Parental Guidance

Four Family-Friendly Oscar-Nominated Films to Watch instead of Maze Runner

by | January 26, 2018 | Comments

According to critics, unless you were just dying to find out what happens in the final chapter of the Maze Runner franchise, you may not find The Death Cure particularly entertaining. That said, the nominees for this year’s Oscars were just announced on Tuesday, which means there are plenty of better movies you can catch up on with your family. Read on for Christy’s analysis of Maze Runner: The Death Cure and a handful of alternative suggestions — including an animated short — that were nominated for Academy Awards.


THE MOVIE

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018) 41%

Rating: PG-13, for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements.

The final installment in the Maze Runner trilogy is as bleak, intense and violent as you’d expect from a Young Adult film set in a dystopian future. If you’ve seen the previous two films from director Wes Ball, based on James Dashner’s books, you know what you’re in for here: shootouts, fistfights, death, destruction and – oh, yeah – zombies. Because there’s a plague, and they’ve been infected. This time, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends must save the remaining immune children from the evil clutches of the adults at WCKD (including Patricia Clarkson and Aidan Gillen), who want to experiment on them to find a cure. Eventually there’s a happy ending – or at least a vaguely hopeful one – but the road there is lined with bodies of young people and adults alike. There’s quite a bit of strong language throughout and one climactic kiss. At 142 minutes, it’s also really long – and just when you think it’s ending, it keeps going, and going. I’d say this is fine for mature tweens and older, especially if they’ve seen the first two movies and are desperate to know how this saga ends.


THE RECOMMENDATIONS

If the latest Maze Runner movie is too much for your kids to handle, why not catch up with some of the films nominated for Academy Awards this week? Here are a few suggestions.

Coco (2017) 97%

Rating: PG, for thematic elements.

Nominated for: Best Animated Feature

You may have seen this movie already – it’s made over $657 million worldwide since its release in November – but it’s certainly worth revisiting. The latest animated extravaganza from Disney/Pixar is so colorful and richly detailed, there’s no way to absorb it all in one sitting. It’s a great choice for kids around 5 or 6 and older, even though much of director Lee Unkrich’s film takes place in the Land of the Dead, which is full of talking, singing skeletons and spirit animals that, at times, might seem menacing. It’s beautiful, but danger abounds. Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old boy from a Mexican family of shoemakers, dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, movie and singing star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). But his family hasn’t allowed music in the house for generations because of a long-ago betrayal. On Dia de los Muertos – the traditional Day of the Dead – Miguel visits the Land of the Dead to fulfill his destiny and learn his true identity. The skeletons are mostly warm and friendly. Miguel’s ancestors, who’ve been watching over him, welcome him and help him get back home. But while scenes in which elderly relatives appear feeble, forgetful and on the brink of death might seem confusing or sad to small children, they also offer the chance to talk about the importance of honoring the cultural contributions of our ancestors.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) 91%

Rating: PG-13, for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.

Nominated for: Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score and Visual Effects.

Perhaps you’ve heard: There’s a new Star Wars movie. And now, Episode VIII has earned four Academy Award nominations. One of them is for John Williams’ iconic score – the 50th nomination of the great composer’s lengthy career. Writer-director Rian Johnson’s film is one of the absolute best of the Star Wars saga, and it’s the most jaw-droppingly beautiful installment yet. It’s thrilling and moving with a surprisingly cheeky humorous streak and a deep emotional resonance. If your kids have seen the previous films, they’ll enjoy the comedy and energy here as well as the many exciting action sequences. But if you have very young children, or if they they’re not familiar with these characters and this world, The Last Jedi may be a lot for them to handle. It’s long at two and a half hours and features many intense battles, including a dazzling light-saber duel. Many characters perish in elaborate dogfights between the plucky Rebellion and the evil First Order. Their diabolical leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis), might be too creepy for many kids. And several characters find themselves on the verge of execution. But it’s a complete blast and very much worth seeing in the theater to enjoy the awards-worthy sound and visuals.


Dunkirk (2017) 92%

Rating: PG-13, for intense war experience and some language.

Nominated for: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design.

One of my absolute favorite movies of 2017 is also one of the most-nominated. Christopher Nolan’s World War II epic was honored in seven categories including best picture and director. And it’s amazing to think this is Nolan’s first directing nomination, since he’s given us some of the most influential films of the past generation, including Memento, The Dark Knight, and Inception. I actually think his screenplay should have been nominated, too, since the intricate narrative structure is one of the most impressive parts of the film. From a variety of perspectives over three interlocking time frames, Nolan depicts the evacuation of the beach at Dunkirk as Allied soldiers found themselves surrounded and forced to flee. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, and Harry Styles are among the players whose fates intersect. Dunkirk features nearly constant violence and danger, as you would expect from a war picture. The soldiers are under attack from the air, ground and sea. Many characters (and extras) are shot to death, but there’s barely any blood. And there’s surprisingly only a bit of language, but that includes the one F-word you get in a PG-13 movie. Mostly, though, the unrelenting suspense on display here is what may disturb younger viewers. That, and the noise – the sound design is exquisite (and is among the film’s many nominations) but the gunfire is very loud, as are the screams as men find themselves trapped, abandoning ships, drowning or burning to death. But I’d say this is OK for mature tweens and older — and at an hour and 46 minutes, it’s surprisingly short.


Dear Basketball

Rating: Not rated.

Nominated for: Best Animated Short.

It’s only about five minutes long and you don’t even need to go to a theater to see it — it’s available online (right here). And with Dear Basketball, Kobe Bryant can add “Oscar nominee” to his long list of accomplishments and accolades. The former Lakers superstar created and narrated this short, an animated version of the poem he wrote which appeared in The Players’ Tribune, announcing his retirement from basketball in November 2015. As directed by veteran animator Glen Keane — whose work has appeared in movies including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Tangled – Dear Basketball depicts Bryant’s love of the sport from his youth through the height of his powers. It looks like a series of charcoal pencil sketches come to life – simple but fluid, with bold splashes of purple and gold, the Lakers’ colors. It’s Kobe’s ode to Kobe, but it might inspire your kids to aspire for greatness of their own. Fine for all ages.

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