccer – or football, as they call it in the rest of the world. Eddie Redmayne provides the voice of Dug, a caveman who dares to lead his tribe in a soccer match against the greatest team of the Bronze Age in hopes of reclaiming their land from the evil Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). The humor is cheeky, punny and self-referential throughout. Word play and visual gags abound. But while Early Man pokes fun at our current society, there’s a gentle nature to its comedy that makes it timeless. Dug’s sidekick is a goofy boar named Hognob, and the catalyst for his team’s transformation into a contender is a talented, spirited woman named Goona (Maisie Williams). There’s a bit of harmless potty humor. Themes of teamwork, bravery and perseverance are worthwhile. Plus, the Aardman clay character design is, as always, adorable in an off-kilter way. Overall, this is a fine choice for viewers of all ages.
Early Man may not represent the height of Aardman’s creative possibilities, but if you liked the look and feel of it, here are some great examples of the kind of work the stop-motion animation house has done so well for so long. You could start with the classic Wallace & Gromit shorts like A Grand Day Out or The Wrong Trousers, about the adventures of a mild-mannered, cheese-loving inventor and his trusty dog pal, or you could plunge into any of these movies:
Park and his longtime collaborator Peter Lord co-directed this cheeky, animated take on The Great Escape. The first feature-length Aardman movie features Mel Gibson providing the voice of a cocky circus rooster named Rocky. When he accidentally arrives at an English chicken farm, he informs his new feathered friends of their fate as food, which horrifies them. He and the brave Ginger (Julia Sawalha) figure out a way to teach their fellow chickens to fly to freedom, with plenty of starts and stops along the way. The possibility of chicken death may be a bit disturbing for the very littlest kids. The chicken pie-making machine may seem ominous and the farmers might come off as a little scary. But the character design is super cute, and – as in Early Man – the idea of a ragtag band of underdog characters coming together to achieve something greater than they ever could have imagined is worthwhile. Fine for pretty much all ages.
Park also directed this film, which won the Academy Award for best animated feature. It’s sort of a Halloween movie and sort of an Easter movie, but it’s also extremely enjoyable year-round. I showed it at a movie night at my son’s school last spring and it was a big hit. This time, Wallace and Gromit run a pest control service to help their neighbors keep bunnies and rodents out of their gardens. But one of Wallace’s experiments goes horribly wrong, resulting in a giant were-rabbit that ravages the town. The bunny’s transformation into a werewolf-type monster might be slightly disturbing for the absolute youngest viewers, but he’s also oddly cute. The townspeople chase after the creature and try to hunt it down in classic monster-movie style, but it’s played for laughs. But overall, Were-Rabbit has great energy and is chock full of clever details. This is another great choice for all ages.
Rating: PG, for some rude humor.
I am still so dazzled by this movie, even though it couldn’t be more understated. It’s pretty much totally wordless – animal and human characters alike communicate through grunts and gestures – yet this world is rich, full, and vibrant. And as always, the character design is irresistibly adorable. This feature-film version of the Shaun the Sheep TV series was nominated for an Academy Award for best animated feature. On a farm in the English countryside, a tiny sheep named Shaun is tired of the rigid schedule the farmer imposes on the animals every day. He devises an elaborate plan to make the farmer sleepy and give everyone a day off but – as is so often the case in Aardman stories – things don’t quite go as he expected. The animals wind up in the Big City in hopes of making things right and wind up in one misadventure after another. This includes some danger in the form of the mean animal control officer, whose tactics might seem cruel. There’s also a bit of potty humor and the humorous suggestion of nudity. But in general, Shaun the Sheep Movie has a wonderful sweetness about it and an infectious energy. The whole family will love it.